This post is for Amanda.
My relationship with my family is practically non-existent on both sides, so why is it I get more shit for skipping Mother’s Day than Father’s Day? Obviously, it’s because we understand the harm of a neglectful, hateful parent more than we understand the danger of a parent who loves too much.
Yep, I said it.
Read more here from people more scholarly than myself: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201204/when-mother-s-day-hurts
Most people accept that I gave up on any relationship with my dad long ago because the neglect and abuse was clear. As the firstborn, I was what ruined his life – he made a point to tell me several times. I was just as hormonal as a young adult as I am now, but I was also Full IB, in every band possible at my school (half of them prestigious and award-winning) and playing half a dozen instruments, I lettered in curling my first year as a Sophomore, and I had 2-3 jobs at any given time. I was fluent in French by the time I was 16, our drama club advisor would always ask if I could participate, I wrote and directed a one-act play. None of this was good enough for him. I was a fat, lazy, nerdy, emotional loser and I would never amount to anything.
It’s easy to understand why this is toxic. In fact, it’s much easier to sever this part of my life because it is so clear how bad all of these experiences are, and how they’ll never change into anything positive. Being told I need to grovel and beg forgiveness for the abuse I suffered is clearly the wrong answer, and even at 23 I knew I had made the right decision to walk away when I did, six years earlier. That gives me strength.
The problem is how we see parents who “love too much”, whose shortcomings are much more impactful than “shortcomings” but get swept under the rug because a parent does it out of love.
On the one hand, I’ve got a mother who’s worked hard to provide for her children despite serious life challenges. Having had similar challenges WITHOUT having children, I can appreciate the difficulty of her experience.
On the other hand… In the words of my friend Amanda, #MyMotherIsBatshitInsane. To my mother, as the firstborn, I was what saved her life. I was her best friend, her ray of light, her reason for living. And I knew this since I was old enough to remember.
I’m not going to delve into the sad, crazy, pity-me stories – let me leave you one example so you might understand. When I was 18 I was in a terrible relationship and was too afraid to tell my parents (mom and stepdad) I was being raped because I was afraid I’d be made fun of for it. Eventually I found the courage to get out of that relationship, and that day culminated in the cops being called because the boyfriend was trying to kill me. Through the circumstances I was forced to tell my parents what had happened, and sure as shit, my mom laughed at me. My own mother made fun of me for being a victim – almost a “serves you right” attitude – despite her having told us she’d also been a victim of sexual abuse as a child and young woman.
No, I didn’t cut ties with my mother when I was 18. It took another 8 years, but throughout that time I’ve been held hostage to both her past and our family past.
My parents divorced when I was in elementary school and through a tumultuous, manipulative time I chose to live with my dad. Even as a young kid I knew that my dad would be best able to provide for me, while my mom only wanted to be my friend. I’ve always said I needed a parent who could be responsible and keep a roof over my head, and even in the thick of the neglect and abuse I again chose my dad’s house of hell over a house where my mom would drink and drive, or maybe the phone or gas bill wouldn’t be paid. Over and over again I’m made to answer for these decisions, for the actions of my dad and stepmother, and for the things that happened to her as a kid.
Now, in the interest of having an adult relationship and clearing my own conscience I’ve apologised most sincerely for the hurt and the things I’ve done. I’ve done all I can to atone for the things I was responsible for. It’s still not enough and I don’t know what to do.
If this sat between only me and my mom, maybe it would be easier; the trick is that my younger brother is involved and he takes the hurt and the pain my mom experienced even more personally because he chose to live with her. There were months where my brother and I didn’t see each other because neither of us wanted anything to do with the parents where each other lived. It was painful, and when we were able to be together, my brother was one of my dearest friends. What hurts the most is how my mom uses this emotional dynamic to manipulate my brother and me when she can, either to get her own way or to get us to do something. I don’t think she does it consciously, but it happens. The lies that get told are different enough from reality that it’s not some simple misunderstanding.
Yet, all of this happens because my mother loves us too much. She always wants the best for us, her hurt comes from the fact that she’s sacrificed everything if only for us to have a better life. She didn’t get to go to college or have fun as a young adult, so it was on me to make the best of myself. She was always a prisoner to her own neglectful past and her need for us to be comforted that she didn’t get to take care of herself. That didn’t end well – if the self-destructive behaviour wasn’t enough it’s the single thing I can point to that drove me away. I always said I needed a responsible parent more than I needed one who loved me.
So few people see this cycle of hurt and guilt as something damaging, something real. My mom isn’t as nuts as Amanda’s, but we’re held hostage not only by our mother’s behaviour but by society’s mandate that we love our parents no matter what. It’s up to us to fix this, parents only do the best they can!
I should rejoice that I have a parent who thinks I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, instead of one who never says I’m good enough! Sure, maybe, but the voices in my head always say I’m never good enough so not having anything constructive to counter those ideas only serves to reinforce them. Let’s be real – there’s no way in Hell I’ve got a shot at marrying Prince William, even if I wanted to.
I should rejoice that the criticism I get is only normal motherly guidance. “You should never have kids, you’re too strict” and “I’ll be surprised if you ever do get married, you probably never will” are things that every mother says to their young adult, right? Clearly those are constructive.
I say no. The day when the big fight happened about 4 years ago, I sat down with my stepdad and we had a frank heart-to-heart. He’s seen the drama trauma first-hand and understands that I need boundaries in my life. For the first time I was able to articulate that I can’t actually live a life when I’m dragged into the past every chance she gets. Not only can I not account for anything that happened before I was born, the divorce happened nearly two decades prior and we should all have moved on by now.
I told my stepdad that I can’t have a family like everyone wants because I can’t introduce anyone into the crazy. My mom will spill all the family beans to anyone who will listen, so why would I bring a new person into this mess? Imagine if I had kids, and she started telling them about ANY of the abuse either of us have survived? She did it to my college roommate and made me answer for it. No, that’s not okay.
As I get older I’m finding I don’t necessarily want a family. People say that my dog is well-enough behaved and I’ve got a good enough compass to raise well-adjusted kids… but really? Forget all the physical problems I’m still dealing with. I’ve lived with an inner monologue always telling me I’m never good enough, and although in the last ten years or so I’ve learned how to say “FUCK that, I’m awesome”… There’s the worry. Will I swing too far to an extreme, either like my father or mother? How do you raise a family with no history? Certainly the stories about why we don’t visit Gram and Grampa, and why Mom doesn’t call Grampa Dad, aren’t appropriate for little kids.
When will I get past the stigma of being a kid who isn’t grateful for having a parent who loves her so much it drives her to do crazy things?
Never, I fear. Luckily, I’ve grown into the kind of adult who mostly doesn’t care what you think. I wish more people understood that neglecting a kid’s needs comes in so many more forms than just calling them stupid or locking them in a crate, but I’ve got my own life as validation.
Let’s hope this is a bit of education. Let’s also hope that those of you who’ve been hurt by a parent under the guise of them “loving too much” have the courage to recognise it and do what’s healthy for you.
Happy Mother’s Day