“We Can’t Spend Our Lives Blaming Our Parents” – Interview With Katie Hafner

“We Can’t Spend Our Lives Blaming Our Parents” – Interview With Katie Hafner

I am so pleased to introduce you to Katie Hafner, journalist and author of many books, her most recent being her ravely reviewed memoir, Mother Daughter Me.

Does our past have to define our future?  Must a troubled childhood create a troubled adulthood?

  • 1.       Give us a brief picture of your mother and your life.

The book (and my childhood) is about not being raised by my mom.

My mother was very restless.  Let’s understand instead of blame.  She was in a terrible position.  She was very smart (1950’s and ‘60’s) There was the famous cocktail hour and she was, and this was not an advantage, very beautiful.   She attracted men like it was going out of style.  She was having affairs.  She left my father and took us to Florida when we were little girls.  She started this itinerant life, this anywhere-but-here kind of life; and pulled a lot of ‘geographics’ which is what alcoholics do when they think life will be better elsewhere.  They make a physical move without making any internal changes, which is typical.  This poor thing, she then decides she doesn’t like Florida and takes us to California.  The drinking gets worse and by the time I’m ten it’s so bad my sister and I get taken away from her.  We get sent back to live with my father, his new wife and her three children.  And that didn’t go well.  It was tough.

Having said all that, I still, all my life, held onto this fairytale-like view of how things could be between  mother and daughter.  I stayed in touch with her.  I did not give up on her.  When she went into a crisis in 2009, and my husband had died and my daughter and I were by ourselves, I told her to come live with us.  I had this completely gauzy, magical view of how it could be; this nuclear family that I never had and that she didn’t have.  So she moved in but it completely unraveled very quickly.

  • 2.       Did you have unresolved emotions?  If so, how did they reveal themselves?

I realized I had anger I didn’t even know I had. I had to go into this in order to come out the other side.  I thought I wasn’t angry. Friends would say things about their mothers and I’d say to them, “you don’t know from terrible childhoods, just get over it.”   I really was a lot more bitter and angry than I thought. She had been with us for maybe a few weeks and I started acting out in the worst way.  I am not a cruel person but I started doing cruel things like ignoring her needs; nothing that would jeopardize her but it was emotional.  There was one awful incident.  She had bad carpul tunnel syndrome.  We were at a Trader Joe’s and she was trying to reach a half gallon of lactaid on a top shelf with her bad hand. Of course at any other time for anybody and for her too, I would’ve immediately jumped and helped her, but I turned my back.  What a cruel thing to do; I pretended I didn’t see her reaching.  I thought, “oh my gosh, what is my problem?”  And that’s when I started to write the book.

  • 3.       What qualities helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

Role of the genetic dice.  My sister wrote me this poignant email questioning what it is that made us so different.  It’s like we were two rosebushes and we got the same amount of sunlight and the same amount of water and we became completely different.  She was probably born an alcoholic.  She became one at a very young age. It’s a really sad, sad story.

I developed this ability to distance myself from an early age, which made me a good reporter.  I became a journalist at a young age and just observed, and still do.  It gets me through a lot and always has. I would pull myself back.

I figured out a way to save my own skin.  I knew how to look out for myself.  There’s a scene in the book where my mother sued for custody after we were taken away from her.  A really smart, aggressive woman lawyer went after her in the cruelest way because of her lifestyle in San Diego and what she had taken us into.  They had me draw a diagram of what it took for us to get to the bathroom, which meant going through my mother’s bedroom.  She often had men in that room.  I drew it and explained that we would actually pee into a jar so that we didn’t have to go through her room.  They used that in court.  It was incredibly painful for my mother to have to listen to and yet I knew that going back to that situation would have been really bad for me.  That’s what I mean about saving my own skin.

My late husband who was an amazing person loved me deeply from age 12 and we were together on and off all through this time.  He knew how to love like it was nobody’s business.  He taught me some important lessons that my sister didn’t get, in taking care of other people’s hearts.  I know it sounds hallmark-‘cardish’, but it’s very important to me now as an adult.  I got a lucky break on that one, in Matthew; and his mother, who’s a huge figure in my life to this day.  He was like my savior and then he died.

  • 4.       Was there a specific moment or epiphany that helped guide you to a better place mentally and psychologically?

There was this moment when my mother tried to quasi kidnap us and we made it back to Massachusetts with my father and stepmother.  We got back to Mass. after the summer incident where she had decided she was going to get custody of us and hold onto us.  I remember coming back to Amherst and seeing the freshly vacuumed carpeting and seeing the tracks across the carpeting and thinking, “this is order, this is stability.”  The cleanliness symbolized everything I needed in my life. 

I’ve always looked for this picket fence thing. With Matthew I had it and really held onto it.  I’m a big cook and I love puttering, and flowers.  Everything that grounds a person.   You know the image of freshly baked chocolate cookies, that’s the epitome of it still for me.

  • 5.       What are some life lessons you’ve learned through the writing of your memoir?

It was writing the book that really helped me through a lot of this. I was like a lot of other women who blamed their mothers for pretty much everything.  And that is so misguided.  Yes, we are the product of the people who give birth to us and raise us.  And there’s this thing I didn’t even know about before I started the book called multi-generational trauma, where whatever has happened to you, you pass on to the next generation and it’s a very difficult cycle to break.  I broke it with my own child, Zoe.  Some might say I overcompensated in raising her, so sue me.  I needed to come to terms with what my childhood had been, the kind of parent she had been.  The book is a lot about forgiveness.

There’s this one harrowing scene where I was married to my husband, Zoe’s dad, and I have an affair.  He confronts me and what do I do, I blame my mother.  It’s right then and there I think, “oh my God, I can’t blame my mother, I did this, she didn’t tell me to do this.”

I feel strongly about a few things that I learned through this whole thing:

Life is a series of choices.  We go into these choices with our vision intact.  Unless we’re completely stupid or have this delusional thinking going, then we know what the consequences can be.

We can’t spend our lives blaming our parents.  You gotta take things on yourself.

  • 6.       What advice can you offer others to live well beyond their difficult past and not fall victim to it? 

First you come to terms with it.  Look it square in the eye and figure out what you’re accountable for.  What parts of it you’re off the hook because it was beyond your control and what parts of it you have a say in; where you can make the choice to dwell in it and blame others for it, or not. 


Here are some interesting links:  article on recording her own audio book.



Thanks for coming by.  Please share.   What stands out for you in this interview?

2 thoughts on ““We Can’t Spend Our Lives Blaming Our Parents” – Interview With Katie Hafner

  1. fancyscrapper says:

    I find this to be an interesting interview. I am a right-brained, artistic, highly relational, creative, drifty kind of woman, and my mother is like her own mother: left-brained, organized, matter-of-fact, black and white, right and wrong kind of person. I have four daughters (ages 21 to 13), and two of them are like my Mom, while the other two are more like me. I really missed the nurturing I so badly wanted as a child, and I over-compensated as a parent to my girls. It’s been a real journey to discover what my role needs to be to each of my daughters as I maintain a good relationship with my own Mom. My Mom was a stable person, and I was not abused as a child (for this I am so thankful). Still, I find it to be helpful to read of others’ experiences to help me understand better the challenges of so many.

    1. Hi Fancyscrapper,
      Thank you for sharing here. So interesting how you distinguish you from your mom and how your girls are ‘split’ in their traits between you and your mom. It’s our challenge as parents to raise and relate to each of our children as unique individuals with their own distinguishing set of character traits, personality and temperment. You’re obviously very attuned to yourself and introspective. That will serve you well as you continue to navigate your role as parent and daughter. It’s an evolving journey, but as long as we’re conscious and reflective, we can always learn, adapt and self-correct.
      Hope to ‘see’ you again.

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