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.