My Mother, My Teacher | Part 1 of 2

by Elouise

I’m still thinking about my confused and confusing relationships with men.  This story is about my Mother and me. It’s also about at least some of my troubling relationships with men.

How to do it right!
I don’t remember this event at all.  Mother first told me about it in the 1990s.

I was 2 to 3 years old.  Mother had spanked me for something—she couldn’t remember what.  My father wasn’t home just then.  In fact, when he left the house I was in a foul mood.  He had already tried to make me behave by spanking me.  Yet even after his spanking and Mother’s, I clearly wasn’t yet contrite.

So Mother got a hairbrush and “really lit into” me.  It worked wonders!  I dissolved into tears, came running to her for comfort, threw myself into her arms and told her over and over, “I love you, Mother, I love you!”

Mother’s voice broke as she told this part of the story.  She said I had never come running to her like that.  This was a sign that the punishment was effective.  Not only did my attitude change for the better, but she got something from me she’d been longing for—love.

When my father got home that evening he was pleasantly surprised.  Here was a happy, loving, smiling little girl greeting him at the door.  All hugs and kisses.

He asked Mother what had happened to bring about this change in me.  Mother went and got the hairbrush.  His problem?  He hadn’t spanked me hard enough, long enough or with the proper instrument.

She explained what she had done, and the remarkable transformation it brought about in me.  From that day on, my father didn’t hold back with me.  The only way to break my will was to beat the anger out of me.  According to him, he learned his lesson.

What  I learned from Mother
My heart sank when I first heard this story.  For years I’d suspected Mother was actively on my father’s side, not mine.   This story didn’t change my behavior with her.  It just confirmed my experience when I was a child and young teenager.

When I was growing up, I didn’t trust Mother to tell my father the truth about me.  Nor did I trust her to stay out of my business, my dresser drawers, my closet, my desk, or my social life.  She wanted to know what I was thinking, what I was feeling, what I was doing.

Why did she behave this way?  I’m not certain, but I think her need to be up to date about me was part of taking care of my father and his reputation as a clergyman.  Perhaps she knew more about the way he treated me than she let on.

In any case, over the years I recognized her constant caretaking efforts on his behalf.  It seemed she knew his weaknesses and was intent on helping him look good at any cost.  Including the cost to her health and wellbeing, and even to my safety when I was a child.

So how does this help me understand my relationships with men?  I don’t yet see everything, but here are a few things I recognize.

My father was the designated gatekeeper in our family.  Also, as a preacher he was to some extent a gatekeeper in the church.  Men as gatekeepers.  All too familiar to me.  It reeks of having to watch my back, make sure the important men approve of me, and that I say nothing to or about them that would come back to haunt me.  In fact, my job is to make important men’s success my main project.  At any cost. They hold the keys to my success as a woman.

When my mother instructed my father about how to punish me properly, she was doing what I witnessed later in their marriage.  She made sure he looked good, and that what he set out to do got done as efficiently as possible without actually doing it for him.

She wasn’t always successful.  He was stubborn.  Yet without her, he could not have gotten as far as he did.  Her job was to make him look good.  Discreetly, of course.  She didn’t contradict him unless necessary, and rarely did so in public or in front of us, his daughters.

Mother ran circles around my father to help him pursue his agenda.  This entailed cooking, cleaning, hostessing, typing, working day and night to be an industrious mother and an outstanding pastor’s wife, looking cheerful and upbeat no matter what.  Her value depended on his success.  She didn’t have much time for me.  She had more urgent things to do.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 November 2014