My mom has been doing a good job keeping just how disappointed she is in me and in my life choices to herself these days. A couple of years ago she went all out and left me in tears, wanting to curl into a ball, and ultimately in therapy. These days, she just purses her lips. Usually. Recently, though, we had a conversation in which she confirmed what a huge disappointment she views me as. It’s not that I didn’t know, but it’s hard to hear said.
To my mother, I am a living disappointment. You know, the kind she cries about at night. The kind where she worries about the character development and future salvation of her grandchildren. I have been living life as a disappointment for years now, and I really don’t see that changing. I do have some thoughts on what it’s like, though.
Living life as a disappointment is like being fenced in . . .
. . . because there is no right answer. There was a time when I thought having children made things better. It meant that there was something else to talk about, something else to focus on when we visited. It meant that my mother could cradle a grandbaby, and smile and stroke its head with pride. It meant that my mother could sew cute outfits for them, and show her love through gifting. Now I am not so sure. Having children also means there is another point of contention, another thing for my mother to worry about. Of course, not having children would not have saved me. Not having children would mean rejecting my god-given role as mother.
Living life as a disappointment is incredibly painful . . .
. . . and perhaps what is most difficult is that I don’t see it changing. The main root of contention, resting beneath everything else, is that I am not a Bible-believing Christian. The problem, she says, is that I don’t spend time in the Word (aka the Bible). There are times when I want to go back to being a Christian just so that I can interpret the Bible through a progressive lens and quote scripture back at my mother.
Living life as a disappointment is like being chained to a lead ball . . .
. . . because it drags you down, and down, and down. There are times when I so wish I could hear a parent’s voice saying “I’m proud of you!” But I can’t. More than that, I can’t share my accomplishments with my mother, because to her my accomplishments are further sign of what a disappointment I am. I presented a paper at a conference? More evidence that I’m looking to the lies of liberal academia rather than the truth of the Word! I formed an original argument in my field? A further reminder that I am not at home raising my children full time as I should be!
. . . because even sharing the children’s milestones or reporting on their day to day lives becomes poisoned. If I’d stayed home with her, Sally probably would have been reading sooner. I’m calling to ask her what I should do about Bobby’s diarrhea? Further evidence that daycare is bad for him! It gets to where I feel like I can’t share cute stories about their lives as they grow, because I know it will be met with judgement, even if it is expressed silently. What does it mean to have a mother when I don’t feel like I can tell her anything about my life without feeling the weight of the judgement I know is there?
Living life as a disappointment is not something you can escape . . .
. . . but sometimes I want to try. Sometimes I want to just go and hide, to find a corner where I can curl up and cry, to find somewhere across the world where the fingers of my mother’s disappointment cannot touch me. Where can I go to get away from my mother’s disappointment? Surely there has to be somewhere! But there isn’t. It will be there, haunting me, for as long as she lives, and will probably continue to haunt me from her grave. There is nowhere to run.
Worst of all, there is no cure.
You could I should just stop caring, but that is easier said than done. This is my mother we’re talking about. Not caring would be easier if I didn’t have scores of happy memories with her, but I do. They’re threaded in among less pleasant memories, but they’re there nonetheless. This is my mother we’re talking about, and she will always be my mother. This is also my children’s beloved grandmother we’re talking about, because yes, they adore her. She sews them clothes and gives them baths and does their hair and reads them books.
Bar some major change that I really don’t foresee, I will always be a disappointment to my mother. I can set up boundaries and I can go to therapy, but ultimately, I cannot change this—and I cannot ignore that it hurts.