I remember the day well. It was six years ago. Our wedding was just a couple of short months behind us. The wedding was the beginning of the end for my mother and I. You could see it coming from a mile away. My ideas were not traditional enough, not tasteful enough, generally not good enough. It didn’t matter that it was our wedding, not her wedding. It also didn’t matter that the plans were made by my soon to be husband and myself, together. In her mind every decision that was made that wasn’t up to her standards must be my decision.
I trudged through. Barely. I can’t even recall how many times I came close to calling off the wedding because of my mother’s bullying (not a term I use lightly or frequently). The idea of just flying off to Vegas and getting married without all the hassle held enormous appeal to me. But it wasn’t all about me. My husband has a large family and sharing this day with them was important to him. So, I carried on. For him and for us, despite my mother carrying on like a spoiled child. She continued to push me, manipulate me and even lie to me. Right up until the very end. The night ended with me discovering the heart felt thank you card I had given my parents in the trash when we were cleaning up at the end of the night. I held out hope that it was an accident. In reality I knew better.
There was very little change in the days and weeks that followed the wedding. I kept contact at a minimum because I felt a break was in order. I’ve had plenty of breaks from my family (especially my mother) over the years and the distance often helps on some level. At least for me it helps. I would always tell myself that she is my mother after all, somewhere in there she loves me. She has to right?
But this time would prove to be different. So, that day, almost six years ago – the day that finally and completely ended my relationship with my mother arrived. It was the day I called to tell her that I was pregnant. This was very happy news for us. We had started trying to conceive shortly before our wedding. I was pushing 40 and knew we had no time to waste if we wanted to start a family. I also fully expected it to take a good year – if it happened at all. So when we discovered we were expecting, after just four months of trying, it was pretty exciting.
My mother and I were still not really talking at this point. But we’ve been down that road before. We’ve gone months, even close to a year without really communicating and somehow managed to pick up the pieces and attempt this whole mother daughter thing again. So, I convinced myself this news would be the icebreaker we needed. I mean I am her only daughter and I was expecting my first (and only) child. How could that not touch her on some level? I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and called her. I expected the initial chit chat to be awkward. I mean we hadn’t really talked in a couple of months and had not left things in a very positive place. But we’ve been though tough times before. She had to be excited for me. Only she was not excited for me. I swear to you I could have called to tell her that bananas were on sale and received more of a reaction. She could not get off the phone fast enough.
And that was that. I was in shock. I was hurt. I was angry. So angry. I remember hurling the phone across the living room. Despite my famous redheaded temper, throwing things in rage is not something I do. But I did that day. Broke the phone into pieces. And then I just sat there, stunned, not really understanding what just happened. My mother had disappointing me before. She had hurt me before. Many, many times. But this was different. This was something I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around, even coming from her. It turned out to be the final straw for me. And that was probably the best decision I ever made.
Since that day I have only spoken to my parents on those occasions where I really have to – most commonly at weddings and funerals. Those conversations are brief and lacking in any emotion. If we are in a crowd my mother may put her arms around me in a stiff and awkward hug. We both know that’s meant for other people. To keep up appearances. I’m not sure if she understands that I have no interest in keeping up appearances and put zero effort into doing so. If I run into a family friend I haven’t seen in a while and they ask how my parents are I quite simply tell them I don’t really communicate with my family any more. I don’t get into the why of it all. I don’t place blame or bad mouth my parents. But I don’t lie. I can’t stand that fake, smile and nod mask my mother puts on. I never could. And I won’t do it.
I realize, in writing this, that you are hearing a lot about my failed relationship with my mother and not a lot about my father. I do indeed have a father. And my parents are still together. There are a couple of reasons I don’t talk much about dad. The main reason is that my mother is most definitely the boss of that relationship. I guess that’s ok if it works for them. They’ve been married for 40 plus years and I don’t think they hate each other. But everyone knows that my mom rules the roost. She makes the rules and breaking them means suffering the consequences. By and large my dad just does what he’s suppose to do. For the most part I don’t blame him. I’ve been on the receiving end of her wrath. It’s not pretty. But the other reason I don’t mention my dad, and maybe it’s actually the most important and I don’t want to admit it (or maybe I just did) is that I think that he actually dissapointed me the most.
My dad always had a temper, but it was generally fueled by my mother. I can recall multiple occasions as a child were I did or said something to my dad that I thought was funny and my dad would see the humour in it. That is until my mother stepped in. She loved saying things like “Are you going to let her talk to you that way?” Well, yes actually he was going to let me. I’m just a kid and he’s my parent not my warden. But when she spoke those words and put her foot down compliance was expected and the discipline was delivered. It was usually swift and harsh. Mom would always threaten us with – wait until your dad gets home – but the reality was we (at least I ) were far more scared of her than of him. She manipulated every single situation. So, dad did what he was told for the most part. I know that’s not an excuse. He should have stood up to her. And he inflicted his own damage on us. I know he did. But I know that he hated me less than she did. I think he may have actually even loved me in his own way. And the fact that he was adopted as well gave us at least some kind of bond that I never had with her. So, in the end, when push came to shove and he didn’t have the guts or the desire of whatever was lacking, to stand up and be a parent when I needed my parents, well that was a huge blow to me.
Six years have gone by since I “left” my family. I have not once regretted that decision. It was a toxic relationship. So toxic. I no longer dread the holidays and family gatherings (for years I use to get very ill at Christmas time and now I never do). I don’t look at the phone and have a minor anxiety attack when I see her number come up. For the most part I don’t think about them at all. And I’m ok with that. I no longer even send Christmas cards. For the first couple of years after my daughter was born I would send them a picture of her but I never received any acknowledgement of that. My husband, however, received birthday cards for a while from my mother stating that he was “still special to them”. You see, that’s the sort of poison my mother spews. She wrote me off, she wrote her baby granddaughter off, yet somehow still believed that she had some sort of influence, even alliance with my husband.
Despite the actions of my mother it still took time for others in my life to accept that this severance was not something to mourn. That I didn’t want or need it to be fixed. That being free of that relationship was a positive thing for me and for my new family. I know it’s hard to comprehend. I’m a mother now myself and I can’t imagine, even for a moment, turning my back on my daughter. I know we will go through our fair share of ups and downs. I remember those teenage years very well. I have no doubt she will hurt me and infuriate me and I will do the same to her. But I am her mother.
The truth is, leaving my mother has deteriorated the resentment I once had for her. It’s far easier now to actually remember some of the positive parts of my childhood now that I am not bombarded with her negativity. I’m not entirely sure if the distance has brought clarity or has actually put a haze over those days. Maybe there really were a lot of good times or maybe I just remember them differently because I want to remember them differently. In the end it doesn’t really matter which is true. When my five year old asks me to tell her stories about when I was a child I can usually come up with something positive to tell her. I’m not concerned with how accurate the details of the story are of how I really felt at the time. She just needs to believe and trust that parents love their children. I also know that someday, when she’s older, she will want to meet her other grandparents. She already asks questions about them. I honestly don’t know how I will deal with that. But I will deal with it and because I am no longer filled with that resentment and hurt that my mother inflicted on me years ago it will actually be easier than if I had attempted to maintain that poisonous relationship. Letting go of that has made me a better mother. I am far from perfect. I am certain that I have made some of the same mistakes my own mother made, and will continue to do so. But the difference is I’m ok with that. I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m just trying to be the best mom I can be. The mom that my daughter needs and deserves. And I feel confident (most days) that I am achieving that. And I will not give my daughter a reason to sit in front of her computer 40 years from now and write a story about how she left her mother.