Dear Vicki: I work full time as a corporate accountant, have a houseful of teenagers, a busy husband, and now my widowed mother has moved in with us. On the surface it’s going well, but deep inside I feel a great deal of resentment toward her. She was not a good mother when I was growing up. She wasn’t warm and cuddly. She kept us clean and fed, and she read to us nightly, but beyond that we were on our own while she painted and pursued her career in art. She wasn’t like my friends’ mothers who baked brownies and knit them sweaters. I never felt mothered by her, but now she is expecting me to mother her. I’m having a lot of trouble with that. Signed, No Cuddles
Dear No Cuddles: Every child needs mothering, and everyone can mother in some way or another, but what that looks like will be very different depending on the elemental personalities involved. To manage all that you’re managing and succeed as a corporate accountant, I suspect you are a primary Metal personality. Metal people are usually very structured, very organized, and find it easy (and often necessary) to stick to schedules. The fact that your mother was an artist who didn’t bake brownies or knit you sweaters while you were growing up suggests that she is probably a primary Water personality. Water people are the artists of the world; they will devote hours to manifesting mind-blowing creations, but usually don’t have the structure (or interest) to run a household.
In the Five Elements model, Earth feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle, so an Earthy kind of mothering would have seemed attractive to you. However, as a Water person who prized time alone to create, your mother could have thought she was giving you an incredible gift by allowing you time alone, as well. I suggest you consider the possibility that, while your friends may have had mothers who focused a great deal of attention on them, your Metal personality might have found an abundance of attention pretty suffocating. I’m in no way suggesting that your childhood was perfect, but if you examine it from the perspective of what your elemental personality values, you may find that in some respects it was a good match for you. That said, what matters most is how you relate to your mother now, so let’s find ways you can improve that relationship.
You don’t indicate why you think your mother expects you to mother her, but once again, the Five Elements can give us a clue. In the model, Metal feeds Water on the Nurturing Cycle. This impulse expresses in different ways with different people, but most Metal personalities do feel a tendency to “look out for” Water people, even if it’s to protect them from their own silliness. This means it’s possible that your mother (who as a Water person would value lots of alone time) isn’t really expecting you to mother her as much as you are feeling a slight urge to do so.
It’s also important to look at what “mothering” means. As we mentioned earlier, your ideal of mothering is probably exactly what your friends’ Earth personality mothers expressed. That seemed natural to your elemental personality because Earth feeds Metal. However, that kind of Earthy interaction wouldn’t feel great to your own mother now because Earth relates to Water on the Controlling Cycle. So you can let go of the idea that your Mother wants Earthy mothering from you. She doesn’t. It would feel stifling and restrictive. And at some level, you intuitively know this. Look at how you relate to your own children. While I’m sure you cuddle them, do you sew them clothes, bake cookies, or garden with them? I suspect not. As we’ve said, these would be more natural to an Earth personality, but not a Metal. Instead, you likely offer them structure, independence, insights, and a whole lot of love.
At a deep level, your Water personality mother probably wants exactly the same thing from you these days. As you may remember from your childhood, Water personalities aren’t good at boundaries. But Metal people sure are; they excel at structure. Water people need alone time, and so do Metal people. Water personalities also deeply appreciate wisdom that they can use to forge their own concepts of truth. No elemental personality is better at providing wisdom from the past to help create a future than Metal people. The honest truth is that your mother probably just needs you to be yourself right now and that’s all.
One more thing: It’s no surprise that reading was one of the activities your mother shared with you when you were young. Water people usually love books. Perhaps reading could be a great way to connect with your mother now. You might consider a weekly reading evening with her (and any of your own children who want to join in). You can each read your own books, of course, but then take some time to discuss tidbits from each book with each other. Reading was an important connection with her when you were young and could be that again. And don’t forget that a bit of compassion and love always makes every elemental relationship better. Blessings to you and your mother!