My mom wears a smile, one that hides bitter rage and hurt.
When faced with a painful situation, she comes in one of two settings: overreact or don’t react at all. Deep down she seems to have bitter wounds that have cemented in to hardened bitter rage, like old taffy turned to cement.
She wants to help and comfort. I can tell she does, but she doesn’t know how.
My mother doesn’t know how to be empathetic.
Rager festers beneath the surface from being raised by her father, Lee, and her brothers to be their doormat. As the only daughter in the family, her father taught her that he and her brothers always got their way and she had to clean up the mess. This resulted in my uncles being generally useless. They all married women who boss them around and take care of everything while they just totter along like lumps.
They can’t take of themselves because that’s a woman’s job.
My dad was raised in a very opposite fashion. My grandmother believed in independence, so she taught all her boys to sew, cook, and clean. Being able to do their own housework meant independence and self-reliant.
To this day, that’s how my dad views those skills. He taught me and my brother the same lesson: do your own housework. That’s what an independent person does.
In fact, my parents have butted heads on this. My mom was upset when me and my brother started cooking for ourselves and doing are own laundry. It made her feel less needed, and less needed meant less loved.
Just to please her, my brother finally let’s her wash some of his clothes because she got so upset, especially when he tried to help her clean the house. You’d think he had committed a crime.
I finally had to explain to him what was going on and that she didn’t see it as “helpful”, but as saying “I don’t need you anymore”.
I don’t think my mom likes taking care of others, yet she can’t seem to live without someone to baby and take of. My dad has more than once told me, “If she could have kept her children as babies forever, she would have been happy.”
Kind of creepy, but a lot of women instantly nod and agree with my mom’s thinking when I mention this. They understand how she feels.
About that bitterness and desperate need to take care of others, I suspect a lot of it started in childhood.
My mother once told me a story about when she was seven. She climbed atop the chicken coop and accidentally fell off, slice a six-inch cut across her shin, which for a seven-year old is a pretty large wound. She limped home, bleeding profusely, her sock and shoe soaked in blood. At the porch, my grandfather noticed his injured daughter. Instead of comfort or treatment, he laughed and mocked her. She stood there physically hurt and crying as he called her an “idiot” for falling off the chicken coop.
Finally, when he’d amused himself enough, he yelled at his wife, “Woman, get out here and take care of our dumb child.”
This went on her whole life. She was taught that her feelings didn’t matter, and she’d only be laughed at if she showed hurt and anger.
When my mother turned seventeen, Lee picked out a man for her to date, a man exactly like himself. Luckily, she had the sense to refuse and instead married my father whom she met in martial arts class.
My father could not have been more opposite Lee. My father is a strong man who embodies positive masculinity and is deeply empathetic and an amazing listener. He never tries to control and shame and manipulate, but listens and advises. 90% of the time my mom decides to go with his idea, yet always winds up believing it was her idea all along.
More than once he told Lee and her brothers as kindly as he could to “go to hell”. He’s gone even further, helping my mother to stand up against them. My uncles were stunned once when my mother wouldn’t let them have their way. Their little sister was there to be a doormat. They had never seen her tell them “no”. Now they’ve learned to accept that things are not like childhood and her feelings do matter.
Unfortunately, years of being raised a doormat takes a toll and has left a deep, bitter hurt in her heart that I think will never resolve. She still can’t express feelings or empathize without extreme awkwardness.
For example, on her 40th birthday, my dad spent five hours fixing a fancy lobster meal for her that included all her favorite dishes. He worked hard to get everything just how she liked it.
When we sat down to the beautiful prepared meal, my mom took the first bite. Instead of “yum” or a “thank you”, the first thing she says is “not enough salt” and then grabs the salt and starts piling it on.
We gaped at her in horror. My dad looked hurt — he’s kind of sensitive about his cooking.
Finally, she notices our horrified stares and sputters, “wh-what?”
We look away and all start eating in silence.
She just doesn’t get it.
Which is sad because she has complained for years how Lee never appreciated her mother’s cooking. Her mother would spend hours slaving over a stove, creating his favorite meals and he always complained that it tasted “bland”.
Lee could not compliment his wife.
Like father, like daughter.
One time my younger brother dislocated his forefinger and, instead of acknowledging the hurt, my mom asked him if he’d pick up the milk from the store later before walking off.
My family is used to this.
My mother comes in two settings: downplay the injury or way overreact to the point of panic. There is no middle ground for her.
My grandfather loved to rile my mother up, pushing and pushing until she bawled and screamed hysterically. Then he and her brothers would laugh at her behavior and, as she begged them to stop, would say, “It’s just a joke. Can’t you take a joke?”
My grandfather tried to this a couple times to me and my brother until my dad stepped in and made it clear what would happen the next time Lee tried one of his “jokes”. Lee left us alone after that.
My dad often laughs at himself, but my mom can’t stand being laughed at. It seems to dig up old wounds of “it’s just a joke”.
It’s a shame because my brother and I share our father’s love at laughing at ourselves. We tease each other but not in a mean way. It’s light-hearted and makes the other smile.
My mother watches us, wanting to join in, but can’t bring herself to laugh at herself. Her sense of humor can sometimes be dark and she’ll burst out laughing about the oddest thing.
There is this silent, bitter rage that teems beneath the surface. Sometimes it wells up so strongly mother almost seems to gag on it.
I am thankful that I avoided that fate, but a lot of that was due to my mother picking a great man to marry. A man who taught us that self-control and independence and how to deal with hurt.
I have suffered many bad friendships and traumatic situations, but somehow I escaped becoming a bitter person myself. I tend to dwell for months on lost friendships and painful situations I talk and talk my anger and hurt to death, but once resolved I forget it all and move.
In fact, the people who hurt me the most I can barely remember. Once my anger is resolved, I forget them completely. The wounds close up and disappear, leaving only a lesson.
I wish my mother could do that. She still remembers vividly everyone who ever wronged her. When she speaks of them, the rage bubbles up.
A couple years ago I did become bitter about my infertility. I noticed it following me around like a dark cloud. I talked and talked to my dad, husband, and even a counselor. Nowadays, I’m sad about it, but not bitter and angry.
I’ll always be sad, but I’m not bitter.
If only my mother could do the same.