After 25, it’s in bad taste to blame your parents for anything: some thoughts on Rebecca and Alice Walker, feminism, and the rage of the neglected child

Much discussion today of Rebecca Walker’s piece in the Daily Mail: How My Mother’s Fanatical Feminist Views Tore us Apart. Rebecca, daughter of Alice Walker (of the “Color Purple” and many other important feminist works) excoriates her mother in the Mail interview, done to promote (of course) her new book.

…my mother regards herself as a hugely maternal woman. Believing that women are suppressed, she has campaigned for their rights around the world and set up organisations to aid women abandoned in Africa – offering herself up as a mother figure.

But, while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities – after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.

The publishing industry regularly proves right Freud’s theory about children’s murderous desires towards their parents. We have ooodles and ooodles of “tell-all” books written by the kids of the famous, in which they invariably “shatter the illusion” of the (usually same-sex) parent’s marvelous public persona. Folks never tire of buying the latest in the “Everyone-thought-Mum-was-God-but-to-me-and-my-pet-rabbit-she-was-Satan” genre, and Rebecca Walker offers us her version this spring. The hook, of course, is that Rebecca doesn’t just blame Alice — she blames feminism.

One of the standard tropes of what might be called “serpent’s tooth publishing” is to blame Mom or Dad’s poor parenting on an addiction. That addiction might be an eating disorder, or alcoholism, but it’s often an “addiction” to religion or ideology. Lots of kids of fundamentalist Christian parents have written of how their parents placed the church before the well-being of their children (Jesus Land is especially good). One likes to imagine the great book deal that Isaac would have gotten: “My Dad loved Yahweh More than Me, and Almost Stabbed Me to Prove It!” Publishers who have an axe to grind with the church (or Marxism, feminism, Hollywood, etc.) are always delighted to publish books that connect a parent’s failure to their misguided theological or ideological commitments.

From a psychological standpoint, it’s understandable why an adult child of an abusive or absent parent would choose to lay the blame on faith or politics. Every child, after all, likes to imagine that deep down inside their Mom or Dad really does adore them. When evidence for that adoration is lacking, it’s too painful to admit that yeah, Mom and/or Dad really weren’t very nice people or very competent parents. It’s much more soothing to imagine Mom or Dad as well-intentioned, but hopelessly captivated by a destructive worldview that dragged them away from the kiddies. It’s a neat way of displacing some of the anger that ought to be directed towards an individual onto a larger movement. Any child, after all, is going to hate whatever it is that they imagine has taken Mommy or Daddy away. And any adult child, even the not terribly bright ones, can figure out that attacking Mommy or Daddy’s belief system is the surest way to wound them. It’s an old story, and it’s publishing gold.

Those already pre-disposed against feminism will happily quote the younger Walker’s anti-feminist screeds as “evidence” that feminism destroys families. I have no intention of defending Alice Walker’s poor parenting; assuming her daughters’ charges are true (and that may be a big assumption), the elder Walker was a failure on multiple counts. But what both Walkers may be guilty of is the classic sin of explaining poor personal choices as the inevitable consequence of ideological commitments. It is not inherent in feminism that women ought to abandon their children; it is not anathema to feminist commitments to reproduce and be a devoted parent. I’m the son of a feminist Mom, and I’m roughly of Rebecca Walker’s generation. I too was born in the late Sixties and grew up in the Seventies. And my feminist Mom raised me with love and care and responsibility — and she has two devotedly feminist sons today. Countless others in my generation, raised by parents of Alice Walker’s generation, can attest to the marvelous parenting skills of those who embraced a commitment to radical egalitarianism!

Walker the younger’s sweeping generalizations are both infuriating and heartbreaking; infuriating for their stunning inaccuracy, heartbreaking because they reflect less a clear understanding of feminism and more the anguish of a neglected child still crying to be held.

The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn’t take into account the toll on children. That’s all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: ‘I’d like a child. If it happens, it happens.’ I tell them: ‘Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.’ As I know only too well.

Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They’ve missed the opportunity and they’re bereft.

Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

Rebecca Walker is not married to her son’s father, so her proclamations about marriage and the ease of divorce seem rich. It’s very easy for the never-married to worry that divorce is too easy. And if we’re going to play warring anecdotes, I know plenty of women in their forties who haven’t had children, aren’t trying for children, and — hold on to your seats — don’t want children. Not everyone is called to breed; for some folks, service to the world and the community is genuinely as satisfying as passing on DNA to another future consumer. I don’t dispute that being a mom is immensely fulfilling to Rebecca Walker; I do dispute her implication that because she has never known a joy comparable to motherhood, no other woman could either.

If Rebecca Walker’s allegations about her mother are true, then Alice made some poor parenting decisions. Lots of people make bad decisions about child-rearing. Many have abused their children in the name of one particular ideology or faith. If Alice Walker used feminism to justify her poor treatment of Rebecca, that is no more an indictment of feminism than the physical abuse of a child by fundamentalist parents who misunderstood the whole “spare the rod” line is an indictment of all of Christianity.

I am grateful for my feminist mother, and have said so here. I am sorry that Rebecca Walker isn’t grateful for hers. But I understand why she feels she must blame feminism more than her mother. In doing so, she holds out hope that someday, someway, her mama will “see the light” and turn away from the beliefs that, in her daughter’s eyes, tore her away from what was her truest responsibility. There’s something terribly sad in Rebecca Walker’s piece, filled as it is with a mix of self-righteous rage and childish pain. But she has chosen to profit from that pain, and chosen to confuse her mother’s private betrayal with her mother’s public commitments. And though the younger Walker may deserve pity and sympathy, her wild and silly claims about feminism ought also elicit exasperation and firm rebuke.

31 thoughts on “After 25, it’s in bad taste to blame your parents for anything: some thoughts on Rebecca and Alice Walker, feminism, and the rage of the neglected child

  1. I will go off on a bit of a tangent with this post, but it’s somewhat related to Walker’s story given my father’s obsession with fundamentalist Christianity.

    Lots of kids of fundamentalist Christian parents have written of how their parents placed the church before the well-being of their children (Jesus Land is especially good).

    Wow. Alice Walker’s daughter and I share a common story. I still maintain that my parents did the best that they could with what they had (and please Hugo, don’t argue with me on this one), given that my mom was severely depressed and suffered from delusional thinking when I was a child. She seldom played with me when I was a kid (I can count all the times she sat down to play with me on one hand, actually) which is why I am uncomfortable around children and have a hard time letting myself go and having fun. It is also why I am somewhat introverted. My father played with me a great deal, though, but he had his own problems — his intellectual obsession with fundamentalist Christianity being one of them. My father yearned for something solid to latch onto as my mother was so insane, and fundamentalist religion held the answer. He sometimes manipulated me by saying things like “he was concerned about my immortal soul” because I wanted to go a trip to Canada with my ex-boyfriend. And as a kid, my mother slapped me across the face for no good reason; blaming me for things I did not do since she was delusional. Anyway, my dad was so desperate to make sense of the world and to have solid answers, after enduring both a traumatic childhood in which he was severely abused. And as an adult, he had to deal with my insane mother (who is much healthier now, by the way, this was back in the 1990s, although we are still feeling the ramifications of her illness. I am a driven perfectionist; my brother is a lethargic drug addict.) But here is the irony: when my mother was insane and hearing things/seeing things that did not exist, she thought she was right. Crazy people do not know that they are crazy (think about the movie A Beautiful Mind — and how a famous mathematician, someone who is a master at logic, was yet still suffering from delusional thinking. It is an interesting dichotomy.) So, mom’s insanity as a child, coupled with my dad’s obsession with fundamentalism, leaves me with a great story to tell one day (and I’m trademarking it, damn it) — both of them think they were/are right in their thinking, but both fundamentalism and mental insanity have more to do than people realize. Reconciling the minds of my parents is the story of my life and I plan to tell it one day.

    Of course, I am only 21, so I still have 4 more years to complain about my parents’ shortcomings.

  2. As I recall (vaguely enough that I cannot cite the newspaper, or even the names of the people involved), several children of a famous Apartheid fighter in South Africa wrote a book about their fairly wretched childhood, excoriating their parents for choosing to have children while being very dangerously politically active. The children were raised in a succession of safe houses, never given a proper education, and lived in constant fear and neglect. The popular response to their complaints is that the work their parents did was so much more important than they were that they did not have the right to be upset or complain.

    I remember reading the newspaper article about the situation and thinking that we, the public, want people and stories to be simple. That someone is forever and in all ways good, or evil. The idea that someone who fought for such tremendous good could make mistakes in their personal lives is something that many people seem not to be able to tolerate. And that the personal price those children pay should be acknowledged, rather than diminished or denied.

    I have a sense that there is an almost explicit belief that to do great things in the world one is required to sacrifice one’s personal life. The corporate power structure expects workers who want to rise within the company to work a number of hours that pretty much precludes interacting meaningfully with children and or spouses. If women (or men) choose not to behave that way, they have chosen not to be successful in business. Politics is much the same, if not worse. The idea that we as a group can change the behavior that defines success doesn’t get a lot of airplay.

  3. it all reminds me of egger’s “a heartbreaking work of staggering genius” – a little snorr-tastic seeing as well all have our stories and no body’s perfect.
    it’s life, adapt and overcome. as adults, we need to learn that the mistakes and misfortunes of our parents need not be our own. that doesn’t simply mean we must avoid repeating our parents’ actions. it means to let go of our ill feelings and resentment towards our parents, and accept the idea that the person we are is someone we have chosen to be through our own actions as adults – a character that we have cultivated on our own.

    open letter to my ‘rents”

    dear mom/dad,

    you made me – you raised me.
    you gave me a foundation from which to LEARN and GROW.
    i absorbed every experience and every lesson you either actively or passively taught me. i took every moment, and stored it in my thoughts as something i knew i would need later on.

    today, i pull from every lesson, every mistake and every event – good and bad, and i choose to use it all in a positive way. i have used your imperfections to bring to light my own, and to correct my ways.

    mom, your neurotic anxiety, insecurity and unwillingness to trust, has taught me to relax in my being and open myself up to be loved by others.
    dad. wow. if ever there was a person who taught me to hold strong and stay involved in healthy activities – it would be you, and your drug habit.
    so thank you, both. i love you for what you know you taught me, and what you have no idea i learned from you.

  4. A few different points:

    First of all it should be noted that the title of this entry did not turn out to be what the piece was about.

    Secondly, as someone who grew up with a famous father who entertained the world and was hell to live with or work for I can say that this story is pretty old news and I’m always a little surprised when another one of these comes out. What has been edifying over the years was to see that this wasn’t just a phenomenon with the famous. I’ve heard many stories of people who were abused by a parent who was the doctor that everyone in town loved and trusted. Bottom line, some people can give their best to strangers more easily than they can to the people close to them and some highly creative visionaries struggle with more mundane aspects of life.

    Finally, I’m glad you had a good experience with your mother and feminism. I did not. My mother was one of many people in the 70’s who flirted with the movement, thought she got it, and in turn gave some confusing and disempowering messages about being a boy or a man. I have many other friends my age (not you) who echo this experience. Do I blame feminism or my mom? No. Am I still pretty confused? Yes.

  5. Maybe you’re not so much interested in arguing that after 25 it’s bad form to blame your parents — or feminism, or fundamentalism, or the civil rights movement — as you are in arguing that after 25, it’s time to let go of the idea that your life narrative can be fully fleshed out in terms of blaming any one individual, set of individuals, or ideology.

  6. Hmm. While it is very true that many times we all try and shift our personal problems or failures (or those of others) onto the backs of an ideology, it seems to me equally true that some ideologies invite or encourage such shifting, in at least some areas of life, more than others. Rugged individualism encourages people to blame social pathologies on themselves, socialism encourages people to blame economic costs on producers, etc.

    Feminism didn’t make Alice Walker a bad mother, but didn’t feminism, to some extent, tell Alice Walker that it was OK to be a bad mother, because being a good mother wasn’t an important part of (Walker’s) feminism?

  7. I don’t blame her for being resentful that her mother seemed to care about everything in the world but her–although yes, there is a statute of limitations on that complaint. But I can’t help wondering if the “and it’s all feminism’s fault” is just a selling point for the piece, which was published in that fine bastion of journalism, the Daily Mail.

    I mean, c’mon. A whole generation of unhappily childless women? Where are these women?

  8. Technically speaking, Rebecca’s comments about feminism’s negative impact on her childhood are no different than Alice’s comments the Patriarchy’s negative impact on herself and other women. While it is much more soothing to pretend that people who follow various ideological views exist in a vacuum that keeps them and the views forever separate and prevents those views from ever impacting the person’s behavior towards others (particularly their family), that kind of thinking is, ironically, little more than an excuse.

    As is true with any other instances, people no more want to believe that the views they hold are capable of causing others harm anymore than people are willing to believe that a mother would treat her child with the callousness and apathy Rebecca described. That is why there is an inherent contradiction in stating that Rebecca is “blaming” feminism for making one woman a bad mother while linking to a post exalting feminism for making another woman a better mother.

  9. Pingback: Wild and Silly Claims « Toy Soldiers

  10. I saw Rebecca Walker speak at the National Women’s Studies Association conference a few years back where she was the keynote speaker. The feminists in the rooms, of all ages, races, sexualities and various other diversities, were audibly dismayed by her speech. She waxed poetic about the joys of motherhood (nothing wrong with loving being a mom, but hardly the stuff of a keynote speech at a major feminist conference) while including very little analysis or theory in her musings. She did say something about the need to honor traditional families. This disturbingly conservative (as in let’s conserve all the outmoded tradition of society that make for socially constructed rabid inequality) vein seems apparent in the Daily Mail piece as well. Women need to be mothers, mothers should put children first, and feminists better get baby making before it’s too late? Wow. Alice I love. What a writer! Rebecca – not so much.

  11. I didn’t know one could measure sorrow or that there was a time limit on loss. I agree with kate h and TS. We learn our style of emotional connection from our parents. The hope is that we don’t perpetuate negative behavior. The fact that someone recognizes that the relationship that they have with their parent(s) is one of the most complicated of all our life relationships–it is what sets our feet on the emotional and psychological path we travel throughout our lives, is not blame. Recognizing the significance of the relationship that defines, in one way or another, all our other relationships, and how it has a proufound pull on how we connect with our children and our spouses, is not blame. Loss for some people, and understanding the significance of loss can takes a lifetime…

  12. Sorry, but I *do* think there is a statute of limitations on bitching about what your parents “did to you.” After a certain point, even though you may have matching sets as your mom or dad, the baggage is yours. I’m not discounting serious abuse, and definitely not sexual abuse, but just because my dad has trouble expressing his emotions and my mom used to be on diets and complain about her weight constantly, that doesn’t mean I can forever blame my own trouble with emotional expression and my body issues on them. I’m an adult, I’ve been one for 12 years in the eyes of the law, and anything that is left over now is mine. Again, there are obviously exceptions to be made for truly egregious parental behavior, but at some point, I think you spent your life reinforcing the learned behaviors even after you left your parents’ home, and the onus is on you and you alone to change or live with what you have been given.

  13. Two contemporary quotes from Hugo, one from a comment to “feminists peeing in the pool”:

    There are ooodles of men out there telling women what to do, and I think my voice and my energy are best used in reaching my fellow males.

    and another quote, from this posting:

    And though the younger Walker may deserve pity and sympathy, her wild and silly claims about feminism ought also elicit exasperation and firm rebuke.

    I can think of few things more patronising that telling people they do not really feel or think the things they think and feel. I can think of few things more responsible for the corruption of politics than the idea that people’s thoughts and feelings ought to fit our political ideas, rather than the other way around.

    To make it clear, I don’t agree with all of the statements of Rebecca Walker. But they deserve a hearing. If you think she’s not told the truth or pandered to a right-wing audience, fine, let’s see the evidence. But assuming Rebecca has told the truth about what she thinks and feels, she deserves a respectful hearing by everyone.

  14. What’s interesting is that people who regret not having children have a place to express that regret, and are even encouraged to do so by our culture that needs to hear that having children is the right choice for everyone. People who regret having kids mute those complaints, because they rightfully don’t want to hurt their children. But I’ve certainly heard those regrets, too. Just quietly expressed.

    If Walker thinks everyone should have kids, then how does she reconcile that with her belief that her own mother didn’t want to be a mother?

  15. John, I think I made it clear that I was sympathetic to Rebecca’s private pain while taking issue with her extraordinary claims about feminism and motherhood. It is wrong to tell her how to feel about her own mother, and I’m not doing that. But the fact that she feels that way doesn’t mean that her clear and preposterous implication that women will find their greatest fulfillment in breeding ought to go unchallenged.

  16. Hugo, if you really think the headline “After 25, it’s in bad taste to blame your parents for anything” qualifies as sympathy for someone’s pain, I’d hate to see your idea of a sneer.

    In any case, you didn’t take issue with her claims about feminism and motherhood; responding to a statement with “exasperation and firm rebuke” implies not that you respectfully disagree with what Ms. Walker wrote (which I think we both do), but that you dispute her right to make it, which I don’t think anyone has the right to do. Feminism exists to serve women (and men), not the other way around. Any woman most certainly has a right to say feminism, or a particular strain of feminist thought, has not served her well. Any statement of this sort required a respectful hearing and a thoughtful response.

    I believe that in this case, a thoughtful response would respect, and highlight, the many feminists who have struggled for exactly the right Ms. Walker appears to most want: to have children and bring them up in a safe, respectful environment free of violence and poverty. Feminists (women and men) have fought for workplaces in which displaying the supposedly male-centered values of total commitment does not offer the only path to advancement. In short, a whole world of feminists out there will stand up and fight for exactly the right Ms. Walker wants, to have children and bring them up. Her comments deserve that kind of response, not “exasperation”, “rebuke”, or disrespectful comments that equate parenting with “breeding”.

  17. Actually, TS, Rebecca is saying that feminism not only made her mom a bad mother, but feminism tricks women out of motherhood. “Feminism made my mom a jerk” is not the issue; “feminism is bad for women” is.

  18. Her estrangement from her mother must be very emotionally painful. While I don’t agree with her sweeping generalizations about motherhood and feminism, I can understand why she would seek a path very different from her mother. I don’t agree with her conclusion that, “Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.” I’m very clear that she feels devastated by her mother’s behaviors, especially because she sees that her crime and the estrangement are due to her, “daring to question her ideology.” The hurt, betrayl must feel especially damaging given that her mother is revered as a trail-blazing feminist and champion of women’s rights. I empathize with her. How sad that her mother would feel compelled to threaten and undermine her reputation as a writer.

    I wouldn’t feel right criticizing, dismissing or judging her feelings–I wouldn’t underestimate nor dismiss the loss of a parent through neglect–I think that is huge.

  19. I think there are three rather separate problems here which are getting jumbled up, two of which are not gender-specific.

    One is that Alice Walker is a writer, and they (male and female) are notoriously bad as parents and spouses: to be a really good writer, your work must take precedence over everything and everyone else.

    Secondly, Alice Walker is an activist/social reformer. Again, the stereotype of the do-gooder who neglects their own family is very old (think Mrs Jellaby in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House) and based at least partly on reality. But it’s also a well-known problem for male social reformers and those in similar roles. As the child of a clergyman I can remember thinking sometimes that I came second-best to the parish.

    Finally, as has been pointed out already, where feminism does come in is that it taught us that marriage and motherhood did not have to be in the centre of our lives (and in the more radical forms, that these should not be at the centre of our lives). There is a trade-off in feminism between a woman’s focus on self and her focus on family and these demands aren’t always reconciliable. My daughter probably gets less attention sometimes because of my activities in education and trying to build a career (even though my hope is that I can support her more if I am more fulfiled myself). I think it’s inevitable that sometimes feminists will get the balance wrong overall, just as non-feminist mothers sometimes do.

    I don’t know which of these factors is more significant in the case of the Walkers, but I’m not convinced that Rebecca Walker has thought much about the matter either. She does seem prone to making sweeping generalisations based on her own personal experience (as seen in her comments on adoption).

  20. I’m one women who can thank feminism for helping me be a BETTER mother. Since being a feminist gave me the strength and confidence to understand that I could be a mother without being married, all of the time I would be wasting on finding a husband or pleasing/serving one, I get to spend with my kids. My kids have benefited majorly by having a mommy who is confident and happy even without a man in her life.

  21. Secondly, Alice Walker is an activist/social reformer. Again, the stereotype of the do-gooder who neglects their own family is very old (think Mrs Jellaby in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House) and based at least partly on reality. But it’s also a well-known problem for male social reformers and those in similar roles. As the child of a clergyman I can remember thinking sometimes that I came second-best to the parish.

    Yes, I think this is a crucial point. When your parent puts their ideology in front of you, you blame the ideology as well as the parent — whether that ideology be Christianity, feminism, or art.

  22. After becoming a parent, I feel more interested and fired up about issues in local, federal, and international politics. It’s one thing to intellectually know that certain situations could affect children, it’s another to watch my son labor to breathe on days when the air quality is bad. Concrete experience tends to trump intellectual understanding, at least for me.

    If I got involved in the local environmental scene, I’d inevitably find myself spending some more time away from my child when I engaged in activities that are not child appropriate. How does one balance the desire to be an activist with the desire to be a good parent? Some of the most politically passionate people are parents, and their passion ignited because they finally got the connection between what goes on ‘out there’ with what goes on in their home, and with their families. I don’t think it would be a good thing to say that individual children should be sacrificed for the greater good, or that parents should not get involved in activism.

    As an aside, where was Rebbecca Walker’s father? Is he deceased? If not, how did feminism keep him from making sure Rebbecca knew she was loved and wanted?

  23. That’s a great aside about Rebbecca Walker’s father Kate H.

    Making family issues as public as this can only be adding to any existing problems (excluding serious abuse). It’s not a solution, no matter how hard done by a person may feel. It makes you wonder how much money Walker junior is making out of it. We all only have one set of parents and their absence from our lives can only bring us pain. Surely it would be better to try and process whatever hurts are left from the past and try to build something new, there are people who manage this that were given a worse parental deal than that described by R. Walker.

  24. matey.
    Maybe she intends it as a warning.

    Parents may have other issues to take part of their time. Kids have only one issue…how am I being taken care of?

    What seems reasonable to a parent might not to a kid, and at some point, the kid’s right.

    Worth another telling to parents to think about it.

  25. Richard Aubrey

    Do you mean Rebbeca Walker intended a warning?

    Yeah, I take your point, but its ironic that if she is acting for the greater good on this then she’s falling prey to the same failing of which she accuses her mother: sacrificing the good of one’s family for a cause. Like mother, like daughter… ?

    Yeah, the child is often right, and that’s why I said she needed to heal past wounds/hurts. We only have one set of parents and the loss of them will cause us pain, and I bet Rebbecca will suffer for this for a long time to come. Like mother like daughter…?

  26. Rebecca alternated time between her mother and her father’s households following their divorce when she was eight, spending two years at a stretch. She writes about her father’s home being loving and supportive, and about feeling guilty and unable to express to her mother that she felt more support there.

  27. I can understand bonding better and more fully with one parent. I did that with my mother – and I suspect that most people would expect a girl to bond harder with her mother than her father.

    At what point do we see our parents for the whole people that they are, rather than just their successes and failures in their relationship with us? I talk to my mother every day – she is a great mentor and confidant. It took me awhile to get to this point. I remember being a bit taken aback when I was in college and I had planned to come home for spring break, and my mom told me that she was going on vacation to New Orleans. It seemed wrong – why didn’t she prioritize my visit higher than her trip? That was the opening shot that started me on the road to realizing that my mom was a whole person, and not just my mother.

    Clearly, I had a happier relationship with my mom growing up than Rebbecca did. What strikes me as interesting is the need to publicly air the hurts, rather than privately work on them with her mother. Someone probably mentioned this earlier – it’s as if she feels the need to dramatically point to her mother and say “she is not the wonderful person you think she is”. That is a bit of a scorched earth action. As if the only benefit she can derive from her relationship with her mother is the financial recoupment from her tell-all book. I wonder what she expects to happen between them now?

  28. kate h, that’s a great point you make there. I went through the same thing with my mother, where all of a sudden I realized she was just this human being with all her flaws and desires for life that everyone has, and that a lot of them had nothing to do with me. We live in a society that tells mothers that their kids need to be their entire lives, and kids hear that message too. It makes accepting them as people, rather than just mothers, a difficult transition to make.

    My mother isn’t perfect. She wasn’t particularly nurturing, and she had (has) a lot of her own issues that affected how much she gave me, emotionally. But, if I want a relationship with her, I just need to recognize that and take her as she is without demanding that she make up for what she didn’t give me in my youth. I long ago realized that if I kept harping on those old feelings, I’d never be able to develop new ones for her. Using that philosophy, we have a pretty good relationship now. She’s not my best friend, or even someone I particularly like or identify with, but she’s my mom.

  29. “As if the only benefit she can derive from her relationship with her mother is the financial recoupment from her tell-all book. I wonder what she expects to happen between them now?”

    They’ve been estranged since 2004, after Alice stated that she was “bored” being a mother. This, like your comment about her father, was answered in the article.

    I don’t really have a dog in this fight, except to ditto John Spragge pwning Hugo, and point out that this is yet another of No-True-Scotsman hypocrisies alleged feminists are so fond of. To wit- while Alice may have THOUGHT she was a revered feminist icon parenting consistent with “radical egalitarianism”, and while Rebecca may have THOUGHT she was subjected to years of emotional neglect and abuse condoned and normalized by a plethora of marquee feminists, some guy with a blog has an anecdote about his mommy which vindicates all feminists and feminisms everywhere, ever. Apparently Alice Walker didn’t get the sacred trust of “real” feminism like Hugo’s mommy did.

    Talk about bad taste…

  30. Apologies for the multiple thought threads in this post.

    Parents can say the damnedest things. I know one who, upon the death of her middle son (the only boy) due to a drunk driver turned to one of her younger twin daughters and said, “Why couldn’t it have been one of you? I have two of you.” I know another who told her messy-house-keeping daughter, “If I’d have known that you would turn out this way, I wouldn’t have bothered.” It took years for both families to improve their relationships after that. Hurtful comments are devastating, particularly when they imply that if a parent could go back and do it all over, they wouldn’t. Rebbecca clearly has the right to feel however she wishes about her mother’s actions and comments.

    My sense of the overall situation is not that feminism is inviolate, and all feminists are good parents, and if you aren’t a good parent you must not be a good feminist, but that people can fail and screw up and have whacked priorities, no matter how lofty and noble their ideals are. Devout Christians can be bad parents. Devout feminists can be bad parents. Devout Men’s rights Activists can be bad parents.

    Sometimes specific tennents in a belief system assist the whole bad parent situation, and sometimes people warp a belief system to justify doing what they want to do – I’ve seen it go both ways. Living in Utah gives me a front row seat to the whole FLDS lifestyle conversation (It’s wholesome! It’s harmless – just a little bit different but not really! It’s an abomination! It preys on girls and women! It liberates girls and women! *head spin*)

    The idea that at some point you have to own your life, your feelings, and your actions is important. My dad belittled my mother’s family Christmas traditions for the 17 years they were married. My mom is now 64 – she has lived 24 years past the end of her marriage to my father, and she still gets angry and depressed at Christmas time. I wish she could say to herself – “he was a jackass, I didn’t enjoy this time when I was with him, but I’m free to enjoy it as I like now.” I can be sad that my father wasn’t able to be inclusive with my mother’s traditions while they were married, but I am not angry with him for my mother’s continued Christmas issues. She will either get over it or not, but he is not ruining Christmas for her now. She is.

    Rebbecca has the opportunity to create her own relationship with her children, and to make choices as an adult about her relationship with her mother. We are all commenting on her choice to make her thoughts and feelings public, and on how we agree, disagree, and other tangential thoughts about the topic. My expressing my opinion does not negate hers, or her right to an opinion I may or may not agree with. My, and other’s, different experiences with feminism does not negate Rebbecca’s, and VICE VERSA. One person (or even many persons) who feel that feminism ruined their parent-child relationship does not mean that feminism is bad for parent-child relationships, anymore than one or many persons feeling that Christianity ruined their parent-child relationship means that Christianity is bad for parent-child relationships.

  31. It’s a complicated issue. I tend to feel that writers (in general), whether in fiction or non-fiction, work out their issues in a public way. I believe that her writing is her way to process her emotional pain and loss, which is valid to her and very real, regardless of whether someone else approves, disapproves or minimizes it and she’s doing that in the only way she knows how. It’s no coincidence that she is a writer and her mother is a writer. It’s no coincidence that her mother wrote that mothering was servitude and a burden and that her daughter now writes of her happiness, etc. If she felt minimized, dismissed and invisible as a child, it doesn’t surprise, given her background, that she would seek to empower herself n the way that she has, or even question an ideology and her mother’s interpretation of that, which she feels was part of the problem. I feel that she is processing that now and working it out. I’ve often found that when someone’s pain is acknowledged, rather than dismissed…it helps them to move forward. I don’t know why it seems so damn hard for people to acknowledge grief, pain and loss, other than maybe they cannot recognize their own pain and so cannot empathize with others. I certainly don’t agree with her conclusions about feminism, but I can certainly see the pain she feels…that is very evident. I think it could take years, not minutes to release the pain and work through it.

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