My mother and I are very close, but we have our differences. I’ve tended to think they’re generational, even though suggesting so can lead to a familiar place (eg, Mum, intentionally in earshot, pleading with the heavens: “What did I do to deserve this ungrateful daughter who does not respect her elders’ wisdom?”).
Sometimes our happiest chats become arguments, the flame of fight ignited subtly, catching us unaware. For a while I thought this was an inevitable byproduct of our differing worldviews, which (conveniently) fit an “old v young” or “west v east” narrative. Even idle chats about personal preference went this way. Take beards: I like them, she doesn’t. I say they might be popular with younger men because they demonstrate carefreeness, and she says that’s a western perspective because for many beards are a sign of religious dogma. The latest one: working from home. Her being older is surely why, no matter how many times I explain that I am not available for calls, errands or impromptu meet-ups when working in this new norm, the requests still come.
But when I hear Mum talking beards with someone else – no spikiness in her voice, nor snipe in her rebuttals – I can no longer deny the truth: differing worldviews doesn’t explain how George Clooney’s facial hair became a row. Indeed, it is only with those we love that such madness is made – a personal tension or anxiety unresolved.
How many heated family debates are merely proxies for something else, I wonder? I’m not sure I’ll ever know. But when the tears next stream and the voices next shout, I’ve learned to ask: why are we really fighting? Because sometimes the argument isn’t the point, but finding out what is just might be.