I am currently working in the book The Emotionally Absent Mother by Jasmin Lee Cori. My first response to it was: why mothers? I was, after all, raised primarily by my father in my early years. Since my mother didn’t breastfeed me, I’m not even sure she was there much at all when I was an infant. Besides, I spent the first three months of my life in hospital, so didn’t have either parent as a primary caretaker then. As such, my main reason for downloading the book was to work through emotional hurts from my past regardless of which parent inflicted them on me.
In the first chapter, the author talks about “good enough” parenting. She goes on to list “good mother messages” children raised by good enough mothers received. Today, I want to share these and my thoughts on them.
1. I’m glad that you’re here. This message shows that as a child we’re wanted. It isn’t black-or-white though, since many children feel unwanted at times, but this message can be countered by a greater sense of being wanted. Some clear memories pop up into my mind now. The countless times my parents, mainly my mother, threatened to institutionalize me when I attended a school for the blind as a non-residential student from age nine to twelve. Also, when I was fourteen, I was rejected for a summer camp and had a meltdown. At some point, my parents were angry and so was I. I said they’d just as well put me in a children’s home, at which point my father said: “None wants you.”
2. I see you. This message is conveyed through our parents knowing what we’re interested in, how we feel about things, etc. I am not sure about this one. On a deep, emotional level I feel consistently unseen, but no clear memories pop up. My father was relatively tuned in to my interests.
3. You are special to me. The author points out here that this message needs to be paired with us being seen for who we are. Yes, so true. I was seen as special, a genius even, by my mother, but only for superficial achievements such as calendar calculation. I hated this.
4. I respect you. God, this one strikes a chord. The author explains that a parent who sends this message, allows the child to discover and express their unique self rather than having to conform to the parents’ blueprint for them. One particular memory comes up, which isn’t a traumatic memory but is a funny example of the larger scheme of things. When I thought I was a lesbian at age fifteen, I tried to figure out whether my parents would be open to this before coming out. My mother said: “I accept you as you are, even if you turn out to be a conservative.” Well, that said enough: she didn’t accept me as I am.
5. I love you. As the author says, some children hear this multiple times a day, while others go a lifetime without hearing these words. They also need to be felt as sincere. In my case, my mother would often say “I love you” when we’d just had an argument. She was physically affectionate, but it was usually in a ritualized way. Like, I was given a goodnight kiss each night until I was at least twelve. One memory in this respect, happened when I was around eleven. My parents required me to read a certain number of pages of a Braille book. If I didn’t finish them, I could go to bed but without a kiss or any affection. This is probably a relatively minor incident, but it is again a sign of how affection was used generally.
6. Your needs are important to me. You can turn to me for help. This one is a mixed bag. I was helped, yes, sometimes too much so, but I wasn’t taught how to do things on my own. Then once I turned eighteen, my parents expected me to be fully independent. My needs are currently definitely not important to my parents. As I sometimes half-jokingly say, they fed me for eighteen years and then they thought their job was done.
7. I am here for you. I will make time for you. See above. Until I was eighteen, my parents were a relatively consistent presence in my life. They never actually institutionalized me and they’re still together. Then when I turned eighteen, they said I had to take care of myself and more or less vanished. This was clear to me from an early age on, too. As my father at one point told me, a family is like a business, it has to be run efficiently.
8. I’ll keep you safe. I am not sure. This one feels odd on a deep, emotional level. One memory that pops up though, is my parents consistently blaming me for being the victim of bullying. My parents also were pretty much the opposite of helicopter parents. Like I said, they were hardly involved in my life past age eighteen. Not that I care much now, but it feels as though I was hardly protected by my parents. The author says that those who don’t receive this message, feel small and unable to explore the world. Yes!
9. You can rest in me. I’m not sure. I don’t understand this message really. It conveys feeling at home with your parents. Definitely not. However, I don’t feel like I can be at home with anyone.
10. I delight in you. This one is mostly conveyed in non-verbal ways, of which I’m not aware due to being blind. As a result, I’m not sure of this one.