A Doorway to Self-Knowledge

I first noticed my mother’s tendency - a tendency that drove me to extreme annoyance and then, I’ll admit now, self-knowledge - when I was in middle school.

At the afternoon pickup, I was often fuming over some slight typical of early teens. I hadn’t been invited to this sleepover, was ignored by that queen bee.

What I wanted my mother to say was, “You’re right, Sweetie Pie, you were done wrong.”

But my mother’s tendency was not to take sides. She held me. She asked how it felt. She made space for every feeling. And she never vindicated me.

It pissed me off to no end.

If she’d only taken my side, I could have sat up in my throne of been-done-wrongness. I could have been righteous.

But my mother thought those were agents of stagnation and stay-where-you-are-ness. Growth comes by walking into the wilderness of our emotional landscape and trying to extract meaning from it. Growth is work. The uncomfortable work that brings us ever closer to our fullest selves.

What about this hurts? My mother would ask. What do you think this is really about?

I’d stamp and rage like a bull in a paddock. My mother stuck with me until my defenses came down. Stuck with me until her sensitive, tender kiddo came out. Stuck with me until, in my pain and my ache, insight arrived.

I write this as a woman in her thirties. My mother still has this tendency. She has transmitted it - somewhat - to her daughter. In my clear-sighted moments, I know clarity comes from wading into the muck. I know that to be righteous is to be at the threshold of insight. But vulnerability, not righteousness takes us to the insight. And I know my mother gave me what I needed: someone who was not blindly on my side, but firmly by my side.

My mother’s tendency was, in essence, to accompany. And when we go into the pains and aches of our sensitive, tender selves, it is not enablers we need, but accompaniers.

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