Mothers Behaving Badly

She shared that after ten years of a pseudo reunion with her son, she went to visit him without informing him in advance. Ten years of knowing where he was, writing him, stalking him on the internet yet not being able to meet him (his request, not hers), she finally got the nerve to just show up at his door,  more specifically, his place of employment.

I winced when she stated this. Part of me feared hearing the rest of the story as I suspected I knew what was coming. I did. He got angry. Very angry. Told her off. Made a public scene.  Called her awful names. She left. I wondered why she would set herself up for such disappointment yet even in my wondering I knew why she would. I can relate to the need, that never ending hunger to be in your child’s presence, to  feel their breath, to see the way sunlight glistens in their hair, to listen to the unique cadence in the way they speak, to determine if you birthed a demon child as your parish priest suggested you would or if you added a decent individual to the human race. For even if you did not raise that human, the reason he or she exists is due to you choosing to give birth. I understood those primal motherly needs.

Mother friend seemed okay with the result. I would even go so far as to say she seemed to glow. She was not upset he yelled at her, called her names, ordered her away again. She got to see her son and be in his presence. She felt his breath on her. She saw the color of his hair up close and personal and smiled when she realized it was the same color as hers. She said she felt like her emotional load had been lightened. There was a pink to her cheeks that had not been there weeks before. She said she felt better. She felt somehow healed – even though her son raged at her in anger, pointed his finger towards the path she should take and told her to never, ever, contact him again. She finally got to meet her son even if he was a hostile witness in the action.

I have been musing about this woman for a few weeks and her actions made me wonder about the behavior of mothers in reunion and why we do the things we do, why we agree even passive aggressively to the things we agree to and the effect it has on us.

Let me use my own story as an example.

I won’t recycle old stories but I will offer that after a spotty, sporadic multi year correspondence with me, my daughter told me to go away. Told me she did not want any kind of relationship and would appreciate if I never write her again, never comment on her online sites and essentially disappear from the face of the earth. (Recall Death of the Author).

What did I do?

I politely said (not in this many words, but you will get the point) “Okay, dear, whatever you want. You are an adult. I need to respect your feelings and be proper and do what you told me to. You are the conductor of this reunion train. I will hop off as expected and role to the side of the tracks. I will be okay. It is really okay. I will be a good little birthmother and go away. Again.”  I bowed my head, curtsied and rolled away, as instructed. All the while I smiled and pretended it was all perfectly okay with me and I was at peace with going away, again.

If I take me out of that equation, at least the dutiful proper me, I am left with a person that says “Seriously, Suz, WHAT.THE.FUCK? When will you stop being so proper and well behaved? This is your child. Not your mother. Not your father. Not that black clad priest babbling every Sunday at St. James Church. When are you going to stop leaving her?”

I did not want to be proper when she told me to go away. I did not want to smile in amusement at her literary reference to Death of the Author, something she knew I would understand. Rather, I wanted to refuse. I wanted to yell, holler, debate, argue, and engage in a heated exchange with my own child. I wanted to hop the next train to Brooklyn and be like my Mother friend. I wanted to show up at her doorstep and demand she meet me.  I wanted to tell her I felt strongly that we needed – both of us – to be in each others presence and get this shit out and over with. I wanted her to rage at me in person, to show me face to face that she is really as cold and unfeeling as she came across in that message to me. I wanted to hug her and hold her and tell her it was okay to be angry, okay to cry, okay to do anything she wanted for I would never leave her. I would always be there for her even if history had dictated otherwise.

I didn’t of course. Good mothers don’t do that, right? Good mothers, do what they are told. Properly functioning people in modern society respect boundaries when they are set. Be the adult, be the parent that society says you aren’t but holds you to the standards of. Do not show any emotion to your child for that parentifies her and makes her feel responsible for fixing you like she was responsible for fixing the infertile woman who adopted her. Proper. Proper. Proper. Be proper. Your emotions are not for her. Not even your loving emotions.

And that brought me back to the mother I referenced above. She clearly was a bad mother by violating the emotional restraining order her son had placed against her. He told her to disappear (much like society, the adopters, and others had told her to do) and she did, at least for ten years.  Nice girls do what they are told (like give away our babies).  Our children know there is an established pattern of beating us into submission.  Doesn’t matter what book or stick or belief system we were beat with, they know we can be beat into submission and so they jump on the train – consciously or not.

Let me be clear here. I am not advocating a rush of mothers go show up where they are not wanted. Rather, I am wondering, questioning. Have we been overly conditioned to be good, be proper, do as others tell us that we forsake ourselves?  Have we been socialized in such a manner that we have become overly accommodating to all – including our children?  And if so, what is the effect on our children?  All of our children – surrendered and parented.

Pretend, for just a moment that at least one of those adult adoptees was “testing” their mothers.  If the adult adoptee was consciously or subconsciously testing the mother, to see if she would go away again, what further damage do we cause when we do as we are asked, and walk away from them again? Do we at least tell them the truth, that it is very hard for us, we don’t want to leave them again, we welcome them at any time, we hope they change their mind? Or do we keep that to ourselves because our feelings are too much for them, too much for everyone in fact.

Further complicating this torrent of emotion is the very real fact that that proper social behavior mandates that if someone says “go away” you do exactly that, vamoose, vamanos, hasta la bye bye baby. We are doing not only what our child has asked, no, demanded, but we are also following societies rules of proper social behavior. Those of us who have horribly violated those rules (by opening our legs when we shouldn’t have) learn all too well the punishment associated with such transgressions.  We lost our children.  Dare we violate another social rule? What might happen then?

After some thought, I found myself proud of that Mom that showed up on her sons doorstep unwanted and unannounced.  Good for her I wanted to scream. Good for her for standing up for her, for herself, and for her motherhood.  What did she have to lose? She already lost her son. He already told her to stay away. What was he going to do? Tell her again? She got to meet her son, finally, and in doing so, I suspect she met a part of herself she also lost many years ago, the part that feels that her feelings matter too, the part that contained her voice.

20 Thoughts.

  1. I really get this conundrum, because when my adopted daughter tells me she hates me and I’m not her friend anymore (in first-grade-ese) I tell her that’s fine, but I am always going to be her mother and I am always going to love her no matter what she says or does. (For the record, I tell her the same is true of her first mother, no matter whether she is in touch or not, which she hasn’t been for years.)

    On the other hand, once a child is grown up, there are boundaries you must respect even if they are testing you. I think if this ever happens with my kids, I will treat it the way I treat the relationships with their first moms and say, “you do what you need to do, but my door is open and will be forever.” We send unrequited letters and photos, always pleading for contact and always with all our information at the bottom to make contact possible. I don’t know whether I would consider this one-way communication on paper (or via email as the case may be) adequately respectful of boundaries, but I might just nudge the boundary that way unless I was explicitly told not to. Then I might just say “okay, but this phone number/email address/PO box/ etc. will always be there in case you change your mind.”

    It’s a tough line to walk.

    • Shannon – I get it from my youngest parented child as well. I do as you do with your adopted. Assure I love him regardless, etc. Sadly, it not the same feeling with surrendered children that you have not met, are not standing in front of you, wont accept your email, wont talk to you etc.

      We cannot, as much as we want to, be the same person/mother/adult we are with our parented children.

      • Yes, it’s got to be painful. I can only imagine. I did lose a child once when I broke up from a relationship with his mother and she denied us all contact. I sometimes “stalk” them online, but it isn’t the same as a birth mother situation.

        I recently found out a young friend of ours (in his 20s) is an adoptee and he is a big fan of our family but had never mentioned this to us. I asked him if he was in reunion and he said no, that his (adoptive) mother had a letter from his (first) mother, but he had “no interest in reading it.” I wanted to shake him and tell him to read it, but I guess it’s his call and his journey.

        I do think the 20s are a unique time and folks move to very different places as they mature. So there’s always hope for the future.

        In general though, the whole thing sucks. I boil it down in large part to our culture’s insistence that Mothers are some kind of magical people and There Can Be Only One. So if an adoptee shows any interest in a first mother, it must mean s/he is rejecting the adopted mother. I call nonsense. We’ve got FOUR mothers in our family.

  2. As I blogged many times about my beloved shrink who helped me live, the Parisian who got disgusted when she asked me “why did you do that?”

    I said I was trying to be nice.

    She said, “Niz, what is this Niz? That is your adopteeef parents talking. I hate Niz people, what have they ever done?”

    Being nice got us given away. You know to be oooky and say something like being the captain of your own ship, it is not about being nice and gaining others approval it is about learning to carry on when the cast aspersions because they will, even when you are “nice” Nice is so often used as a bully club to get people to conform to some other manipulation.

    If Tomtom told me to go away, different circumstances to be sure, I would not respect his wishes, I am his mother. He adores me, so I don’t see that happening but part of the reason he adores me is he knows I am devoted.

  3. I’ve long been an advocate for showing up on doorsteps. For mother or child. Just once though, any more could be considered stalking.

    I think your mother friend did the right thing, and I applaud her.

  4. I am so torn about this. I have helped mothers “stalk” their grown kids. I was all for it. Not sure I could do this myself. But if my son had rejected reunion, I might… don’t know. Gonna think on it and post a comment later, AS IF I can come to some rational thought in this emotionally-charged situation.

  5. Love this blog Suz and I’ve shared it with a couple of my mom friends who have been banished by their sons! I can totally relate…Denise I agree, it’s hard to make a judgement call when we know how emotionally-charged this is.

  6. As an adoptee, it was always my thought that if I contacted someone from my bfam (birthmom, firstly) and they did not wish further contact, I would show up on their doorstep. There is something about being face to face. Whether it works out or not…you get to see it and witness it. There is power in that…and I don’t mean that in the sense of power = control. I mean it in matters of the heart. Your heart can see it, in person.

    I’m all for showing up.


  7. I received this from a very close friend who is also a mother of loss what you have written has really hit home it is as if I have written this so after not see my son for 45 years I have now made the decision to go to chicago and knock on his door
    this aug thank you for your post and wish me luck I hope he does not reject me again like he once did in a letter

  8. I’m back with a little more to say. That our grown children might be testing us hit a nerve, because my son tested me over and over again. Even once said “is there anything I could do that would make you stop loving me?” I wondered at the time if he was asking for suggestions! I held steadfast until he became truly abusive. I believe that I proved myself, that I would not go away, leave him again. I’m still here and open, even though we are not in communication.

    After considering what Suz wrote about being well-behaved birthmothers, I’m leaning more toward showing up on doorsteps, if necessary. We were so good, so compliant that we lost our children. Maybe it’s time to stop that.

    Still each of us has a different situation and we have to decide how best to handle it.

  9. I would not show up on my now-adult child’s doorstep for many reasons I won’t go into here.

    That said, I do applaud some birth/first mothers who found it imperative to rise from the assigned prostrate position.

    And, oh, how I agree with this part:

    ” [adult] children know there is an established pattern of beating us into submission. Doesn’t matter what book or stick or belief system we were beat with, they know we can be beat into submission and so they jump on the train – consciously or not.”

    IMO, it serves nobody when we reside at the burning end of a passed-along torch, no matter who its wielder is.

  10. Strike that. I applaud all birth/first mothers who rise from the assigned prostrate position.

  11. I support this first mother’s need for a f2f visit. In her shoes I would have done it too.

  12. ” [adult] children know there is an established pattern of beating us into submission. Doesn’t matter what book or stick or belief system we were beat with, they know we can be beat into submission and so they jump on the train – consciously or not.”

    I think having once been we are very leery of so being again regardless of who the perpetrator is.

  13. Great post, Suz. I’m proud of her for doing this, too. Don’t know if I ‘d ever have the balls to do it, but after 10 years who knows? Really hoping I don’t have to wait 10 years to find out. Cheers to her.

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