I look at my beautiful daughter and wonder how I could ever feel anything but love and respect for her. I always want to be her safe place and someone she can trust with her entire being.
Then I look at the relationship I have with my mother and wonder what went wrong.
I have so many questions, like: Why couldn’t she just let me be a little girl when I was growing up instead of stripping me of my innocence and demeaning me by calling me hurtful names like “bitch” and “selfish brat,” and doing things like slapping me across my face when I was 10 years old?
Why couldn’t she just love and accept me for who I am instead of trying to control every aspect of my life and taking every opportunity she had to steal my joy? I wonder why she still sees me as a child and someone with whom she needs to constantly compete. I don’t understand why she doesn’t lift me up and support me instead of constantly tearing me down. I wonder why she can’t just be my friend and see me as an equal now that I am an adult and a mother. I wonder why love just isn’t enough.
It has taken me a very a long time, but I have come to accept that I will never have the relationship with my mother that I envisioned. The beautiful mother-daughter relationship that I see depicted all over social media is something we will never have. We will never get pedicures together or share stories and laughter. I will never squeeze her hand and look into her eyes for assurance as I bring a new life into this world. I will never call her when I am in the depths of despair and need love and support and someone to pull me out of my dark hole. We will never be each other’s go-to person.
Mother-daughter relationships are so complicated all on their own, but for some reason, mine with my mother is so much more complex. I honestly don’t know where our relationship went wrong, but it seems like after her divorce from my father, she became very angry and resentful toward me and started to see me as a threat. It’s very confusing for a little girl when your own mother sees you as an enemy.
Our relationship has waxed and waned throughout the years, with some highs and many lows. It took years of therapy after my childhood to get to a point where I could begin to forgive her for her mistakes, and realize that although she was my mother, she was an imperfect human like the rest of us.
Attempting to see her for who she was proved to be a huge step in the healing process for me. She was a very broken individual and a product of a difficult past. Coming to this realization helped me make peace with the past and gave me the strength to begin to move forward. Her behavior didn’t change, but my perspective did.
I was able to try to enjoy the good times with her and turn my head away from certain behaviors, like her controlling ways, unsolicited advice, and constant negative comments. She could no longer define my self-worth and happiness. I had finally broken free of her torment, and I thought the worst was behind us until I became a mother and all of her dysfunctional behavior came to the surface all over again.
The abuse started almost immediately after I delivered my son five years ago. She was driven to control how I raised my child. I could never do anything right. She would tell me how he needed to sleep, eat, and be bathed. When I would politely decline her advice, she would keep pushing or berate me. I felt so helpless.
Here I was recovering from a major surgery, and I couldn’t even trust my mother to respect my wishes with my child. A grandmother is supposed to alleviate some of the burden of becoming a new mom. She did anything but that.
The final blow was when she told my mother-in-law what a bitch I was and that “[i]t was just a matter of time before her son wised up and left me.” I told her to leave my house. Words cannot describe the amount of hurt that I felt at that moment. All of the abuse that had occurred during my childhood came flooding back. I felt paralyzed. She had broken me, and she didn’t care.
She left my house and did everything in her power to try to spin the situation. She told all of our relatives that I had kicked her out of the house for no reason, that I had something psychologically wrong with me, and that my husband and I were neglecting our baby. The lies went on and on.
That’s the thing with my mom: She is never accountable and is always the victim. She has a very clear cycle of abuse. There’s the actual act of abuse, the “attack,” then her lack of accountability where she makes you feel like you are the problem, then the smear campaign where she tells anyone who will listen what a “horrible daughter” I am, then the obsessive attempts to contact me and reconcile (rarely a sincere apology), then me allowing her back into my life and the cycle starting all over again.
In that specific circumstance, she apologized and told me she acted that way because she was jealous of how much my husband was helping, because no one ever helped her when she was a new mom. How fucked up is that? And sad. Because I’m a very empathetic person, I let her back into my life only to have the cycle repeat itself. Again. And again. And again.
I could go on and on about the things she has done to try to sabotage my children, my marriage, and completely break my spirit, but it just doesn’t matter anymore. It has gone too far, and something has to change.
She has to change.
There is something liberating and therapeutic about finally realizing that you are not the problem and accepting the reality of the relationship that you have with your mother — or the one that you will never have. Just saying out loud, “We will never be close,” and “We will never have the relationship that I had hoped for,” takes an enormous weight off. For a long time, I was enslaved by her harsh criticism and abusive behavior. It’s hard to not internalize some of the things that your own mother is telling you, because she is supposed to be the one person who always tells you the truth. She is supposed to be the person you go to when the rest of the world doesn’t make sense. It’s unfortunate that this isn’t always the case.
As hurt as I am by her, I am thankful for the gift she has given me. The gift of realizing the mother I want to be, and the mother I will never be. When I am frustrated and at my wit’s end, I have learned to pause and think about what my words and actions will do to my children. My tumultuous childhood has given me the gift of self-awareness. I cannot change the abuse that I was subjected to growing up, but I will be damned if I expose my children to one iota of what my mother exposed me to. The abuse stops here. Today.
We have a choice: to stay on the hamster wheel or step off and break the cycle. I have chosen the latter. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my mother, because I do. It doesn’t mean that I am angry with her and will never forgive her, because honestly, I made a choice a long time ago to forgive her. It simply means that she cannot be in my family’s life until she looks deep within herself and makes some critical changes.
I know it can be disheartening, embarrassing even, to admit that you can’t have a relationship with someone who is supposed to be so sacred in your life, but you have to do what is best for you and your family. You are a parent now, and all the other bullshit just doesn’t matter.
When I look at my precious daughter, my heart swells with pride and joy. She is so innocent and perfect, and I am lucky to call myself her momma. I will always put her interests before my own and give her the unconditional love I was starved of as a child. I will be her safe place and the true keeper of her heart. Our children are a gift that we have to protect and shield from danger — that is our job as parents.