Have you ever wished you could trade parents with a friend? Have you uttered some version of “You won’t believe what my mother did now!”? Maybe all your life you’ve wished that you could live in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood and be loved, “just the way you are.”
Nearly everyone has felt that way about their parents at one time or another, if not their whole lives. But precious few people write about that in their lifestories. Most of us feel that writing about parental shortcomings is disrespectful, unloving or unappreciative, and even if we wish we could change them, we do love them, and don’t want to portray them to the world in a negative light.
After all, we all make mistakes as parents, we could all do better, but we do the best we know how at any given time, and hope our children turn out well. It’s only later that we see what we could have changed, if we’d only known what and how sooner, and we cringe to think what our own children could write about us!
I recently finished reading I AM MY MOTHER’S DAUGHTER: Making Peace With Mom Before It’s Too Late, by Iris Krasnow, a book I found on the New Books shelf at our local library. This book, written on many levels, speaks directly to the concerns above. On one level it’s a memoir of Iris’s own experience of making peace with her mother in the last many months of her mother’s life. Her own story is a thread that weaves together vignettes of eighteen other women’s adventures in coming to terms with their own mothers. These women all felt varying degrees of isolation from and disappointment in their mothers.
The stories are compelling in their own right and Iris does a masterful job of creating a rich tapestry of Mother/Daughter involvement with all the passion that entails and her own insightful observations. My fascination is somewhat different. I’m fascinated with the way the insights are expressed in the stories — the way the darker side of the relationships is shared with both truth and compassion. Each story speaks of the way one woman came to grips with the fact that her own mother was a fallible human being. Each learned to love her mother anyway, and to recognize that her mother was the way she was partly because of her relationship with her own mother, and so on up the family tree.
I recommend this book to anyone, but especially to lifestory writers. Beyond pointing to ways of mending relationships, it demonstrates ways of writing about darker moments and dysfunction without sounding like a whiney victim. Although the book is written by a daughter for daughters, I have a strong hunch that similar dynamics work between fathers and sons, and across gender lines, and the writing examples will work for anyone.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal