July 18, 2012

"Mean Mothers" by Peg Streep (Video and Book Excerpt)




Drawn from research and the real-life experiences of adult daughters, "Mean Mothers" illuminates one of the last cultural taboos: what happens when a woman does not or cannot love her own daughter. 

by Peg Streep

Chapter One: The Myth of Mother Love

"I was no older than three or four when I knew my mother didn't love me. Of course, the way in which I knew this was different from how I would know and understand it at other times in my life, but I knew it nonetheless. I knew it first by the way she stiffened when I tried to sit in her lap or touch her arm, and how she turned her face away when I kissed her. She wasn't like the people who loved me – my father, my grandfather, my great-aunt, or even my teachers – whose faces softened with pleasure when I drew near.

Later, I knew that who I was – a round-faced curly-haired girl full of energy and curiosity – was enough to irritate or infuriate her. "Stop skipping!" she'd say when we walked together, dropping my hand in punishment, as though my joy was an affront to her. I would slow down, chastened by her sharp voice, instantly lonely but reassured by the clatter of her high heels on the pavement that she was still there. She was the bullet I couldn't dodge, and the gunfire could come from anywhere and nowhere. It might be a stranger telling her she had a pretty child, inadvertently setting off a tirade as sudden and violent as a summer storm. She would begin with a defense of her own beauty that would build into a hurricane of complaints, gathering energy as it went, each new thought more saturated with anger than the one before, all directed at me. The seeds of her rage and disappointment could blossom in a bewildering instant.

I knew, more than anything, that her power was enormous and that the light of her sun was what I needed. But that light could burn, flicker, or disappear for any or no reason. Yet, as a small child, I loved and needed her, and wanted desperately to please her, as much as I feared her.

When I was a little girl, I learned to tiptoe through her shadows and found sunshine in the real world and that of my imagination. Before he died, my father was a safe haven, since she largely hid both her anger and meanness toward me when he was home. I hoarded the attention I got from my teachers, my babysitter, the woman who cleaned our apartment, the mothers of my friends, and tucked it away, deep inside.

I drew the stories in books up around my shoulders for comfort, my thumb in my mouth. I called myself Eloise and was happiest living vicariously in the blissfully motherless Plaza Hotel, with a loving nanny, a turtle, and a dog named Weenie. I pretended that I was Jo March with a mother named Marmie, and the boy who owned Ole Yeller and the girl who rode Flicka. I saw myself living in that little house on the prairie, all safe and warm, with the pumpkins big enough to sit on in the dry cellar. I mothered my dolls the way I longed to be mothered; I told them stories, cuddled them, and made sure they were safe.

I mothered myself by imagining that I'd been handed to the wrong mother at the hospital somehow and that the mother to whom I really belonged would come and find me—knowing, all along, that the mother I had was the one I'd been born to. I could see my mother's reflection in my face, just as easily as I could see, standing on a chair in the bathroom, the red outlines her hands left on my back when her anger left her speechless.

As I got older, my mother's menace diminished, though not her meanness or the mystery of her rage. With the birth of my brother when I was nine, I saw that my mother could love a child who wasn't me.

Try as I might, I couldn't puzzle it out; what was it about me that made her so angry? Why didn't she love me? When I asked her just that, as I would time and again over the course of many years, her answer was always the same and maddeningly indirect: "Every mother loves her child, Peggy." I knew it to be a lie, but I didn't yet see then that she lied to protect herself, not me.

There was no reconciling the mother I knew – the one who literally shook with fury and missed no opportunity to wound or criticize me – with the charming and beautiful woman who went out into the world in the highest of heels, shining jewelry on her hands and neck, not a hair out of place. She flirted with everyone – even my girlfriends and later my boyfriends – and they pronounced her delightful. Her secret—and mine –was closely held; who would believe me if I told? And so I didn't. But she was all I had left when I was fifteen and the two men who had loved me– my father and my grandfather – died within three months of each other.

By then, the struggle between us took a different shape. She could still hurt me – I never forgot the moment she told the first boy I loved that despite my pretty outside, I was rotten inside – but she couldn't scare me. I watched how she acted with her own mother, a dance set to a melody of jealousy and competition. Slowly – very slowly – I had my first inkling that how she treated me might have nothing at all to do with who I was.

I was younger, smarter, better educated than she, and I began to realize she was afraid of me and the truths I told. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had a countdown of the days before college – it was more than 1000 – and that made my life trapped under her roof seem almost temporary and gave me the illusion of imminent freedom.

But I still wanted her love as much as I wanted to be able to answer the question I couldn't answer as a child: why didn't she love me?

I know the answer now and that knowledge absolutely co-exists with a terrible longing for the mother love I never had and never will have..."


Read the rest of her free book excerpt HERE, published on ABCNews.com



17 comments:

  1. Chilling to read about my own mother on someone else's blog. No, I am not the author. We weren't rich but the stark contrast in and out of public view, the tensing, loving a sibling but not me... too many similarities. Sad reminder that I am not alone. Thankful to realize her behavior is not about me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Ruth!

      Mothers have so much power over their children's lives. What I'm learning from my fellow bloggers is that Mean Mothers get away with abuse because people Don't Want To Know that 'some' mothers are not loving, kind, compassionate, & nurturing.

      You are such a wonderful person, Ruth. I am inspired by your blog entries, the things you 'notice', and your insistence on making something beautiful out of your life. You take time to notice there's something miraculous about birds flying in the sky and flowers blooming. I love that you did NOT give up and that you have NOT given up and you will NEVER give up.

      Your mother's behavior was not about you...it was always about herself. You know that now and isn't it liberating to realize her inability-to-love had nothing to do with your worthiness to-be-loved.

      Hugs,
      CZ

      Delete
  2. In the end when her mother was dying and the author chose NOT to go to her despite the urging of EVERYONE ELSE to do so, Peg Streep didn't. "And never regretted it."
    Gawd love her, neither do I. After 18 yrs. of post NC terrorism it seemed almost too good to be true she was dead. Finally. I truly wondered during those years if she was going to out-live me.
    Thanks. Great excerpt.
    TW

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wellllllllll TW, I must admit to having thought of YOU. *wink*

      A few other women have made similar choices. They tell me they've NEVER regretted their decision to stay away. They've said, "Why would I go back just so she could take another swipe at hurting me?"

      See, I think scenarios like that are just too much for people to believe---probably because the majority of mothers ARE good-enough mothers. And of course, people haven't been free to talk about abusive mothers because our focus has been on physical abuse and neglect.

      Mean mothers get a 'free pass' with the public when they should be getting a reprimand. Why is that? Why do we think it’s okay for a mean mother to tear up her daughter's' artwork if it wasn't up to mother’s standards?

      Lately, Mean Mothers are being promoted as better than those gentle mothers hanging poorly-executed crayon drawings on their living room walls. I'm afraid I'll go way off-track if I don't stop myself...but the gist of what needs to be said is that when women mother like men (tough, authoritarian, strict), they're put on talk shows and book publishers salivate for a contract.

      I think mean mothers stink and I think they abuse their children without needing to raise a hand. They terrify children by withholding their approval. They teach their children to perform well, better than other children. They teach their kids to Be the Best, thus reinforcing narcissistic values disconnecting children from peers, and even themselves. Everything is all about pleasing mother and never about pleasing themselves.

      I've listened to some interviews with these mean mothers and just shook my head. When women were asking for equal rights, I thought we were raising nurturance, compassion, tenderness, empathy, and love to an equal value with independence, self-reliance….argh.


      Hugs,
      CZ

      Delete
  3. I've read this several times already and underlined about 80%. It's hugely helpful, this book, because she captures perfectly the subtleties of a "mean mother." The micro-expressions (I feelzanutha post acommin) of displeasure when you approach a NM, the micro-musculature of contempt and disdain. My mother literally narrows her eyes when she looks at me! It's kind of hilarious! I can see it, she's not aware she's doing it, but I can see it. And you can never call someone out on something like that!
    Also, Streep talks about the damage a mother does simply by not caring very much about her daughter. It doesn't even have to be open cruelty. Mild disdain, disregard and dismissiveness, peppered with regular belittlement, have disastrous effects on a sensitive child. Thanks for posting this excerpt CZ.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw a link on your blog to this book. So when I ran across this excerpt and then her video, it seemed relevant to the discussions we're having about Narcissistic Mothers.

      I especially appreciated the author's description of MEAN mothers. The kind that do the things people are writing about on blogs today.

      Knowing a mother is vain is a 'disconnect', a rejection of sorts. At a certain point, it might even be funny to an adult child. But there is nothing funny about knowing a mother has contempt and disdain for her child. Most people can't fathom the trauma it is being her child...


      Hugs,
      CZ

      Delete
  4. I'm a teacher, so this is of great interest to me. I can think of several students I've had whose mothers just didn't seem to care one way of another. It's painful as the daughters are deserving and lovely children. The issue lies with the withholding mother. I was gratified to read that while growing up, the author basked in the attention people outside her family - including her teachers. I often feel that the greatest gift I can give a child is letting them know that I BELIEVE in them and that they are special.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jan,

      I still remember with great fondness, some of my teachers. The concern they had for their "kids" still makes my heart swell. One teacher CAN make all the difference in a child's life.

      Whenever people talk about elementary school, we bring up our favorite teachers. The teachers who SAW us...who actually looked in our eyes and saw little human beings, not objects.

      The Withholding Mother...are you inclined to give that post a whirl, Jan? I'd love reading your thoughts about the narcissistic mothers you've encountered at parent-teacher-conferences. Of course, we don't want you to lose your job if one of those mean mothers finds your blog.

      I have wondered what teachers do though, when they meet a Mean Mom. Do experienced teachers spot her right away or does the Mean Mother pretend to be a loving and concerned mother who only wants the best for her child?

      Hugs,
      CZ

      Delete
  5. ^^^Now, there's a REAL teach! We NEED more of you, planetjan!
    TW

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let's ALL pack up our bags and move to Jan's planet!

      Delete
  6. While I experienced similar situations with my mother, I honestly don't think she didn't love me - through therapy, I understood that my mother simply was limited in HOW she loved me. I never realized how destructive and toxic she was until my own marriage ended - I married my "mother" - as before, I thought ALL mothers were mean to their children, even though my friends' mothers seemed different than mine. Her narcissism is still so strong, yet now I can deal with her. Again, thanks to my therapist and having the survival mechanisms to change MY way of behaving in reaction to such criticism and meanness. I now understand that my grandmother (my mother's mother, who is still healthy at 94) treats her the same way she treated me. She simply repeats the pattern. I was a step-mother while married, and I repeated some of those narcissistic behaviours though I vowed I wouldn't. So while yours and my situations are a little different, the bottom line is: how destructive narcissistic mothers are. When my father died (when I was 25), I felt like I was completely alone - I idealized him as he was not nearly as destructive as she was. But I know he also contributed to my pain as he did nothing to stop it. As Maya Angelou says, 'When you know better, you do better". Once I knew better, I changed. My mother will never know better and I have accepted that. What a relief!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "When you know better, you do better". Once I knew better, I changed. My mother will never know better and I have accepted that."

      Inspiring and hopeful words, Paulette.

      My relationship with my mother has been rocky, but not pathological. We're able to meet one another as individuals in our own right now. Her transition towards a more accepting and loving relationship with her all of her daughters is why I wrote the post about pathological narcissists: Those who aren't pathological narcissists, change. Those who are, don't change. This seems to be a truism, although I'm not a researcher.

      Maybe it's wishful thinking and maybe it's a reflection of my own experience, but I would like to believe that the majority of mothers love their children...ineffectively perhaps. Rather badly maybe. But they do love their children. To me, they're unconsciously repeating dysfunctional patterns from the way they were treated by their mothers. If that's the case, a relationship crisis might shake things up enough for narcissistic mothers to seek therapy, too.

      I have been able to improve my relationship with my mother, too. She also makes an effort to get along with me. I've slowly, especially since learning about narcissism, learned to manage my reactions to old triggers, old hurts.

      A lot of people blogging about narcissistic mothers suffered a hateful envy bordering on malice. This is painful to read yet it must be so...mothers are human beings, subject to mental illnesses and disorders like everyone else.

      Thank you so much for taking time to write about your experience, Paulette! And kudos to you for working with a therapist and finding healthier ways to deal with your mother. I'm sure this didn't happen quickly or easily.

      Hugs,
      CZ

      Delete
  7. I just found this post after finishing Mean Mothers today. During the past year I realized that my own mother is a "mean" mother, likely with narcissistic personality disorder. I have been no-contact with her for just over a year, and I have seen the rest of my life improve without her in it. I finally feel free to be myself and am starting to understand that I can be loved for who I am rather that what I do for others.

    My first husband was emotionally abusive as well, and I think it took my divorce from him to give me the strenth to "divorce" my mother.

    Since then, I have been lucky enough to find a kind man who is now my husband. He has supported me through all the "work" I've had to do as a result of my mother's treatment. I have also been blessed with other women entering my life and "mothering" me the way that my own mother did (and likely, could) not.

    I now have hope that I can become a good-enough mother myself in the future and not repeat the painful past. Books like Mean Mothers and blogs like this help to validate daughters' feelings and experiences. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so sorry to have missed reading this comment! It's a valuable statement about "healing" from the past, even if mothers were mean or abusive. Creating healthy relationships with other women can be life-changing, challenging "misogynistic" ideas we may have formed when we were children. We may not notice those ideas are there but we can if we pay attention to our Inner Critic (the mean mother's voice). I have benefited so much from my female friendships, close relationships with sisters and now my daughter. Unfortunately, a mean mother can cause us to distrust other women.

      Thank you so much for posting.

      Delete
  8. Wow finally im not alone .Mean mothers should be held accountable for the damage that they have done

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello wendy! Mothers should be held accountable just like all abusers should be held accountable. We're in total agreement. Society has a lot to learn about what it means to be human.

      Pigeonholing all women into selfless, giving, nurturing, gentle human beings who want and love their children, is a serious mistake. I think people are coming out of the woodwork now, challenging this ideal; and I believe this work needs to be done to create a healthier and safer society.

      Hugs,
      CZ

      Delete
  9. Whew....mean mothers indeed. My own story, and when she dies, I will not attend. I have never thought or been supported in this, until therapy, when my wise therapist Liz said: "Why would you go?" And that set off a train of thoughts....for what? She rejected me from the very beginning (say, birth) and it just got worse. And the siblings (boys) joined right in. And the misogyny of all of them was based in pathological narcissism. You don't heal when you subject yourself through guilt to abuse. you just get more ....demeaned and worthless (to yourself and others)

    Mean mothers indeed. I felt myself rising from my chair reading this, it is so much my own story. the love that I hoarded by a few neighbors, teachers (very few) was something I buried deep like a starving dog with a bone somewhere buried.

    My patterns with my only child were predicated on her behavior. For years. Then I wised up through therapy that I was creating the same environment for my own precious child. Almost too late, there has been a lot of damage done but there is hope that things will change. I am not my mother, and that is the most important lesson in life.

    Lady Nyo

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...