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

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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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 safety—in 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 didn’t 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 I’d never find a husband, and I’d be alone, which was terrifying, abnormal, and unacceptable.

3. What you want now, you won’t want later. (Or, don’t trust yourself.)

It’s possible that all the therapy and radical feminist thought in the universe won’t restore to me what I never had, which is the ability to trust my own instincts. I think it’s like this for a lot of women, constantly being told that the world we’re experiencing isn’t real. When I was 12, I told my grandmother I wanted to live in New York City when I was older. Her response: “I wanted to do that, too. You’ll change your mind.” When I told her later that I didn’t think I wanted to get married, she said, “I didn’t want to get married, either. But then I did.”

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 it’s OK. On the other, it seemed cruel to tell me that the life I was imagining for myself shouldn’t be something I took seriously, because it wouldn’t 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 grandmother’s 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 couldn’t 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. I’d like to think that we all see ourselves as perpetually imperfect, unfinished projects, which is tragic, but also hopeful.

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