Saturday, April 27, 2019

Bad mother

[This photo has nothing to do with the blog post title]
The last time my book club met, we were reading Olive Kitteridge. It seems we were divided down the middle in our reviews, some readers raved, some panned. I was one of the panners. Ravers praised the complex character of Olive, the development of character, the exposure of how awfully she treated her son Christopher. But also how the author led them from dislike to understanding, maybe even respect.

The book annoyed me so much (one chapter in particular) that I had to go take a bath to cool off. Then I read that it had been turned into a mini-series starring Frances McDormand, so I went looking for that and ended up watching the whole series (4 hours) before our meeting. This is one time I thought the TV version was better than the book. In my view the author took a bunch of characteristics and smushed them into one character and called it "complex". Olive did not make sense to me. McDormand's interpretation of Olive seemed to be that she was somewhat autistic, and I could make sense of that. But I disliked the son intensely for being so judgmental. At one point he referred to his second wife's son by another man as a "piece of crap", and I thought: "takes one to know one".

In my book club one reader referred to Olive having abused her son so it was no wonder he was so screwed up. Each chapter is a kind of vignette, only a couple take place during Christopher's boyhood, and I didn't really see consistent evidence of abuse. While Olive admits to having hit Christopher as a boy I don't see that as evidence of abuse. For sure she was not anyone's ideal mother, but she loved her son and took care of him as best she could. A couple of times in the book someone says that it is always the mother who gets blamed for childhood problems, and I agree with that. Very rarely do we accuse fathers of abuse or neglect unless it is quite horrific. Mothers just have to be less than perfect to be up for judgment.

There were a few anecdotes of horrible behaviour on the part of our parents and I said, Yeah, my siblings and I tell those stories and laugh about them. One person who is a family therapist decried Olive's narcissism for refusing to hear her son out when he criticized her for being a bad mother, another member related how when her teenage daughter accused her of being a rotten mother (for not letting her do something or other) she retorted that yes she was an awful mother, now go to your room. I said that if my son did that I'd react the same way Olive did; after pouring one's heart and soul into raising a kid one is not keen to hear that the kid didn't appreciate it one little bit. The therapist thought the correct response was to be open to criticism and to apologize for the hurt caused.

Interestingly, one new member said that what struck him was the difference between how kids are treated in North America and in Europe; he described how kids are allowed to go everywhere and do almost anything with little restriction or apparent harm. It surprised him how repressive American parents are. Perhaps if parents felt free to loosen the reins a bit they'd be less inclined to oppress their kids. But gods help you if you aren't actively "parenting" every second of your life. Bad mother indeed!

I was a less (much less) than perfect mother, so perhaps I am overly sensitive on the issue. I think I come from a long line of less-than-perfect parents and there was a time when I was pretty judgmental about my own parents' mistakes and faults. Eventually I figured it out and moved on. But it bothers me when I see other people engaging in that, I feel like swatting them upside of the head for stupidity. As my father used to say, "Quit yer bellyaching!"

But I guess that qualifies as abuse too.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

I used to go to church on Mother's Day and leave ready to cry. I remember one year leaving the house afterward and walking back to sit along the creek and sob because the pastor had laid into how the home was perfected by the mother and it was all her doing. I knew I wassn't ever perfect. I still don't like Mother's Day ;)