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Girl Writer

What It's Like to Have Mommy Issues

Having a Jewish mother is like having a mother times ten. Not only does she have to know what you're doing today, but she also has to know whom you're doing it with, why, where, and will it cost money?

by Alison Stevenson
06 November 2014, 7:00pm

I have only been to a therapist once, and one of the first things she asked me was, "What is your relationship with your father?" She went straight for dad. I don't know if all therapists do this when dealing with female patients. Maybe it was her first day on the job, or perhaps my showing up in pajamas just screamed "daddy issues." I told her what she probably was not expecting to hear. "My dad and I have a wonderful relationship. My mom on the other hand..."

Yeah, that's right. Mommy issues. I've got them. You too? Grab a name tag and sit down. The singing of "Kumbaya" will commence after I vent for a little bit. The main stereotype about women with mommy issues involves shouting something about no wire hangers. This is an extreme. My mom was not horrific to this extent, nor was she violent, and yet our relationship was still awful.

I am a true '90s kid, meaning nostalgia is all I have left to live for in this world. That's why I have been watching Gilmore Girls every day since it has been available on Netflix. I have no shame in telling you that it is one of my favorite shows. Yes, like every single man Lorelai and Rory met on the series, I instantly fell in love with them and their quirky charm. Last night, I was up until 5:00 in the morning finishing season 4. Right before I finally gave into sleep, I remembered a moment from my childhood. I remembered the night, when I was around 12 or 13, I watched an episode of the show with my mom. She was on the couch and I was on the floor—closer to the television and further away from her. At the end of it she said,"I wish our relationship was like that." In case you don't know, this show was about a mother and daughter. The two were best friends who told each other everything, which to me was (and still is) completely insane. No mother-daughter relationship is really like that, is it?

As I got older, I started noticing how some of my best girl friends interacted with their moms. They made jokes together, talked about relationships, and even shared secrets—things I never did with my mom. Recently, I was having dinner with a friend and her mom ended up joining us. My friend talked candidly about being fingered on her date the night before. Her mom just kept eating salad like that was typical Tuesday night conversation. I don't know what disturbed me more—that, or the fact that she was enjoying capers. Regardless, I was amazed. I don't think my mom knows if I've even kissed a guy. I told her I was in a relationship once, and all she said was: "Is he Jewish?" The answer was no, and a few days later she called me to tell me that she gave my number to a guy my age she met at a Jewish film festival she went to.

Having a Jewish mother is like having a mother, times ten. Not only does she have to know what you're doing today, but she also has to know whom you're doing it with, why, where, and will it cost money? No matter how much older you get, this doesn't change. I have 20 unheard voicemails currently on my phone, and all but one are from my mom—who for the past three years has been saved on my phone as "Kiefer Sutherland." Her prying so much to tell her absolutely everything made me do the opposite. Instead of opening up to her, I shut her out. If I made her mad in public she would have no problem insulting me, in front of both strangers and friends. My mother was, and still is, extremely outspoken. If she sees something she doesn't like about you or what you're doing, she has no problem telling you this to your face. In short, waiters always hated us. She raised me to believe in the "evil eye." I was instructed by her to never trust even my closest friends, because they will give me said "evil eye." She would unknowingly (I hope) insult me by saying things like, "You were so skinny in elementary school. I don't know who gave you the evil eye to make you fat now."

It didn't help that we had nothing in common. She was not raised in America, and the things I liked she knew nothing about. Even if I wanted to open up to her, a lot of what I had to say would end up being lost in translation. My choosing to be a comedian made no sense to her, either. To her, I was not funny. I was moody and quiet. I locked myself in my room all day and only came out to complain about whatever dinner she had cooked. With my friends, and even my dad, I was a completely different person. I cracked jokes and was warm and inviting. With her, I was an uptight roommate. At least I never hogged the couch.

Something I just realized is that she was pregnant with me at exactly my age now. I cannot fathom being a mother right now—I'm still trying to figure out what taxes are. Though, admittedly, my development into adulthood is happening at a very slow rate. Maybe my mom is to blame for that? No, now I'm going too far. She had only been living in America for a year when she got pregnant. Her entire family was more than 9,000 miles away. She married my dad, and the two of them attempted to stay together for many years. My parents were married for most of my childhood, and not once throughout their marriage did I ever see them act lovingly towards one another. They just fought. Their fighting was constant and it was loud. I never really knew what it was about. All I knew is that they hated one another. Neighbors would complain, and one time went so far as to call the cops.

This is why I spent the majority of my childhood inside my room. I locked myself inside, and all I did was watch television. I learned quickly not to have friends over, or have sleepovers at my house. Most of my time was spent by myself, hoping All in the Family reruns on Nick at Nite would mute intense screams. I never told her, but this is how I developed my love for comedy. I didn't want to tell her, because then she'd want to talk about it. When my dad eventually moved out of the house, I blamed my mother. I idolized him and demonized her. The yells were gone, but now the animosity was suffocating me. So I kept locking myself in my tiny room... to feel less suffocated..

Writing this inside of Panera Bread, I was surprised to find myself holding back tears. The couple sitting at the booth across from me were trying not to notice the occasional tear running down my cheek. Hopefully they just thought that I was having the most inspiring turkey sandwich of my life.

I am happy to report that my relationship with my mother is better now. Kind of. Yes, we still fight and yes, I'm still annoyed by her constantly pressuring me to drop everything and go to law school. However, we are getting closer. I'm willing to listen more to what she has to say, as is she. Our phone conversations don't always end with one of us angrily hanging up. I'm even telling her when I'm going on dates. Kind of. She still has no idea how many fingers have been in my vagina. This, she will probably never know. Frankly, I'm not sure I know. 

Not only has she changed over the years, but so have I. As shitty as parents are, kids can be too. I now see all the ways I was not making things any easier. I was as stubborn as she was. Now that we're both older, we've both calmed down. She's also let go of that "evil eye" stuff. As the legendary pop-punk trio who I had some of my earliest wet dreams about, Blink-182, would say: I guess this is growing up.

Maybe this is how some mother-daughter relationships are. They don't always start off perfectly, but they can end up being great. We're not there yet, but it's nice to know that we are both willing to work on it.

Follow Alison Stevenson on Twitter.