Dear writing sisters,
I’ve been thinking about the complexity of motherhood—and the mother-daughter relationship—in a patriarchal culture that renders mothers as one-dimensional, self-sacrificing, benevolent women who do not have needs beyond caring for others. Never mind the myth that all women should become mothers and that all mothers are good mothers who live for motherhood. These myths not only rob mothers of many facets of their authentic selves, they also silence daughters who have complicated relationships to their mothers, daughters who may be estranged from their mothers, daughters who are/were on the receiving end of their mother’s rage and/or victimization.
Yeah, it’s complicated.
My memoir-in-progress Searching for Salt is about my search for my Self—via my voice—in relationship to my mother, who spoke harsh words to me at a vulnerable time in my life, a time when, in fact, I needed a mother. Her words sexually shamed and silenced my sense of Self for a long time. Never mind that she had, until then—and has since—spoken more words of love to me than mean words; it was her words spoken out of rage and, I imagine, her own internalized female shame, that lodged in my body and, like slow-release poison, eroded my sense of Self. It has taken a lot of writing to recover my voice, to reclaim my Self, and to make sense of who I am in relationship to my mother. This has nothing to do with forgiving her. It has everything to do with finding me. It has to do with me being honest with myself.
There’s little room in a patriarchal culture for daughters to be honest about their mothers, few places that reflect back to us our right to our own experience even, yes, in relationship to our mothers. This is confusing as fuck.
Over the years that I’ve been working on Searching for Salt, I’ve collected quotes written by women about their mothers, honest quotes that have given me sustenance and fed my own writing journey with truth and light, words that have burned through the fog of confusion and word-swirl in my mind and nudged me closer to naming for myself who I am in relationship to my mother and by extension who she was and was not as a mother to me.
To counter the cultural myth of motherhood, I share with you a few quotes that have been guiding lights for me in my quest to recover my voice and my Self in relationship to my mother. May they nudge you toward clarity in your quest for truth.
Mother Truths: Quotes by Women Writers
Why do we remember the words of our mother more than any other? Why does a mother’s assessment of her daughter resonate in the chambers of that daughter’s heart like the Ten Commandments? Like the laws of gravity? Like a destiny that you simply cannot escape?
Don’t Play in the Sun
A decree of distance has been permanently achieved. I glimpse the joys of detachment. This little bit of space provides me with the intermittent but useful excitement that comes of believing I begin and end with myself.
I have always lied to my mother. And she to me. How young was I when I learned her language, to call things by other names? Five, four—younger? Her denial of whatever she could not tell me, that her mother could not tell her, and about which society enjoined us both to keep silent, distorts our relationship still.
My Mother, Myself: The Daughter’s Search for Identity
It is hard to write about my own mother. Whatever I do write, it is my story I am telling, my version of the past. If she were to tell her own story other landscapes would be revealed. But in my landscape or hers, there would be old, smoldering patches of deep-burning anger.
“It Is Hard to Write about My Own Mother: One the Deep Complexity of the Mother-Daughter Relationship”
For as long as I can remember, my mother has called herself a fat pig, even though her doctor tells her every visit that she is underweight to the point of poor health. I know what is going on even if she refuses to admit it to me. But I never talk about it with her. How can you know how to stage an intervention for your starving mother, especially when you might still be starving yourself?
“How an Octopus Helps Me Think About My Mother’s Eating Disorder”
And in the final tally of who I am because of my mother, I believe she did far more good than harm.
“How Can You Be Mad at Someone Who’s Dying of Cancer?”
I will say it is so. The first voice I heard belonged to my mother.
Terry Tempest Williams
When Women Were Birds
What quotes guide you in the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship? I invite you to share them in the comments below or come join the conversation on the free Writing Out Loud Sisterhood Facebook page, where women who are done with silence gather in truth.
Much writing love,