I surprised myself by getting a little protective of my estranged mother at a book event recently as I answered readers questions. While my mother made a complicated and fascinating character in my memoir as she did in life, I know it wasn’t only her children she made miserable.
By the time my memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters was published, I was years past being angry with her for her wackadoodle and sometimes sadistic parenting. It helped to assume she was mentally ill, and to look at the time from whence she came.
Being stuck in a trailer full of their unending demands threatened to choke the life right out of her. She fancied herself a Hollywood starlet waiting to be discovered. But the discovery never happened, and her home became littered with ungrateful children.—page 78.
My mother was born in a time when women’s choices were defined by gender. The expectations of women were, in short:
To marry. To have children. To be satisfied with being married and having children. To turn the other cheek when struck by the father of those children. To accept having as many children as she became pregnant with.
That didn’t turn out too good for those who had different wants.
Not everyone is cut out to be married, and not all people are built for parenting. Just ask my mom. Better yet, ask any of her children.
When I went away to college in my late teens, I first heard the term feminism. It surely didn’t fit into my then-conservative belief system. Sure, I was pursuing an education to do something beyond having children, like working, but I was no feminist. Or was I?
When I looked up the definition of feminism in the dictionary, I found it to be pretty simple:
The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Oh. That’s it? Nothing in there about not liking men or rejecting God like I’d been told feminism was. Just a simple belief that we should have equal rights and opportunities.
Today, I shudder when I hear young women today disavow feminism. “I’m not a feminist, but…”
Do you enjoy the right to vote? I want to ask them. Are you glad you can work and have kids, or not have kids? Or have kids and stay home with them? Are you tickled that you can stick with having pets instead of children? Pleased not to replicate 19 Kids and Counting unless you want to? And are you grateful that it’s no longer legal in the US for a husband to beat his wife?
In this loud and divisive time in history, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant images of protests. Then I’m reminded of role protesting has played in our nation’s history, and that those who’ve historically risked their lives for our freedoms weren’t only soldiers. They were also the soldier’s brave and sometimes unruly wives and mothers and sisters who wanted better for us all.
I like to imagine who my mom would have been had she been born a generation or so later. I picture her as an artist of some sort, living a quiet yet contented life, although given some of her other issues, that’s unrealistic. Still, I remain committed to appreciating mine, a most imperfect life filled with more work than I can accomplish balanced with a spectrum of friend and familial relationships and hobbies of my choosing with no pressure to get remarried.
And I want nothing less for my own daughters.
Thanks always for stopping by.