The mother in Tillie Olsen’s story, “I Stand Here Ironing” gives insight into the upbringing of her first child. We see she is guilty of neglect towards Emily and is distressed due to poor decisions that she had made rearing her daughter. The mother reflects on the past and thinks that her actions and “lack of” might have affected Emily. She is so engulfed in “what ifs” and “how could I’s” that she is practically beating herself mentally. Poor Emily received little attention when attention was needed, allowing us to condemn the mother for her actions. At the same time we understand her because in the past 19 years there were certain situations that they endured where she had no control, leaving her helpless.
What we see in the mother from the beginning is guilt, guilt about neglecting Emily. After a concerned phone call about her daughter, anger caused by guilt buried within herself emerges “who needs help…you think because i am her mother I have a key...there is all that life that has happened outside of me, beyond me.” The mother is defensive and outraged about this phone call at first but shortly after we see the guilt. We find ourselves asking why does she act this way and how is guilt associated with the way she acted? In Leslie S. Greenberg Ph.D, David Engel Ph.D, Roger J. Daldrup Ph.D, and Larry E. Beutler Ph.D book, “Focused Expressive Psychotherapy: Freeing the Overcontrolled Patient”, they explain what focused expressive psychotherapy (FEP) is, how to identify symptoms in need of FEP treatment and how to treat using FEP. On page 9 of their book, they explain different types of anger expressed by people and what types classify for treatment. “Defensive anger is a specific form of deflection in which people appear to express anger, but the expression is actually a mask for another inhibited or unfinished emotion.” The mother in “I Stand Here Ironing” shows us anger as a way to cover up her guilt. Her guilt is the unfinished emotion, the emotion she has not accepted or coped with and the only way she can conceal it is through anger.
Guilt is a very strong emotion and is very hard to deal with; the mother obviously needs to find a way to get things off her chest. Maybe she could start seeing a psychiatrist or family counselor where they could give her guidance or have a sit down with Emily and let her know how she feels, or maybe she could invest in a notebook and write down all her feelings to help her get through her suppressed emotions.
The mother’s guilt is justifiable though because it comes from decisions she made in the past, the actions of neglect. We see the mother leave her young daughter to go on a date knowing that it was wrong. “Except when we left her alone nights, telling ourselves she was old enough...The time we came back, the front door open, the clock on the floor in the hall.” Why wasn’t she able to get someone to watch Emily? If she would have had a babysitter Emily wouldn’t have been so lonely and probably...