Finding the Good Mother Within


AB: What are some examples of the things that your grandmother didn't do for you, but that you're doing for your kids, in terms of supporting them emotionally?

KB: I make an enormous effort to get my feelings and my needs out of my interactions with my kids. For example if one of my children is really angry about something, sometimes that makes me really angry. I don't want him to be angry, I want him to stop his silly thinking. And I try so hard to get away from that, and look at him and try to hear, what is he angry about? Is he really scared? Or is he really angry? What does he need?

One of the things I know absolutely is you have to know each of your children as individuals. My children are very different from each other emotionally. One of them really needs to explode and vent, and once he's done that, he's fine. I've had to learn to sort of metaphorically put my arms around him when he won't let me literally put my arms around him, when he's really unglued about something. But I know if I can just hold him emotionally, let him have those scary awful emotions, he'll be fine.

AB: Have you forgiven your grandmother?

KB: Yes, I would say I hold no grudge against her. She's dead now, and she died without our relationship changing. And I understand that she could not change. By the time I had my children, it was just too late for us. In the book I talk about some women who have reconciled at death. Sometimes it's the only bridge for the things that have gone on between you.

For me, motherhood is so consuming and so fulfilling and so joyful that I can't help but feel blessed. I don't need to look at the past anymore. And I say in the book that this journey toward finding your own map involves looking back, looking in, and looking forward. And you don't want to get stuck looking back, you don't want to get stuck on your inward part, because your joy, your future, your children's future is the looking ahead. So I missed out big on the child side of the mother-child relationship. But I have the mother side in spades. So I can't possibly look at my life and say I was so unlucky. I look at my life and say, "Wow, look at this. Look at these gifts."

Kathryn Black and her husband have two children, Ian and Willy. She is also the author of In the Shadow of Polio, named by the Boston Globe as one of the 10 best nonfiction books of 1996. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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