The Mother ‘Lode’: Panning for Gold

The relationship we have with our mother or primary carer colours our relationship with food and our appetites. In order to have positive experiences around food and appetite we must be able to set emotional and self-care boundaries with our mothers (and with others) that support our needsHere is a personal story that is one example of  how I am doing that with my own mother:

My Mom is crying, her forearms braced on a market cart. She asks through her tears if I always hurt other people’s feelings. While I was choosing a lovely wedge of Parmesan cheese she was crumpled over the watermelons, waiting for my return.

Surprisingly anger shoots through me, a familiar feeling this year. It is not just any anger. It is anger I carried throughout my childhood, and am only beginning to release. While my younger sisters had their wild tantrums, I was instead the dutiful daughter. We all knew our roles and upheld them. I was not the angry one.

At the market, I interpret my mother’s words to mean I was somehow responsible for her current distress. Perhaps because earlier, on our way to the market, I’d requested some quiet time in the car or, as we walked into the market, I recall being short with her.   In other years, these would have been plausible explanations. Instead today, I answer her flatly: “Actually, no. I do not always hurt the feelings of others.”

I experience a small victory as I stand calmly in front of my mother. Although there is a nugget of guilt unrolling at the back of my throat, I am compassionate with myself. Surprisingly, the ball of guilt does not grow. I am doing the best I can. I am learning a new role.

So, here’s the thing. I admire and am grateful for my mother. She is creative, energetic, generous. She has a sound mind and takes good care of herself and her home. She is actively involved with her family and in her community. But this year I find myself compelled to finally reconcile the truths of a sexually violated childhood.

My older brother was the perpetrator of this violence, to myself and my two younger sisters. We never spoke about this abuse until I was an adult. There was a code of silence in our family, and my loving parents were the guardians of that code. As a child, I was sensitive, but unable to express my feelings.   I knew there was love in our household, but also there was not a place to affirm that something so hideous could also be occurring at the same time. All children need an adult to validate such abuses as being wrong. That didn’t happen.

Lately, I have been panning for the gold in my life. I sense that I am closing in on something of great value in this relationship with my mother. I pay for my Parmesan and we settle into the car for the ride home. Mom is still crying. She opens a book and starts reading. I decide the most loving thing I can now do is take care of myself. It is not for me to stop, move or fix her feelings. Only she can do that. I do wish for her happiness. I notice the ball of guilt has disappeared. I start the car and we head for home.

This article also appears on page 31 in the May Issue of Sibyl Magazine: For the Spirit and Soul of Women

My book Find Your Happetite has an entire chapter devoted to identifying and managing emotions that trigger food and eating issues.