In My Mother's Shadow

Kimberly Ripley

My mother is a damaged soul. I don't know the who, when, where, how, or why. I suppose the specifics are no longer needed. She is definitely the product of something gone terribly awry. I spent many years at the hands of her wrath. As I approached adulthood and marriage and later contemplated parenting, my fears surfaced rapidly, bubbling to the top of a life that had been overshadowed by verbal and emotional cruelty. Did I dare become a mother? Would I become part of the cycle of abuse?

I married for the first time adorned with blinders. After more than two decades of yearning for normalcy, I jumped at my first chance to live the American dream. I believed with a conviction of utmost strength that marriage would provide me with all I had been missing. I wanted to live in a family like I'd seen on television shows. I wanted a family like the ones who invited me to eat suppers at their homes, and when I was really lucky, let me stay all night. I marveled at mothers who made supper and breakfast, then washed the dishes and hung the laundry out to dry. Sound mundane? To me it seemed heavenly. A mother who welcomed her children with open arms from a long day at school, with cookies and milk and smiles and kisses was my ideal. One who welcomed her husband at the end of the day had to bear celestial qualities. So I gave it a try. The marriage, of course, did not survive. Based on imagery instead of reality, it crumbled like wedding cake.

Years as a single mother brought new appreciation for the role of motherhood. Enduring financial burdens alone, often telling the kids no to requests for frivolities, and juggling job responsibilities with parenting duties presented me with two options. The first option was to simply throw in the towel and call in family and friends, cry on their shoulders, and accept their handouts-the sort of mothering I had observed as a child.

Going without was beyond my mother's capabilities. Whining and complaining were not. Convincing my grandparents of her constant emotional upheaval proved very useful for my mother. Her parents bought into the hard-working-yet-deprived-mother act and mailed check after check to their suffering daughter. This kept her in fine new clothing, a decent car, and in social circles beyond her natural abilities. I endured ridicule in school for pants that were too short and skirts and shoes that had long since disappeared from the fashion scene. My mother was chic and perfectly coifed.

Option two was to develop a keen method of impeccable organization scrutinizing schedules as well as the contents of cupboards and closets. Penny pinching combined with improvisation was became my forte. I was notorious for moonlighting. Half the income from those second jobs paid a baby-sitter, yet I slowly inched forward. We became more disciplined. Our seldom used and outgrown items were sold in yard sales or at consignment shops. Eating out became a rare treat. Clothing came from thrift shops; often for me, it did not come at all. Our apartment, schedule, and financial resources (or lack thereof) became precisely itemized. The children thrived. I gained wisdom and self-confidence. We all gained respect for life's little pleasures. In time I grew confident enough to allow a new relationship to develop with a man who eventually became my second husband.

Now I am living the grown-up role of my childhood fantasies. Blessed with the financial security that allows me to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, I am basking in the purest form of maternal bliss. I cook meals for my family and delight in those times when we all sit down and eat together. I greet my kids at the end of the school day with cookies, brownies, hugs, and help with their homework. I am a constant chauffeur. We attend church together on Sunday mornings. It is everything I yearned for as a child.

How do my children feel about this? The older ones have become accustomed to my constant presence. I've been at home now for ten years. The two little ones have never known a time when I wasn't at home. It is taken for granted that I will chaperone the field trip, bake for the bake sale, and organize the class holiday parties. It is assumed that our house will be the location for the sleepover, snack, or quick meal between activities. On weekends and summer evenings we always house extra kids.

Have I failed by allowing them to take these things for granted? I don't believe so. Instead I'd like to think I've succeeded in providing the security of acceptance and comfort, the lessons of giving and sharing, and the knowledge that a mother's love is stronger than any love they'll ever know.

Is it possible to defy the fates and not turn out like one's own mother? I believe I am living proof positive. Acknowledging my fear and challenging the past to a multi-faceted duel prevented history from repeating itself. Recognizing my mother's tumultuous patterns, incessant lies, and bizarre behavior as signs of illness set me on the road to discovering the truth and strength in myself. As a survivor, I've steered clear of my childhood's cyclical path.

It's been a long road, but worth every step of journey.

© Kimberly Ripley

Kimberly Ripley is a full-time freelance writer and published author living in New Hampshire. Her latest book ''Freelancing Later in Life'' will be a featured workshop in book stores across the country in 2002. For more info, visit

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