I recently read fellow Substacker, Daniel Lavery’s post onThe Chatner: “You Should Call Your Father”: On the Unbearable Estrangement of Other People’s Families”. It got me thinking about my estrangement from my own parents, something that I don’t often think much about anymore.
I haven’t spoken to either of my parents in probably six or seven years. They aren’t together and haven’t been since I was a baby and the fact that I became estranged from both of them around the same time wasn’t by design but coincidence. It was merely the point when I had had enough from these two self-centered people, who, yes, had both been through their own abuse and trauma, but had yet to realize or acknowledge what they had and were continuing to inflict on me and my own children. And I just couldn’t take it anymore.
My parents divorced when I was nine months old and my father moved on to marry another woman and have another child and live another life. Then he did the same thing again. And then remarried several more times after that. I never really had him in my life to begin with and my current estrangement isn’t really a new thing with him. When I was younger, I went through periods of falling-out with him often. I think it was because I never actually wanted him in my life to begin with, I was too afraid of him.
My mother is a different story though. It’s like this…
I’m a tree and my mother is English Ivy. She could live just fine on her own, but because I’m there she attaches herself to me and won’t let go. Her being attached to me smothered and choked me and kept me from growing and thriving because I couldn’t get the air and the sunlight and the nutrients that I needed.
I don’t think it was her fault, or rather I don’t think she did it on purpose. She was just treated badly by a lot of people for a long time and wanted to be loved. She never thought she was worthy of love by anyone else, but I was her daughter, I had to love her right?
But that’s not how it works. The more she forced herself into every aspect of my adult life and later my children’s lives, the more I pulled away.
Ironically, it wasn’t always like that. When I was a child, she wasn’t really around at all. While yes, she was a single mother, she was also a product of the Me generation and I seemed to be around solely to make her happy and feel good and loved. When I didn’t, she pawned me off on other people. My aunt, my grandmother, other family, my friends’ parents and the multitude of babysitters that I had until my tenth birthday when I was deemed old enough to stay home alone all the time and officially became a Gen X latch-key kid.
She never listened to me back then.
Not when I was a little girl of four years old and told her that I was afraid to be at home alone while she was down the street at her boyfriend’s house.
Not when I was a little older and tried to tell her that I had been (and still was) being sexually abused.
Not when I was having panic attacks and terrified to go to sleep at night.
Not when I was 16 and tried to tell her that I wanted to keep my baby and shouldn’t have to be married to do it but was forced instead to have an abortion.
Then later that same year when I was raped, I didn’t even bother trying to tell her because the people that I did tell didn’t believe me and she’d never listened before, why would she now?
Things went on like that for so long, that even as an adult when I tried to tell her what I wanted and attempted to establish boundaries for myself and my family she still refused to listen and responded with “But I’m your mother!” or “But I’m grandma!” as if the biological facts alone were enough to excuse her poor behavior and establish her right to do as she pleased in my life and with my children.
When it got to be too much, I took drastic measures as a form of self-preservation and would pull myself and my children out of her life altogether.
But then out of a sense of guilt and familial obligation (not to mention familial manipulation), I would let her back in and she would move on in much the same way as if nothing had ever happened. Still ignoring not only my established boundaries, but also the boundaries that my partner and I had put in place for our children.
Then she went too far. I know it wasn’t on purpose, but regardless of her intention, she caused physical and emotional harm to my youngest. I wasn’t going to let that slide. I realized then that nothing was ever going to change and she was no longer just hurting me, but also hurting my children too.
I tried to take a break from her and her husband, to get a little space and figure out some way to get through it without cutting my children’s grandparents out of their lives completely. But she couldn’t respect that.
Despite me and my partners attempts to get her to back off a little, I received a near stalker-ish number of increasingly aggressive phone calls and text messages including some real nasty ones to my partner. She continued to stop by our home unannounced (something I’ve been expressing my irritation with for years) and then the situation finally culminated by her sending me a really long, hurtful and nasty handwritten letter calling me, her only child, crazy, selfish and a spoiled brat and telling me that I needed professional help.
I don’t hate my mother and I don’t wish anything bad for her – despite what some members of my family seem to think. I want her to be happy and I want her have real love in her life. But that doesn’t mean that I want her in my life. I can’t give her what she needs. Neither can my children.
I’m not a bad person for choosing to live my life without my mother in it. This is what’s best for me and my family. And now, after several years, I’m at peace with it.
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Dear Vickee, I am sad and angry that your mother was so self-absorbed that she neglected and mistreated you, invaded your separateness, and, unforgivably, let you be abused. At the same time, I'm amazed that you can write about your experiences with your mother in such a calmly reflective and insightful way. Perhaps the silver lining is that you learned to be such a fine mom by staying in touch with your unmet needs for mothering and making sure you met those needs in your own children. You have brought light to the darkness. Thank you for including your readers in your story and your truth.
I’ve just seen a Whitney Goodman post about enmeshment that references behaviour that sounds like your mother. I can only say, well done. What you’ve managed to do is not easy, particularly facing the societal taboo regarding the sacredness of Mother. As an adult, the only pleasant interaction with my mother happened late in her life when she was suffering from dementia and didn’t actually know who I was! Wishing you and yours well and admiring your courage.