In this conversation, Diane and Natalie chat with Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist Judith Ruskay Rabinor, the author of the book, “The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother” about learning to forgive her mother.
Judith Ruskay Rabinor Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, author, speaker,and consultant to The Renfrew Center Foundation and a Supervisor at The Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia. She offers psychotherapy for individual, couples, and families and conducts groups for binge eaters, clinicians
In this conversation, Diane and Natalie chat with Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist Judith Ruskay Rabinor, the author of the book, “The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother.” Both Diane and Judy wrote about their experiences with their mothers and how they impacted their lives—both negatively and positively. Listen as they dive deep into a discussion about understanding their mothers and learning to forgive them.
Judy’s mother was an “uber-optimist,” someone who would always tell you that “Everything is fine” when it most certainly wasn’t. It felt toxic. Judy understands—from a psychologist’s perspective—that that’s not something you tell someone when they’re grieving, sad, or unhappy. People need empathy, which isn’t what she got from her mother.
Judy spent a lot of her early years asking, “What is a good enough mother?” Judy’s mother told her that her parents were perfect. But how did she have perfect parents? It didn’t make sense. If her parents were perfect, why wasn’t she the perfect mother to Judy?
When Judy’s mother died, she was amazed at how much she missed her presence. She also became more aware of the ways that she was like her mother. It was tragic to watch her deteriorate because she was a lively and feisty woman. Judy has written many stories about her mother, mostly the things she resented. Suddenly, she lost that resentment. What changed within her?
Judy was struck by how self-absorbed her mother was. When Judy's mother told her about her affair, Judy’s next decision was to go back to school to be a psychologist (after being an English teacher). It helped her gain perspective on the trauma she had endured. Judy felt her life was full of instances of betrayal and it left her unbalanced. She was also able to realize that her Mom did a lot of good things.
When Judy was 4, she wanted a pair of red boots. She begged her Mom for the red boots and finally got them. She refused to take them off that night. The next morning, Judy was nowhere to be found. Her mother found her outside on her red bicycle, in her red boots, with no clothes on, riding up and down the street. Judy’s Mother loved telling that story. Her mother gave her a sense of adventure and confidence.
Diane would call her mother a Jekyll/Hyde combination. She’d kill for you in one breath and slaughter you in the next if you didn’t agree with her or your loyalty was in question. Yet she could be wise and forgiving. Diane didn’t think of her mother’s actions as narcissistic until much later when she was an adult.
It wasn’t until Diane was 45 that she realized she needed to see a therapist. The therapist said, “Diane, what your mother did to a 16-year-old was wrong. You don’t have to apologize for her anymore. You don’t have to make excuses. Accept that it was wrong.” It wasn’t until she heard those words that she truly let herself believe it was wrong. Children look to their parents for guidance. When they fail you, it leaves you with holes.
As a 16-year-old, Diane didn’t pit her parents against each other. She never repeated what they said about each other. She didn’t add fuel to the fire. Instead, she tried to release the tension by diving into sports and music. She leaned into her friendships. Her best friend’s family supported Diane and provided her with some normalcy in her life.
Diane also had a solid foundation with her father, who was 61 when she was born. He saw her as a gift in her life. Having her allowed him to see the world through a child’s eyes again. She realized that she was still surrounded by people who loved her.
Judy’s experiences allowed her to conclude that love is imperfect. She emphasizes that “No one should be judged by the worst things that they’ve done. In the end, I recognize that my mother gave me many gifts and many strengths and that love is just imperfect.”
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