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3 Things My Conservative Mother Taught Me That I Wish I Could Forget


Society & Culture  (tags: americans, children, culture, dishonesty, education, family, freedoms, media, politics, religion, safety, society, women )

Kit
- 657 days ago - alternet.org
As an adult, I now see that many of the lessons I was taught as a child were products of my mother's and grandmother's own insecurity.



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Comments

Karen Martinez (18)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 8:44 am
I keep telling my kids that it's my right as a parent to 'screw them up' mentally. If I can't mess with their minds, then why should they allow anyone else? At least the author understands the motivation behind the lessons taught her by her mother and grandmother. Ok, so understand, and let it go. It will give you something about which you can laugh with your friends. Don't write an article bemoaning the idea that you can't let go of what your mother taught you as you live your life in an opposite manner. Sounds like you've let go on the outside, but feel guilty. If you feel so guilty, and are not willing to change the way you're living and the attitudes you now have, then give it up, girlfriend! My mom taught me a lot of goofy stuff, but she also taught me to be a strong, independent woman, a loving mother, and a good friend to those around me. Even though I pretty much follow a traditional 'woman's' role (wife, mother, English teacher who does the cooking and most of the cleaning while knitting, tatting and quilting), I don't regret that I didn't choose to study nuclear physics or head up a mega-corporation. I'm happy with my life. The author needs to focus on the good that her mother taught her and drop the bad.
 

Nancy M. (201)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 10:15 am
Really interesting article. I might come up with a slightly different list that I learned from my mother. I'll have to ponder that a bit.
 

Kit B. (276)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 10:30 am



(Photo Credit: alternet)


I think often of what my mother would say about this life Iím living. I think about it when Iím at home, (where I live with many people, none of whom is a dude Iím married to), when Iím walking around in my neighborhood (Brooklyn, largely West Indian population, not gentrified yet), when I get dressed (did I wear these pants yesterday? Will I probably wear them tomorrow? Yes and yes), when Iím traveling (alone, or to places where sheíd probably rather Iíd not go), and on and on. At my worst moments, itís like sheís still alive, and Iím still accountable to living how sheíd probably want me to live.

Iíve been accused of holding the politics I hold, because Iím rebelling. Look, itís possible. Itís likely, even. Thereís an incongruity, though, between the way weíre socialized to think about rebellion (something a spoiled child does) and what unlearning the stuff weíre programmed to believe really looks like. Unlearning means breaking tiesówith people, perhaps, and also, within your own brain. Itís pretty terrifying to go from seeing through a certain lens, which youíve likely believed has made you safer, to glimpsing how unstable, cruel, and crazy the world actually is, and that the tales weíve told ourselves cannot protect us.

Itís hard to talk about these things without feeling a certain sense of betrayal, even though everyone Iím about to mention is now dead (my mother died when I was 19, my grandmother when I was 25). Itís been essential, though, for me to sift through these memories and moments and stories, to look them in the face, so I can get a little closer to the life I want to live.

To be unlearned:

1.If someoneís not white, theyíre dangerous, poor, and lazy.

The house we lived in until I was 17 was located next to an apartment building, which was populated mainly by folks of color. I can never remember having any particular encounters with anyone who lived there, but my mother was completely annoyed by everyone who lived there. She claimed that they were all living on public assistance and, therefore, were lazy and manipulating the system so they would never have to work. It seemed wrong to me, but I could never describe why exactly. My grandmother, who was basically my second parent, went along with this, referring to black people in particular as ďshvartzas.Ē To this day, the moment she referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as a trouble maker, still sticks in my brain like a mouse in a glue trap.

My mother was angry at people she perceived as leeching, but she herself was struggling financially, as a single parent, to raise a kid and maintain a mortgage without a college degree and with consistently ill health. Looking back on it now, itís clear that her racismóas well as her anger and fearówas an example of a political and cultural system that turns vulnerable populations against one another. Itís the sickening efficacy of that system that makes it difficult to see how toxic it is.

2.Donít be too independent.

When I was 16, I had a boyfriend. It was the most innocuous relationship in the history of high school relationships, in spite of the fact that I did not have any interest in following the rules. Iím not sure if anyone besides my mother was actually interested in the rules, which basically orbited around the principle of letting him pay for me, pick me up, hold the door for me, and ask me out. Needless to say, I was extremely uncomfortable with this (it will not shock you to learn that I still am), and I refused to comply, which made my mother really angry. It was the first time I ever heard her use the word feminist as an insult, this from the woman who had also taught me to have opinions and to hold them tightly and fiercely. (She would later be proud of me when I was named "Class Feminist" my senior year.)

It was around this time that it occurred to me that I was not the kid my mother had hoped for. I was mercurial, stubborn, earnest, and independent in a way that made her uncomfortable. My mother craved safetyóin her physical body, in her financial and emotional life, and for me. She was afraid of being alone, of being vulnerable, of pushing people away. My desperate, almost rabid grasp at independence (allegedly since I was 18 months old), frightened her. If I didnít let this boy feel as though he was in control, he might not like me. If I kept up this behavior, no boys would like me, and then Iíd never find a husband, and Iíd be alone, which was terrifying, abnormal, and unacceptable.

3.What you want now, you wonít want later. (Or, donít trust yourself.)

Itís possible that all the therapy and radical feminist thought in the universe wonít restore to me what I never had, which is the ability to trust my own instincts. I think itís like this for a lot of women, constantly being told that the world weíre experiencing isnít real. When I was 12, I told my grandmother I wanted to live in New York City when I was older. Her response: ďI wanted to do that, too. Youíll change your mind.Ē When I told her later that I didnít think I wanted to get married, she said, ďI didnít want to get married, either. But then I did.Ē

This idea that I could want something so badly at one point in life, but not follow through with it was sad, and made me wonder if I could possibly ever really know what I wanted. On one hand, people change their minds, and itís OK. On the other, it seemed cruel to tell me that the life I was imagining for myself shouldnít be something I took seriously, because it wouldnít happen. She had regrets, I know, many of them, some of her own making, and others that were the result of things that were out of her control.

In retrospect, this was a collision, right before my eyes, of the issues of class and gender in my grandmotherís life. She had gone to work at the age of 9, married my grandfather young, had three children, and lived in the same town her entire life. It might very well have been that after a certain point, she couldnít imagine a different reality.

The truth is that I knew there was something not right about these lessons when I was learning them, and now, there's space to do the work that's required to move forward. Iíd like to think that we all see ourselves as perpetually imperfect, unfinished projects, which is tragic, but also hopeful.
************

By Chanel Dubofsky | alternet |
 

Kit B. (276)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 10:35 am

I could add a very long list to that article. Far too many mythologies were promoted by our mothers and grandmothers. Not that they meant to do us harm, they believed what they were told and continued the myth.
Even now that I am widowed my mother is concerned about who will fix things around the house. I do, but then I always have. I loved to joke that though Steve was brilliant intellectually, I dared not allow him to change a light bulb and the electric power for miles might go black.

The point being a simple one; we are women and that is not a handicap. It is our strength and if ever tapped properly a strength for all of human kind. We are half of the world's population, we have so much to offer if we but acknowledge our own abilities and put them to use.
 

Terrie Williams (774)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 10:36 am
Things my female parental unit taught me.......I'm thinking......really.......ummmmmmmm.......hold on......this is hard.....

Ok....she taught me what NOT to be. That's as compassionate as I can be....(believe me, that is a big improvement than what I used to say).
 

Nancy M. (201)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 10:38 am
Oh gosh, isn't that the truth about the lightbulb.
 

Nancy M. (201)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 10:39 am
How about- Don't go out after dark without an escort. LOL.
 

Nyack Clancy (445)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 10:42 am
Good article- I think we have all been taught our "station in life", what it is- and never to stray very far from it- thankfully some of us do. There comes a point when you realize that well-meaning caretakers just may have been misinformed by the misinformed.

I agree with the author on this point-
"Iíd like to think that we all see ourselves as perpetually imperfect, unfinished projects,..."

I have found this to be so, at least in my own life (but I think it applies to everyone, male or female, regardless of color). I am not this same person I was at 4, or 14, or 24, or 34..... and if I life to be 94, I expect the project of being human will have changed again.
 

Past Member (0)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 10:58 am
Thanks Kit. Fortunately my mother never taught me any of those things. My parents had friends who were black and came to our house. My mother was on her own at the age of 19, the sole teacher and principal of an elementary school. She was very independent, married late in life and had me very late in life. She taught me by example to value education and to be independent. Both my parents had just started into the work force shortly before the crash of 1929, so they had what is known as "Depression mentality"....which taught me never to waste anything.
 

pam w. (191)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 5:12 pm
How about "Nice girls don't......(fill in the blanks."

I disagree with the idea of forgetting these lessons. Actually, it's good to remember them so we can take pride in how far we've come and how strong we are.

Thanks, Kit!
 

Giana Peranio-Paz (388)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 4:14 am
Interesting, but for all their faults, and there were many, mind you, my parents let me live my life as I pleased and their personal example in many aspects still holds today. So, although they were extreme idealist and as young people didn't see the grays, I basically received mostly good things from them. Today, I take what I think is good from them and disregard the rest.
 

Gloria picchetti (296)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 5:07 am
I grew up in the 50s too. They were out to lunch!
 

cecily w. (0)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 5:15 am
My mom would have been 96 this year. Apparently she was ahead of her time.
 

Missy O. (8)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 5:42 am
My dream is to be a stay at home mom, having my kids coming home to a clean house, my husband coming home to a meal on the table and clean clothing in the closet. Unfortunately we are not rich so we both have to work. I wish I had that choice.. but when I tell people I normal get yelled at beacsue they say its anti feminist... but in my eyes.. being a woman means being able to choose whatever you want to.. and if it is being a mother and wife before other things.. well.. that Is my choice.. :)
 

Mike M. (55)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 9:30 am
Mom taught me to not listen to her until I had a good idea of what she was trying to control. I watch over mom and dad now and they unfortunately have to agree much to often I am right. It is hard for them to let the rebel trouble maker be right and not of their making.
 

Nyack Clancy (445)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 10:03 am
@ Missy O-

That's very cool if that is what you CHOOSE to do. And THAT, is exactly the part they left out of the brainwashing story. That women have choices- they are not destined to stay at home and raise children and cook dinner. They are no less women if they choose to not have children and pursue a PhD or anything else that entails their own personal dreams.
 

Tom Edgar (56)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 1:45 pm
I'm glad I'm not like my mother. She was a Spiritualist, I'm a lifelong atheist. Hey Mom you've been dead forty years and you haven't made a visit yet. She was a racial supremacist, not a "Racist" she was "English" so every other nationality was inferior, including the Welsh and Scots, especially the Irish. I hazard she viewed with disdain anybody from outside S E London. I married a wonderful girl of Irish, English, and Chinese heritage, in Australia. I don't think she forgave me for becoming totally Australian. My father was much better, One thing he said sticks. "Treat all women as you would your sister and mother and be true to your own ideals."
 

Kit B. (276)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 2:08 pm

I respect that Missy wants the right to make that choice. Is that not what this is really about? Woman or man should we not each have the choice to decide how we wish to live our life and fulfill our dreams? Some women wish to be soldiers, others chose politics, various forms of business, and of course the classic stereo-type teaching. That it is stereo typed does not diminish the very difficult task nor the devotion of those who have chosen to teach. I read this and did not relate to my mother's teaching as much as the softly spoken words of society, as to what a woman you should be.....Many of us that came of age during the sixties and seventies heard that soft but stern voice and still turned away. We made the choice to steer our own ships, chart our own courses.

That same voice is still whispering today, only today it tells us not just what our path should or should not be, but how we individually are allowed to handle our own choices for our body. If we are well insured we can go to a doctor and have the proper health care, if we can afford to pay the price we can also buy birth control, an item which has grown fantastically in price and therefore, who can afford to obtain this health measure. There is and long has been a WAR against women, against the natural abilities of women to decide their own path in life. That issue the one of separating the abilities of men and women, the issue of saying that as women we are only allowed certain choices should be the most vocal rally point for all women. I would not dare tell another how they should live their life, what choices they should have in the course of that one life we all have. That is just not the way things are today. Choices are made for and about women - these choices are ultimately to determent of society. Each woman does have the ability to chart her own course and nothing in any law should ever be allowed to stand against that human right.
 

monka blank (81)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 2:20 pm
My parents told me to obey.....that made me leave home when I was quite young. I've learned the lessons of life, and I'm pleased over the result. My parents were wrong so often - the best I could do was to leave!
Kids often ask "why", I never got an answer from my parents, as I said: they were wrong.
 

Claudia O. (73)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 2:24 pm
My mother taught me many of the same lessons when I grew up in the 50s. Times were much different then, and my mother always wanted what was best for me. She spoke out of love and concern and, though I began to see that her world was different than mine and her lessons were not going to 'stick' as she thought they should, I still honor her and am grateful that she cared enough about me to put me on what she thought was the 'right' path. Now I am an old woman, and I see that many times I made mistakes with my children and that they do not really understand what was behind all of those mistakes. I am sorry that in many ways we have grown apart. I think it might be best to try to understand the times in which our parents were raised rather than compare their lessons with what the world is requiring today. Compassion never 'goes out of style'.
 

Laura Walls (16)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 2:25 pm
I think Karen is missing the point the writer is making. I, too, was raised by a conservative mother (and Southern, to boot!) and back in the 50's and early 60's those ideals WERE the ones taught by conservative women to their children. Am I a liberal because of these veiws that were held by my parents? Possibly, I don't know, but I want to be what I am - (also 60 yrs. old) and it's OK to say that maybe our parents taught us things we don't hold to be true today. I raised my daughter much differently and am so proud. Thanks Kit!
 

T M. (0)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 3:47 pm
Missy O - what about your husband? Does _he_ get to choose? Or is he stuck with being a 'man' and supporting the family while you go off and do your own thing? Feminism believes that both sexes get to choose how to live their lives, not just women.
 

pam w. (191)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 4:01 pm
Kit....ABSOLUTELY SPOT ON....as ALWAYS!
 

Kit B. (276)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 4:06 pm

Thanks Pam - always nice to know someone is reading. Just know that if I could you would have a shower of Green Stars.
 

Nancy C. (797)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 4:57 pm
I was the talker but I watched a great role model in my mom who "ran the show". Although she didn't go back into the work field til we were teens, she "worked" for us and other family and friends constantly. Safety and health were first priorities, can't belittle that. Luckily, mom was a bit more of a realist than was the Catholic doctrine of our studies. It was the church I had to wean from...not mom!
 

Parvez Zuberi (7)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 11:42 pm
Interesting article thanks for sharing
 

Suzanne L. (155)
Thursday January 3, 2013, 2:22 pm
I like this article. For me a lot of it has to do with distinguishing your own voice and identity. I think it's an ongoing process that is revisited time and time again, by those who keep on growing.
 

Lois Jordan (56)
Thursday January 3, 2013, 3:59 pm
I think we all learn from the mistakes of our moms, as well as their insights. I, too, was lucky that mine was older, educated, and was quite open-minded on many issues. She was always interested in learning and staying educated on many different things. The lines she drew were lines I crossed. I understand why it was difficult for her to cross those lines herself, and have progressed further than she was able to. Unfortunately, much of this was only done after her death from cancer 20 yrs. ago.
Thanks for posting, Kit---I'm sorry I'm out of green stars for you presently.
 

Sergio Padilla (62)
Friday January 4, 2013, 3:26 pm
Thanks!
 
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