Mommie Dearest

A reader recommended Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love  a few weeks back when I took a survey of what everyone was reading.  I grew up reading Alice Walker and was eager to find out what had happened to the daughter who was frequently mentioned back then in her mother’s iconic poems and books.  

Baby LoveIt took me a day to read Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After A Lifetime of Ambivalence (2007). But it’s taken four days to catch my breath and figure what I think about the book’s content.

Believe me, getting through the memoir of a self-absorbed,  emotionally starved young woman who spends much of the book writing about shopping, eating, getting pedicures, obsessing over every infirmity in her life, and consulting a small army of healers (birthing doula, homeopath, pedicurist, masseuse) for her every psychic ailment took some doing.  But discovering that her newborn son managed to make it through the frightening medical complications he endured his first few weeks of life was heartening. 

Yet Baby Love did try my patience. But I kept reading believing I would be rewarded for giving myself over to what felt like a black woman’s narrative version of “Sex in the City.” (I avoided the TV show but  recognize the genre a mile away. Young female narcissm run amok.)

Exploring the abortion she had at 14, her stormy relationship with her iconic mother, her bisexuality, and the ecstasy of bearing a child at 37, the contents of Baby Love (Walker’s second memoir) has enough in it to keep the feud between women across the generational divide going for years. Talk about the women we long for!

Rebecca Walker was born in 1969 to Alice Walker and husband Mel Levanthal a Jewish civil rights attorney. The two lived and worked in Mississippi back then trying to change the racist, murderous politics of the time. Rebecca’s birth, like that of many biracial babies born back then, was supposed to prove to Mississippi and the rest of America that love trumps race. Alice Walker writes movingly and hauntingly about that period in her life in The Way Forward is With A Broken Heart (2001), about the youthful passion and idealism she and Mel, and others of that generation, clung to, and admits that when it came time some years later to leave Mississippi she and her Jewish husband limped out of Mississippi, broken, disillusioned, and headed for the divorce court. Mississipi won, Alice Walker writes.

Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (2001), Rebecca Walker’s first memoir, is the daughter’s tale of what felt like her parents’ failed experiment, beginning with their failed marriage and ending with the custody agreement the two settled upon that sent Rebecca shuttling back and forth every two years between her father and stepmother’s world in New York’s conventional, rich, Jewish, Upper East Side; and that of her mother with her bohemian, black, mostly poverty stricken activists and feminists friends in California. Rebecca grew up with deep feelings of not belonging.

Rebecca Walker takes feminism (and her mother) to task in Baby Love for what she sees as one of its most crippling legacies. It leaves young women in their 20s and 30s ambivalent about parenting and romance. Walker sees her book as providing the counsel she wishes her feminist mother and godmothers (Gloria Steinem being one) had given her when she was in her 20s. What advice might that be?

Plan to have a baby as you would plan out your career.

In other words, don’t leave having children to chance. And don’t let feminists tell you that it’s impossible to be a mother and stay sane, active, creative, and productive. It is possible, says the younger Walker.

In contrast to her mother whom the daughter feels found meaning in writing and activism, motherhood, Rebecca Walker claims, has given her the purpose and identity she longed for: “I feel like I have arrived in myself to where I want to be and who I want to be,” Ms. Walker says. “Motherhood is the first club I’ve unequivocally belonged to.”

WalkersRebecca Walker is convinced that she was harmed by her mother’s choices. The younger Walker accuses her mother of leaving her with friends and neighbors a lot while she (mother) went off to write or fight some cause; and she failed to understand  that Rebecca’s promiscuity and abortion at 14 was her way of pleading for her mother’s love and attention. The public battle between a daughter and her iconic mother (the mother who ironically penned the now classic “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”)strikes me as terribly sad. “It’s like listening in on a dysfunctional family therapy session—painful, but oh so fascinating,” says one friend. 

Not surprisingly, the younger Walker is harder on her mother than her father for what she sees as the deprivations of her childhood. And while she seems intent upon proving in Baby Love that she is prepared to do what needs to be done to be a better mother than her mother was, what Rebecca Walker ends up really proving, unintentionally of course, is that she’s good at playing the dozens and using her mother to score points for herself.

For all her complaints about her mother’s choices, one thing is clear: the daughter is obsessed with duplicating her mother’s life. Like Alice Walker, Rebecca Walker is a writer and a feminist. And like her mother who was once involved in a lesbian relationship with Tracy Chapman, Rebecca Walker is bisexual who for eight years was involved with musician Meshell Ngedecello. (By the way, Rebecca Walker lives now in Hawaii with Glen, Buddhist teacher and African American father of her son.) Independent with strong opinions like her mother, the younger Walker is determined to prove herself to be the better feminist, mother, and writer even it it takes exposing her mother’s failures, repudiating her mother’s feminism, and using her mother’s fame to carve out a name for herself.

Outraged at her daughter’s characterization of her in Black, White and Jewish  Alice Walker dashed a string of blistering emails off to the younger Walker a few years back (says the younger Walker) that ended with the mother cutting her daughter out of her will and signing one of her final emails to her daughter with the words, “I resign as your mother.” Not to be outdone, Rebecca Walker responded by writing Baby Love.   

Talk about drama. Move over Jerry Springer. Take note on how the rich and famous do things. Publish your version of the story.

Looking back there are probably some things Alice Walker the mother wish she had done differently. But here’s hoping for the younger Walker that the the reality of mothering lives up to whatever fantasies she has about being a mother. And that the constant giving, sacrifice, worry, and putting on hold one’s own dreams that comes with being a mother provide Rebecca Walker the lens she needs to be able to look back on the failures, ambivalences, and cruelties of her iconic mother with perhaps a little more compassion and empathy.

Someone on another website who identified with the younger Walker’s views and confessed to being around Rebecca Walker’s age left this comment: It must be hard being Alice Walker’s daughter.

As a mother who knows what it means to have a wild, irrational love for your child but catch yourself staring out in space from time to time and wondering “what if”, I say: 
Touch your neighbor and repeat after me: “It must be hard being Rebecca Walker’s mother.”

49 Responses to “Mommie Dearest”

  1. SR Brown Says:

    I haven’t read the book, and I don’t know where the younger Walker is in her spiritual walk, but I do know that the day comes when we have to recon with our words and the harm that they have caused others with them, justified or not, intentionally or not.
    I suppose you could say that I am the younger version of my mother. I vowed not to be and although I have not written and published it to the world, I blamed her and told everyone in “our” world how she had withheld who my birth father was, in my opinion, lied to me for all of my life.
    I was on a major rant for several years and it was not until the last several that I considered why and that it was as much my birth father’s fault that I didn’t know Daddy wasn’t Daddy until the day before my 29th birthday.
    God showed methe spitefulness in me for exposing five persons over the last 5 years because of my hurt and disappointment. I can’t take any of it back, but I have repented. I keep trying to find a way to apologize and it is not coming easy.

    The younger Walker will certainly regret her rant and I hope that she is able to make amends with her mother while oth of them are still living.

    My mother is still living and she can work my let reserve nerve, but she is my mom. I probably do the same thing to my 16 year old son.

  2. Woman in Transition Says:

    Are you kidding me? Gawd, I am SO over people putting their extremely dirty/dysfunctional laundry out there for all to see!

    It has never occurred to me to “check” my mother, either on paper or out loud, to the public. Sure, I’ve had to work out my mother issues in therapy, but once I’d leave that woman’s office after the session, that was it. I never even journal-ed my experiences because I was afraid that someone would find and read my journals. I remember my mom telling me, during one of my many rants about what kind of mother I thought she was (note ‘thought she was’), that I could not continue to hold her hostage for something I feel she did many years ago. For the love of God, she was feeling her way around the world as a young mother during the late 60s! And when I finally got over myself, I realized she was right! You never know what you’re going to get as a mother. My son is 3, and everyday the definition of motherhood changes. I can’t imagine being Alice Walker’s bi-racial daughter living in MS. It had to be a nightmare. Is there any forgiveness for her mom for at least doing what she powerfully felt she believed in about civil rights?

    I’m disgusted. I read Alice’s “The Way Forward…” and loved it. And I was curious about the daughter’s book reading your post, but by the end I knew I wouldn’t be going there. The price of gas is too high to waste money on it. She needs to go somewhere and GROW UP!

  3. Renita Says:

    LOL

    I guess I’d better put aside my ruler because there’s no way mothers and daughters are gonna abide the rules and try to keep their responses short! The floodgates have been opened.

    By the way, the SBrown, thanks for sharing how this story intersects with your own journey.

  4. Kesha Says:

    Dr. Weems, WOW. I had Baby Love on my Amazon.com wish list when I was pregnant. But I never bought it.

    I think once you become a mother you see daughterhood differently - I know I do. When you become a momma, you come to have even more insight into your own mother.

    Sure there are things that you have a right to be angry at your mother about. What daughter hasn’t been angry at her mother? But the thing that I have learned as that the anger is not original anger. It’s connected to the unresolved anger and the unaddressed pains of her own mother. At least that has been the case in my own family.

    Reading Baby Love and this separation between mother and daughter is interesting when you take into context Alice Walker’s previous writings and details about her family history (i.e. The Color Purple). The ability to write Baby Love came directly out of the the relationship that she gives her so much anger. Beauty..from the ashes?

    My mother publicly disowned me twice. She said she was done with me. Once when I was 16 and then again about four years later. Those were very painful public/private moments. I cried A LOT.

    She was angry, but probably more hurt than anything else. Beneath anger, there is always hurt. Thankfully, that didn’t last. I was reclaimed as her daughter after the healing began.

    It will be interesting to see what resolution might come of this mother-daughter conflict through the years.

  5. Shecodes Says:

    I haven’t read the book yet, but I am very saddened to hear these accounts.

    As the daughter of a highly sought after woman, I can see how a young woman can take a journey like that. However, it’s is a wrong turn, a mistake of the highest order, and counter to everything that a feminist should stand for.

    At a certain point in a woman’s maturity, she must come to understand that her mother is a WOMAN first, with fears, flaws, weaknesses as well as talents and strengths. She was never supposed to be some goddess who presents the epitome of motherly perfection.

    Your mother is human and she WILL hurt you, due to her own imperfections — and it is SUPPOSED to be that way. We are SUPPOSED to grow and learn from our mothers’ mistakes as well as their triumphs, and love her and honor them for both.

    It’s terrible and sad to place so much pressure on our mothers — especially while most of us absolve fathers of everything from simple mistakes to outright abandonment.

    It’s horrible for her to use her mother’s celebrity to increase her own, while attempting to appear to shine brighter by tarnishing someone else.

    It does not diminish one candle to light another one. The younger Walker should acknowledge that her flame was passed to her by her mother, and that everything she is — including the mind that created the ‘updated version of feminism’ — was created inside the body and soul of the very woman that she now resents.

  6. Sericia Says:

    Hmmm… interesting. I’d attempted to purchase this book (for the 3rd time - the first 2 times I tried the bookstore did not have it in stock) but a few weeks back. I picked it up and thumbed through it, reading a few pages at a time. Ultimately, I set it back in its place. I just came out of some heavy Momma Drama and I didn’t need to feed my spirit with Rebecca Walker’s. As for me, while I can admit that I’m still a bit bruised by my mother’s words & actions, I made the choice to let go of the searing PAIN. Why? No, I’m not some martyr; I just couldn’t afford to carry it around with me. (The baggage of my own design is quite enough for me, thank you very much.) But that Rebecca Walker sounds like one heckuva bag lady.

  7. Anonymous Firstborn Says:

    When my therapist suggested that I grieve the mother that I will never have, I was so @%*%! angry until I thought I would burst. I was angry and hurt because I knew my therapist was right. I long for a mother that I wouldn’t have to mother, one who would listen to me and help me solve my problems and dilemmas. After 40+ years I know that will never happen. My mother hasn’t dealt with the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Her unresolved pain colored my entire upbringing. But I know she did the best she could with what she knew and I’m grateful.

    Each time I mark a milestone I think about what my mother was doing at my age (I became her daughter when she was 17 1/2 years old and I can’t imagine trying to mother someone at that age). I’ve come to the realization that my mother is more couragious than I’ve given her credit for - she is beginning to embrace her fears and acknowledge her strengths.

    My mom has just begun to celebrate and honor my choice to remain childless. We’ve grown closer as we learn each other more and as I accept her as a woman. (Amen Shecodes)

    But I wasn’t brave enough to post this comment using the name I usually do; my mom may read this one day! I hope you all understand.

  8. Angela R. Says:

    If only when we give birth our children would be born with their own individual manual. How is a mother to know that the child growing within her is going to be the opposite of her or that her best just isn’t ever going to be good enough for that child?

    Dr. Weems I e-mailed you just a few months ago asking if you had done a blog on this very topic. My inquiry came as the result of seeing two mother-daughter relationships torn apart for the lack of mature perception on the part of the daughters who some how think they have cornered the market on dealing with the disappointments of life. The young Ms. Walker will soon learn that this mothering thang ain’t easy.

    I in no way discount how Ms. Walker feels. I too have had to deal with my mother issues in counseling. I had to come to terms that she did the best she knew how and that what I wanted from her that she didn’t or couldn’t provide really wasn’t personal.

    Prayerfully as she grows and matures as a mother, she will begin to reconcile with who her mother is with who she wanted her mother to be.

  9. Khadija Says:

    I browsed through Rebecca Walker’s books once in a bookstore. In addition to her public “dogging” of her own mother, I was also horrified at the difference in her feelings she made a point of noting between her biological child & the child she had helped raise with her female partner. Just imagine if that child ever reads those hurtful words. Ultimately, I was amazed at what a cruel, self-absorbed ingrate Rebecca Walker appears to be.

    Foul, foul, foul.

  10. Georgia's Angels Says:

    I find it hard to believe that as much as Alice Walker has given to mankind, she would given less than her best to her own child. I swore i’d would never be my mother, but life and time has taught me that you do the best you can with what you have and pray that that you have made the right decisions. We all have the things that only we can overcome(thanks Dr. Weems for that lesson) I just know this after reading what Baby Love is about i won’t bother to read it. I now have a new appreciation of Shakespeare’s quote from King Lear
    ‘How sharper than a serpents tooth it is, to have a thankless child”.

  11. Renita Says:

    Why, O why God, did you make it so that we are most fertile when we are young, foolish, and least ready to raise a child, and when we finally figure things out and are ready to give to a child without bitterness the eggs are no longer there and the days for bearing children are all but over?

  12. Lisa Says:

    I understand what moves a daughter to finally take the lid off and let the chips fall where they may.

    My prominent father was always being discussed in the paper and always on television when I was a child. I vacationed throughout the world with my dad. Life looked pretty grand for us - from the outside looking in. For the most part, it WAS grand. With a dad who was well-regarded publicly, the choreography of maintaining appearances was required. “Children, remember that information is power and power is never given away,” Dad would say to us.

    Okay so our parents are well-known, at the top of their fields, and we are privileged kids. Great. But we never had anonymity. Maybe we don’t WANT to be known as “the daughter of” everywhere we go. The children of the fabulous are never given permission to be unhappy all that comes with the package of having well-known parents and part of the deal is keeping up a protective wall with the public.

    As an adult woman, I am now in a role where I am expected to protect reputations. It’s a norm for me because I mastered this choreography in childhood.

    I feel sadness for Rebecca’s pain. I don’t judge her for writing about her history, as she sees it. It is eschewed in the black community to talk about our pain in a way that exposes our families - and that has perpetuated an insidious pathology of emotional brokenness and mental dysfunction. Maybe if Rebecca had been given the license to share her pain openly, she would have healed and she would not have turned to a pen and paper for solace. There are three sides to this: Her view, her mom’s view and God’s view.

  13. jbd Says:

    Whoa! I’m not so quick to stick it to Rebecca Walker just yet. For one, I haven’t read the book for myself. And even if the book *is* a temper-tantrum-in-print, I think it still has some merit: it is one woman’s perspective on what it meant to grow up as the daughter of a passionate, independent, iconic mother, a mother who has written in detail about her own ambivalence toward motherhood. Whether it’s fair to reduce the book down to a narcissistic rant is debatable. But one thing’s for sure: the book (and this discussion) raises a fundamental question for anyone seeking to do the hard work of reconciling with their family relationships, especially with their mothers: How do I name and heal from the reality of painful experiences with my mother without her thinking that I am ungrateful, resentful, or worse yet, that she is a “bad mother?”

    As one who is finally coming to terms with my “mother issues,” this question reverberates over and over in my mind. For the record, my mother and I have always been very close. While I’m convinced she’s a phenomenal woman in her own rite, I also know she is human with many faults and idiosyncrasies. But it took a therapist to make me see that while acknowledging that my mother is human may give me perspective, it doesn’t automatically take away the pain of our relationship and what my mother’s humanity (read: personality) has meant for me. And that pain has to be dealt with. Acknowledging this doesn’t make me arrogant, ungrateful or clueless about how hard motherhood is; it simply makes me real and ready to face our relationship as it is and not the drama-free tale of mother-daughter bonding that I would like it to be.

  14. Denise Says:

    This post resonated with me today but also reminded me of the mentoring post a while ago. All of this got me thinking. Mothers aren’t mentors and mentors aren’t mothers. Was Alice Walker trying to mentor her daughter to be like her or mothering her daughter to be her own woman? How would Hillary feel if Chelsea wanted to be Republican. Or if Pat Summit had a daughter, how would she feel if her daughter wanted to paint rather than play basketball? I disagree with the forum that Rebbecca Walker used but her emotions are real and may resonate with the daughters of powerful women. Maybe the daughters of the powerful women on this blog…

  15. Jackie Says:

    Hi Dr. Weems,

    I will probably regret this as I have not had the adequate time to digest this column, but I do have a comment or two and maybe more later when I have the opportunity to really think…

    1. I heard Alice Walker speak a month ago at Emory, and she mentioned her daughter and she spoke about how divided she was about trying to maintain her writing career and be a mother…Now, I’m thinking that her daughter picked up on her ambivalence to the whole mothering thing and that would make any daughter resentful…probably why at almost 35, I am not a mother yet…not sure I’m willing to put mothering ahead of career, and I think you should always put your family obligations first…now you can have it all, but I think family obligations come first. Maybe Rebecca didn’t sense that from her mother…

    2. Secondly, “Sex and the City” is a wonderful commentary about being single at this time. While I’m not having wild sex and dating different guys all of the time, the show has really given me the opportunity to consider some important aspects of singlehood. It ain’t easy! Please don’t reduce it to just narcissism! You can be concerned about manicures, pedicures and still be concerned about the greater good of humanity! I certainly am…

    Thanks!

  16. Fal Says:

    To My Sisters of the Blog,

    What I find to be most endearing about this conversation is that women are sharing their “mother-line” stories. The term “mother-line” comes from one of my favorite books entitled, Mother line. From a Jungian feminist lens, the book details the cycles that mothers and daughter go through where there are periods of love, anger, “individuation,” and reconciliation. It’s a perpetual cycle. The comments on this blog piece sing this perpetual rotation.

    However, what I find to be somewhat disheartening about “some” of the comments is vilification of Rebecca Walker as some “self absorbed ingrate” who will learn by her own “failure” as a mother how painful it is to be a mother. This type of learning which is based on being a mother and then failing as a mother seems very limited in educating all women on the struggles of being a mother. It completely excludes barren women or women who choose not to have children (either through adoption or impregnation) from identifying with their mother’s stories. I think we must be innovative when trying to mend the mother-daughter wounds and daughter-mother wounds because not being a mother should not restrict you from understanding your mother’s story.

    Additionally, as I hear it, the dominant chorus within the comments is the admonishment of seeing our mothers as “HUMAN” and as women with many flaws. Even though this is the dominant refrain on the blog, the same care and understanding is not extended to Rebecca. So many commentators on this blog hope for “GOD-LIKE” vengeance upon Rebecca as a mother. This is troubling. What does her experience of failure and pain as a mother add to Rebecca’s comprehension of her mother? Perhaps empathy is gained, but empathy does not necessarily translate into an understanding of the context in which her mother made choices nor does it allow her to accept her mother for who she is.

    I think one of the many valuable things second wave feminism both black feminist and mainstream white feminist gave us was language to understand what it meant to be a mother in a patriarchal raced and classed world. Women were beginning to create language (that I believe was always there before second wave feminism) about mothering and ambivalence. I also think that a daughter language flourished during that time as well, but I would argue that it was not as pronounced as was the deep interrogation of mothering from both a race and class perspective.

    I am in the process of reading the book now and will reserve my comments about the book until I finish reading the book. I think that is only fair.

  17. Ruby Sales Says:

    Renita,

    This is a brave and courageous essay that breaks with the pervasive feminist culture where mother critique is required while fathers escape our tongue lashings. It’s not easy to call it how you see it in a world that says that mothers must do it perfectly with sacrificial glee and don’t forget unconditional love.

    @Lisa, let the chips fall where they may is individualistic and not communal. There is an ethic to truth telling that’s rooted in clearing the territory rather than dehumanizing the subject of our critique.

    @Fallon please explain who dominated and set the discourse for mother analysis and language. How does the conversation get positioned when many of the feminist scholars whom I sat around feminists brown bags admired their fathers and despised their mothers? They wanted to be the very person who was the father of their pain. Second wave third wave, pray tell where is my momma in this or me for that matter.

    @ Renita at four if a child pisses on herself, you blame the parent. If they still do it at thirty six, it’s theirs to claim because by then they have had their lives almost as long as their mothers or fathers had it. I agree that it’s hard to be the mother of a child who hangs your vulnerabilities in the face of strangers who enjoy that the icon has feet of clay.

    Its a great burden on a child for a parent to make them the essence. and centerpeice of their lives.
    Poor baby boy!

    Ruby Sales

  18. Anonymous Firstborn Says:

    @Fal: I have just ordered the book after reading this blog post. (I have to read it now - lol!)
    _________
    I am not one to devalue anyone’s experience; maybe the younger Walker did what she had to do in order to overcome her struggles with the older Walker.

    I only wish I were so brave to let my mother know the struggles that I have overcome and the issues I still struggle with in our relationship. It’s hard to unlearn putting on a good face for the crowd, I mean congregation.

  19. valerie bridgeman Says:

    Renita,
    Get the ruler out (LOL) but remember I have had my head down grading papers and finishing essays, and have been silent even though I’ve been reading the blog.

    I started “making notes” on all the comments and was going to “@” my way through my response, then decided I needed my own blog space, if I wrote everything I was thinking! I have an essay coming out in a volume in June, and ironically, it’s about my mother: the time she accused me publicly of stealing from her, and then, on finding the money tucked away somewhere, drove me back to the point of my humiliation, and apologized in front of the store owner who witnessed my humiliation. I suppose, I could have told any number of stories about my mother for public consumption, but I learned a lot about integrity, humanity, love, and pure grit that day. Maybe I wrote the essay when I was feeling particularly magnanimous. Or maybe my mother’s anonymity (though she was a well-known and well-respected school teacher and church lady in her Alabama country space)–maybe her anonymity allowed me to hold the space with grace. Being my mother’s daughter was hard (she had HIGH standards). And so was being my dad’s daughter (who wanted us to “make him look good”). But I’m taking up space on the planet and have to give an account for my behavior.

    Okay, last thing: I was with my counselor Friday before I read this post, and I was going over in my mind all the mistakes I thought/think I made as mother of 2 sons. After about 30 minutes of paid, empathetic listening, this woman looked at me with (I don’t know WHAT that look was), and said, “it’s call parenting.” Guilt, second-guessing, ambivalence, joy, pain, honor—it’s all a part of it. (My ethics professor in my Ph.D. program told us once, “never take too much blame, or too much credit for how your children turn out. You don’t have that much power”). I had just told her the story that my sons told me: at 12 and 14, they sat at my kitchen table and DECIDED that they were tired of being “choir boys” (2 parents as pastors!) and “school boys” (A students, honors students) and proceeded to blow their lives and futures up with gang-banging, drugs, and skipping school. Okay, the repercussions of that decision is still being played out. I had to go to Al-Anon, chile, and embrace the 3C’s: I didn’t cause it (totally); I can’t cure it, I can’t change it. I told my son once that I have apparently done my job as a mother: given him something really to work out with his therapist.

  20. Renita Says:

    I sure do regret that Wordpress comments isn’t configured to use some of those wild and wacky emoticons I’ve seen elsewhere to help me express all the reactions I’ve felt to some of your comments.

    “Don’t judge Rebecca.” “She has a right to her feelings.” “It’s hard being the child of well=known parents.” “Sex in the City” really is a great show.”

    OK.

    @Fal
    You sure had a lot to say for someone who’s refraining from commenting on the book until you’ve read it! LOL

    @Valerie

    Thanks for weighing in!!

    Here’s what I tell my daughter when we’ve gone at it and she’s let me know that she’s been hurt for life by my latest dastardly maternal deed:
    “Just be sure your first job has good insurance, Missy, so you can get a therapist to fix whatever it is in you that you insist that I done broke.”

  21. valerie bridgeman Says:

    Thanks for keeping the ruler at bay, Renita.

    On dysfunctional families: Linda Hollies once gave this definition (don’t know if it was original with her, so that’s my disclaimer): “Dysfunctional families just means ‘dys the way dys family functions.”

  22. adomani Says:

    i lost my mother at age 6 and that void is still there. i am 45 and just had baby #2 (we are fertile at a much mature age). i grieved my momther for the first time when baby #1 was born in 11/04, just weeks before what would have been her 70th. birthday. did i hurt. she was still a kid when she died at 35!

    and so i have spent my life yearning and envying mother and daughter relationships that i never had. i love my two boys and there is nothing better than the night; when all 4 of us (yes, husband included) are all snuggled in bed. i am so happy. i am at peace, fulfilled, and just happy. i want to infuse them with so much, i want to double mother them; for me and for themselves.

    i feel sorry for rebecca. sad, sad, sad. but who are we to judge? this is how she thinks she can handle this. there is no other mother figure or wise person with a strong influence in her life to help her navigate this painful part of her journey. and as we do best in this society, it goes public!

    one day she may look back and regret her public airing of their pain and hopefully they can forgive each other. rebecca is in pain; she did not find the stability with her female partner (and i do not judge anyone for their sexuality and see it as who a person is) and now she has found the family setting she has always yearned for. i hope this family setting she has ish ealthy and it works.

    we know that marriage is hard work and i empathize with people who choose to not marry but build a family. (jolie-pitt, rebecca, halle, etc.) but it can work. finding a good therapist is hard but once you find one a good one, this marriage or civl union thing can be worth risking and being a part of.

    i just got a book last night from amazon, “hold me tight” by dr. sue johnson. who writes that just as children thrive when there is a loving emotionaly bod, so do partners in relationship. she is a champion of eft (emotional focused therapy. just stratted the book and i love it.

    so, here’s to all motherless daughters. for us who yearn, for us who dream, and for us who fantasize about mama. here’s to all whose mothers are alive but there is no bond. here is to hope that there can be healing and renewal. Lord, we lift up rebecca and alice.

    oh is there a good book on losing your mom? as if i need somethign to remind me of the loss and dysfunction i already have.

    love you dr. weems and all the women and men that read this blog.

  23. Sis. K Says:

    I think the idea of Alice Walker as an unfit mother is hard to swallow for those of us who cherish, all that she writes on the subject. As I reach for my copy of the book, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens and read the following dedication:

    “TO MY DAUGHTER REBECCA

    Who saw in me
    what I considered
    a scar
    And redefined it
    as
    a world.”

    I just wonder if these two are not on mission to sell books (with some marketing plan like Barbara Walters’).

  24. Mz.P Says:

    Sounds to me like daughter as well as mother have used what they do best - writing - as their [albeit public] conversation in hashing out the pain and lost in their relationship. Hopefully, they’ll find peace with each other. A wise woman once told me, “You can stay mad one day too long …” A good therapist is helping me understand how true that is.

  25. Fal Says:

    @ Ruby,

    We are saying the same thing. I said a language developed to talk about ambivalence with mothering, patriarchy, and yes even despising their mothers.

  26. deborah Says:

    My mother was disabled by multiple sclerosis when I was in my early 20s. She passed five years ago. I’m very grateful I didn’t have a public forum in which to air my differences and grievances with my mother. In retrospect, so many (but not all)of these issues seem selfish, ill-considered, and childish.

    Thankfully, before my mother left us, we become friends again. I finally understood that mothering was not her only reason for existing. She finally understood how much I needed everything she had to offer.

  27. Ruby Sales Says:

    @Thanks for clarity Fal.

    Ruby Sales

  28. Danielle Says:

    Dr. Weems,

    You have really stirred something up with this one. I haven’t read this book I think because I have had my Mommie issues to grapple with and I just choose to steer clear of these kinds of books. I think everyone has to make a choice to own their existence at some point. We can make several comparisons between people who grew up in loving, nurturing environments who haven’t amounted to much and then those who may have come out of adverse circumstances and managed to make out just fine.

    I made up my mind (after many years of my twenties that I wasted crying and being an emotional wreck) that I had to get a grip and live my life, make choices based on my ADULT understanding of the consequences, and stop trying to blame my momma for all that was wrong with my life. Now it wasn’t easy but it was necessary for me to carve out my existence on my terms and to allow the Lord to truly shape, mold and HEAL me.

    I also realized that trying to force my mom to admit that she could have done more, loved more, mothered more, wouldn’t change a thing about my past, present, or future. Every person is a product of their experiences and how they cope with them, so I can’t change my mother. I had to learn to love her for the great things that I did glean from her and cherish that fact that she is still alive and that we had to opportunity to have a decent relationship.

    @ Deborah– girl you summed it all up for me: “I finally understood that mothering was not her only reason for existing. She finally understood how much I needed everything she had to offer.” Every woman needs to understand this from both perspectives. You could start a movement with this mantra!

  29. Georgia's Angels Says:

    Dr. Weems,
    just needed to come back, I was reading a Alice Walker quote that stuck with me.”Writing saved me from the sin and inconvience of violence” i understood that statemment as i at eighteen vowed that i would someday kill my stepfather. I carried that pain, rage and guilt for more than twenty years, looking back it did me more harm than him. When i found your book Just A Sister Away it changed my life. I came to realzie that maybe if my mother had a sister, friend, or someone maybe she would have found the strenght to leave. I was angry with her for years, not for what she did to me, but what she allowed to happen to her and we lost her anyway. I guess that’s why i’m on husband 3 i refuse to take abuse of any kind(you don’t like my apples don’t sit under my tree.) I went blog surfing today and found Hagar’s Daughters blog, she had a post dated April 19,2008 entitled What would Renita say? After reading that post i know that you are truly God inspired and a blessing to us all. I pray that we all someday overcome our pain. This might be a topic for the Sista Summit i plan to be there.

  30. Tamecia Says:

    I don’t think I am going to read this book. Not yet anyway. I am privy to this ‘conversation’ on a regular basis with a childhood friend. I admit that I am not the most objective person on this matter. That said, everyone has a right to their feelings, but I do not believe that you can blame mother for your issues if you have identified them and choose not to address them. (Especially after you can get therapy.) I also don’t think you can criticize your mother conveniently when you might be reaping the benefits of her issues or decisions. (Living your ‘mother’s life’ and pulling six figures, don’t complain about her always telling you what to do. Making you go to law school. If you do, cut us some of that check.) Lay all the cards out. You get approximately 20 years, and then you are free…unless you choose captivity.

    I was taught to honor her, so even if I did not agree with her or felt like she screwed me up, I cannot fathom telling her to her face or publicly. She does not need me to validate Mother’s Guilt. I respectfully vent to my friends. There shouldn’t be an expectation of perfection from mothers because there is not perfection in children. I tell another friend jokingly her son will be ‘on the couch’ because of her scary bedtime tactics, but if we could choose our issues they would not be issues.

    I lost my mother at 22, and as I watch these dynamics it is a bittersweet. There are days when I wish for answers that I think she may have that she might not, and days where I would even take a difference of opinion. She was born a woman and chose to be a mother. It is a job without salary/benefits, yet expensive to do. I did not get a chance to recognize my mother as a woman, just as a mother. I can acknowledge that I still choose her (in absentia) over some of these other ones out there. God gives you the one you get for a reason. I have little anger with her, but trust me, hindsight is a bitter pill when you can’t tell her how/why/what that you figure out too late because anger/fear/silence is easier. God bless us all for the potential, practice, and pain of motherhood.

  31. LeQuita Says:

    Wow - I don’t know anything about the book but I do know that we as women are full of so many gifts and contradictions, successes and failures, competitiveness and expectations of each other! So much strife in the mother daughter relationship - but very little mention of the pain that many have endured for lack of a good father. Why are women held to such an impossibly high standard? Why is it that if the house is not immaculate - everyone looks to the mother or the woman of the house, and not the ones who made the mess–the husband and children?? Why is it that a woman has to choose between her longings to fully express herself and her role as mother?
    Why do we need soooooo much from mother?
    My mother, a beautiful woman and teacher, gave up so many of her dreams and since she has gone home to be with the Lord, I realize that I never honored who she was as a woman - even after she had given her all to raise her family and sacrificed her desires to do all the wonderful things she and my father made it possible for me to do. If she were still here - I know that I’d still be pulling on her (even at my age of 51) to help me with my every issue - she just was so good at that - so much wisdom.
    When do we as women, really become all that we can be, and get satisfied with who she is?
    I facilitate a women’s support group that deals with issues of past abuse and pain and the issue that continually comes up is that of the Mother-Daughter relationship - so much pain, so many mistakes, so many missed opportunities, and very little healing an deliverance. . .but a longing that is unmistakable and unavoidable.
    My prayer today is that we - Mothers and Daughters - can give each other some slack and accept each other for who we are - after getting to know who we really are - and then try to navigate through this life together.
    Call it a pipe dream - but we will never settle all of the differences and past mistakes made - but how beautiful it is to put aside all of that and allow the mother-daughter love to flow - I thank God for such a rich and lasting relationship with my mother. . .once she and I allowed each other to be who we are!

  32. Lisa Says:

    @ Dr. Weems
    If you think some of us are trip now, just wait until we’re all in one room in your workshops in November! oooh I can’t wait! *LOL*

    @ adomani
    MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS by Hope Edelman
    LETTERS FROM MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS by Hope Edelman
    I too am a motherless daughter. God gave me my son (who was homeless, HIV-infected and a raging addict) at an age when he was old enough to think he could tell off adults! (Trust me - I put an END to his foolishness!) My son may be secretly writing a “Baby Love” book! *LOL*

    @ Dr. Sales
    Why is it that it’s wrong if black women take an individualistic and not communal approach to truth-bearing? Black men are never told this.

    You said: “There is an ethic to truth telling that’s rooted in clearing the territory rather than dehumanizing the subject of our critique.”

    Will you teach a bit more on this point…clearing the territory? What’s wrong with “telling it like it is” as long as the intent is not to wound but to liberate ourselves from the facade?

  33. Kesha Says:

    <— passes out a round of yellow roses to all the sistas on this blog. This blog is a gift and there are just way too many lines of wisdom to name them by name in this thread. Just know - this well-gathering moment is a welcome treat.

  34. alucas Says:

    “In the name of motherhood and fatherhood and education and good manners, we threaten and suffocate and bind and ensnare and bribe and trick children into wholesale emulation of our ways.” June Jordan

    In the same manner in which we expect our children to recognize our humanness when we unintentionally or intentionally hurt them, we as parents must recognize our children’s humanness in being hurt or wounded by our actions. I don’t feel it is right to suggest and expect our children take great emotional leaps to get over themselves and grow up (read: forgive us), if we ourselves have not made that leap to get over ourselves and grow up (read: say I am sorry).

    “…for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. 2 Corinthians 12:14

    Many moons ago my Nanna shared a story with me about an agrument she had with her late husband. They were going at it toe to toe, and right as things were getting really heated between them, she turned around and said to him, “Darling, no matter what you do, I will always love you; but make it easy for me to love you.” When she shared this story with me my mind immediately turned towards my children. Why my children? I don’t know, but I immediately saw them as people that God placed in my life who would love me no matter what I do. I knew that they were gifts from God for me, but just as they were determined in their little hearts to love me no matter what, I as their mother had the responsibility to make it easy for them to love me. They should not have to love me with gritted teeth. It is just as important and necessary for me as their mother to be loveable, as it is for them, as my children to love me and accept me as I am. As mothers we are not freed from our responsibility to make things right with our children when we we have wrong them; whether intentionally or unintentionally. Yes, our children must find their own way and path in life, but for goodness sake, we should not be one of the boulders that blocks their way and hinder their progress.

    When I sat down with my mother and shared with her some of the things from my childhood that I felt hurt betrayed about (being molested by several of her men friends when she allowed them to move in with her for financial reasons), she did not accuse me of being ungrateful and proceed with a long diatribe of how hard it was as single mother to raise five children. Three simple things she said to me that helped heal and bring closure to those issues; they were, “I was wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me.” My mother knew that I loved her and will love her no matter what. I have both said this to her and have shown her through my actions, and she has made known her unconditional love to me, but we both knew that as humans we will hurt and be hurt by one another and when this happens we should always be willing to say I AM SORRY.

    I believe love and compassion (especially for your own children) is as much a part of being human, as offenses and hurts.

    My daughter (now 19) is a strong willed individual and I have had many battles of the will with her, but many years ago I made a decision that I will not be a tyrant in her life, just because as her mother I had the power to be just that, a tyrant. I was and still am determined to give her voice when she feels she is not being heard and I do not think that is too much for her to expect of me as her mother - She ain’t heavy, she’s my daughter.

    I think Rebecca was very brave in making her diary (to some - dirty laundry) public. I appreciate her bravery (to some - foolishness) because in my opinion, she has exposed some mother-daughter issues that we as black women have been unwilling to face and deal with. It makes no difference to me that her mother is Alice Walker the famous writer-poet. She is indeed following in her mother’s footsteps by making her business known for the sake of bringing to the forefront controversial issues; although I do agree that some parts were rather narcisstic in nature. Then again, much of Alice Walker’s writings are narcisstic also. Thank you Dr. Weems for reading and opening up a discussion about this book.

    P.S. - You can always “spy before you buy” by getting the book from your local library. A great companion to Baby Love would be “The Narcisstic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment” by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robertt M. Pressman.

  35. Hagar's Daughter Says:

    About a month ago my stepdaughter moved in with her father and me because of DV. She is in her mid-20s and has issues from not being parented, my husband is included in this. Her parents wanted to be her friends.

    Anyway, when she was a child I resented having to take care of “this white woman’s child” while the mom had no parental responsibility. (My husband was custodial parent when we first married.) There was so much tension and unhappiness in our home; it was just sad. But I told her that my goal as her parent was to help her contribute positively to the world and to be able to take care of herself. I promised her that I would always tell her the truth no matter how difficult it maybe.

    We had hard times in the past. A week ago my daughter, she calls me “mom” now, told me that I was the only one of her parents who tried to actually “parent” her. She told me that I am the “mother” she needed and still needs. She told me that she appreciated my fighting to save her life and get her out of an abusive marriage.

    It took my breath away, literally, and made me lightheaded. I didn’t know impact of my “mothering” (I have no birth children). Parenting is really hard work - hats off to all of you who do it with gusto.

  36. Renita Says:

    Ummm…that was a pretty long response ALUCAS. You will understand if I have to cut it down a bit. It’s a long as my blog article!! But thanks because you are the one who first brought BABY LOVE to my attention.

  37. I need to be anonymous Says:

    I love my mother. I start this posting with that statement not so much for the benefit of those who will read it but to remind myself. After the weekend with her in one of her “paranoid” states I hold onto that statement as if it was gold. Why aren’t children given a manual for our mothers when we are born?

    Shoot they have been on the earth a lot longer than a child…at what point does a mother decides to get her stuff together (thank God I’m saved cause there are some other words I so want to use. :) I understand as a mother I am also a woman and want to be seen and treated as such….but as a daughter, it just gets down right tiring dealing with your mother’s baggage. As the saying goes, “a child doesn’t ask to be brought into this world.” The irresponsibility of mothers (and yes fathers)causes scars that are always healing.

    I’m sorry but sometimes a mother needs to have the mirror held up to her so that she can own the consequences of her actions.

    No we mothers aren’t perfect but darn it when you take on the responsibility of raising & rearing another human being….. DEAL WITH YOUR STUFF!!!! so your children don’t have to spend a good part of their life separating their stuff from yours.

    Sorry for the rant but I sooooo needed to vent!!!!

  38. alucas Says:

    lol - Thank you Dr. Weems. I honestly thought you would cut more than what you did. Next time I will definitely make my response brief. You are a jewel.

    Blessings, blessings and more blessings to you.

    Angie

  39. DJ Says:

    Wow, nothing like the mother-daughter topic to get us going. Without reading the book, but certainly getting enough of it here and knowing my own experience, I can certainly understand the pain of Rebecca and Alice. It’s really not supposed to be our mother’s who elicit such anger, confusion and self-doubt in us. And it’s surely not supposed to be daughters, leveling such anger at mothers. But we do.
    I do not have any idea why I’m not the least bit angry at my father, whom I never had a conversation with ever in my life although we lived together — he simply never talked to me besides basic commands. But turn to my mother and it’s a different story. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about going BACK to therapy and starting with the same command that I did the last time, “help me to not become my mother.” And while I very much want to start there, I know I really need to say, help me to give up trying to change her and just accept her as she is, which is EXACTLY what I want from her.
    Daughters, we really have to give our mother’s a break, meaning we must try to understand them more. True, some have done some wicked things that are a challenge to forgive, but in the end, we must forgive them if we are to free ourselves from the bondage of NOT forgiving them. Some days I’m there and then one comment about anything, hair, clothes, perceived lack of relationship with God and I’m back there. I hope I can let go of my anger (for good) before one of us leaves the earth.
    Thank you Dr Weems for such a wonderful forum; I’m certain that more than one of us will leave this space with new insight.

  40. Monica Says:

    Many years ago, Patricia Bell-Scott (and a couple colleagues) described personal writing as “dangerous activity” because, she said, it allows us (referring to women) to define ourselves on our own terms. This conversation on Alice and Rebecca Walker has me pondering the dangerous activity of personal writing, of memoir writing. It reminds me of how the best personal writing lays bare oneself before a public audience (something I believe you have written and spoken about Renita). And that’s part of what makes it so good, so powerful, moving. That these women are attempting to tell the truth as they know it and in so doing they raise larger issues, push and challenge their readers, show us new worlds, often making us more inspired, but sometimes weary. I applaud both Alice and Rebecca for their willingness and courage to expose themselves to others in writing — telling their truths as they see and feel them. And yet, there are these huge limitations to personal writing, right? We can read about someone’s life and still not know huge parts of her life, important things about her. We are the writer’s reader, not her lover, friend or family (in most cases). How, I am thinking, as readers do we enjoy the intimacy we gain from reading (parts of) a life without assuming that intimacy? How as writers do we balance telling our stories for our own wholeness and witness with the grave risk of sharing intimacy with strangers?

  41. Fal Says: