Mothers have become everybody's favorite villain

March 14, 1995|By ELISE T. CHISOLM

Mother-bashing. It is one of the most popular pastimes of the '90s.

It goes from the Oprah show (as in "My mother stole my husband" or "My mother made me clean my plate and that's why I weigh 400 pounds") to magazine articles about famous people who had overbearing mothers (February's Ladies' Home Journal cover story in which Jodie Foster talks about her lost childhood and her changing relationship with her mom). Who cares?

And then some medical bulletins give fuel to the flame: "You can be allergic to your mother . . ."

Actually mother-bashing escalated in the turbulent '60s when you heard complaints like this: "I hate my mother, that's why I'm in a commune." The library is full of books about mother-daughter relationships gone sour, and mothers who are the nemeses of their daughters.

Remember "My Mother/Myself" in 1970? The groundbreaking book by Nancy Friday delved into the anger, hate and conflicts between mothers and daughters. It opened a can of worms.

Even if the mothers made the best apple pie in America, apparently they ruined their children's lives along the way.

And it's still going on. The other day on a train trip, a woman sitting next to me confided right away that because her mother had scared her so irrationally about flying, she always had to take the train. "Mother always said, 'If God had meant us to fly, he would have given us wings.' " Apparently, her mother gave her ulcers, gray hair and no wings.

Poor thing, when she sat down she searched for her seat belt -- we were on Amtrak.

I think television played a big part in telling us our mothers could derogate our souls. And I don't mean Andy Hardy's mother or Beaver Cleaver's mother, June. Back in the '30s and '40s, mothers were saints with nicely coiffed hair and aprons.

With "I Love Lucy," straight-A mothers started slip-sliding. Then there was the popular sitcom "Rhoda" with Valerie Harper. Remember? Rhoda was in constant turmoil from her overbearing mother.

Sitcom mothers are big hitters in the League of Meddling Mothers. There's "Mad About You," in which the mothers of Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt drive them nuts. Roseanne's mother drives her more Roseanneish than ever. Murphy Brown's television mother drove her up a wall when she visited. Jerry Seinfeld and his buddy George both have dipsy mothers.

Which all provides fodder for the different categories of mother-bashing going on now.

* There is the Freudian mother-image in which the yuppies blame their mothers for not giving them enough attention and favoring the boy-siblings.

* There's the "reminder mother," who says repeatedly, "I never talked back to my mother when I was your age." Or, "Be sure and wear clean underwear, in case you get in an accident." Then "Just because Maggie is allowed to do that is no reason for you to do it."

* Or the "doom and gloom" mother who says to her 35-year-old child, "If you don't get married soon, it will be too late." Or, "You need to save the grease from the bacon. You never know when you might run out of butter."

Along those lines, anyway.

I hear a theme over and over from the Fear-of-Inherited-Genes daughter who says, "I'm so scared, I'm getting more like my mother every day. Even my husband says so."

Who are these mothers, for heaven's sake? Medusa, Lizzie Borden?

High on the agenda of mothers no one likes are those who always told you that cleanliness is next to godliness. That's delusionary. After I cleaned my house I never got applause from God, or the family.

Here's what I think. If God intended us not to have mothers, we would not be born, or we would have been conceived in our fathers' wombs, and raised to like war games, football, beer and spitting on sidewalks.

Society used to bash mother-in-laws who never got it right, but now it's more vogue to trash your mother, who seems to be usually wrong.

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