On the rare occasions that I try to open up about my mother, I start by making excuses for the extremely difficult experiences I had growing up.
I feel guilty about talking badly about her, but I need to tell my story with honesty and transparency. I’ve given myself permission to speak openly because I’m completely done with trying to understand and rationalize what I considered normal growing up. It wasn’t normal, and today I can say that without shame.
My mum was a single parent and she never made time for me. She was always running errands, busy with her erratic part-time jobs, or busy with other people. I believe that my mother needs to feel validated by others in order to feel worthy. She had intense people-pleasing tendencies that involved regularly visiting the sick, helping out at weddings/other events, and voluntarily selling clothes at her friend’s shop as well as in our tiny one bedroom apartment.
People loved her for all that she did, and they still do. But they never saw the impact her extreme people pleasing had on me. She was always on the phone arranging all her work, but she never had time to talk to me. There was always somewhere else she had to be, that wasn’t with me. This left us with no time to bond, communicate, or relax together. She was a superhero outside the house, while I was left to fend for myself. She looked really good on the outside, but no one saw what happened behind closed doors.
We were surviving on social benefits and lived in a very small, one bedroom council house. This meant that we were living a life of relative deprivation and lacking certain basics like a washing machine.
Not having a washing machine meant that I was often smelly, which of course, the kids at school enjoyed pointing out.
Our one bedroom council house was cluttered with bags of clothes to sell along with our unorganized belongings. My clothes were usually in a heap on the floor. Often, I would rummage through the pile of dirty clothes, like a child digging through a dumpster, and wear whatever I could find.
The neglect was painful enough, but as I grew older, my mother’s behavior toward me escalated to abuse.
When I was 10, I had a best friend who would occasionally stay over my house. Her company filled me with life and we giggled the whole time we were together. We chatted about boys we thought were cute at school and shared secrets, as all children do.
Out of nowhere, my mum became suspicious and started accusing me of having sexual relations with this friend. She said that I was up to no good, whether it was with my friend or with someone else at school. She would shame me in front of friends and family. She told me I needed to get my act together and stop these sexual things that I was engaging in.
I had no idea what she was talking about or what I was supposed to stop and soon began to lose trust in her.
The lack of trust meant that I was unable to turn to her when I got my period. One time, when I was wriggling in bed due to period pains, she hit me with a wooden spoon and accused me of having sexual thoughts. “That’s why you can’t lie still!” she shouted. I told her it was period pains but she didn’t believe me.
No words exist to express how I felt during those times.
It went on like this until I grew up and was married to an amazing human being. We have been blessed with two beautiful children.
Today, my mother lives with us. Although the power dynamics have changed, our relationship often mirrors the way it was during my childhood. Her life still revolves around people pleasing, working, and sleeping which leaves barely any time to spend with her loved ones. It baffles and pains my husband to witness the ‘relationship’ we have.
I’ve learned to distance myself from her and stop expecting her to be the mother I want her to be. Our communication mainly consists of small talk. To be honest, we have had no more than five meaningful and honest conversations in our whole lives, and those conversations took everything out of me. I don’t try to have them anymore.
I still spend long periods of time feeling ambivalent, angry, or completely perplexed when I think about our relationship.
Fortunately, I no longer feel so crippled by her actions. Today I live my own life and try to be a different mother than she was, and the best daughter that I can be.
Even if that means keeping her at arm’s length.