What If the Good Mother Doesn’t Happen?

On reading the blog post about Minga’s early life on Friday, friend and regular reader Ellen posed this question to me in an email. I reprint the question with her permission.

I hadn’t fully appreciated the parallel in Good Mother, Good Daughter, between you and Minga.  I think because you write of Minga’s mothering role, I did not contemplate her role as daughter.  In reality, you both grew up motherless in the sense of a nurturing presence and learned from others how to be that presence for your families and friends.
I have also been pondering your assertion that in the absence of a mother, whether physically absent or emotionally distant, you can find that mothering presence elsewhere.  I don’t dispute your assertion that you CAN find it, I have just been contemplating what happens if you don’t… Or if you find it and reject it out of misplaced loyalty to your own, underperforming, mother.”
In short, I think that the experience of unconditional love that we need and expect from our parents provides a template for all other loving relationships. I do say, in my memoir, that you can find unconditional love elsewhere and if you can enter into that loving relationship, it will work and be a suitable substitute. If, as Ellen wonders, you don’t come across it or can’t accept it when you do, what happens?
I think the outcome is an emotionally damaged person. We all know them, if not in our personal circles, then in public life, visible to all. I suppose, although I don’t know for sure, that there’s an “expiration date” on finding a new loving template. After awhile — I don’t know how long — there is too much damage done, too much water under the bridge to expect any real change.
That reality raises the stakes for all of us on being a loving presence for others, especially the young. The rest of someone’s life may depend on it.

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