Lessons Learned from My Two Mothers

Oct 19, 2011 by

Lessons Learned from My Two Mothers

With Thanksgiving approaching soon, I’ve been thinking about the things I’m grateful for and I often find myself reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned from my two mothers. Well, one mother and one “mother-in-love” as I called her because she was so special to me. I am one of those fortunate women who had an awesome mother-in-law.

My mom and dad adopted me when I was a year old and I was the only child they had. Because I was adopted, my mother felt like she was raising another woman’s child and she needed to raise me to be “perfect”. Unfortunately, this affected so many areas of my life. No matter what I did, it was never good enough to please her. I grew up with the feeling that love had to be “earned” and that if I did something wrong, that love was removed from me. Basically, I learned that I could not be myself because that might displease others and that I needed to mold my life around what others wanted for me.

My “mother-in-love” adopted me into her heart when I was 18 and dated her son. In many ways, she could not understand me at times and would get frustrated because I was “spleeny” in her eyes. But I never knew of this until years later, well after I was secure in our relationship together. Once I became part of her family, she showed me unconditional love. I did not have to earn it – I simply received it.

With my mother, whenever we would talk, the focus had to be on her and her needs and her wants and if the focus switched to me whenever we were in the presence of others, she did her best to switch the focus back to herself. My “mother-in-love” focused on me when we were together. She always wanted to know how I was doing and what my interests were. Even though we were so unalike in our hobbies and skills, she encouraged me the best she could and praised me for every success I had along the way as I grew as a person.

I always knew better than to tell my mother anything about myself or anyone else. As much as she loved me, she did not know how to keep a secret and would repeat things about me to those around her. It was yet another way she could get attention on herself, by sharing what she knew. Many times however, I would call my “mother-in-love” when I needed to talk. Sometimes my problems were because of my husband. I did not understand him or how he thought or why he would do what I felt were stupid things. Sometimes she would agree with me that he did do something stupid and yet other times she would help me understand his perspective because she knew how he grew up. I always felt safe talking to her about our problems because she never told anyone. Even if we spoke about my husband, she made sure to build me up also and help me understand him because she knew I wasn’t just trying to vent but was instead trying to make my marriage better.

My mother expected phone calls and visits on a regular basis and if I was late, she was sure to remind me of her disapproval and what a bad daughter I was. My “mother-in-love” rejoiced in each call or visit we shared and always made me feel like I’d contacted her at the PERFECT time and that she was so glad that I took time out of our busy lives to share with her.

As I look back on the two women, I realize that although she loved me, my mother damaged my soul. My “mother-in-love” helped to heal it.

I’ve lost both of my mothers now. My mother currently has Alzheimer’s and has a memory span of maybe 2 minutes. Her anger at me has taken over much of our relationship and I rarely call her anymore. This year, the first time in 51 years, she forgot my birthday. While I had been waiting and hoping for the day when she would forget me so I would be free of guilt for not calling her, I did sit down and cry. But I was hit even harder in 2009 when my “mother-in-love” was taken from us after a fairly brief illness. I still struggle with my grief sometimes and think of all the times over the last few years I wished I’d picked up the phone and called her. After she passed away, I spoke to my husband’s oldest sister who was taking care of mom and she told me that mom always loved me and she knew she was loved. She said that although mom could barely speak the last time I called her, she smiled the whole time I spoke to her and that as I told her I loved her, she was nodding her head and understood me.

Lessons are great when you learn them – but the key to learning lessons is to apply them to your life. Now that I’m a mother (and hopefully will be a “mother-in-love” someday, I hope that I will follow the example my husband’s mother set for me.

So as I close this, I’d like to leave you with a thought. I’m sure you’ve had people in your life who have damaged you in some ways and hopefully you’ve had people in your life who have healed those wounds. As you go about your life, whose example are you going to try and follow – and what lessons will your attitude and actions leave behind for others when you pass on?

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