Mother-Weight: When History Repeats Itself
When there is so much to say, and when what you have to say is something that is intrinsically linked to your heart, words become a struggle. I have tried to write this article several times, and each time, my words felt terribly inadequate for the immensity of the issue that I wanted to address.
And yet, this is a story that is burning to be told. It has been a heavy boulder that I have been carrying around in my heart for days, weeks, months, getting heavier and more painful by the day, yearning to be let out.
Finally, it’s happening.
I first encountered the phrase “mother-weight” in a book that I read recently. This phrase stopped me in my tracks – the rest of the book faded away because everything in me screamed that this was important, that I was close to understanding something I had been trying to understand for a long time. These were the words I had been trying so hard to find.
This heaviness that one carries around, indiscernable for the most part, but always there, flaring up during arguments with close members of the family, sometimes accompanied by crippling questions of self worth and painful yearning.
I had an argument with my mother recently.
As I write this, I can’t remember what transpired, only that I was angry, and she was angry, and I couldn’t understand why we kept clashing, why we kept having different versions of the same argument.
I remember feeling heavy, deadened. It was a familiar feeling, though till that point, for the life of me, I couldn’t have named it for what it was.
I retreated to Twitter, and started tweeting mindlessly.
“Your mother, healer of your hurts, carries the scars of her childhood. You might unknowingly remind her of them. Forgive her for her anger.”
“Your mother was taught to bear it all, in strength and silence. Now the walls are cracking with age. Be kind as she meets her emotions.”
“You will forever be your mother’s child. Learn adulthood together with her. (She needs this as much as you do).”
Friends who had seen what I had written thanked me for it – told me that these were words they had needed to see because of their tumultuous relationships with their own parents.
I was glad that my words had resonated. But I knew the truth. I knew what I had been doing. I had been talking to myself, for myself. Reminding myself of things I could easily forget in the heat of the moment, in the face of childish anger.
My previous encounter with the phrase “mother-weight”, together with my own arguments with my mother, had whittled away at the boulder that I had been carrying around.
This was it, then. This was what it was all about. This was the story that I had to tell.
This “mother-weight” – all of us have it.
Your mother has it. She has it from the time her father died when she was young, and she had to step up to be the wage-earner for the family.
Your grandmother has it. From the time she got married at a ridiculously young age, because customs and traditions said this was the way of life, and she left her family, her siblings, and became a mother at a time when she was nothing more than a child.
Your father has it. As a man of the 50s and the 60s, he was taught not to let his emotions come in the way of anything, that silence was the way of the man’s world. Your father carries the burdens his father placed on him – to be that of a stoic.
You can rename the phrase, I suppose.
Disappointed children whose parents weren’t there carry that emptiness throughout their lives.
Overburdened children who were fed responsibility and duty while they were breastfed spend their lives trying to match up, and feeling like they are not good enough.
Echoes of parental arguments are the nightmares that some children have, making them question if there is any worth to commitment at all – these nagging doubts translate to running away from people, from relationships, from marriage.
I understand that these are oversimplifications of complex relationships. But the crux of the matter persists.
I carry the weight of inadequacy, of being helpless when my mother had cancer and my father nearly lost his life. I couldn’t tell you when these became my personal burdens to carry.
Maybe it was the time when I had to accompany my mother for chemo, and she told the doctor that she couldn’t go through with it anymore, because it took too much, and she had had enough. (She went through with it, and she took it all, but words of agony get seared into you and remind you of your utter inadequacy to alleviate someone’s pain).
Maybe it was the time when my dad couldn’t do anything on his own and needed help being fed, being clothed…I can tell you now that there is nothing that changes your perspective in life than being a parent to your own parents. I couldn’t tell you when I took my weight on. Except that it was there, and it demanded to be felt, more so on some days than on others. It wasn’t something that was purposely given to me. It wasn’t something that was knowingly given to me. It was an unsavory circumstance that had painful repercussions. As it is with most of the stories I’ve heard and learnt of.
We don’t talk about this weight. We get used to the occasional sick feeling in the stomach and the deadened taste in our hearts. We chalk it up to the mundane nitty gritty of daily life. We don’t address this when we can, when we should, and instead, we pass on this baton onto our children.
And so, the vicious chain continues. Even though it doesn’t have to be this way.
As children, we need to understand that our parents are humans. They feel, they hurt; they suffer as much as we do. And just like us, they struggle with communicating it. Parents too, need to look past the ways of yesterday and find ways to address their emotions. They need to be aware that their history becomes their children’s history and the sooner this history is addressed, the easier it will be for their own families and families to come.
It isn’t always going to be easy – on the contrary, peeling off layers of congealed weight is nothing short of excruciating.
But nothing good in life comes easy.
And freedom is possibly worth all of this.
Have you experienced ‘mother-weight’? How has it impacted you? Share your thoughts with us below.
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