Moms: A Moot Point

I used to think that there was no feeling less satisfying than recognizing a fallen hero, but recently, my perspective changed. It is actually kind of satisfying, maybe even freeing, to see the world — our micro-realities — for what they are.

My dad always used to tell me that I’d never be disappointed by other people if I never expected anything from them and this made a lot of sense intellectually but never quite hit home because platitudes rarely do until they happen to you. Of course, when he said it, I never thought the platitude would literally hit home but last week, even though I already learned my mom is not invincible — that just like the rest of us, she is human — she stopped being a hero and became, I don’t know, a contemporary? I say this because for as long as she’s known me (a literal lifetime), and for as much as she loves me (so much it is sometimes suffocating), I just learned that she doesn’t get me. Or that she doesn’t get how to deal with me.

Context: Last Friday night, I showed up at her apartment acting like a fire-breathing dragon. For this, I credit recent hormonal changes that have effectively turned me upside down. She knew that I was going through something, and as such I’d have expected that she would go easy on me, perhaps even do what I hoped she would: ignore me and act normal until I came around to acting like myself again (which I always do). Instead, though, she made passive aggressive comments about me around me. On Saturday night, she started a group text with my entire family and deliberately left me out. She was acting like a petty friend I may have had in high school as opposed to my mother, and that pissed me off so much.

Of course, I am selfish as hell. Why should I expect that I can act like an asshole and receive no punishment back? But she is my mom, and my expectations are aggressive.

Sunday morning is when it occurred to me that she doesn’t know how to deal with me. But instead of getting more angry, I felt kind of relieved, or liberated. Maybe now I would stop expecting a response that I wasn’t going to get. But here’s the problem — I’m still angry. Resentful. We’re talking about a woman who loves me more than I will ever be able to metabolize. I know this to be true because of how much pressure I feel radiate from her love. A woman who supported me in her uterus. Who held me in her arms after she let me out of there until I could physically support myself. Emotional support transcended physical support after I started to navigate the primordial inklings of My Own Life, then at some point in the last five years, probably as a reaction to my growing up and unwittingly asking for it, she let her guard down, took the mom mask off, and became a person.

This makes perfect sense and really shouldn’t break my heart if you think about the way traditional family plots unfold; child grows up, gets married, pursues family of her own and parent feels as though he or she is worth less. Not worthless, but worth less. This feeling spirals. Parent becomes insecure, sometimes acting out (starts petty group chats). Insecurity forces mom mask off. Child either does or does not process this, but if said child is emotionally intelligent enough to recognize what’s happening (parent is hurt), he or she responds. If said child is mature enough to respond appropriately (“Look mom, I’m sorry for how I treated you on Friday night, it was uncalled for, and you made a delicious dinner, I needed it”), the parent’s feeling of insecurity is suspended. Child casts aside his or her own feelings (“Fuck you devil woman!!!!”) to ensure that parent is doing okay. Mom mask stays on, but child recognizes, perhaps even appreciates, that it is a mask and that even parents are human.

Sound familiar?

I hate myself because in spite of my own sense of emotional awareness (parent is no doubt hurt), I so deeply lack the maturity to be there for my mom even though I so know she needs me (middle aged, empty nesting orphan). So what do you do when you’re at this complex inflection point? When your mom needs you, but obviously, given your incapacity to support, you, too, still very much need her?

If you’re me and my mom, you act like assholes. She excludes you, you tell her you hope you can be a better mom than she is. (Pro tip: never do this.) You don’t call her, not once, for weeks. Maybe you get a little teary-eyed when you are reflecting on all of the ways you could have avoided conflict with her. Maybe you don’t because you’re still so resentful, but fundamentally, you understand that one day (and this day will come faster than you believe it will), you will regret the turmoil.

So why can’t I just give my mom what I know she wants and accept that she is who she is? If I know I’ll regret, what’s holding me back? Every therapist will tell me the same thing. I tell it to myself. You can’t change your mom, but you can change yourself. So why won’t I just change myself? Why can’t I set my feelings aside and just be who my mom needs me to be?

You know, as we enter this really important time of year — one that is often relegated to the status of superficial because of the marketing engine that is Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Christmas Gift Guides — I don’t want to be so mad at my mom all the time. I want to think rationally and reasonably about priorities. What’s more important? Feeling like I’m still her baby or feeling her love, no matter how I’m perceived? I want to resolve to let go. To assume a new role. I want to recognize and come to peace with who I am to my mom now: a friend, an ear, maybe a support system, and stop trying to wallow in the puddle of my own fear to grow up.

I want to stop expecting stuff. And to encourage that you do the same wherever feels applicable in your narrative. This has been a month wrought with emotional insecurity. It’s been exhausting — physically, emotionally, intellectually. But with the imminent holidays demanding that we connect interpersonally, we have a chance to put the wallowing behind us and to remember both our strength and what it — this — is all about. At the crux of what makes this period so special is how natural, I think, it feels to prioritize each other over our work, to do things for people who don’t expect anything from us, to focus on making our partners and friends and families happy as hell and to be the most primal versions of ourselves, relying on love and connection — the crux of what it means to be human!

We need each other to survive, November 8th reminded us of that. Over Thanksgiving and into Christmas, let’s reinforce that power.

So take a good look in the mirror! Really see who’s looking at you. And then, I don’t know, call your mom, call your sister, call your friend, call your neighbor and resolve to let go, to stop expecting.

Feature photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency via Getty Images.

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  • Mallory

    Love this Leandra! I totally needed this today.

  • Pandora Sykes

    I wonder if your mum has read this yet. I bet she will.

    • Leandra Medine

      Answer my e-mail, a-hole!

  • Jennifer

    This post made me think of Heather Havrilesky/Ask Polly. She’s got a lot of great things to say on this topic too.

  • Taste of France

    My mom had lots of problems and was pretty depressed but once I had a kid I was a LOT more understanding of how she felt. You will be your mom’s baby as long as you/she are alive. Not just her kid, but her baby. (My grandma called my dad “sonny boy” until he was 80 and she was 100.)
    Good luck and know that it gets better.

  • Amelia Diamond

    “. At the crux of what makes this period so special is how natural, I think, it feels to prioritize each other over our work, to do things for people who don’t expect anything from us, to focus on making our partners and friends and families happy as hell and to be the most primal versions of ourselves, relying on love and connection” <- really beautiful / mad deep yo

    • Marguerite Brown

      Incredibly moving…so spot on it was scary. I have shared this with everyone i know…including my own daughter! Still have a lump in my throat….xxx

  • Tiffany Chin

    Leandra, thank you so much for writing this article! I hope that things will turn out well between you and your mom! While reading your article what stood out was how unrealistically high expectations can lead to disappointment. My mom and I would butt heads on almost everything, because we had very high expectations of each other. Now we are both learning to accept each other for the way we are, and slowly we are getting along. Once we practice love and acceptance of differences towards each other, we would be happier.

  • One of the things I personally consider useful is to stay away from my beloved ones whenever I feel really really shitty. I simply don’t want to drain other people’s energy too excessively, no matter who they are. I do not avoid them if a bit unhappy or whatever, but when explosion of any kind is nigh … 🙂

    • Leandra Medine

      You know, I have been trying to do that! Not calling because I have nothing good to say, staying home because it’s safer for everyone…But it doesn’t really work with my family. They are very sensitive/extremely on top of each other in a way that sometimes, to me, feels unhealthy

      • Not that I know how to do this in RL: time to slowly introduce some … respectful distance? Or maybe not: while there is a price to pay for being so close, keeping a distance out of sheer love may actually not work. It sometimes seems to me there is a blessing in working so much you can actually deal only with very few emotional states or topics. I do take time for my husband but expect of him to deal with it first. Everyone else might get some of my time if lucky 🙂 but generally I talk everyday business and that was it. Even with people I like I cannot afford to feel their feelings too much because of work. It seems to me this distance works quite well, but how to introduce it without outer pressure as a convenient reason and whether it works if you think about people all the time you are supposed to stay away from… Is your husband included in this special emotional space?

        • DeanaCal

          My 15-year-old daughter has figured out a way to communicate with me in these situations. She actually will tell me “Mom, I’m not mad at you or anything, but I’m in a really bad mood/having pms/just had a fight with my best friend/whatever, and I just want to go in my room and be by myself for a while. Just her saying flat out helps so much. Just a mom’s perspective. 🙂

          • I do that, too: I am angry but not at you so let me digest it and then I might tell you more. But last time I was so angry and unhappy I had to go for a walk and stay alone, so as not to kill anyone by simply looking at them … 🙂

          • Leandra Medine

            She is so wise.Do you usually honor her privacy or feel compelled to jump in and help her?

          • DeanaCal

            Sorry I took so long to get back here! Yes, I definitely feel compelled to help, but I work really hard to control it. 🙂 She had a couple of years where she was dealing with pretty deep depression, and it took a while for me to stop being paranoid about leaving her alone (read:unsupervised). So it’s actually been a journey for us both, me learning to trust her to tell me the truth, and her learning to express it to me, with the payoff that she gets her alone time when she really needs it. 🙂

  • Chetna Singh

    I love that you can share this Leandra, and I bet your mom reads everything you write and is smiling as she reads this. As a mom and a daughter I have felt both sides of the coin, the frustrations and the expectations but in the end the love of a mother and her child triumphs all. Remember that. Here is to growing up (for all of us).

  • Steph

    It’s hard accepting that our moms aren’t perfect. I recognize how often and heavily I criticize my mother, but I also find I almost can’t control it. She no longer fits into this mold I’ve created of her, and, at times, I resent that most. Criticism is my way of trying to get her to fit again. And yet, as your therapists and you suggest, it doesn’t make anything any better.

  • starryhye

    Family relationships are so complex. Why is it so easy to hurt the ones we love the most? And like you asked, why can’t we just own up and give them what they need? You and your mom will work through your shit, bc you love each other and need each other. Give her a hug, appreciate every facet of her.

  • Mariana

    Mums can be hard, particularly to daughters. I believe that they reflect them in us. Don’t you think? My mom became a mother at 21 and by 30 she already had 3 children, so me and my sister sometimes had to heard the phrase “At your age I already had children and so much responsibility!” when we were doing something that she didn’t like.
    She is the biggest supporter of me, my brother and sister but also our strongest critique (the tough love kind of style) and sometimes, if you are more vulnerable, only searching for empathy and an hug (“hey, not looking for a solution, I just wanna externalize stuff”), that could be too harsh and can push you down. We share a deep love but she doesn’t really gets me as I, for sure, don’t really get her. She still expects me to act an certain way as I expect her to act a certain way. We just have to give up expectation and exchange for acceptance, but sometimes that is hard.

  • xtyb

    Leandra, this is such a great piece. It feels weird saying that though because I can feel how much it hurts. I have to tell you that I think it’s kind of weird when you mention your mom because I always think of the coolest people in NYC as not really having moms, you know, they are doing such crazy shit that obviously they are just not worried about that stuff the way lots of us are. And also it’s crazy because I first figured out who your mom is because I read an interview with her in a trade paper at the Tucson Gem Show…she mentioned you and somehow I felt that she was so proud but without any of that common parent-pride where they seem like they are taking credit for their kids’ awesomeness. More that she was just aware of your awesomeness without completely ‘getting’ it, it’s true. But I thought that was really great. We don’t have to ‘get’ each other to love each other.

    I find myself, as a Man Repelling mom of a high school senior, exactly in the middle of this kind of a situation of my own. She’s obsessed with such weird stuff and doesn’t even want to go shopping with me. She is old enough now that sometimes I want to say, WTF? (I know what those letters mean too) and don’t act like you get to be a teenage jerk and then I’m still going to cook your dinner and do your laundry and pay for your art supplies! But then I get teary eyed when I realize that I only have one more year to do that stuff for her.

    For me, what works best, is just always always always doing what I want her to do.
    Nobody needs to change at all, we just need to accept and love each other as we are.

  • Grace B

    My Mom makes an annual trip to visit us every December. She’s coming here next month and I am determined to not a) drink truth-telling serum (like I did two years ago) and spill all of my deepest, darkest secrets and make myself look like a crazy person, b) spend all our conversations talking about what’s messed up in the family or c) crying or yelling. Seriously. My Mom PREYS on my weaknesses, is embarrassed for me when I cry, and wishes I would figure out how to just lose the weight. I’m getting married in 3 months, my parents have almost completely footed the bills (because: tradition!), and there are still Many Things Left To Do. I’m determined to enjoy our time together next month. The end.

    Thanks for your honesty Leandra, it really holds space for the rest of us. 🙂

    • meme

      “wishes I would figure out how to just lose the weight”. Ugh. I feel you.

  • Lalabianca

    My mom passt away 6 years ago when I was 24. I wish she were here every second.
    I used to fight with her. Just cry a river, get over it and build a bridge.
    The biggest part of letting it go is not intellectual, it is emotionally. It’s so hard to embrace our anger. But when we finally get there and relieve ourself it makes us invincible.
    I am sure you have the capacity. Now you have to let it happen.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Steph

    Thank you for sharing this story!! Family relationships are hard and complicated. I could have put me and my dad in place of you and your mom as I read your lines. I lost my mom 2 yrs ago to cancer (fucking painful disease) and she was my partner in crime. I felt then & still feel that I lost my family ally. Dad’s expectations of me are so foreign(!) and challenge me to summon every bit of emotional maturity chops I can find. Give in, let go, and give hugs. Family can disappear far too quickly.

  • Haley Nahman

    “So why can’t I just give my mom what I know she wants and accept that she is who she is? If I know I’ll regret, what’s holding me back?”

    Reading this made me chuckle to myself. We’re so similar, LM, in how we process our feelings. This story = proof you use writing to sort your thoughts. And proof that sometimes intellectualizing does little for reigning in our emotions.

    Thanks for letting us join you in real time.
    *elbow squeeze*

    • Leandra Medine

      You and me the most need meditation to get out of our own heads, no?

    • Katrina Lee

      It’s so much harder to accept people for who they are and give them what they want when it means sacrificing yourself in some way.

  • meme

    I went through some very difficult feelings regarding my parents about a month ago.I’ve been living abroad for over a year, and I felt neglected, which I understand is strange because it’s me that moved away.

    But I had that feeling you describe of wanting to say “hey, I’m a kid too, nurture me, care for me, help me”. And so after struggling a lot with it, I decided to write a long e-mail to my mum. And I cried as I wrote it and I searched stuff online on how to handle those feelings (not helpful, I needed this article). And when I was finished, I re-read it, and I took out half of it: all the shitty part where I ignored her needs and screamed “me, me, me”, basically anything that would hurt her. And so I only sent her the part where I asked for help with something and gave a general account of my feelings.

    Next morning I had an answer from her saying “of course and sorry I’m so used to you not needing help I just forget to ask”.

    So I guess for a lot of people that means I am repressing stuff and not being honest, but I believe even with our parents it’s necessary to recognize that they are people too, and that they are not a dumpster for our feelings and they are worthy of our compassion.

  • Alyssa


    Posts like these are the reason why reading Man Repeller every evening (on week days) and morning (on weekends) has become as ritual to me as a morning cup of coffee.

    This post, especially.

    I lost my father suddenly over the summer, and processing it––and everything that comes after––has been difficult. I surprised myself, at the time, and ended up writing his eulogy. If you don’t mind, I would like to share part of it with you, as you’ve created a space where I feel comfortable to share:

    “No matter how unreliable and confining language is, it is all we have to fulfill a purpose that is both primal and exclusive to humans––to connect and create meaning together. The final lesson my father taught me was to use language. Not just to use language, but to use language to be vulnerable, to connect with others, and to love. Me, speaking here, in front of you all, is a testament to this. It would be impossible for me to compile all the moments, things my father has done or said, over my lifetime, that have contributed to this lifelong lesson I’ve just begun to unfold. But if there was one sentence to summarize it all, it’s this: explore every inflection, every possibility of the phrase, ‘I love you.'”

    It reminded me of what you said in the post above, as well as your own relationship to your father, who taught you to expect nothing of the world.

    It’s now been 5 months since my father has been gone, and many parts of my identity have been called into question. One being the daughter of a now widow (a widow, who has lived her life beside my father for the past 37 years, since she left home for college). This new territory, I think, has made me a better daughter (i.e. since I am college student, I make sure to FaceTime every night), but I’ve also assumed a sort of mother role to my mom (i.e. I am constantly worried about her whereabouts, whether she’s made it home safe, whether she has been eating good meals). A lot of the time it is consuming, this new role I’ve taken on.

    The latest example is of it is that I will be transferring schools soon, and the schools I’ve been offered admission to, both near and far home (where mom is), has me conflicted. One of the schools is my top pick and I know that it would be a good environment for me to grow, yet I feel drawn to a school closer to home, not just because of an internal obligation I feel to be there for my mother, but because I need my mother to be there for me, too. I will probably end up going to the school closer to home.

    As my relationship with my mother has changed (like yours), I, now, see love as boundless. There is always more space to explore how much you love someone (whether they are your mother or a stranger). Since my father’s loss, small gestures of love have now been made more apparent to me. Gestures of love that would’ve gone unnoticed before. The first time I noticed this was the time right before I was supposed to see my father in a casket for the first time. I was terrified, but then my little cousin, who I was never close to, saw me (emotionally naked), and she grabbed my hand tightly, and walked with me to face one of the most difficult moments in my life.

    I now understand that, although who we are and what we do is important, it is who we are with, that make the human condition, while tragic, both beautiful and meaningful.

    So, thank *you* and Man Repeller for being in the group of people I surround myself with. This post is meaningful.

    • This was so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

      • Leandra Medine

        So, so beautiful. You make me so proud to be part of this community.

    • meme

      Your eloquence and maturity before what you are facing is amazing. Thank you for sharing.

    • Ddesigner


    • Natty

      oh man, can I relate to this. thank you so much for opening up; your words are beautiful. I lost my dad at 24… the three year mile marker of his death is around the corner. I now hate the holidays for this reason. It’s a dark time and reminds me of being lost in grief.

      It’s remarkable how much we grow in the face of tragedy. My relationship with my mom has never been better. She was with my dad since high school and she described losing him to be a bit like an amputation of a major limb. I gladly assume the role of caretaker now when she needs me to; “mother” is a fluid, dynamic position and we sometimes need to take turns. We also sometimes need to go on fabulous getaways to Palm Springs like two old friends (departing on Sunday, wahoo!) and avoid thanksgiving entirely. It’s a shame that we don’t often get perspective like this until we experience loss, but, at the end of the day I’m grateful that I’m capable of caring for my mom and being her rock sometimes.

  • alice

    Her group texts are like your writing this story. Sharing helps us vent, process and heal. You are right in that we are all human and therefore a bit broken -even the most heroic amongst us. When you are a mother (which I pray and believe you will be), you will have more reservoirs of grace to draw from. You already do pretty well with that anyhow-just by virtue of your candor. I have no doubt that you are her most beloved treasure. Mother love is not perfect but it is powerful. Really forgiving means acting as though the offense never happened. This is difficult because when there is an offense, there is a debt. It will mean that you have to pay the debt yourself by letting it go. To err is human to forgive is divine. Don’t miss the holidays counting what’s owed you.

    • Leandra Medine

      I screenshot this on my desktop and my phone and won’t forget it. You are extremely wise Alice

  • Alexis Thomolaris

    I truly feel as though we are brain twins. Needed this.

  • Aliki F

    I’m so touched by this post, I also find my relationship with my mother suffocation sometimes, and whenever I try to break free even for a moment I feel guilty inmediately. I’ve been living abroad for 8 years now and my mom insists that we Skype on a daily basis and she also insists that I sound cheerful in every phone call and she also fails to understand that life is much more complicated than what did you have for dinner and how is your boyfriend. And whenever I try to bring up something more substantial for me, the fact that I don’t feel good with my job, or that I’m tired of living in another country and want to go back but know I won’t find anything to do that I like there either, I feel my points are dismissed with a don’t worry, it’ll happen. Yes, my mom does not get me. And I get upset with this so much. And then I meet her, which happens 3-4 per year and see how she is getting older, and see how bored she is with both her kids out of the home, and think that I will only have her for the next 20 years or so, and then I start crying and apologise and feel like a dumb ass. Because despite everything else, my mom is the person I liven and admire the most in this life.

  • PCE

    Yes yes and yes. This happened when I watched my mom devolve into a high school sophomore when she hadn’t conflict with her sisters (my aunts). I tried to reason with her but it didn’t help, and we ended up in conflict ourselves. This article just put it all in perspective. Thank you Leandra!

  • Sarah

    Hi, Leandra! Long, long time fan here. Such a thought-provoking piece for me, as a new mom. I have to ask: would you consider publishing anything on your site that has previously appeared on a teeny-tiny, nascent personal blog? I’d love to join the conversation here at Man Repeller.

  • Christel Michelle

    When I went away to college my freshman year, I noticed how much my relationships with both of my parents changed. It was weird because my whole life I wanted them to treat me like an adult (let me be! leave me alone!) and then as soon as I had the chance to taste independence for the first time, I didn’t really want it so badly anymore.
    I remember getting into so many fights with my parents saying, “I’m still a kid” or “Why do you feel less like parents now that I’m gone?” I projected so much and I still find myself getting upset when my parents don’t “mom” me or helicopter over my decisions the way that they did when I was in high school just two years ago. I think the most important thing is realizing that though the dynamics of a relationship may change, the love is still there and while growing up and experiencing change is scary, it’s necessary.

  • The Keyboard Slayer

    I love that you mention we have “our micro-realities”. Very true. As for the relationships we have with our mothers, I find that mine has changed over the years. When we are younger, we look at our mother as a guiding light, a mentor, a savior. But as we grow up (for me, at least) my mom seems to be more of a cofidant or friend.

  • Kelsey O’Donnell

    To echo Alyssa – posts like these make Man Repeller the community it is. Thank you for sharing this. This post was a reminder humans are humans are humans, and all relationships take work.

  • kforkarli

    Woah what a post. I sometimes wonder if I hold my dad as accountable as I hold my mum. When mum wasn’t well a couple of years ago, I remember sitting with her at the doctor and was flabbergasted by how childish she was being both at the appointment, and afterwards at home (there was a lot of “But I don’t want to..”). She is just a person but because she looked after me I expected her to be far more in control.

  • ladybirda

    Ugh. Reading this made me want to call my mom but then I looked at her last text which was something catty about my MIL who she is super-competitive with and I just can’t right now.

  • Deborah Ramirez

    I’ve had a similar relationship with my mom for the longest time. I started therapy and he told me I can’t control my mom, I can only control myself, right? The same old, same old. But this didn’t work until months later when I had the biggest epiphany that maybe I was just looking at her all wrong. I was looking at her through me. Before I say this, I must admit that I didn’t even know what compassion really felt like. So, I started looking at her with compassion (not even understanding or excusing her behaviour), just plain compassion, and I instantly started to feel grateful for everything she has done for me. I realized, wait, how was my mom raised? How was her relationship with her mom? How was her relationship to friends, sisters? How was she growing up? What was her biggest drama event? What went through her head, what was her first kiss like? I thought about everything’s that has happened to me, and then I thought, what has shaped my mom, what has my mom lived through? I realized I’ve been mega-super self-centered. And also that it’s emotionally exhausting to be fighting all the time, to be in constant battle with this woman. So I just literally let go. I don’t try to excuse or understand her behavior anymore, I don’t try to force her or manipulate her with words or passive aggressiveness anymore. I don’t call her and fight because she criticize something I did because I realize that either 1) she’s worried about me or 2) she’s clearly projecting something on me. I think it’s personal how we internalize lessons in life, self-help books, superficial quotes on “letting go” “being positive” don’t work unless you have the AHA moment where you’re like, “oh shit, this is it”, and you only get that through experiencing things.

  • I literally just had an argument with my mom, walked into my room, opened Facebook, and that’s the first thing I saw. Never was anything as well-timed as this. Thanks Leandra!

  • CM

    Reading this made me realize just how lucky I am to have a mom who 100% always knows how to deal with me. I am stubborn, but often in denial of this fact, and if I ever throw a fit, get moody, bitchy, etc., she knows exactly how to diffuse it, without ever riling me up more. I don’t even know how she does it, but I think my mom and my relationship is an example of someone knowing us better than we know ourselves… Realizing how rare this is, and going to go tell my mom how much I appreciate her right now 🙂