Just Like Her

He was angry at me and said I was exactly like my mother.

The charger for his device was not doing its work fast enough.  I endeavored to help him by swapping it out for a different one.  He was less than impressed with my efforts and lapsed into a temper tantrum occasionally characteristic of many a disgruntled five-year-old.  I told him not to yell or I would take away said device.  He then hurled his response with all the vitriol he could muster:  “You’re just like your mean mother!”

I stopped in my tracks, was rendered speechless.

My children have heard the tales, have asked for them in fact.  My childhood and all its mystery has taken on near-mythical status in their eyes. I have, of course, responsibly edited the more unsavory details of my rearing; but they have heard enough to know that there were good reasons they were never able to meet my mother, were never permitted to spend time with her before she died.

They have concluded she was “mean”—the word taking on its broadest significance when referring to her.

167008_1680165118238_649770_nBecoming a mother necessarily forced me to confront my feelings about mine; and it became painfully and pitifully obvious that in terms of role models, my first and most significant was presented in mirror-image: I eventually discerned that if I simply did the opposite of what she did—at every turn, at every moment, I would then naturally become her opposite. Her behavior and choices rendered her cruel; mine would ensure I was good, profoundly decent. It seemed a simple strategy.  I never aspired to be perfect—not in motherhood, not in anything.  But her opposite?  I could and surely should aspire to that.

Then, when I least expect it, my son—the five-year-old boy who still fits dreamily and snugly on my lap and informs me—eyes sparkling, heart radiating–I’m “the most beautiful mother [he] ever saw”—tells me in a fit of frustration and anger that I’m her.

You’re just like your mean mother.

I get it.  I truly do.  He’s five.  He was unhappy with me.  And instead of saying, as plenty of children have before him, that he hates me or that I’m the worst mother ever, he says I’m just like her.

And while his aim was to hurt me, to retaliate for his perceived affront, he will never be able to fathom the magnitude of his words because he does not comprehend the sum total of who she was—and was not.

The version he has of her has been heavily edited, and that is how it should be.  All he knows is she was mean—very mean; and since he thought I was being mean, it’s the retribution that made the most sense, was the most convenient and accessible epithet he could grab in that moment.

And despite the power of my very conscious, very logical self who knows who I am and who I am not, my head could do nothing but spin, could do nothing but contemplate that what-ifs born of six words .

Then I thought about what she would have done had a similar scenario transpired when I was five.  And while I’ll stop short of painting that sad picture, I can say she would not have issued a natural consequence.  There would have been no thought.

She would have reacted.  She would have been mean.

So, I know I’m not her.

That my son is wrong.

But his words are not without resonance, not without power.

They sting—no less than the realization that the five-year-old I love most in the world, my child, has the power to fell me with a single sentence.






5 thoughts on “Just Like Her

  1. Like you there are pieces of my childhood I don’t want to repeat for my children and want so desperately to be a different mother. Thank you for sharing.

  2. The fact that his comment hurts you in a way that you can’t convey to him (for now, at least) means that you love him actively, unconditionally, and selflessly – despite your own pain and history.

  3. I don’t know what to say to this. I think all kids do this in anger because what they want is what they want and you happened to say NO. He may not know how much it hurt you in a heat of anger but I’m positive that he has unconditional love for you. I admire what you and your husband have done bringing up your 3 sons. They are all good kids because of you. I congratulate you.

  4. As hurtful as his words are, in his limited expression he sought the epitome of comparison to define a word–one he may feel and want to direct where he cannot, so he hurled it where he could, where it would be heard and felt, as he hurts and feels. Be grateful you were the object vs another for whom those words may be more accurate. When and if he is reminded of this he may not remember, nor need he remember, he just needs to know unconditional love is a shield for any bolts and always runs the risk of hurt — that is an integral nourishment for its persistence. As young as he is, he has memory, he has thoughts, he has feelings, and needs to know whatever all those things are, and how they juggle themselves within and without, expressing them hurts, and is that his intent? Knowing him, I know it is not.

  5. I have read this entry a couple times now. I understand this in ways that many people (hopefully) will not. My mom is still in my, and therefore my sons, life. But, there are boundaries galore. My son knows that Grammy had a hard time being a mommy to mommy and I think that’s all he needs to know. I am a loving mom because I know what it’s like NOT to be loved as a child. I am a patient mom because no one was patient with me as a child. I care about my child because no one cared about me as a child.
    Thank you for your words. They were validating and comforting.

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