Dear Vicki: My mother passed away right before Christmas, so we waited until last month to have her memorial. It was a beautiful service, but I was fascinated by the fact that my sister, who is five years younger, and I had very different perceptions of my mother. I found her to be exacting, somewhat aloof, and critical much of the time. My sister remembers her as loving, nurturing, and kind. How is that possible? I’m new to an understanding of the Five Elements, but I have to believe my mother was a Metal; she worked her whole life as a tax accountant. My sister is probably an Earth since she is a full-time mom now and was an elementary teacher before she married. I’m really not sure about my element, but reading what you’ve said about others, I guess I’m a Wood. I like getting things done, enjoy success, and can rub people the wrong way. Can the Five Elements explain why Jessica and I had such different experiences with our mother? Honestly, I’m upset that I never had the mom she did and now it’s too late. Signed: Baffled in Buffalo
Dear Baffled: The Five Elements absolutely can explain why you and Jessica had such different experiences growing up, but first let me offer my condolences on the loss of your mother. It’s never easy to lose our moms, no matter what kind of relationship we had with them. My hope is that the discussion here might offer you a different perspective on your mother and help you heal from your loss.
Since you have some experience with the Five Elements, you know that you and your mother related on the Controlling Cycle (Metal controls Wood). However, your sister and your mother related on the Nurturing Cycle (Earth feeds Metal). This dynamic alone is part of why the two of you would have experienced your mom differently. That your mother was a Metal also contributes to the fact that she would not have mothered each of you the same. And finally, the age difference between you and Jessica could have been a factor, as well. But let’s start with an understanding of your mother as a Metal parent.
People with a lot of Metal often don’t have a family. They are happy with their work and studies. They also enjoy time alone, which is hard to get when one has children. If they do have children, it’s usually just one. Another aspect of Metals is that they excel at compartmentalizing. A Metal parent can successfully keep their work life and family life separate, and it’s likely your mother did this. They can also parent children differently if they see the need. And I think your mother probably had a secondary Earth given that she chose to have more than one child, so that would have affected how she parented, too.
So let’s look at what happens when a Metal/Earth woman has a Wood daughter and then five years later, an Earth daughter. There’s an old truth that the first child is always born to inexperienced parents who learn how to parent on the fly. This means that your Metal mother, someone who values order and precision, was probably quite thrown by the presence of a willful, wild, and wonderful Wood baby. Add to that the fact that active Woods call forth from Metal the need to keep things under control, and you might come to understand your mother’s initial parenting style with you.
Your mother was a novice Metal mother responding to a Wood baby. The underlying Controlling Cycle relationship between Metal and Wood is inherently one of balancing Wood, which is especially necessary for Woods as children. Her Metal, which values alone time, might also have been overwhelmed by the amount of time and attention a child needs. Ideally, her secondary Earth stepped in and smoothed over these rough spots, but parenting a Wood could also have been problematic for her Earth. Because Wood controls Earth, she might have felt a subtle sense of being stifled in her expression of mothering, which would not have gone over well with her Metal. Yet I am sure she did exactly what she believed she needed to do to raise you right. A Metal will do no less.
Then five years later, Jessica is born. Your mother undoubtedly changed during those five years, so would not have been the same woman who birthed you. I’ve heard it said that children born six years apart are raised by totally different parents. So, your five year age difference probably explains some of the disconnect between your memories of your mother and Jessica’s. But I think the major factor in the difference is that Jessica is an Earth. Sweet Earthy baby Jessica would have easily connected to your mother’s secondary Earth and bonded deeply with it because that’s what Earths do – they bond with each other.
And while your mother certainly loved you both the same, how she expressed that love to each of you would have looked very different. Her love for Jessica might have been easily expressed in food, home, and just being together (a major gift from her Metal). Her love for you would likely have focused on making sure you learned that out of balance Wood tendencies such as cheating to succeed, anger, or bullying were not acceptable. Her Metal would especially have wanted to teach you right from wrong because these are issues dear to a Metal’s heart.
A final reason you and Jessica might have such different memories of your mother is that Earths easily forgive and forget, while that is harder for Woods to do. Please remember that there is no way a Metal will mother a Wood and an Earth the same; it’s impossible given the wiring and relationships tendencies between these three elements. But please do take comfort in the fact that your mother loved mothering you or, as a Metal, she probably would not have had your sister. I have no doubt that you were dearly loved and that your mother brought to each of you that part of herself she thought was best. Blessings to you.