I have a subscription to Reader’s Digest, and quite often, I find little excerpts from books or anecdotes that get me thinking about life or teach me quick lessons. Today, I read a section from a book that included a mother’s/writer’s list of rules for her own parenting. It was written in 1952 by Susan Sontag. I found some of the tips interesting, because they show a mother who is concerned about letting her child develop a healthy sense of self and boundaries–something a narcissist mother like mine would never do. It’s just a little section, but I wanted to share some of the tips that stand out. These come from a collection of Sontag’s journals called Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963. They were all good parenting ideas, but in reference to narcissism, these two stood out:
2. Don’t speak about him to others (e.g., tell funny things) in his presence
10. Don’t assume that what I don’t like to do (bath, hair wash,) he doesn’t like either
I know a lot of parents do these things without thinking or without meaning ill, but with a narcissist mother, these types of things are consistent, and they are meant to be mean or controlling. These types of parents no know boundaries. I cannot count how many times my mother told a “funny” story that was clearly a cover-up for her attempt to humiliate me, be passive aggressive, or make me look bad. And when I would confront her, she’d just wave me away and tell me it was no big deal and to get over it. (What child of a narcissist hasn’t heard those phrases, right?!) I don’t know a whole lot about Sontag, but I admire that she saw the importance of respecting her child.
As for the other tip, it’s pretty typical for a narcissist mother to tell you what you want, tell you how you feel, tell you what you don’t like, or just step in and start taking over. I remember over and over and over that my mother would tell me I didn’t want a certain food or a certain toy or a that I wouldn’t like a certain book or a certain movie. From a young age, I remember that I wanted to be allowed to make that decision for myself. Even into my thirties, my mother was trying to control what I ate by telling me I did or didn’t like foods, (and often getting it wrong.)
As a child of a narcissist mother, I feel like I have to work harder to be a good mom and escape the effects of what my mother did to me. I have to watch myself to avoid carelessly repeating the boundary-breaking and soul-crushing things she said to me without a care. I remember how I felt as a child when my identity was ignored and my feelings were invalidated. I don’t want my child to feel the same way.
I don’t think all of Sontag’s journals were about parenting, but based on the short list that was including in Reader’s Digest this month, it seems like she had a strong mind. I’m curious to read more now.