I Refuse To Be Like My Mother

by Calico James
Originally Published: 
A profile of a woman with yellow and brown braids on her head and with an orange earring.
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For as long as I can remember, I swore I would never be like my mother. She’s not a bad mother — quite the contrary. Her determination to be the best mother does make her hard to love most of the time though. Seeing the way she chooses to be a mother to me informs the way I parent. When it comes to my parenting choices, not being like my mother is my most conscious decision.

My mother’s entire identity rests in being a mother. She poured all of her energy into me, making sure I had the best childhood I could. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate that. For a while when I was young, she had friends and hobbies separate from me. But gradually she spent less time on herself. Even as a child, it struck me as odd. Surely, I thought, there must be more to life than being someone’s mom.

Since I was her sole focus, things got difficult as I got older. I wanted space, as any adolescent does. And sometimes I got it. But she was still always around. The more I didn’t need her, the more she clung to me. I began paying closer attention to other moms and realized that none of my friends’ moms were so clingy.

Now that I’m an adult, I can see how lost she is. That’s why not being like my mother is such a big deal for me. This feeling has only become stronger since I’ve become a mom myself. I love my son with every fiber of my being. He is the center of my universe. And yet, even though he’s given me purpose in life, my purpose isn’t solely being his mom.

One of the ways I’m not being like my mother is that I know I have an existence outside of motherhood. I was a complete person before having a child, and I will fight to maintain that.

For me, not being like my mother means taking time to focus on myself. I don’t get a ton of time to myself, but I make sure I do. Sometimes that just means staying up way too late watching Netflix and eating chips. Even though I don’t have a ton of money, I have a subscription to a yoga studio. Even though I don’t always get to see my friends a lot (we’re all so busy), I make time to, even if it means bringing my kiddo along.

My mom doesn’t have many friends — she didn’t take the time to cultivate many friendships. So now that I have my own life, she doesn’t have many people to spend time with. I live very far away, and she has no one to tether herself to. She tells me how much she misses hanging out with me. In her mind, I’m her best friend and she feels like she’s missing a piece of herself.

As much as I care about my mother, she is not my best friend. She devoted so much of her life to me — I have this nagging obligation to her. So much of me not being like my mother is tied into how much she tries to hold onto me even though I don’t need her anymore. The sense of obligation is what keeps us connected, and I know it’s unhealthy. Creating boundaries when you have a dynamic like this is practically impossible.

I would be fine not talking or seeing her for long stretches of time. When I try that, she takes it so personally that I find myself feeling guilty. It’s such a hard space to inhabit. I wish we could have a better relationship, but it’s just so difficult.

I’m determined to not be like her, but it has nothing to do with her parenting style and everything to do with her personal choices. When she chose not to take the time to focus on herself, she didn’t realize what she was teaching me. I think in her mind, she was showing me that giving 100 percent is just what moms do. What it has taught me, however, is that it’s incredibly important to keep the core of who you are intact and not sacrifice everything you are to motherhood.

It’s hard being the kid of a mom who makes you the center of their world, especially when you’re an adult with a life of your own. My mom is a case study in what happens to you when you don’t take care of yourself emotionally. In her mind, she’s some kind of martyr, selflessly giving up her autonomy to make me happy. But as far as I know, no one ever asked for that. I certainly didn’t. Sure, I’m grateful for everything she’s done for me, but I want her to have a life of her own.

I never want my son to think of me as “lost.” My wish is that he understands how much I love him, but how much I love myself too. Motherhood doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I can devote myself to being the best mom to him and still keep some of pieces of myself just for me. I already know I’m not like my mom. It’s just a matter of keeping that in the back of my mind to make sure I never forget.

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