I was promised, like most young girls, that one day my mother would be my best friend. When I finished puberty I would somehow see the light and understand all of her ways and thank her for all she did. I would fall to my knees and apologize for being such a spoiled little brat. I waited for this to be true for many years before realizing that it never would be.
I will never pick up the phone to call my mother and tell her about my bad day. I won’t leap for joy when the stick turns pink and rush over to her house. I won’t text her to get lunch or go shopping. In fact, I will avoid all of those interactions with every fiber of my being, because my mother has never been my mom, nonetheless my best friend.
My mother was raised by a single mother who surely did the best she could, but inevitably fell short. She was cruel and judgmental, and had a different standard and demeanor for each of her children. My middle child mother was never the favorite and often the most let down.
I was raised by married parents who surely did the best they could, but inevitably my mother fell short. She was cruel and judgmental, and had a different standard and demeanor for each of her children. The anxiety-ridden child I was never found favor and was often let down. Whoa. Déjà vu.
I do not remember a single day until I stopped speaking to my mother that I was happy. I felt happiness and had happy moments, but each day was branded with her ridicule and my feeling of inadequacy as a human. My mother was and is emotionally abusive. That is not my opinion. That is the opinion of three separate mental health professionals at three separate points in my life. The scars on my heart are as real and permanent as the scars left on any child who has been beaten, and just because my mother was emotionally abused first does not mean it is OK. It also does not mean that I am required to have a relationship with her or I will be a bad daughter.
At age 4 she told me what a burden my constant ear infections were to her.
At 8 she told me I could never be a doctor.
At age 12 she said my B in math was unacceptable.
At 13 she told me I was going to get fat.
At 14 she explained to me why I didn’t have friends.
At 15 she belittled my passions for music (and so I gave up).
At 16 she told me no boy would ever want to date me.
At 18 she told me I was a psychotic wench.
At 19 she told me I would never make any money.
At 20 she told me what a bad daughter I was.
At 21 she told me I was selfish and had no goals.
At 22 she told my fiancé to wait to marry me, so at 23 I cut the cord.
If those were the only ill my mother ever did to me, I would not write this. I would pick up the phone, call my mother, and ask to meet for coffee. Individual instances of cruelty are not enough to push a person to eliminate a relationship. Unyielding negativity, gaslighting, belittling, and shame, however, may lay the foundation for separate lives.
I have been told to forgive her, because it does me the most good. The thing is, I already have. Forgiveness does not mean that you let yourself continue to be mistreated, it means not holding someone’s mistakes against them. My mother is not a bad person. She is just a bad mother. She had good mother moments and kept me alive sufficiently, she just did not succeed at the emotional part of mothering.
I have also been told that past behavior is not necessarily an indicator of future behavior. Perhaps, but that is a sucker’s maxim. Each time I have tried to repair my relationship with my mother she has denied, become defensive, put the blame on me, and continued to be abusive. After 23 years, I finally learned my lesson.
So when people ask me what I’m doing for my mother for Mother’s Day and I awkwardly respond “Uh, nothing,” this is why. When I am asked why I do not have any mother-daughter pictures from my wedding, this is why. Someday when I have children and people ask if my mother is excited to be a grandma and I respond “I don’t know,” this is why. When I cry or get angry when people write or speak about how beautiful the mother-daughter relationship is, this is why.
My life is not lacking because I do not consider my mother my mom. I have all sorts of mother figures in my life. I have an incredible mother-in-law that provides me with all the care and concern a mother should. I have wonderful, strong women in my life that I am privileged enough to call friends that frequently provide mothering to me. In today’s world, we are beginning to accept that not every family looks like the 1950s cookie cutter, and I hope that means someday people will accept that my family picture just doesn’t include a mother.
So when I speak about my mother in this way it is not with the intention of receiving pity or an excuse for my own neurosis. Rather, I share my story because I am certain I am not alone. If your mother is not your best friend, it is OK. You are not a bad daughter or a bad son, you are simply human.
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