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The Generation Gap & Mothers

Boomers may have had that distance

Older mother at table
Mother at head of table — Askar Abayev on Pexels

If you created a table of organization for my birth family, the father would have been CEO, then the mother as COO, with all other lines reporting up through her.

I don’t think this division of labor was unusual in 1950s homes. Father was external; he had the job and related to the external world, Mother ran the home and family.

My mother died when she was 65, and I was a new mother, with a baby who was still nursing. The first Mother’s Day I experienced was lonely. I had no mother, and as a single mother, I had no one who would celebrate my status as a mother. My baby was a great joy, but would not be getting me a card or flowers, not yet.

It’s maybe why I give such weight to Mother’s Day. It was both my biggest choice and my biggest absence.

It is impossible to talk about the parents of our boomer generation without talking about the much-ballyhooed generation gap. The norms and societal expectations changed (or didn’t) so quickly.

I was pushing at boundaries and standards as hard as anyone. My mother was as traditional as anyone. In some respects, we never understood each other.

What is ridiculous, to me, even now, is that I was a Good Girl. My parents were ruled by fear; I found out from my brothers years later that their biggest fears were either unmarried pregnancy, drug use, or both. I was viewed as likely to experiment.

I did, as soon as I left home.

I also learned from my father, years later, that edicts my mother cited as if she and my father were in absolute agreement were conversations he never had. My mother actively discouraged me from coming home, so I seldom visited, as a young adult. I lived across the country. When I did bring one boyfriend home, I was so embarrassed by my parents’ awkward reactions that I never introduced a boyfriend to them again. Ever.

I was the eldest daughter of four children, and my next-oldest brother and I bore the barrier-busting burden. The two younger children, a brother, and sister, practiced don’t ask-don’t tell or silent compliance.

Now, I am a grandmother and watch my child and his wife parent their child. I am glad I have a close relationship with them, that I am the reserve for pick-up from child care, and that we have dinner once a week. We have always celebrated Mother’s Day in a big way — a cook-out, brunch, a week-end away.

Of course, there are generational differences.

I try and keep my mouth shut and my arms open

I also try and remember that my mother was from a different generation and a different place. She was a very private person. Cousins or old friends will remark “I didn’t know her well,” and my reply is “I didn’t, either.”

Her mother and grandmother were immigrants and worked in service to wealthy families. There was a sense of Doing Things Right — setting a good table, and acting with deference. My siblings and I hated her most frequent admonishment “What will other people think?”

I didn’t care what other people thought. It was a sentence that we hated and not one that inspired respect, for form’s sake. Even as I write this story, which I want to be balanced, I grit my teeth. Playing the part, and getting the role right, were more important than authenticity.

But there were many behaviors I did adopt from her. Setting a nice table. Decorating a house. Planting flowers. Being in control (for better and worse).

I try to remember my mother did the best she could with what she had, values, upbringing, personality, and all.

Maybe the same could be said of me. Of you. Of us.

I tell my son, who is now struggling with some behaviors with his small child, that the objective is to raise a good human being, a healthy adult. We’ll make mistakes as parents. Sometimes the objective is short-term, immediate — sit down in the car seat now.

Parenting requires contradictory qualities. Love without reserve. Set healthy boundaries. Require accountability. Instill good values. Laugh.

And what I benefit from, now, and what I believe: show gratitude.

Happy Mother’s Day, to all those who nurture and help others grow.

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