Sunday, May 09, 2010

I am Regan-Goneril

I called my Mom a little bit ago, to wish her a happy mother's day. We chatted.

My Mom's disappointed by the way her life turned out. She had this plan, and it seemed like a good one: she'd raise her kids and take good care of her husband, and defer the things she otherwise wanted to do, and then when he retired, they'd travel and stuff.

But he died about a year after retiring.

She feels cheated.

She looks around, and her friends' daughters are "all" happily married with kids and living in the area. They visit, and her friends get to see their grandkids regularly. Mostly her friends' daughters are in very traditional middle and upper-middle class white marriages, where they either work part-time or are stay at home moms.

My mom was bored stiff as a stay at home mom. She encouraged me to go to college. But deep down, she really did think that I was going to college to get an MRS degree. It didn't matter what I majored in, because, as she told me, I could always get a job as a secretary until I got married.

And so she's both really proud of what I've done, and has been tremendously supportive, and at the same time deeply hurt because by making my choices, I've demonstrated that I don't think she was right about her choices. And this is true.

But I look at her, and I don't want to defer doing things I want to do forever.

And so I feel in a bind: my mom wants me to invite her to do whatever vacation I want to do, but the vacations that most interest me (riding in Yellowstone, for example) aren't things she's capable of doing.

On one hand, I feel like I should defer my biking vacations and do something she'd like (which would be a bus vacation almost anywhere, or a tour). On the other hand, I'm nearing 50, and I'm not going to be able to go bike in Yellowstone or wherever forever.

I'm planning to have my niece and nephew visit for a week or so this summer, both for fun and because my sister-in-law and sibling should get some alone time together. I know my mom would love to be here for their visit. But if she is, we can't go biking or kayaking (logistics: it's harder to move more people+kayaks in my car). But the kids are tween and teen, and at an age when taking them out biking and such is ideal.

I've applied to go teach abroad, and I know (because she's asked) she'd love to come visit. But again, the things I'd like to do abroad aren't things she'd be able to do. And I was pretty unhappy on our last tour vacation.

I look at her, and I think, I should be patient and invite her, because it would make her happy. And she's getting old, and can't do some things, so I should adapt. And I look at her, and I think, I spent ten years being poor while I figured things out and got a PhD and lived on a really tight budget, and now I've got some disposable income, I should take vacations that I really want to take now before I can't.

Happy mother's day from a crappy daughter.


  1. I don't think you're a crappy daughter, for whatever that's worth :) It sounds to me like this is a boundary issue: she wants you to spend your vacation time going on the vacations she wants to go on, while you want to do things she can't do. Is there any way to plan briefer trips with your mom (like long weekendy sorts of things) that speak to her interests, while you do the "real" vacations that you want to do on your own (or with others who can participate)?

    Also, with your niece and nephew coming... can your mom come just for 2 or 3 days to spend time with you three, while you spend the other 5 days doing the biking and kayaking stuff?

  2. I agree with Dr. Crazy; those sound like good solutions.

  3. Dude, as your title points out, you're not a crappy daughter at all. Reserve that for the ones who kick their parents out on the windy heath or pluck out their eyes. You're doing wayyyyy better than that!

  4. I face a version of this myself (and I gather that we are about the same generation, and likewise our moms). No, we're not crappy daughters, but it sure sucks that we can't be great ones either.

    I am now off to call my mother to negotiate and barter about the trip she wants us to take together this summer...

  5. I agree with Dr. C. You are a daughter, not a friend, and it's not up to you to entertain your mother. The occasional weekend with her sounds perfect...

    Fortunately, my mother had one vacation with HER mother, and has never suggested this to me!

  6. No one good answer! Do enough for Mom that you don't feel crazy guilty when she is gone. This is a generational thing: your mother didn't have as many choices as you think she did (psychological stuff as much as opportunity). Mostly do what is going to make you happy, though. You are right - you probably won't be able to do all the athletic things when you are retired. Luck!

  7. I don't know your mom, is she independent enough to do the things she wants to do while you do your stuff? Not every vacation is good for that kind of plan, but if you're teaching abroad it would work -- if she comes when you are teaching -- then she can do the things that interest her while you're teaching and you can use break time as your own time.

    I also agree with the idea that you are a daughter, not a friend. Sure it would be good to find middle ground, take short trips together and/or meet someplace fun and accessible, but in the end, the problem is probably more that she's lonely and bored. That's not something you can fix for her.

  8. Thanks for the suggestions, all. We live about 2000 miles apart, and our budgets mean it doesn't make sense to fly for a weekend. (Or at least, our perceptions of budgets.) Partly, also, my mom is getting to a point where travel is intimidating or something (perfectly understandable, she's closing in on 80), and she really doesn't want to travel alone or do lots alone in a strange area, or travel far for a weekend.

    If she came while I was teaching abroad, she'd want to come watch me teach. She's really proud of me, but also possessive.

    She thinks of herself as independent (and she's really healthy and independent in most ways), but she's getting sort of anxious as she gets older. (Totally reasonable; but it frustrates me. We have to be ready hours ahead for anything, for example.)

    She could go on a group tour somewhere, but she doesn't want to travel alone. She'd enjoy a tour just fine, because she's very friendly. But she's lost a lot of confidence, mostly when my Dad died, and then more since.

    Thanks for your helpful comments, everyone. I feel less crappy.

  9. I agree with everyone! You're not crappy at all.

  10. B- It's tough being that far apart. I'll admit that my suggestions were colored by the fact that I'm lucky enough to live only about 300 miles from my mom and my hometown, which means that it's much more reasonable for me to suggest weekend getaway type things with her as opposed to full on vacation type things. I know if we lived further that there'd be more stress around vacations and more tension when we did see one another. Is it possible for you to give her one week per year, and then to give yourself a full week that didn't involve her? I still want for it to be possible for you to find a compromise that doesn't involve either you totally refusing your mom or totally refusing yourself.... It's all so hard, though. Whatever the case, you're totally not a crappy daughter :)

  11. Coming to this at the end of the day, but I wanted to add that, like Sisyphus, I think you're doing lots better than Regan and Goneril. However, when I was teaching Lear in the fall, I started thinking that maybe, at least in the beginning, Regan and Goneril were somewhat justified in their treatment of Lear. I thought, "if I were put upon like that by my parents, how would I behave?" Obviously, I wouldn't get violent, but I would lay down some boundaries. And yet, they get called thankless children. Ah, how times have changed!

    I really do think that you are NOT responsible for your mom's entertainment. I live 2000+ miles away from my mom, too, and she is also a widow -- though she's only 56 and still travels and does things independently, of course. I know that she wishes we were closer to home. Now that my dad is gone, I sort of wish we were, too. I feel bad that we didn't spend as much time with dad before he died. But I also know that the time we did spend together was high quality. I guess that's all that you can do -- just try to make your time together as good as it can be. She won't be around forever.

    But your needs are important too. It's a balancing act. Maybe encouraging her to go on a group tour would help her. Going on such a trip might help restore some of that lost confidence.

    Anyway -- it's hard! But you're not a terrible daughter.

  12. another late vote for "not a crappy daughter."

    any chance your mom might consider going on a tour with a friend?

  13. Moms always know how to push our buttons, that's for sure. Having met your mom, I know how well she can push all of those buttons for you. ;)

    Guilt is such a resentment-building motivator, though, isn't it? It frequently has the opposite effect of what was desired. And good god, if you're a 'crappy' daughter then I shudder to think what I am...

    You need to live your own life, and you need to do the sorts of vacations you want now, not later. Too often 'later' doesn't get to happen, as your poor mom found out.

    She may not be able to see it from where she sits right now, but as a mom now, I can tell you with certainty that some deep part of her wants you to live a long, happy and fulfilled life, and she doesn't want you to make the same mistakes she did. Really. Even despite the guilt trips and the rest that may pop out of her mouth.

    You know and I know that going on extended trips with her makes you totally miserable! She's really the one who's responsible for her own happiness; the empty holes in her life really aren't ones that you can fill in; you could try but lose yourself in the process. And on some deeper level that isn't really what she wants and needs, so it'd be an endless task, trying to fill up her life.

    Boy that sounds harsh, and I really do feel for her; she put her whole life into taking care of her kids and husband and now what does she have? She's a real example of the need for parents to hang onto their own identity and interests as a person, rather than subsuming all of their own wants and needs to taking care of everyone else. And god knows that's still a stupidly hard thing to do even in these (supposedly) enlightened times. I can't tell you how hard it is to resist the pressures as a female to totally put everything of your own aside to do it all for the kids and family. There are so many pressures from so many places to be 'a good mom' by being selfless and doing it all for others. Women's rights indeed. From the viewpoint in the trenches here it's really hard to feel like we've made much progress.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant!

  14. Thanks again, all.

    Especially, thanks Beck. /hugs

  15. Mom guilt is a very special kind of guilt, isn't it? I have a fairly heavy load of it, and my mom lived with me.

    If you can find a way to spend vacation time with your mom that will not leave you feeling resentful of things you are missing, do it. Absolutely.

    But if the only way it will work out with your mom is for you to drop things you love and feel the clock ticking on, then you will be surly. Memories of not being there may be bad when a parent goes, I don't know. My sisters say they are. I do know that memories of being brusque or unkind are bad.

    Any chance you can do a siblings and mom trip once? Get the whole family in it, so there's less work for each of you in the 'paying attention to mom' department?

  16. Thanks, Heo, those are helpful suggestions. My sibling and his family have vacationed with my mom several times up until this past summer. She also visits at Christmas, and my sibling takes time off from work (and I go and spend a week or so). My sister in law has offered to invite my mom to visit for a couple weeks this summer (and I'd go visit for a week, probably).

    (My sibling's family have decided that they love going on cruises, but the idea of dressing up for dinner doesn't sound like vacation to me.)