My Difficult Mother by guest @mollydcampbell

If you’ve read many of the guest posts here, you’ll know they are about real-life experiences that shape us. Humorist (and two-time Erma Bombeck Award Winner) Molly Campbell shows us the real life difficulties of growing up with an emotionally distant mom and how it has affected her in a myriad of ways. Molly, thank you for your candor and honesty. 

emotionally distant

 

MY MOTHER

 

She was, although I never saw it in her, a beautiful woman. My father loved her and stayed by her, although he was never monogamous. I loved her, as all children love their mothers. But she was always just a bit cold, a bit distant, and a bit withholding. She worked hard, kept busy, and if she had any emotional depth, I never knew it.

 

In the generation that produced the girls who burned their bras and went to Woodstock, she was conventional and unimaginative. She never seemed to know what to do with the wildly insecure and sensitive child that I was. I must have sensed my adored father’s wandering eye, and I manifested my insecurity by worrying about everything. I had phobias about mental illness, cancer, and the atomic bomb. I had stomachaches and chronic respiratory problems. I read hundreds of books, brooded about things, and bit my nails. Mom had her hands full.

 

She came from an immigrant family. My grandparents arrived from Czechoslovakia as teenagers. The English language was never spoken fluently, and my mother learned it as a first grader. She didn’t share much about her childhood, but I knew enough: her father was ruthless. He expected his three children to excel in music. My mother was the least talented, and her father apparently made that very clear to her and the family. She grew up keeping her emotions to herself, standing tall while quaking on the inside, and she stayed safe by being strong. I grew up fearing my grandfather, who softened little in his old age.

 

I know now that Mom was probably never comfortable in the maternal role. I think she would have made a wonderful accountant or secretary. She was highly organized. She had a creative streak, which she expressed by making delicious meals, baking, and mastering craft after craft. She made afghans, silk Christmas decorations, hand sewn Barbie clothes, and assorted candles and embroidered dish towels. She loved flower arranging and decorating the house.

 

She was a wonderful nurse. My fondest memories are from when I was sick. She insisted on staying with me in the hospital when I had my tonsils out, even though that was unheard of in the fifties. She sat with me when I had the flu, and bought me ginger ale.

 

But on a daily basis, something was missing. Her lap was available very seldom, and hugs were meted out. She was uncomfortable with any physical demonstrations, and when I embraced her, she stiffened. “That’s enough of THAT,” she would declare, “I have too much to do.” She addressed my myriad worries by telling me that unless I “stopped all this foolishness,” she would call a psychiatrist. So I learned to keep my worries to myself. And I longed for warmth from her.

 

She was selfish. She got her way. My father did her bidding in most things, probably out of a sense of guilt. He never made it a secret that other women found him attractive, and though we didn’t speak of it, Mom, my sister, and I knew. At some level, I was always worried that my adored father might leave us.

 

So as time passed, Mom got more militant, more self protective, and less giving. As her daughter, I felt her pulling away. Was it her way of asserting her worth to us and to myfather? Gifts were rejected. Promises were made and broken.

 

As she became colder, I stepped up my efforts to please. One Christmas, I bought her what I thought was the perfect gift: a sewing machine. Hers was an old Singer with no attachments. I got her a new one with a slew of nifty accessories. I thought she would be thrilled and excited. Instead, she called and said she didn’t want it and was sending it back to me.

 

I continued my quest for Mom’s love and good graces, but nothing seemed to work. More gifts were rejected. Trips to visit us were cancelled. She stopped giving us gifts at holidays, instead sending me a check with the note “get yourself and the kids something, and say it’s from me.”

 

Dad was always the warm and loving parent, and I adored him, in spite of the hurt he doled out with every infidelity. When he died, my mother grew more strident in her rejections, extending them to friends and neighbors as well as to me. My sister escaped most of my Mom’s negative behavior. Mom seemed to lean on her, and the two of them got closer as Mom and I diverged.

 

There was guilt. Was I a bad child? Did I do something wrong that caused Mom to reject me so much? What could I do to win her over?  I continued to try, and Mom continued to slap me down. Years went by. My children grew up.

 

About seven years ago, I opened a letter from my Mom. In her usual brusque fashion, she was writing to tell me that she had decided not to leave me anything in her will, “because you don’t need it.” Nothing else. It was the final rejection. Although she was not wealthy, and I truly did not need any money, I felt that Mom was finally revealing her complete indifference.

 

I divorced her that day. I saw her a few more times, but there were no more phone calls, no more letters, and no more gifts.

 

She lapsed into dementia soon after that, and I was spared any further unpleasantness. I felt much guilt about my defection, but I remained steadfast in my decision to give her up. My sister stepped into the breach and cared for her until Mom died.

 

I think about this as I reflect on my own career as a mother. I may have overcompensated by hugging my girls too much. I never wanted either of them to feel one second of rejection. I wonder if they knew just how much I wanted them to love me.

 

I still wish that I had discovered the key to my Mom’s heart. I kept all the afghans, the Christmas decorations, and there is one dish towel that I never used, but put away in a drawer for safekeeping.

 

There will always be a hole where my Mother should have been.

 

Molly is a two-time Erma Bombeck award winning writer. She hosts her own intelligent and funny blog, as well as writing for the popular international web site “Moms Who Need Wine.”

Her short story collection began as a Twitter stream of character names that she invented in her spare time, followed by a brief description: “Loretta Squirrels beats her husband and makes moonshine.” Molly then decided to write a book about her characters. She teamed up with a fantastic artist to bring them to life. The book soon became an Amazon Pop Culture best seller.

Molly lives in Dayton, Ohio, the home of Erma Bombeck. Molly makes regular pilgrimages to Erma’s grave–for inspiration and spiritual renewal. Molly also spends time petting her five cats and plugging her ears. Her husband plays the accordion.

Molly likes cake. She doesn’t get to eat it much, because she has a slight pot belly.

 

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Molly Campbell

 

Molly can be found:

Molly D Campbell Website   *   Characters In Search of a Novel Website   *   Twitter

Her book can be purchased on Amazon

About Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and The Mancode: Exposed. Rachel is published and represented by Booktrope. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Rachel is the creator and founder of #MondayBlogs and #SexAbuseChat and an advocate for sexual abuse survivors. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Comments

  1. My Difficult Mother by guest @mollydcampbell http://t.co/Ayln2jG1

  2. My Difficult Mother by guest @mollydcampbell http://t.co/LqLyIctm via @RachelintheOC

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  4. What an excellent post. My mum was also very distant and curiously, seeing that you have won two Erma awards… my mum never understood Erma Bombeck’s writings. I gave her “Bowl of Cherries” once and it was lost on her. I see her differently now that she’s gone and I’m a mum now. I look forward to following (and reading!) your blog.

    Sophie.

    • Interesting. We all have moments, I think, where we wonder if we actually came from that person. My mom is very supportive of me and I’m grateful for that, but it took us awhile to get here, looking at how differently we saw the world growing up.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Sophie. xo

  5. I think it took a lot of courage to share your story.

    • I agree, Debi. Most people want everyone to think they’re perfect and their lives are perfect, but the truth is usually much deeper and emotional. Thanks for commenting.

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  8. This was a difficult thing to write, and as Rachel says, no one really knows what kinds of story a person carries around inside. I may have turned to humor as a way of “lightening the load,” so to speak. And I am sure that my mother would not have found much humor in Erma Bombeck. But I have made peace with all of this, and writing this essay helped. Thank you all for the kind comments and tweets! molly

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  11. I left a response earlier, but it must have not “taken.” Thank you all for your understandig, tweets, and kind comments. I have carried this around for a long time. It was difficult to share, and it is very true that each of us has a story. Thank you, Rachel, for having me as yourguest.

  12. This is so brilliant/sad. How many of our mothers/fathers were like this? http://t.co/MiuO9Luv @mollydcampbell

  13. So brilliantly written, Molly. My mom slash dad had some of these traits so I get it.

  14. My Difficult Mother by guest @mollydcampbell http://t.co/O8FbPamd via @RachelintheOC

  15. I came here because of Suzy Soro’s tweet and found an astonishingly well-written piece. I am so impressed, and so sad. I could not please my mother either and when she passed away, she did not leave me the one piece of her jewelry that she knew I wanted, which she had promised to me. It left a hole in my heart that’s taken many years to close.

    Love,
    Janie Junebug

    • Oh, honey. So sad. I’m sorry. I’ll never understand why people do that kind of thing — it’s much easier to love and share our cherished possessions. I’m glad you came here to read and I hope you’ll return. Molly is an amazing writer, and I’ve had plenty of terrific guests also. best to you, Rachel

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  20. Great post. Every woman would benefit from writing the story of their difficult mother. I loved the phrase, divorced her. Some times you have to let go.

  21. Molly,
    Thank you for sharing that story. I can relate to the lack of the love and the way we compensate to become better, more connected mothers. My form of neglect came in passive/agressive comments. And, now? I’m the closest (in proximity) child and the caregiver! Ugh….

    • wow, that’s tough Walker. My father grew up with little love or affection and knew he would never treat his kids that way. And he hasn’t — both of my parents are loving and supportive. I feel so fortunate to know that they love me no matter what. Unconditional love is not easy — I think as humans, we can be incredibly selfish. I wish you love and healing. xo

  22. My Difficult Mother by guest @mollycampbell http://t.co/obv7tquX What it’s like growing up w/ #emotional distance

  23. What a fantastic read, honest, hearwrenching, touching.

  24. My Difficult Mother by guest @mollydcampbell http://t.co/pX56K5tE via @RachelintheOC

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  27. Molly, that was incredibly painful to read. Despite a mother like that, you have been able to have a loving and lasting relationship with your daughters. Finally letting your mother go before her death may have helped you build a good life for yourself.

    My mother was very difficult, too. She had reasons for being that way which I understood, but it did not help me. I tried to win her love, but was never able to. She died at 65; I was 36. The rejection she left me with was 7 months earlier. I wanted her to attend my wedding, but she said that she would rather have lunch with my brother’s wife, and she did. Twenty-eight years later it still hurts.

    My daughter quit interacting with me in any way 17 years ago. My son rejected me when I had stage III cancer 8 years ago.

    I don’t think my mother ruined my life; I just think I was not strong enough or intelligent enough to recover.

    • Wow, Lynn — so sorry for your difficulties also. Your story is so sadly painful, and one I’ve heard a few times. I’m not sure how a parent gets to the point of ‘divorcing’ their own child (unless I suppose there are drugs or something involved). But even then — they brought us into this world. Thank you for sharing your story and I wish you healing and recovery. hugs.

  28. Hard stuff to talk about, Molly, but I think this is so important to work through. Big hugs.

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  33. I understand, I understand. I wonder if my kids will complain about my hugging them too much one day. But for those for whom little love was given, much love is gave in return.

  34. And it’s that point in the night when I second guess whether “gave” is even a word.

  35. My Difficult Mother by guest @mollydcampbell http://t.co/GcwNcKLn via @RachelintheOC

  36. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

  37. My Difficult Mother by guest @mollycampbell http://t.co/NVSQs80S Even if you haven’t had the same experience, appreciate the writing.

  38. Hi Molly :) I see these generational patterns in my clients all the time. My mother is an alcoholic and I have chosen to be disconnected from her. I do have some good memories of her, but I know she never wanted another child. I retreated into my imagination, but was lucky that I had extended family who loved me. My parents also slept with other people, which affected me as a teen. We’re not our parents. It took me some time to realise that. Thanks for sharing. Love and blessings, Simon :)

  39. My Difficult Mother by guest @mollycampbell http://t.co/5bUNrkoD Even if you haven’t had the same experience, appreciate the writing.

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  49. I wish I didn’t so easily relate. While my own mother isn’t as cold, she definitely has a cruel streak that comes from hunger for power. Even understanding now as an adult WHY my mother craves control, it doesn’t hurt any less. I know I have similar tendencies, and can only hope I have not emotionally marked my children the way my own mother marked me.

    • It’s tough, isn’t it? I know I have perfectionistic tendencies and ambitious drive, but my daughter (age 13) is very creative and is more laid back. which is GREAT. I love that about her and have scaled way back on things like, um….correcting her if she says something that’s incorrect. Does it matter? No.

      Of course, I still correct my husband but that’s something entirely different. :)

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  66. I am thrilled by the number of you who shared this piece…it has helped me let go of this all. Peace.

  67. Beth Hoffman says:

    Wow, Molly … this is powerful and quite poignant on many levels. After knowing you for the past few years, it’s clear that your warmth, humor, and generous spirit came to you naturally and were not learned from you mom. And by the way, I don’t think you could ever hug your girls too much!

  68. Powerful post by @mollydcampbell – http://t.co/JnJNA6aD

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