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Archive for March 21st, 2008

Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than to hear people make sweeping generalizations about the overall “goodness” of mothers. Fathers can be piles of manure, but all mothers are presumed to have “done the best they could.” That is a bunch of BS, and I cannot help but rise to the bait whenever this is said around me.

This most recently happened at a book club meeting last week. We were discussing the book The Glass Castle, which is a memoir about Jeannette Walls’ childhood while being raised by an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother. While the children were digging through dumpsters in order to find something to eat, the mother was gaining weight eating chocolate bars that she hid in the house. Both parents did numerous things that were extremely neglectful to the children, and yet people seemed to have more sympathy for the mom because “she did the best she could.”

No, she did not.

Even with the limitations of mental illness, she could have left her children in the care of her mother (the children’s grandmother), who had plenty of money and food to meet the children’s basic physical needs. She could have shared her chocolate bars with her four children instead of stuffing her own face while her children starved. She could have done whatever it took to provide food for her children or put the children into foster care, where they would have had food to eat and a bed not made out of cardboard.

Whenever people say, “She did the best she could,” I think about all of the things that my mother did. People want to excuse her because of her mental illness, but there is no excuse. When I started recovering memories of the abuse and realized that I had amnesia about much of my life, I feared that I could have harmed my then-two-year old child and not remembered. I told my therapist that if I recovered any memories of harming my son, I would kill myself to save him from me. I meant it. That would have been doing the best that I could. My therapist assured me that I would never harm my son, and he is correct. I would do whatever it took to keep him safe, even if it meant taking my own life.

Instead, I take comfort from this saying:

Just because someone doesn’t love you with all that you need, doesn’t mean she isn’t loving you with all that she has. – Author unknown

I do believe that my mother loved me with all that she had. Unfortunately, she was very limited. However, I will never agree that she did the best she could because she did not.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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