Mommy is a Bitch
“Sit down and don’t move!” a woman’s voice was heard. “What a mess!” she continued in an authoritative tone, as she picked her daughter up from the floor and, with force, made her sit in the booth. “And don’t move!” she ordered, pointing her index finger.
I couldn’t help but look up, away from my book, “Child Development and Personality,” by Mussen, Conger, Kagan and Huston, as I was sitting comfortably at a restaurant in Simsbury, on a quiet afternoon, absorbed in my studies. One of the waitresses ran with a cloth to clean up the spilled milk.
Dropping my eyes to my book again, the black headline, “Parents as Models,” stood out even more. An ironic smile covered my face.
“Don’t you dare try to take your raincoat off,” the woman said, then stuffed her mouth with food. “And don’t go under the table again,” she said, swallowing her food. “You hear?”
“But, Mommy, I can’t eat with my raincoat on,” the little blond, fair-skinned girl who wasn’t more than five or six years old, pleaded. “Look,” and she tried to show her mother how her arms were jailed in by the pink and white raincoat, unable to move.
“That’s your problem,” the woman, who must have been somewhere in her late thirties or early forties, said.
“But, Mommy . . .” the little girl said, but was interrupted by her mother.
“No buts! You’re not taking that raincoat off. You’re not dirtying your dress,” the woman said, as she continued eating her salad.
There was silence for a few minutes and the little girl’s tender voice made me look up again.
“But, Mommy, this button bothers my neck,” she said, pulling the collar with force away from her skinny neck.
“Listen, Elizabeth, no more games. For the last time, you’re not taking the raincoat off,” she repeated, and gave a stern look to her daughter.
The woman’s voice and attitude toward her helpless child caught my attention. I couldn’t help but close my book and focus my total awareness on the situation, and curiosity arose in me, to see what would happen next.
“What a bitch!” was the first thought that ran in my mind. Yet I pushed away that negative thought so I could be clear-minded without a rushed judgment. Even though from just a quick observation, it looked to me as if the mother was insensitive or unaware of her child’s mental life.
The next five minutes, the child was staring at her plate, while slowly moving her fork in the air. She looked absent-minded, as if she wanted to dismiss her mother’s strictness.
“Elizabeth,” the woman called out loudly, “stop it!” and she grabbed the fork away from the child, making Elizabeth pull back, curling in the corner of the booth. “Not another word from your mouth, Elizabeth, you hear?” she continued. “Eat.”
The child didn’t answer, nor did she eat. Nervously, she was pulling her raincoat away from her neck.
“Keep it up, Elizabeth, and you’ll end up sitting in the car alone.”
The mother’s voice began annoying me and I formed an opinion that the mother was an authoritarian parent.
Authoritarian parents are also strict, but they emphasize unquestioning obedience and respect for authority. They discourage talking back or verbal give-and-take, and they are not very affectionate.
Elizabeth’s mother didn’t encourage verbal give-and-take, nor did she explain the reason why Elizabeth was forbidden or not allowed to take her raincoat off. In my eyes, not dirtying the dress was poor reasoning.
But, on the other hand, maybe before coming to the restaurant, the mother had explained to Elizabeth that she must change clothes, otherwise she wouldn’t be allowed to take her raincoat off. If the child agreed or refused, the mother had to stand her ground and not give in, for the purpose of discipline.
Yet any further logic that I used to justify the woman’s behavior didn’t help me but to conclude that she couldn’t be bothered with explanations and didn’t want to deal with arguments.
Elizabeth didn’t talk back, didn’t whine, nor did she make a fuss. Instead she sat quietly, withdrawn, just slowly playing with her hands, avoiding any eye contact with her mother. I say avoiding because Elizabeth looked a few times out of the window, under the table, and mostly at her hands. Not once did she look at her mother, except when her mother spoke to her.
Elizabeth, growing up, is likely to be less intellectually curious, less self-confident, less mature in her moral development; she could grow up resenting her mother if her mother’s attitude truly is unaffectionate, as it seemed. A true attachment was missing for a bonding between a mother and daughter.
Harry Harlow’s studies showed that the monkeys preferred to be close to a terrycloth monkey “mother” rather than to spend time to get to the food that was given by a wire monkey mother. It’s a proof of the importance of attachment between the caregiver and child.
Many theorists propose that a strong attachment provides a basis for healthy emotional and social development during later childhood. Children with strong attachments are expected to become socially outgoing and curious about their environment, to be willing to explore, and to develop the ability to cope with stress. Serious disruptions in the attachment process are thought to produce problems in the child’s later social development.
I felt Elizabeth wasn’t respected and her feelings were ignored, because at one point the woman left the table, walking towards the bathroom, without explaining to her young child. Elizabeth, then with an abrupt gesture and trembling voice, asked where she was going. Only then did the woman tell her.
“I’m going to the ladies’ room. Just stay there,” she demanded, unemotionally, as she continued walking, disappearing through the double brown doors.
Once the woman was out of sight, Elizabeth hid under the table, her hands in a tight grip, in a tense state. Anxiety, fear and stress must have overcome her because of the environment and the couple of people around here were unfamiliar to her.
Children who ignore the parent upon his or her return are usually classified as avoidant and insecurely attached.
Even when the woman returned from the bathroom, Elizabeth remained under the table.
“Elizabeth, sit properly in the booth,” her mother demanded.
Elizabeth, slowly, without uttering a word, came up from under the table and did what she was told to do.
“Now, Elizabeth, you haven’t eaten. You haven’t touched your food. Don’t expect to eat at home,” her mother said, in an unpleasant tone.
“But, Mommy,” Elizabeth said. “I want to go home.”
“We’re going when I say so,” her mother replied, and pulled a magazine out of her big, black pocketbook.
Elizabeth then placed her thin arms on the edge of the table and rested her head on them.
“Elizabeth, sit up straight. You’re in a public place,” the woman voiced, as she flipped the pages.
“But, Mommy, I want to go home,” Elizabeth persisted and finally broke down in tears.
The mother, as if she didn’t hear her daughter, continued leafing through her magazine. Her insensitivity and lack of response to her daughter’s signals and passive behavior got under my skin. I was unable to avoid their conversation (since I was sitting in the next booth) and my heart went out to Elizabeth.
“Elizabeth, you’re not going to manipulate me. I’m the mother. Is that understood?” the woman angrily said, as she tapped her fingers on the table.
It seemed to me that the mother was afraid of losing control, thus she had to be tough, ignoring the possibility that her child could have been experiencing different ways of correcting her behavior so she could gain her mother’s approval.
Elizabeth wasn’t being disobedient on purpose. Her mother was incapable of understanding her daughter’s conflicts. She misinterpreted the child’s behavior as being bad. Especially when she kept telling Elizabeth, “Don’t upset me.”
The mother wasn’t responding to her daughter’s needs; therefore, I saw a troubled child.
The woman’s lack of empathy and her wanting control made Elizabeth inhibited and reluctant to voice her feelings openly. Thus, the frown or sad look on Elizabeth’s face communicated to me that her emotions were being stifled. Her mother wasn’t sympathetic and didn’t encourage her to express herself; therefore, the child could become incompetent, ineffectual and unhappy, later, as a mature individual.
In the micro system, I saw Elizabeth very deprived, with very little mobility. It’s plausible that Elizabeth’s mother grew up with a mother who deprived her of a secure attachment; thus, she didn’t know how to interact with her own daughter.
Parents of strongly attached children use warm tones and gentle commands when giving directions, and they support the child’s behavior with positive comments when appropriate. In this case, from what I observed, the woman used harsh tones and aggressive behavior.
Elizabeth was rejecting her mother’s demands, such as “don’t take your raincoat off,” “sit in the booth,” “eat your food,” “I’m your mother,” not because she was being bad, but she was repressing her mother’s enforcement (dominance) because she couldn’t tolerate the pain and rejection her mother radiated.
When the woman walked out of the restaurant and Elizabeth walked right behind her, moping and dragging her feet, my thought of “Mommy is a Bitch” no longer dominated my mind. An unexpected emotion of pity for Elizabeth’s mother conquered my being.
How sad for that woman not to be able to honestly communicate with herself; therefore, she took her own inner frustrations out on her vulnerable child as if it were Elizabeth’s fault for not obeying her.
Doesn’t a child imitate a parent’s mental and physical behavior and actions?