Monday, September 29, 2008

forgive or forget?

Which is better; to forgive or to forget? And by that I mean; to forgive the person who wronged you, or to forget the relationship you had with that person, because there can be no forgiveness.

I talk a lot about my dad here, but I don't say much about my mom. Up until I went off to college, I was very close with my mom. Every friday night, while all the boys in the house would go off to shul, me and my mom would sit on a couch together, and read, and talk about our weeks.

In high school my mom was always sticking up for me. When my principle tried to tell my parents that I should consider going to a different school, because since I wore all black all the time I must be depressed depressed (and depressed people can't go to jewish school of course), my mom, who was wearing all black at the time (as all true new york artists do), laughed in her face and told her off. Expulsion averted. When on "mother daughter day" at school I wore a bright green and yellow shirt, and a teacher came up to me asking why i had to wear THAT shirt when all the mothers would be there, my mom got all up in her face and told her that my shirt didn't violate any part of the dress code, so she should leave me alone.

It wasn't just that my mom had my back, or that she was standing up to religious figures. It was that she thought for herself, and never took any crap. When my mom was my age (or younger) she decided to go to art school against her father's wishes, and later worked for some kick ass art designers (before she had kids and became a stay at home mom). It must have been tough for her, since going to art school isn't exactly the top career choice for young jewish women.

Now, I didn't admire everything about my mom. For instance, when I was around 10 or 11, she stopped talking to the person who had been her best friend for almost as long as I was alive. Her best friend, who had become a baal teshuva for her husband, decided when she caught her husband cheating on her that orthodoxy was a bunch of hipocracy, and stopped being orthodox. My mom stopped talking to her, and forbade me from talking to her son, who was my best friend for almost as long as I had been alive. That never sat right with me.

Anyways, getting back to our relationship-

In college something changed. I'm not sure what it was. Maybe it was that I decided to go to grad school sometime around freshman year, which suddenly made me a lot closer with my dad (who has a phd). Maybe it was that I started studying the gendered division of labor in the home, which she took as a personal insult, as if I was studying the topic because I disapproved of her life. Maybe it was just natural, given that I was off making new friends and figuring out my identity. Maybe it was that I was open about not being religious for the first time.

When I got engaged to my ex fiance, our relationship improved a bit. My mom was really into planning the wedding, and we spent a lot of time together running around and planning things. But then once me and my ex broke up, my mom became noticeably cooler towards me. I think she was disappointed that after all her planning, the wedding wasn't going to go on. I also think that despite the fact that my ex is the one who called it off, that my mom unconsciously (or consciously) blamed me for the relationship ending. I was definitely not going to be following in her footsteps now; I was headed off to graduate school soon, I wasn't getting married when she thought I would be, and I wasn't religious anymore. Our relationship became increasingly estranged, until we got to the point where we would talk about school and gardening maybe, and not much else. Certainly nothing that actually affected me. She told me not to speak to my youngest brother, so I wouldn't be a 'bad influence' on him. She blamed me for my other brother not being religious (although he stopped keeping kosher before I did! But I was older so it was my fault).

In grad school for a while I called her at least once a week, having these weird conversations about school and gardening. Up until I told her about B that is. After that, if I mentioned anything having to do with B, she would talk over me on the phone. For the first year and a half we were dating, every time I would talk to my mom on the phone, I would hang up and feel hurt. The last time I saw her was on memorial day- she told me I couldn't take leftovers home if I was going to share them with "that person you live with." The last time I spoke to her was when I got engaged in July- I called to tell her and was met with total silence. When I eventually asked if she was going to say anything she responded "I have nothing to say. You know how I feel."

This shouldn't have come as a surprise, given how she treated her former best friend of over 10 years who decided to leave orthodoxy. That doesn't make it any less hurtful.

I do miss her though. I understand why she is acting the way she is, as by her perspective I am rejecting everything about her, which she probably takes pretty personally. But I don't think there is anything I can do to change that.

So now I have two choices going forward; do I try to work on forgiving her, despite how hurt I am that she would reject me now because of my choices. Do I reach out to her, even though she probably doesn't want a relationship with me (because of those choices). Do I start trying again, even though I know she will never accept me, and that every time I try to reach out to her, I will get hurt. Or do I forget her? Do I work on trying to feel less bad about the fact that I will never have a real relationship with her, unless I completely change everything about me. Do I try to stop burning with jealousy every time I hear about someone's close relationship with their mother? Like every hurt, It will probably fade with time.

I was thinking of reaching out and calling her today to wish her a happy new years. But every time I reach for the phone, I am reminded how hurt I still am by the way she has treated me the entire time I have been dating B, the way she reacted to my engagement, and that she hasn't once tried to contact me since then (Not that I've tried to contact her either I suppose). Just writing about what has happened between us makes me so angry, and sad. I've been trying to be less angry about these things. If I was just sad, I could reach out to her. But that anger is still there, and instead of diminishing with time, it is just getting stronger. So is it time to move on?


  1. I cannot imagine how you feel so it feels a bit presumptuous to offer an opinion. I think you need a combination of the two - forgive and forget. You forgive your mother for doing the best she can and being unable to accept you, her daughter, and maybe reject your choices. Children are always making choices their parents don't necessarily agree with. Isn't that part of being a parent - raising independent children who make their own choices in life? But you forgive your mother not for her, but for YOU. So that you can move forward in your life. Of course that's not easy and takes a lot of work and you don't get there in a day. And forgetting, well maybe for now you can't have the relationship you want or hope for with your mother. Maybe it will change someday. Maybe not. I have a friend whose grandparents were told to sit shiva for their daughter (her mom) when she married a non-Jew, and they did. Eventually, it was too hard on the grandmother to not have her daughter or grandchildren in her life and the relationship was restored. Hope is something we have as long as we have life (and I'm a cynic and a pessimist). I wish you a happy and health new year. May you find peace in the coming year.

  2. I'm so sorry about this situation. I can't understand your mother's actions at all...but I am not religious.

    I don't have any advice. I mean, I think you need to stay as true to yourself as possible, but I don't think that you need to forget your mother in order to do so.

    Sometimes, we just get stuck with these hurts. And there's not much we can do about it.

    I am amazed at religion's capacity to bring people together and tear them apart.

  3. I am fifty-four years old and have a terrible relationship with my mother. And just the other night I had a realization which was that when I speak to her, she never, ever makes me feel good about myself. It's a very subtle thing and perhaps it's all in the way I hear what she says and not really what she is saying. I am not blaming her. I am just saying that this is the truth.
    Over the years I have tried many times to patch things up between us, to try and make our relationship better and at this point, and those attempts always ended in hurt and anger and sadness. At this point I have thrown up many high, protective walls- too high to get through. It's self defense.
    I think you can do what you can do and then you have to let things go. Whether forgiving or forgetting is the answer, I do not pretend to know.
    This is a hard one and it hurts like hell to want to have a normal relationship with a parent and find that it is impossible.
    I wish you the best.

  4. Wow. I also have a rotten relationship with my mother, but yours sounds downright hellish. I do not have a definite solution for you. What to do now depends a lot on who you are and how you feel. If forgiving her means negating yourself and your feelings, then that is probably not a good idea. And if a relationship with her means that you are constantly being hurt, it may be better not to have a relationship. No good can come of talking to her when it just makes you feel like crap. That is not good for either one of you. This is tricky, because you need to protect yourself while still doing the best you can with her.
    Can you speak to her about this?

  5. I have many issues with my own mother--none of which I discuss on my own blog--and I made it a real point to work on acceptance. You see, I have forgiven her without forgetting the things that have happened. And you know what? I did it for me, and I honestly feel like a weight has been lifted from me. I'm so glad that I did it.

    I can't presume to give you advice, but I'm telling you what I have done. I wish you luck.

  6. My mother sounds very much like yours--I have tried to call her every week, but a month ago (final week of Av), she started screaming at me and hung up. So I went through Elul without calling her, feeling very light and happy actually--last night, I tried to call her but realized that I had lost my phone pin. So I took it as a sign and left it at that.

    At some point, one just has to give up when it starts wrecking your mental health. I'm not angry. I'm just disengaged.

    There is this Erich Segal quote that I like: The psychological bar (bat) mitzva happens when you can say "I no longer care what my parents think". While I don't think this is ever entirely possible, one does have to mentally and emotionally compartmentalize in order to heal before you can move on and repair the relationship (maybe) sometime in the future.

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  8. If it were me, I'd contact ur mom and wish her a shana tova. small invesment, decent returns. What do you have to lose? face?

    Worst case scanario she's a bitch and u can hang up on her and u cry a bit. Best case scenario, maybe you can begin to heal the wounds. i say go for it.

    People who say on Rosh hashana you 'close the book' and reset the closk are bulishitting you. Santa isn't real, and God doens't "forget" about the year before. What I think is most important is what we've learned from this year. How have we grown and what's important to us. It sounds like your relationship to your mom is important to you. Keep reaching out to her. Maybe she'll come around someday.

  9. I don't know what to tell you. I had a bad relationship with my mom, who was a total nut job, which started when I was old enough to realize that she was different from my friends' mothers. So, from the age of about 6, I started disengaging with her, never trusted her, never shared, never did the normal mother/daughter stuff.
    I think it's very hard for you to either forgive or forget because the pain and suffering is ongoing. The horrible way she treats you is ongoing and won't let you forget the pain - since the pain you are feeling continues, it's impossible to forgive her for it.
    I'm not sure that you've made the decision to 'cut the chord.' I think you're still hoping for a miracle - that she'll change who she is and you can have a relationship with her - much as she's probably hoping for a miracle - hoping that you'll change who you are, so you two can have a relationship.
    Every time you try to contact her, you set yourself up for more pain and suffering. You need distance, in the form of time, before you can begin to forget the pain. Only if that happens will you be able to begin to forgive.

  10. Is interacting with her going to be more valuable to you than the pain it causes?

    If the answer is no, if she takes more from your life than being involved with her adds, then let her go.

  11. AE: I am so sorry you are in this situation. I can't imagine how difficult this must be. My mother warmly welcomed my non-Jewish husband and loved when he called her "Mom," but she was not particularly observant although she had a very strong jewish identity. As outrageous and inappropriate as your mother's behavior is, I suspect that she misses and loves you the same as ever and is hurting as much, if not more than you are. The fact that her pain may be self-inflicted doesn't change that. Having lost my mother two years ago (and having not always treated her as well as I should have), perhaps ask yourself whether if
    g-d forbid something happened to her, would you wish that you had called to wish her a good year and tell her that you love her, and that your choice of a husband isn't a rejection of her?

    Whatever you decide, wishing you peace.

  12. conservative sci fiOctober 2, 2008 at 9:30 AM

    Having read the your wonderfully poignant post and all of the well thought out comments, I am torn. I sort of think you should wait until your life settles down, you are married, with (hopefully) a nice tenure track position that you seem to want, and less angst. But there is the issue of time that you can't get back, and sometimes permanent things happen.

    Good luck on whatever you decide.

  13. On one hand, staying true to yourself is probably the best way to move forward. You have carved out a life for yourself, and seem independent, strong and happy with the choices you've made.

    After reading your blog for a while now, I get the feeling that you still want some connection or relationship with your parents. The thing is, you're only responsible for your part in that relationship. You are not responsible for their reaction, their parenting or their choices in their relationship with you.

    Call them when you want to. Share your life in e-mails or text messages. You are showing them that you want a connection with them (even though they might think you're throwing your choices in their face). Show them that you're respectful as well, though. If they ask you to stop, stop. You know that you've tried, and will always keep those lines of communication open to them.

    I'm a mother, but my kids are still very small. I couldn't imagine not talking to them for marrying a non-Jew, but I would have a hard time with it initially - just being honest. I would hope that after an short period of feeling funny about not having Jewish grandchildren, I'd get to a good place about it and move forward with a meaningful relationship with my kids. Maybe (hopefully?) this is what your parents are working through at the moment.

    Good luck with whatever you do, and hopefully you can move forward in a relationship that makes sense for both sides.

  14. Well you know, this sounds as if your mother kind of felt betrayed (perhaps the teachers were right, perhaps I was wrong to stick up for her)...

    There is a nice video by STeven Pinker on TED saying that educations really does not change anything: children are what they are, parents cannot really influence them. So perhaps you want to give her a copy of "THE blank slate" by steven Pinker?

  15. No, forget what I just said. Anything were you try to prove her something or she tries to prove you something will not work, since this is the problem: opposite opinions, both think they are right.

  16. AE - maybe it is time to stop doing this dance with your parents with all the unspoken feelings and questions. Maybe it is time to get some closure.
    Could you have a sit down with your mom and say something like, "hey mom, I know you don't approve of some of my life decisions and I want to know if you would like to have a relationship with me for who I am." Keep it clear and short and honest. Keep strong to your convictions and what you are not willing to negotiate and talk straight. You can cut through years of pain and bullshit and unspoken crap that can accumulate over the years with misinterpretations and miscommunications and the I thought you were thinking this and she thought you were thinking that.
    Life is short. If there is going to be a relationship here that will add to your life - find out now - don't wait. And if there won't be - find out now - before you spend the next twenty years in pain.

  17. Teachers love laying a Heavy on ya especially Religious ones*


  18. you can only do whats in your control.

    it seems to me that you want a relationship with her,but you just wish she would learn to accept your choices... and she just wants a relationship with you but she wishes you'd be religious.

    the part about wanting a relationship is the part you can control, the part about her accepting your choices is under her control.
    i think if you can accept yourself and your choices and if you want a relaitonship with her, then you should pursue it - but try to leave your ego out of the way. its not about who's right and about who's giving in. its about pursuing something thats important to you.

    if i was writing her, id tell her the same thing.

    i dont think either is at fault here - youve drifted apart, there have been changes and now the relationship needs to be rebuild.

    you both wish the other would change but you both need to create a new relationship with the poeple you are now - and not those you wish the other would change to.

  19. btw, i also think that things might change after you get married.
    when ive had to deal with intermarriage in my family and my attitude has been to express my 'displeasure' before the wedding, but once it was done, ive accepted them and their kids.

    it wasnt my daughter and im probably more open minded that your parents- but the fact is that until the deal is sealed, its very difficult to accept it. dont try to force things.. if its important to you, keep the lines opened.. and let it happen naturally.


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