No, my mother never smoked, but she downed a few cocktails. And though, in retrospect, she was certainly in her right, when I was very young, I didn’t like it. Oh, she was never drunk—just a little giddy, more volatile and lively. Those times when I didn’t like it, she had friends over and sometimes someone played the piano and my mother stood up and sang. She had a beautiful voice. She was just having fun—but for me, during those few hours, she was different. After all she was supposed to always be my mother. And somewhere in my brain, I had decided that when I was not the center of her attention—well, I just didn’t like it.
ARE CHILDREN RESILIENT?
You might remember that my father died when I was 3 and my life was my mother—and my two brothers—one older, one younger. We were a team, a whole, a perfect inner circle. And we thrived that way. And yes, people say all the time that children are resilient—but children are a lot better off if they can expect certain behaviors and get them—consistently. Why throw something in their way that is difficult to adjust to? Growing up is challenge enough. Being able to expect loving behaviors from mothers and fathers provides security and peace—a better garden for children to grow in. My mother ALWAYS provided that.
So when I mention the resilience question, I’m not talking about my mother having a drink or two. My mother never asked us to be resilient. Losing our father when we were 6, 3 and 3 months was more than enough—she lived her life making sure of that.
WE PATTERN OUR ELDERS
But back to smoking. My two aunts smoked and I grew up thinking smoking was rather glamorous. Did I even know that word when I was 8 or 9? But I did ponder their smoking enough that when they took me places, I put a bunch of toothpicks in my patent leather purse. Then when they lit up in the front seat of the car, I sat in the back, smoking my toothpick. I wonder if they ever noticed! And if I had the occasional pack of candy cigarettes with the bright pink tips in my purse—I was in heaven. But I remember my aunts more for their love and kindness–they were an extension of my mother. They were absolutely wonderful people who inspired me to write, read, think.
WAKE UP BETTY DRAPER
But the smoking thing was there. In high school I bummed a cigarette and burned a hole in my brand new Garland skirt. I didn’t know what I was doing. I bummed a few more in college, a few from my sister-in laws and then that was that. But now we come to Betty Draper, a mother, a smoker, a main character on MAD MEN–a series that chronicles the sixties. While watching MAD MEN you laugh and cry—because as a Boomer you are looking back at the way things were—and they weren’t always that great. Betty Draper has three children. Betty smokes constantly. If Mathew Weiner, the series creator and writer, were to take Betty with him into the present day, she’s got to have some major respiratory condition. But looking at her now, she’s suffering from hollowness.
In the last week’s episode, Betty makes a decision to really be a mom—to go with Bobby on a field trip to a farm. She even puts her cigarette down long enough to sip some warm milk right from a cow teat. But when Bobby, not realizing his mother is to share his bag lunch, trades her sandwich for some gum drops–the day ends. She lights up a cigarette and turns away. Bobby tells his stepfather that night, “I wish it was yesterday.” His dream of being with his mother fades away. And it always will.
Betty is of the mind that children are resilient and fails to shield them from any negative in her own life. The African American woman who sits with the children and helps them with their homework seems kinder, more able to understand their needs. But Betty’s insecurities are palpable. If she felt good about herself, she might truly communicate with her children and show a stronger desire to raise them. And again, what would Mathew Weiner write about Bobby in 20 years? He might be okay, but he might drink a lot—like his father, or like his mother, need something that satisfies his lack of kissing and hugging and UNDERSTANDING. It’s truly Betty’s fault. She calls herself a mom but as one critic put it: smoking is her best friend.
CHILDREN ARE RESILIENT–A FANTASY? A FALLACY?
Researchers more and more are seeing the children are resilient statement as a fallacy. Darcia Navaez PhD writes: Among researchers, it (resilience) usually means that the person is doing better than expected for the situation they are in; e.g., coping despite neglect. In child development it means that the person is not a clinical problem or a criminal or a drop out, even though they did not get their basic needs met in some fashion. I contrast resiliency with thriving. Thriving means that your needs were met during sensitive periods and that you have what you need for wellbeing.
HOW THE “RESILIENCY STANDARD” CAME TO BE
So again, my brothers and I THRIVED. Bobby Draper is being forced to do as well as he can. Navaez writes that there are four basic causes that have come together to form this resilience standard.
- Some parents did not receive optimal care growing up; they raised themselves. And so caring for and raising their own children doesn’t give them much pleasure. They don’t THRIVE doing it, so to speak.
- Popular culture encourages self-centeredness. Self-sacrifice is little heard of and rationalized away—Navaez’s example: let that kid cry himself to sleep. It won’t hurt him. My mother’s life was all about sacrifice.
- Current culture often obscures our genetic drives. We let something we read or what someone else says blot out our deep maternal and paternal instincts and drives—like going to that crying child and soothing him.
- Our culture continues to overburden families. Caregiving is often last on the list after working multiple jobs and having outside-the-home activities. (Betty Draper has help in her house and she doesn’t have to work. What does she do all day?) And parents just keep telling themselves their children are resilient and will be okay. They won’t.
My mother worked—in our home. We learned to accept that for certain hours of the day she typed in our dining room. We learned how to help out—making sandwiches, doing the dishes and other small cleaning chores. As we grew, we put up storm windows and mowed the lawn and raked leaves and I always cleaned the house. There were days when we fell back into kid-like behavior and Mom wasn’t happy: found us all laughing at cartoons on a Saturday morning (two of us were in college) while she came stomping up the back steps with loads of groceries. You see, my mom was human too.