I’m 33 And Still Crave My Mother’s Approval

This desperate desire to “perfectly please” my mom has been with me always.

My mom is first and foremost a pragmatist.

Straightforward and matter-of-fact, she doesn’t typically let emotion distract her. I have to assume that these characteristics are innate, for this has been her nature as far back as I can recall. Compounding that, it could be argued that 14-plus years of raising severely autistic children has necessitated an intensified level of efficiency and practicality.

From my own perspective, these traits can sometimes seem remote or standoffish. If I am in a particularly emotionally raw state, her straightforward manner can feel critical and disapproving. I need to emphasize that this is how I experience our relationship, and may or may not be accurate.

My relationship with my mom is complicated and confusing. Landmines, just under the surface of our 33-year connection, threaten to erupt at every interaction. I am her first-born. And her only girl.

Naturally, there is the implication that dreams in the realm of “feminine” glory or success are my responsibility to fulfill. How could it not be intense? My mom wanted so much for me. She has done so much for me.

As her firstborn, she made me the center of her life from the very beginning. Looking through my baby books, her devotion is apparent; milestones and other details are painstakingly recorded in beautiful handwriting. Thousands of pictures are neatly labeled and arranged.

She guided my educational path by teaching me to read as well as supplementing my classwork with workbooks, tutoring, and other resources. During elementary school, she advocated I.Q. testing so that I had the opportunity to enter the Gifted and Talented program.

I became, and continue to be, an avid reader and capable writer as a result of my mom’s influence.

She encouraged and supported me in the undertaking of any extracurricular activity in which I demonstrated an interest.

She taught me morals and ethics. She read me The Bible and brought me to church.

Through the years, she created homemade Halloween costumes of professional quality and indulged my childish whims.

Together we drew, completed projects, took walks, and baked cookies.

My mom is a truly amazing person, and a really good mom. However, as a highly emotional, rapid-cycling Bipolar, Eating Disordered adult-child, I struggle with a lot of internal, self-imposed pressure in relation to our dynamic. Regardless of how objectively successful or unsuccessful I happen to be, I have always felt as though I haven’t pleased her. Fallen short of the mark, without exception.

The underlying concern that I am “not good enough” isn’t a recent sentiment. I didn’t begin feeling this way during my recent and significant struggles with physical and mental health. It didn’t start when my marriage dissolved, I claimed bankruptcy, lost my job, and fell into legal trouble. It’s not a neurosis stemming from angst-riddled teenage years or even from middle-school.

This desperate desire to “perfectly please” my mom has been with me always. I remember the anxiety in elementary school, in preschool even. I was likely a stressed-out, high-strung baby.

One particularly traumatic memory from third grade demonstrates both the longevity and irrationality that characterize my fears.

My teacher, Ms. F, had administered a pop quiz in which students were to complete sentences utilizing appropriate punctuation. Apparently, the teacher was having a bit of an off-day because her reaction to the less-than-stellar performance of the class was overkill. In a loud and intimidating voice designed to humiliate, she listed the students’ names who had failed to use periods at the end of their sentences and would, therefore, be receiving an F-grade. I remembered being terrified to go home that day, dreading the inevitable confrontation in which I would have to present my mother with such a shameful abomination of schoolwork.

From that moment on, my subconscious had become altered. My preexisting anxiety to please became augmented by the new knowledge that I possessed the capability to disappoint. The sheer inevitability of it was overwhelming.

I felt as though I was defective somehow.

At age 33, there’s a part of me that remains overly reliant on her for validation and approval. This is an entirely different type of acknowledgement than that of which I seek from the ever-evolving relationship with my father. With my mom, I feel childish and stunted, as though I’m still earning gold stars to stick onto one of those achievement poster boards.

The truth is, I haven’t failed my mom. Not at all. Even at my rock-bottom, my mom has loved and supported me unconditionally. Yes, she may scowl, speak sharply, or give me the silent treatment. But it’s less about whether I have achieved that all-so-elusive state of “success” (whatever that is) and more about her wanting “more” for me. No matter what, she wants more. More for me. And more for my brothers.

Because she loves us, she wants more.

More than anything.

Kristen M. Polito aims for brutal candor in regard to her own struggle with anorexia, bulimia, and bipolar disorder. Besides writing, she loves running, reading, organic gardening, and dogs.You can read her public blog, SaltandPepperTheEarth follow her on twitter @saltandpepperth or visit her author page here.

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