The Women Who Step In For My Narcissistic Mother

 
 photo: Courtesy Paramount Pictures

photo: Courtesy Paramount Pictures

 

My narcissistic mother is no match for all the love I receive from the rest of the women in my life...

“Your writing is terrible; perhaps you should consider doing something else for a living,” my mother said when I showed her an article I had written for The Los Angeles Times—which btw, is a nationally recognized newspaper. Most mothers would have been proud of their daughter’s accomplishment and might have said something encouraging like, “I’m so proud of you,” but not my mother. She acted as if I was a failing journalism student and she was my career-counselor.

My mother lives in one part of the state and I live in another, but my mother rarely wants me to visit her, which is fine with me, as we don’t get along very well. She’s extremely conservative and I’m not, so we tend to get into arguments when we’re together. Add that to the list of characteristics that you don’t want in a parent along with how critical my mother is, her self-centeredness, and how she is, by her own admission, not very affectionate.

Not all mothers are good at mothering.

So, I may not have the kind of mother like Rainbow Johnson on Blackish, or Lorelei Gilmore, but I still consider myself lucky—not only did I have a great dad, I have a lot of other women in my life who can give me the support, encouragement, and love that I don’t get from the woman who birthed me.

Because sometimes it’s okay to outsource your mothering.

There have been a number of older women in my life that have taken on the role of a surrogate mother to me, in one way or another. Women who were teachers, neighbors, and mothers of my friends who cared for me as if I was were their own child.

One of my improv teachers, Cynthia, turned into a surrogate mother for many of her students. She hadn’t given birth to any children, but she referred to many people as her improv babies. Some of these babies were people like Conan O’Brien, Joel McHale, and Lisa Kudrow, while others were unknown who had somehow flown into her orbit. Cynthia had a huge personality and could rub people the wrong way, but when she loved you, there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for you.

My mother may think I’m a terrible writer, but Cynthia thought I was a brilliant one, and she believed in my talent even before I did. I would get frustrated when she would try to get me to focus on my writing rather than my performing, but over time, she wore me down, and I started to focus more on the written word.

Once I wrote a YA novel based on myself growing up with a schizophrenic brother (true story) and Cynthia decided it would be a great TV series. So, Cynthia got one of her producer friends, and the two of them shopped my novel around to some of the networks and production companies. Nothing came of it, but it was gratifying to see how invested Cynthia was in not only my work but in me, too. Sadly, Cynthia died a couple of years ago, but whenever I start doubting myself, I think of how Cynthia wouldn’t want me to quit and how proud she was of my success.

But it’s not just older women who are my mothers, it’s my girlfriends too, especially my friends who have children. I have an impressive list of friends who are all excellent mothers. Their lives are full with their jobs, kids, and the pressures of day-to-day living, and yet, they still have room in their hearts to care for me. These mothering-friends have my back, are always supporting me, and are there in times of crisis. They may have to sneak in a phone call to me after their son or daughter has gone to bed, but they make sure to check-in from time to time.

Lastly, I get mothering from my friends who are childless but are nurturing nonetheless. These friends make sure that I feel special and loved on my birthday, that I have plans for any major holiday, for they get concerned that I’ll feel like an orphan if I’m alone on Thanksgiving. and these same women are the ones who read my work and go to my shows like any proud parent. I have one friend who will let me vent about how I’m not as far advanced in my career as I would like, and then point out how far I’ve come.

Mothering isn’t only about supporting the person you are now, it’s remembering the person you were. It’s about shared history, jokes that can only make the two of you laugh, and it’s having a bond that you don’t have to name but you still feel it in your bones.

Overall, my friends make me feel protected, supported and cared for. It may not be my birth mother who nurtures or loves me, but I don’t feel denied any of those things.

I would be lost without my surrogate mothers—no matter where they come from.

Not everybody has a great relationship with their birth-mother, but even if you do, that doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from some extra mothering. You just need to be able to see it when it’s there and ask for it when it’s not.

I haven’t cut my mother out of my life, because by getting my mothering from others, I don’t have to be disappointed when she doesn’t come through for me. I have no expectations that she’ll change and suddenly become the kind of mother I want—luckily, that space is already occupied with my real mothers.