Every Mother’s Day, I read the comments and Facebook status updates from people thanking their mothers for being so amazing and wonderful and supportive and loving, etc, etc. And I feel jealous. Because I wish I could do the same.
My relationship with my mother has always been difficult. The culture gap as a 1st generation Canadian-Born-Chinese certainly has a lot to do with it, but I also believe that the abuse my mother faced as a child impacted the way she mothered. She doesn’t talk about it much, and when she does, she’s very matter-of-fact and a little dismissive about it.
Like many Asian kids out there, I’ve always struggled with self-esteem issues and wanting to prove myself. That drive has shaped me into who I am – both for better and for worse. Then I had my daughter.
All I knew when I became a mother was that I wanted something different for my daughter than what my mother gave me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother, and I know she did the best she could for me. But becoming a mother myself opened my eyes to how drastically different our personalities are, and how that, along with the culture gap, made it impossible for us to have an ideal mother-daughter relationship.
My mother came to take care of me during the first month of my own motherhood (it’s a Chinese thing). I remember my baby girl crying and crying and my mom asked me what was wrong with her. This was my first child – so I thought – duh, she’s a baby, and babies cry all the time, don’t they?? But as time went on, I realized my daughter cried WAY MORE and WAY LOUDER than other babies at the mall, at playgroups, at mom and baby yoga (which I dropped out of). I finally discovered that she is a highly sensitive child. And discovered that I am a highly sensitive person.
Suddenly things started to make more sense. Why my child freaked out anytime someone else made eye contact with her or tried to get in her space. Why she couldn’t sleep anywhere except the car and home. Why the loud and raucous voices of my husband’s extended family made her cry at every dinner we went to. And why it seemed like everything and everyone could set her off.
I realized that as her mother, I needed to be a calm, strong presence that she could count on, because any sense of my anxiety would make things twice as hard for her. At first, I just had to fake my way through it. Even though the frustration and desperation would be building inside of me, I had to keep my cool for her. And slowly this has helped me to learn to manage my own anxiety and emotions. I can be calm for her and calm for me, some of the time.
All of this has helped me to see that it was really hard for my own mother. As the youngest of 6 who came from a very patriarchal Taiwanese family, it was hard for my mom to adapt to a Canadian culture. And she had no idea what a “highly sensitive person” was, and didn’t know how to cope with me. Memories of her saying “why are you so sensitive?” remind me that she just didn’t understand my personality.
Understanding this has transformed me as a person, and I hope, has made me a better mother. I do my best to appreciate all of the little quirks and precious things my daughter says and does. I do my best to be level-headed when she is scared and anxious, and facing new challenges. I do my best to be open and honest with her and encourage her to do the same with me.
And every day I cry a little because I am overwhelmed with how amazing she is and how she has helped to heal the wounds I still carry from my own childhood. And I hope and pray that as I heal, I will be the mother she needs me to be.