Moms and Daughters: The Hello, Goodbye Cycle
Blog by Amanda
A girl’s relationship with her mother will always be one of the most complex and wonderful (sometimes most frustrating) relationships in the course of her life. Growing up, I was blessed with a mother who was very involved in my life – from my grades to my friendships to talking about boys—she was the one I would often turn to. We would shop together, cook dinner together, take walks together, go on vacations together.
The summer before I went to college was pretty tumultuous, as can often be the case with teenage girls wanting to exert their independence. I was so excited to be off on my own as an “adult,” to attend the University of Alabama and to live my own life away from my parents’ rules. We toured colleges together, and she even went with me to Bama Bound, walking around campus and into the College of Journalism with me for where the very first time, we met Dr. Jennifer Greer, who would become one of my mentors throughout my college experience. I very vividly remember that my Mom even arranged a private meeting with a Campus policeman and
coerced politely asked him to explain to me the dangers that could exist for a college freshman—for example, walking alone after dark, or drinking punch at a party. I remember being mortified during that experience, and I was so ready for her to leave and let me be there on my own. But the day came (all too soon, looking back), when she did leave. We got up early, had breakfast at our hotel, and went to set up my dorm room with the decorations we had handpicked together argued over that summer.
It took a few hours, and when we were done, it was time for my family to head out. That’s the very first time the now-familiar knot in my stomach emerged in full force; the feeling of my mom leaving me as I embarked upon the next chapter alone. We walked to the front of Ridgecrest South (the brand new dorm building where I was to live,) and my Dad and brother quickly hugged me and went to pull the minivan around. It was just my Mom and I. She broke down into tears, cried a little and gave me a long hug and then walked away. I was again embarrassed briefly—I was in front of my new peers with my mom hugging me and crying! I wasn’t a baby. It was foggy that day, and a little misty, and it was hard to see the van slowly pull away. My throat choked up, and I later realized it wasn’t just the fog that made it hard to see, as my eyes, too, clouded over. I barely made it to my dorm room before I threw myself onto my twin bed with the new Laura Ashley pink and green plaid comforter and sobbed. I would miss her terribly.
Always a little adverse to change, those first few days in Tuscaloosa were hard. It was Sorority Rush, and I kept busy every day walking from house to house in the blazing hot sun, talking to girls I barely knew and trying to sell myself on why I would be a good fit for each sorority. It was exhausting. I was so terribly homesick, but by Day 3 or so, it gradually became OK and even a little fun. I made some friends in my little Rho Chi group, and then found my place at Bama in the AOII Alpha Delta chapter. I was so excited to get my official bid! My mom came down to visit for Bid Day (just 1 week after dropping me off), and she went to lunch at my new sorority house with me.
She only stayed a day or so because all of the pledges attended a freshman retreat at the Yacht Club that evening. But, it was so nice to see her, and the goodbye wasn’t quite so heartbreaking this time. I went home several times over the course of my remaining semesters at Bama. I was only 2.5 hours away, and we always had fun when I was home, but there were many weeks I didn’t see my Mom at all. In the beginning she sent me big care packages that my friends and I enjoyed—homemade cookies from Peggy Ann Bakery for Valentine’s Day, a new dress and digital camera and cards, always cards, about how she was so proud of me and was thinking of me always. My brother joined me at Bama two years later, and it was nice to have him there. We even lived together a couple of years, which was gratifying but difficult as brothers and sisters can argue. I was an upperclassman and took on more of a parent role while he was just enjoying his first year of college and wanting to party more than I did by that point. Looking back, I took living with my brother for granted. I had lived with him for 18 years after all, and I resented his messy ways and our lifestyle differences. However, now it is hard to reconcile that we will most likely never live together again. I should have appreciated it so much more when he was just down the hall!
I got married right after college graduation and moved across the state again! Since my husband is in the military, we will be moving from place to place at the whims of Uncle Sam. Our first duty station is about 4 hours from my family, a little farther than college, but not terrible as far as distance goes. But, it’s certainly too far to go home for dinner or to see my Mom weekly or even monthly. There are many, many months when I don’t see her at all. I read an article the other day that 93% of in person time with parents occurs in one’s life from ages 0-18, but oh how we take it for granted then! When you grow up and move away, you would do anything to see them with any kind of regularity, but sometimes, it just isn’t in the cards. I will say that being farther away from family can be very beneficial for a marriage as you become totally reliant upon one another and the family you are building. You are forced to lean on each other more and become one another’s best friend. You really grow together in a way that I think can be harder if you live in your hometown. But, it can be tough to be so far from extended family.
So, you visit family instead. The Cycle of a Visit is much like this (at least for me): eager anticipation for the big reunion followed quickly by stress in wanting to make everything perfect. Your home has to be spotless; after all your mother (or mother in law) is coming down. The fridge must be stocked with their favorite foods and drinks, delicious meals should be planned so they know you can cook and are surviving like an adult! Your decorations should be perfectly arranged (if for a holiday). This is not mother-imposed stress mind you, but self-imposed: the desire to prove you are making it as an independently functioning member of society and as a wife mixed with the desire to give them a wonderful, memorable experience just like they gave you on countless occasions! Even after careful planning, the day before/of the visit can be super stressful. You may snap at your husband for playing video games/going about life as usual on such a momentous day, or for picking up the wrong thing at the grocery store, or even for cleaning something less-than-thoroughly. This is a big occasion after all! You apologize for said snapping. You see your parent and it is wonderful, for about a minute. And, then it can be easy to fall into old patterns of differing expectations or comments that are perceived in the wrong way even if they were meant well (on both sides.) This relationship is hard because the smallest thing can be taken out of context because each party cares what the other one thinks so much. It can be harder if in laws and spouse don’t get along; we are lucky to have mostly positive relationships with in laws, although some conflict is typically inevitable when a new person marries in and tries to adapt to age-old family customs and traditions and personalities of different relatives. But, when you live in different places, you get the pleasure of the said visiting relative’s company for much longer than if you lived in the same place and got together more frequently for dinner or a movie; this visit is 24/7, which is both positive and negative. You are in very close quarters for sometimes days on end (or even longer if you live very far apart.) One coworker of mine has relatives that visit for 2-3 months at a time as a bare minimum, due to the long journey and expense involved in getting together. Our typical trips are 3-7 days usually, which is plenty but simultaneously never enough as the time seems to fly. It can become stressful again during the duration of the visit, depending on who is visiting or if hurtful words are said But, it is also just so fun and nice to feel “normal” again like you can have that same everyday relationship with your relative that you enjoyed when you lived in the same house or town. For example, in my case, my Mom and I were in Macy’s buying some shoes this week. I checked out first while my Mom went to look at some shirts. She showed up after I interacted with the sales girl, and it was so gratifying when the girl looked at both of us and exclaimed incredulously, “Wow, y’all look just alike! You must be related!” That happens so little anymore, whereas we used to be told we were “twins” all the time since we do look a lot alike. But, when you aren’t in person together, opportunities for those comments just don’t come up.
At the end of a visit, both parties are ready to return to life as usual to some extent, but neither wants to say goodbye. That old familiar knot forms when it is time to say goodbye, and without fail, I am a little lost each time my mother leaves. I usually have to cry it out for a moment, and then I am OK. Until the next time. Because you don’t always know when you will see each other again, time is so precious. Some days are harder for me than others. Mother’s Day this year was hard. Everyone was out buying cards, flowers and gifts for their moms and planning elaborate get togethers. At church, all the moms were there with their children, and each Mom got a rose. I had bought and mailed our Mother’s Day gifts early since we were not seeing either Mom, so I treated myself to a pedicure by myself since my friends were all with their own mothers. On days like that, you just want your Mom, but you have to live with the fact that she isn’t there, and a phone conversation must suffice.
It is a hard-to-describe feeling of wanting to be grown up and loving this next chapter of your life with your spouse but still caring about your Mom’s opinion so much and wanting to see her so badly it physically hurts at times! Then, when you do see her, it can sometimes make you feel like a kid again, even when you so badly want to be an adult and do everything your way.
Recently, I was looking through my closets to find an outfit for my company’s holiday party. I picked out several dresses, and finally settled on a skirt and top that I thought was dynamite. I texted a picture to a friend, and she agreed it looked great! I was modeling it in the mirror truly feeling like “all that.” I felt beautiful in this outfit. I texted a picture to my mother, excited to hear her praise of how great I looked. I have always had an honest (and very fashionable) mother, who helps me pick out some of my favorite pieces. Her response was “Are you on the way to the party now?” I said, “No, it’s tomorrow.” Because I was not yet en route, my mother chose her words carefully. “You asked my honest opinion…I don’t think that goes together as well….You should try these pants instead.” I was floored and upset. I had loved this outfit after all! I texted something back like “OK, thanks.” I was kind of seething inside. My mom sent back a sad face; after all I had asked her opinion, when I had really just wanted her to reaffirm I had made a good choice. Well, I decided I am an adult now, and I will wear what I like and what I feel good in! In a rare moment of rebellion (for me,) I started to dress for the party the next night. I put on my shirt and my skirt and a pair of heels and took a long look at myself. I looked good…Right? The smallest doubt crept in. I started tugging more at my skirt, looking at myself from all angles. I am a grown up, I thought. I can wear this. I look great! Then a voice inside my head (my mother’s voice), said “Try the pants….” I thought “Fine, Mom. I will try the pants just to say I did. But, I will put this skirt back on and wear what I like.” I put the pants on, and looked at myself. Gosh-darn it! She was right. The pants looked so—ooo—oo much better. Like it wasn’t even a contest! I sighed and hung the skirt back up in the closet. I called my Mom on the way to the party to tell her she was right and I was sorry for being annoyed when she shared her opinion. And, I was wearing the pants. How do mothers do that anyway? It’s like they have a sixth sense about these things, and yet, I had to admit the outfit looked far better her way than my way.
When she visits, she does a good job of not saying much and even complimenting some of my choices, when I know she would do things differently such as arranging certain items in the kitchen cabinets or buying different foods. And, it’s OK. We don’t have to be exactly alike. I did learn a lot from her though, and sometimes she gives me really handy hints around the house that I benefit from tremendously. She has such a wealth of knowledge from her own years of running a household and age and wisdom that I don’t yet possess. So, I am happy to learn from her. It is a delicate balance for mothers and daughters to learn from and respect one another. Sometimes she makes me want to pull my hair out! Like I know I do to her as well, and if most mothers and daughters are honest with themselves, they can likely relate to this same feeling all too well! But, mostly when I look back on our visits, I am just thankful for the fun times, the joy and laughter we shared. We went to see a movie this Christmas and made jokes the whole time, and it was one of my best memories from the trip. Then, she made me sit in the empty Santa chair at the mall with her and pose for a picture. That is one of my favorite pictures now, although I was a little embarrassed at the time when she asked one of the kiosk employees to leave her booth to take it. Cue the whiny “Mooommm,” that has been with me since childhood when I am resistant to one of her awesome ideas. I have learned that 9 times out of 10, I will be grateful for it later.
There is something so comforting in being with someone who you can still be your absolute self around without worrying about making a good impression. She changed my stinky diapers; I don’t think she cares too much if I don’t dress up for Christmas or make a comment the wrong way or even act cranky because I don’t feel well. And, she will still love me regardless of all these things. As time marches on, I know people who don’t have their parents anymore, people who would give anything for the few days that my Mom and I just spent together. It truly was the best Christmas gift of all to get to see her and celebrate with her together in my home for a few days. I may be a Bradshaw now and a married lady, but sometimes, even married ladies just need their Moms.
Thank you, Mom, for making the four-hour trip down to see us! It was truly a great and memorable time and one of the best Christmases ever. Congratulations on winning 4 games of Yahtzee in a row, much to mine and Luke’s chagrin. You are welcome any time, and we will miss you a lot. Yes, the knot in my stomach is here, but it is gradually getting smaller as I get back to Life as Usual, and I know you will do the same. Writing this out helped a lot. Until next time, I will mind my manners and be good. Promise. 😉 Love you more than you will ever know!