Why do we all blame Mom?

Story by Gracie Bonds Staples
(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)
Fri, May 18, 2012
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Good or bad, we mothers bear the brunt of the blame for our children’s problems.

Never mind the fact that fathers are now more involved than ever in their children’s lives. That perception persists.

Think Kathy Hilton, mother of Paris and Nicky; Lynne Spears, who is now estranged from daughter Britney; and Lindsay Lohan’s mom, Dina.

While their celebrity has made them public examples, we ordinary mothers are at the end of our daughter’s pointy little fingers just as often.

Mother blame, as it is referred to by experts, is part of growing up and has a long history in our culture, said Dr. David Eigen, an Atlanta psychologist and author of “Women — The Goddesses of Wisdom: The Journey of Womanhood” (Gender Studies Institute Press).

“I mostly hear about fathers being either absent, physically abusive or emotionally unavailable,” Eigen said. “Mothers, though, are basically blamed for everything else because they are the ones typically thought of as the nurturer.”

When Mom is not available to fulfill that role, for whatever reason, he said children often feel neglected, unwanted and abandoned.

And when that child is female, the relationship is more likely to suffer, said Dr. Michael Finkelstein, medical director of Sun Raven, a New York center for holistic medicine.

Why? Because a mother sees herself in her daughter and vice versa; she will often project her issues onto her female offspring, he said.

“They often see a characteristic that they don’t appreciate and they’re less tolerant,” Finkelstein said.

“It’s classic projection. They blame their mother to shift the focus away from themselves.”

To rise above blame, he said, both mothers and daughters must let go and take responsibility for themselves, their actions and their lives.

Anne Keeton, a Norcross, Ga., grief recovery specialist, agreed, saying that bedeviling our mothers is a common indicator of unresolved grief.

“What we inherit from our mothers is like someone leaving us a house full of stuff — some great, some not so great,” she said. “As adults, we must take responsibility and consciously choose what we want to toss and what we want to make our own.”

That isn’t just true for adult children whose mothers are now dead; it’s true for those whose relationships with their mothers is broken.

Lisa Frank, an Atlanta public relations executive, said she and her mother continued to fight over little, dumb things well into her 50s.

“Then one day — knowing she had lung cancer — I finally decided that’s it,” Frank said. “After another blowup over something so small I told myself, ‘That is our last fight. It is up to me to not take the bait and to not respond.’ ”

Keeton said mothers are so good at pushing those buttons because they helped install them.

When Frank decided to not respond to her mother’s criticisms and strong opinions, she said, it worked.

“We never fought again, ever,” she said. “I was able to stay calm when she tried to get me riled up — simply out of habit on her part. It was all about how I responded or chose not to respond. It was a wonderful feeling. It made me wish I had the strength to try that approach sooner. We became real friends.”

Keeton said that rifts are best healed when they are addressed as grief.

“Because we don’t have accurate information about grief, we figure we’re stuck with it or that time will heal it,” Keeton said. “These options leave us hopeless, passive, and stuck. But that’s like sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire hoping time will fix it. Instead, life is better when we learn how to fix our own emotionally flat tires.”

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