Knowledge can be taught, but wisdom must be gained through experience. Throughout our youth, we accept the beliefs of others as our own until we are old enough to seek the truth for ourselves. From the smallest of off-handed comments to the biggest of life altering events, I know that my womanhood and my life has been shaped by the actions and words of the women in my life.
“You’ll never do that again,” my mother said to me the day I received my divorce papers. I was twenty-eight. Founding member of the man-haters club, my mom didn’t believe in fairytales. And that meant for most of my life, neither did I. Psychologists say we are most heavily influenced by our same-sex parent and looking back on my life, I wholeheartedly agree.
After getting married way too young, I followed in her divorced footsteps thinking I was just another failure adding to the statistics. It wasn’t until my 30s that I learned more about human behavior and specifically about the ancestral patterns we are destined to repeat unless we become aware of them. When you open your mouth and your mother comes out, you are repeating an ancestral pattern. It makes sense, her DNA lives within you. She’s bound to speak up now and then.
For most of my life, I saw my mother as an independent woman. She refused alimony, never remarried, and was determined to live life on her terms. All noble traits. But I realize now, she was just scared. She had let the traumas of life build a wall around her heart, leaving her closed off to the idea of a mutually loving relationship.
I have learned through failure, hers and mine, that relationships of any kind need a list of ingredients to work: respect, kindness, and common values are vital. But I think the number one quality of a deep, honest relationship is vulnerability. Humans are imperfect, yet our society insists on perfection. We all post our perfectly enhanced selfies when all we truly want is to be loved as our imperfect selves. That is the true meaning of unconditional love-to be loved as we are, not who we pretend to be.
My mother was also adopted into a surrogate family in her early teens. Some of the women in that family accepted her, some didn’t. In turn, when I came along, some accepted me, some didn’t. In the most backhanded of ways, those women taught me the inherent human need to belong to a tribe. At some deep, primal level, I knew I was missing out on something important. Being an outsider looking in is a very painful vantage point, especially for a child.
As we age, we can choose to seek out peer groups, or do as I did, and go in the direction of erroneously thinking I needed no one. Only in my 40s have I cultivated the awareness to recognize my own behavior that keeps me separate from others, even when my deepest desire is to connect.
We look to our tribe of females to see how we should act in the world. We model their behavior, for better or for worse. The women in my life were too blinded by insecurities, jealousy and their own unfulfilled needs to ever be good role models. Or were they?
It’s hard to say which examples are better to learn from: good ones or bad ones. While positive reinforcement is a great tool for children and puppies, adults rarely learn from joy. Pain is the ultimate teacher. For me, it’s also much easier to recognize what not to do. Would I have preferred a welcoming family of supportive, nurturing women? Absolutely! But not having one has taught me to be incredibly self-reliant, driven to achieve my goals and be open to take risks in all areas of my life. Those traits have served me well.
Now over a dozen years into a happy marriage, I am hyper-aware of the times when my mother pops her head up out of my psyche. But now I’m armed with the tool of choice. I can have a loving relationship despite being told it doesn’t exist. I can choose to fall into old patterns created by fear or choose a path of love and oftentimes forgiveness.
For most of my life I was judgmental of my mother, convinced she was living her life wrong. Then she died, and I grew up. I’d like another shot at it, please. On her actual deathbed, she worried that she’d be forgotten. It wasn’t until I was nearly through writing my forthcoming novel, Ocean’s Fire that I realized I’d created a whole fictional world as a way of keeping her alive. This story is an expression of my love for her; my imperfect, closed off mother, who drove me crazy in life, immortalized in death. Its pages contain the relationship I never got to have with her. In life, she tried to teach me to need no one. In death, she taught me to need her.
“You are my greatest accomplishment,” she told me the night before she died.
At 30 years old, I thought career goals were everything, and she was crazy for saying that. Four years later I had a child and in an instant I knew she was right. I loved this baby with my whole being and he didn’t have to do anything in return. That is the greatest gift our mothers give us and the biggest lesson we can learn. We are worthy of their love for simply being. I am eternally grateful for being on the receiving and the giving end of the quietest and greatest power there is, a mother’s love.
This essay was written by Stacey Tucker, a writer who continues to redefine the word Feminine in America by speaking to women’s groups on cultivating the fire within as a catalyst for self-transformation. Stacey’s forthcoming book, Ocean’s Fire: Book One of the Equal Night Trilogy, comes out this October.
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