My Mother the Comedian: A Snapshot & Reflection on Childhood and Family Systems

By Jen Taylor, Partnership Leader

The phone rings. It’s my mother.

“Jenny, I figured it out.”


“We’re all dominators. That’s what humans are. We act to dominate and that’s what we are doing to each other.”

“Sure, mom, humans in today’s world can’t help but be touched with dominator tendencies.”

“Yes it’s just nascent to humans.”

“Well, we’re not born with it, but it gets taught to us early on.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Exactly,” I say, “and it turns out this initial imprinting on our neural pathways is pretty significant in our development. So something simple like growing up in a family with an authoritarian figure at the top preps us to accept dominator behaviors as normal.”

“Yeah, the father to the mother and then the mother to the children. That’s where the problem starts.”

“Yup, and guess what? Eisler identifies it as the 1st cornerstone, shifting family relations and childhood experience from dominator-infused to partnership.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying! How about that, I taught Riane everything she knows.”

“Yeah, how about that.”

We are having this conversation because two days ago, I let my family know that I was thinking of going back to school at age 47 for love of partnership studies and the revolution. I don’t bring it up often. My mother regards thinking about systems change as elitist and smacking of idle privilege un-grounded in the real world. It is hard to overcome this prejudice because it is born of her wound, a wound that many share from an education system designed to break most. She did not go on to college and will probably never overcome a belief in her intellectual inferiority to anyone who did.

This phone call means a great deal, because she is reaching beyond her comfort zone. I am filled with a tenderness for her. But I am also guarded.

I grew up listening to my mother call women losers who went back to school at mid-life, two of them my aunts. A fool-hearty and self-indulgent waste of time too late in the game she would say. She has difficulty discussing things she does not already know. Ironically, she possesses a sharp philosophical bone coupled with a sense of humor that makes her lethal. She comes across as a mad Socrates feigning ignorance to draw inconsistencies out of his adversaries. Which is where the conversation goes next.

“Anyway, back to my point, so you’re just trying to dominate me now which makes sense because you are almost 50, but I’m the ultimate dominator, in fact I’m the destroyer and now I am going to annihilate you.”

“I am not trying to dominate you, mom.”

“Oh yes you are.”

No, I’m not. I’m trying to help you.”

“It’s too late, you’re already programmed. I programmed you myself. We just went over that.”

She’s smart, she’s fast, she’s funny and she can weaponize anything in a heartbeat. Two days she knows about Partnership studies and she has already twisted it to paint me as an incorrigible dominator. And a hypocrite to think I can help in the shift to a Partnership paradigm. We laugh.

There are two things that strike me here. Number one, the first cornerstone of Partnership Systems—Childhood and Family—addresses the phenomenon of family sit-coms where the trope is to rip each other apart and call it comedy. I laughed out loud when I first read Eisler’s call for the elimination of such “comedies.” We joke in my family that there are hidden cameras on my mother and they study her for those scripts. The archetype they pedal is the jaded wise crone grandmother of patriarchy. She’s Teflon and she can deflect anything. And we love her for it.

The second thing that strikes me is that Eisler also identifies in the first cornerstone of Partnership the need to heal the wounds of the domination system in our core family relationships. If we don’t heal these wounds, we cannot offer the medicine to the world at large.

There must be a gift here. I see it. Do you?


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Sheryl Morris Reply

    How wonderfully engaging!
    What strikes me is the enduring love behind the turmoil of the relationship between you and your mom.
    … “We laugh.”
    … “And we love her for it.”
    My own feelings, and in my humble opinion–You are lucky! And, your Mom is lucky to have you.–
    You both are still listening and still trying to hold on to your relationship, in different ways perhaps, but still there for each other.
    Thank you for writing, Jen Taylor, Partnership Leader.

  2. Jocelyn Chapman Reply

    What a moving personal narrative! I appreciate the way you connect it to Riane’s first cornerstone of Partnership Systems—Childhood and Family. I suspect you have caused every reader to reflect on their family of origin and how might heal some wounds, change some patterns of behavior.

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