Where were you, mom?

A lot on my mind. As usual. A lot of back-story needed to explain this one.

My daughter’s party is over, and it went well, and the universe didn’t implode because I invited people into my house. I have to joke about it, but I want to make sure it is clear how big of a deal this was for me. When I first had my baby girl 10 years ago, I initiated play dates and invited other moms to my house. I can’t recall when or how it happened that I withdrew from everyone and made my home a sacred refuge, inpenetrable by the outside world. I just know that it happened.

It was such an unhealthy setup for me. For the first time ever, I had no need to deal with other people and so I often didn’t. I worked from home with a nursing or squirmy baby on my lap. I had no car. I loaded up babies in my stroller or sling and walked to the grocery store or the park – both just a few blocks away in my small town. I didn’t talk to anyone. Hubby worked crazy long hours to try and get enough overtime to support us. I barely saw him, and when I did, he was very tired. My babies were my only friends, well, other than WebMD and Dr.Sears and every other parenting advice I could find to make sure I wouldn’t mess up and kill my babies with something stupid.

I even took a break from therapy those many years while my kids were young. I was truly isolated. And at some point, I also don’t know how this happened, I let my Mother in. I mean she wormed her way into every thought of mine. She fed my insecurities and encouraged my negativity. Depression was all that I knew. Every cell in my body was sad and lonely and hopeless for it to ever be different. I lived to make my children happy, knowing I could never have it for myself.

Then my daughter turned 4, and I had my first flashback. I saw her, but I remembered me as a 4 year old, being tormented by my abusive father. Strangely, I remembered feeling pretty much the same way at age 4 as I did then – isolated, lonely, scared, and sad. I remember always feeling sad.

Not right away, but sometime in that year I returned to my therapist, and we started the long journey of healing from childhood sexual abuse and psychological trauma that was my past. With her help, I was able to eventually face each demon, name it, and remove it. She encouraged me to get out into the world and find joy for myself. She encouraged me to open up to Hubby and create a stronger relationship. She encouraged me to create healthy boundaries and get some distance from my mother.

None of this has been easy. Most of this has been heartbreakingly difficult. I have had to hurt people with my truth.

I am still confused about my mother, and what role she should have in my life. I know now that she will never truly be a mom to me, and I hate the part of me that still longs for supportive parents that actually want what is best for me.  I fear that is a hole that will never be filled, and will always hurt a bit.

After the wedding last month, my mom apologized to me for being a terrible mother. Her apology was in an email, but I know it was still difficult for her to write. I thought maybe, just maybe she could move on and start being real. I don’t why I thought that, and now I am almost embarrassed to have been hopeful again.

I finally found out what had been going on with my mom and brothers the weeks following the wedding. My mom lost it. she had a breakdown of sorts, as reality crashed in and she tried to take on the guilt and pain of allowing her children to be abused by our psychopathic father. She started cussing uncontrollably at my brother that lives with her. She started throwing away her possessions, one after the other, everything taken up to the curb. She said she needed a fresh start and wanted to remove anything in her house that reminded her of my abusive father, her ex-husband.

So it started with the dining room table. When I was about 8 years old, my mom started working at a fast food place to earn her own money. She saved her first few paychecks and purchased a nice table for 6 for our dining room to replace the table for 4 with the duct taped metal leg and the book under it to keep it from tipping over. I recall my father’s anger when he found out she had been shopping for a table without him. He went to the store and cancelled her order, saying that she had chosen the wrong one. He changed her nice hardwood table into a new formica topped one, he said this would be more durable. She had wanted a light pine tone, and he chose a dark, dark brown. She wanted slender, armless chairs to fit in to our tiny room, and he insisted on captain’s chairs for each end. But my mom was still to use her money for it, since she was the one that thought we needed it, but she was not allowed to get what she wanted. Years of bowing down to him made this no different – he was in charge, bad things happened when we disobeyed.

In the divorce, my mom fought for that table, feeling like she had won a trophy when it was given to her. But now, 25 years later, she no longer wants this memory and asked my brother to take the table to the curb.

Next was her living room. She had my father’s old recliner in there, something he had no room for when he moved into my brother’s house. That went out to the curb along with her vacuum (also used to be my father’s) and all of the video tapes in the cupboard that she no longer has  a VCR to watch them.

Next was her bedroom. Her comforter set was from a friend, given to her after the divorce, so that went out to the curb.

Next she threw away items that proved she had not been taking care of herself – so every towel with a worn spot, every sheet that lost its elasticity, and every garment with a hole or stain was tossed out.

She said she felt great to sit in the emptiness and purge the bad memories so she could start over. (I was listening to all of this on the phone. I had called her to let her know I had finished painting my mural and somehow I wanted to share my joy with her. One day I will learn this is not possible.) She also said people driving by were stopping and taking her items, and that made her feel good to be helping others who needed the things.

So what happens next? I bet some of you can guess, some of you know how dysfunctional families work. Who has always been the hero for my mother? Yup – my brothers. So for the next week I got emails and phone calls about everything my brothers were buying for her. They bought her a cherry dining room table with the chairs she always wanted. They bought her a new recliner, a new vacuum, new sheets – new everything. They swooped in and saved the day. No one was phased by her selfish temper tantrum. Not at all. This was normal to them, they all did what they always do, because it feels safe that way.

But wait – I’m not done yet. Here’s the real clincher, the whole point of my story today. In that phone call, my mother blamed me for her troubles with my father, and that it was my fault she had to associate with him and have all of his stuff in her house. I don’t remember verbatim, but I’ll try to quote her here.

“I’m done pretending to get along with that man. I don’t want to ever see or think about him again. Even if it is what my children want. For years I smiled and put up with him because it was what you wanted, because you insisted he should still be a part of our life. Well, no more. I’m done”

So if this isn’t clear, she is obviously referring to a 16 year old me. When I was finally brave enough to tell her what he was doing to me, and asked her for help. I wanted to be safe, but I could not bear the thought of ripping my family apart. And my father still had control over me. I was terrified of him and did what he asked. Oh yeah – and I was a kid. Don’t forget that part mom. It was supposed to be your job to take care of me, to lead the family, to show us what to do. So yes, I am fully aware that while I was living in denial of the horrors of my first 16 years of life, you added the burden of saving the family on me too. So kudos to you for blaming the 16 year old me for ruining your life. Mighty fine of you. And sadly not that shocking that you could create an entirely new delusional world to fit your needs and have you blameless and saint-like. Again. All is right in your world again. You cry and your sons buy you stuff.

I explained all of this to my therapist last week, and her jaw dropped. When she recovered, she asked me to say what I want to say to my mother to her. I thought for a bit, and I thought I would have so much. I thought I would have tears, but I only have anger, a sense of injustice. All it comes down to, then and now is a simple –

Where were you?

Where were you when I needed you? Where were you all those years? Where were you when we needed a mom? And now, still now, you choose to hide in your delusional world, and force those around you to see you as the victim and use their love to get what you want, feed your need. I’m sorry, but I won’t play along. I will never board your pity train. I wish you well – but from a distance. So many years I looked to you and my big brothers for clues on how to behave, how to survive. I find it amazing that you say you were all looking to me, and that I steered you wrong. That now, after all these years, it is still my fault in your eyes. But I know better now and won’t be falling into that trap again. Ever.

So I am moving on here too. I have been able to pull myself up from the abysmal pit of despair – without the support of my parents. I have been able to overcome fears and phobias instilled by my parents. I have been able to feel love and share love – despite my parents.  As much as I may long for a supportive hug from parents like I see on TV, I know that is not mine to have. I also know that I am strong enough to succeed without it.

It really isn’t about them any more. This is my story now. They may have written the first book for me, but now that I have the pencil, I’m erasing the twisted side-plots before they take over. The first book was about pain, isolation, sadness, abuse, depression and despair. This book I’m writing is about family, friends, hope, goals, hard work, progress, and growth. This book is about life, and all of its beautiful imperfections. Mostly though – it is about love – true, unconditional, spirit soaring love. And everyone knows that the powerful, cold hearted characters never win in a love story. Nope, the pure of heart underdogs are the winners, every time.

English: Halo

The saintly glow surrounding my mother’s delusional perfect world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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22 thoughts on “Where were you, mom?

  1. Great picture. No need to apologize for treating your mother the way you wanted to be treated. It says amazing things about you. I’m so sorry she threw away the perfect opportunity to truly change. Instead, she only changed the scenery but stayed on the same stage. You, on the other hand, have chosen to walk of her tiny pitiful stage and created an amazing expansive stage she will never understand and cannot appreciate. Hmmm… not casting your pearls before swine, not because the swine are horrible because frankly I love bacon, but the swine doesn’t appreciate the beauty and value of you. Good for you. I’m so grateful you are one of the awesome friends in my life.

    • “No need to apologize for treating your mother the way you wanted to be treated. ” Wow – thanks for that. Really made me feel better. And I appreciate the stage/scenery thought, as it seems so spot on, but also because I paint scenery so it was strangely powerful for me. Now the casting pearls one, I do get. I started writing another post about that so you can see just how important that verse is to me. I am grateful you are my friend as well, I truly can’t express how grateful or show how all the hugs, support, and well-placed comments have been a driving force in my healing.

  2. One of the things your story reminded me of was that during my own journey through therapy, eventually we got around to the part about trying to work through the anger and rage towards my mother. In my case, everyone always assumed the anger and rage was associated with the horrific physical abuse that she did to me, but for me, although the physical abuse was terrible, it always came back to her not protecting me from my father. I won’t take up too much space talking about our own very complicated and extensive journey through anger and rage and eventually towards forgiveness, and even, on some very true and honest level, a reawakening of love, but I can say this – I am encouraged to see you taking a step back and examining the dynamic from afar, so that you can make the choices that are best for your own recovery. It can be a dangerously slippery slope to try to weed through the complicated “twisted side-plots”, and still remain objective, and I applaud your ability to apply a fresh perspective.

    I’ve always known that I was very lucky to have eventually found a place of peace in my relationship with my mother. As I know you can appreciate, it was very complicated. I had to work at it extremely hard, for so many years, and I never really expected any particular benefit from all the hard work, other than that it might release me from some of the pain that I was carrying. Without being able to point to exactly when, eventually I raised my head up one day, and realized that most of the residual pain was gone, and in its place, there was a quiet and unobtrusive acceptance, and yes, even love.

    Some would say that I simply chose to repress the anger and rage so that the huge volume of negativity wouldn’t eat up everything else in my life, and that eventually I realized my mother would never take full responsibility for her actions, no matter how many years we worked at it, and that even if she had done so, that it would not be likely to erase the years and years of suffering and pain. Some would say that I threw in the towel, and just agreed to disagree. Some would say that I was the first to raise the white flag, and surrendered away my need for validation, and blame.

    My version is that my mother took full and complete responsibility for her role in physically abusing me, and she made ongoing efforts to extend an honest and true and complete apology for her actions, and she promised to do her best to never try to hurt me again. But as for taking responsibility for failing to protect me from my father; well, on that twisted side-plot, she was incapable of accepting responsibility for her part in allowing this to happen to me.

    At some point, I gave up on the idea that she would ever be able to cross over this threshold of pain, and I chose not to let her inability to do so negatively affect whatever shreds of our relationship could be salvaged. It is important to note that this decision to set those pains aside was a conscious decision on my part, and that I would never have been able to step across that line in the sand if I had not already made up my mind to be her caretaker in her final years on this earth. So I had to be willing to give up something that I felt I desperately needed, in order to be available to her in an honest and supportive way, as she traveled the journey away from this life. I had to make a choice, and I took complete ownership of my decision to ignore my own needs, and consider her needs over mine. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was not a decision that came lightly, and I entered into this new frame of mind tentatively, and with caution, but eventually, (thankfully), it became clear to me that I had made the right choice. I had trusted myself to navigate this unfamiliar territory, and in the end, I had gained something from the experience.

    As a mother myself, in some ways I understood her inability to accept responsibility for failing to protect me from my father. As moms, we try to do everything we can do to protect our children. It is our natural instinct to bare our fangs or show our claws towards anyone daring to attempt to harm our child. Being a protective mother is one of the most important jobs we will ever have, and no one wants to be that person that fails at this essential part of motherhood. Being a mother myself, I know two things: (1) no matter how hard you try, you cannot always protect your child from harm, and (2) no matter how hard you try, sometimes you are the source of the harm towards your child, even though you would never want that to happen. My experience is that both statements are true, and I’ve had to find my own journey through accepting this as truth.

    I eventually came to this conclusion about my mother’s inability to accept responsibility for failing to protect me from my father: Perhaps she was horrified at the thought that a mother could stand by silently and allow such a horrific thing to happen to their child. Perhaps she thought it transcended all the other unforgivable sins she may have committed in her life. Perhaps she had suffered such an incredibly huge mountain of pain at the hands of our mutual oppressor (my father), that she simply could not add one additional speck of pain to the burdensome load. Perhaps she feared that additional speck of pain would be the very straw that broke the camel’s back, and then her carefully-constructed own journey of healing would topple in pieces around her. Perhaps, in her denial, she was, in fact, claiming her own right to self-preservation and survival. To admit she knew, and did nothing, would be unforgivable.

    She knew, on some very deep level, that in order to leave this life, she had to be prepared to forgive herself for EVERY mistake she had ever committed in this life. So she had to take the path that would save herself, even while recognizing that in doing so, she may be denying me something that was essential to my own survival. By then I think she had recognized my own strength, and trusted that I could carry this burden for her, and I did so willingly, and with love in my heart. I did not take her inability to take responsibility for her part in my father’s abuse towards me as being evasive or as proof that she did not love me. Fortunately, for me, in the final chapters of our story, there was one thing of which I was absolutely certain. I knew my mother loved me, and I knew she wanted what was best for me, and that she genuinely rooted for my own happiness and peace of mind. My mother trusted me to love her anyway, despite her mistakes.

    Like I said at the beginning of this entirely-too-long comment, I know I am one of the luckier ones, in that I was able to make peace with my mother while she was still here on this earth. I also acknowledge that in doing so, I had to be willing to give up something that I felt was essential to my own healing journey. I can’t predict where your own journey towards healing with your mother will eventually take you, or if she will ever ascend to the point of being an equal partner in the journey, but when reading your story today, I am encouraged. I am happy for you, in that you have chosen to take a step back and assess your forward movement, and give yourself credit for what is rightfully yours to claim: as you keep moving forward, you will make the choices that are best for your own healing, and you will protect yourself from being hurt again. You will define the boundaries that will keep you safe, and you will use distance and silence as tools in your arsenal of weapons that will help you navigate the different chapters in your journey of healing.

    It is true that every time we step back and take a look at how the landscape has changed around us, that we can’t help but be a little bit awed at our own ability to thrive and survive. We are awesome women, and we will find our way through the darkness, one chapter, one paragraph, one sentence, one word, one letter at a time. Good job. Excellent.

    • I appreciate you taking the time to share all of this with me. I had to read it in chunks and process each bit by bit, but I think I have an understanding now of where you are. I don’t have an eloquent response, but wanted to say this line “My mother trusted me to love her anyway, despite her mistakes.” really struck a chord with me. No one in my family trusts anyone to love them. That was by far the most damaging aspect of of my father did to all of us. We lived separately in the same house and all fought for his love, already knowing no one else could love us. I know my mom still looks for signs that we may actually love her, just as I search right along with her. Do I love her? Of course I do. I’m not sure she’ll ever trust in that though.

      I do understand that she can’t handle the pain and responsibility of feeling like a failure as a mother. I get that. I get that she can’t endure the pain of thinking she could have made a difference. Interestingly though, I have never known her to take responsibility for anything – ever. She always has a ready excuse for why she: can’t work full time, can’t get promoted, can’t clean her house, can’t lose weight, can’t learn anything or get a degree, can’t drive herself any where . . . The list is endless. She has no self-esteem, never did, and what may have been there was destroyed by my father. I get all of that.

      What I don’t get, is when her excuse involves blaming her own children for her lack of strength. And this post was about much more than the abuse. Yes, I wondered where she was when we were all being hurt. But even more than that, I want to know where she was when we weren’t. Where was she when I started menstruating, started dating, started college, or got an apartment and needed some adult guidance to how the world works? Where was she when I made terrible choices and stayed out all night with boys in high school? Where was she when I signed my life away with huge student loans? She was there somewhere, silent in the shadows. I never had any rules, any guidance, no curfew, no one watching over me. She never felt like she had any power in herself to tell us kids what to do, even after my father was out of the picture.

      I know my mother’s care will fall onto my brothers’ shoulders one day. I am not sure how I feel about the rest of your comment yet. I’m not there yet, and may never be. Too far ahead to even consider right now.

      But I do believe my mom wants what is best for all of us, and wishes us no harm. But sometimes neglect causes more harm than aggression. Even her last phone call, I don’t think she intended to hurt me, rather she needed to remove some of the burden from herself. I truly think she is unaware that when she does that, it goes to her children. Unlike my father who laughs and revels in the pain of others, I do think my mom has a good – just misguided – heart in her.

      • I wondered while I was posting the comment, whether it would be appropriate, especially considering that our two experiences were very different, and that we’re at two entirely different places in our lives right now. I guess, mostly, I wanted to give you an alternate view, which is only reflective of how it turned out for me, and, as is the case with anything this complicated, there are entire chapters that have been left out of the story.

        More than anything else, I hope you know that I support your decision to be aware of your boundaries, and to not put too much pressure on yourself to try to alter a pattern your mother has exhibited for a very long time. I’m sorry your mother was absent in so many ways during the years you were finding your own way. Neglect is harmful, and the damage can take a long while to heal. We keep working at getting healthier, and writing about it is one of the ways we can share the journey. Hang in there.

  3. Pingback: The Mother Lode « Invisible Shadow

  4. R2B, Your posts give me hope. When I see how much you’ve grown and changed in your life, all of the despair you’ve overcome, it inspires a bit of hope that I can do it too. I want, so badly, to create the family I never had with my husband and children now, and your stories encourage me to keep trying.
    Your mother blaming her crap on you sounds amazingly familiar to what my mother has done to me. I’m so sorry that she treated you (and continues to treat you) like that. I know how painful it is.

    Also, in particular, the part about wanting to share your joy with her….I can SO relate to that. I wish I knew somehow to not want that anymore. To be able to share joy with those who love me and not be concerned with those who don’t.

    • I liked Judy’s response to that, we shouldn’t feel bad for treating her the way we want to be treated. I would love if my mom called me just to say she was having a lovely day. Ha, it’s never happened and sounds ridiculous even just typing it here. Keep trying, keep growing, and you can absolutely create the family you never had with your husband and kids. We are well on our way. I used to think it was impossible, that I was too damaged, and that I couldn’t create something I had never known. I know that isn’t true now. I also know there are no easy answers or quick fixes, just steady motion, and lots of mistakes too. As long as there is lots of love (for yourself too!), the mistakes don’t matter.

  5. Hugs to you, I could so relate to this post. I see many similarities in our stories. I am so happy for you that you are finding away to be healthy, in spite of your parents. I am cheering you on from my computer. Thankful that you shared your story and reminding me that sometimes walking a way is the healthiest choice.

  6. Wow! You are a survivor. I, too, write to come to terms with my dysfunctional family. I love your honesty, but moreso, I love your sense of hope. You really capture the essence of what it means to take your life and make it your own: They may have written the first book for me, but now that I have the pencil, I’m erasing the twisted side-plots before they take over. The first book was about pain, isolation, sadness, abuse, depression and despair. This book I’m writing is about family, friends, hope, goals, hard work, progress, and growth. This book is about life, and all of its beautiful imperfections. Amazing words. I will remember them!!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! I have been enjoying your blog and seeing how important it is to be a part of our children’s daily life, not to control, but to guide and experience it with them. And always so important to approach every day with love and humor. Because kids are funny, and make us do and say ridiculous things that we never expected!

  7. Hi RTB, Your openness and strength gives me hope. I wanted so much to have a mom I could call and share our lives and I think how you honed it down to that question – where were you? sums it up. The last paragraph gave me such hope, it is about the family we create, it is our story that matters now. Hugs to you, TR

  8. Thank you TR, I am encouraged that you find hope in my words. I am guessing we will always long for that missing mom a bit. At least we have our own family and our blogger friends to share our joys with!! xx

  9. Your mother sounds very much like she may have borderline personality disorder. These people are acutally abusive but it can be covert, especially because they assist in putting so much focus on the wrongdoings of the other parent (your father). You may realize with time that your mother was 100% equally as damaging as your father. Boderlines always have a way of pinning their children against one another through very deep psychological games they set up in your childhood. This sounds like what might be going on — your brothers swoop in to ‘save’ mom, and then mom BLAMES you. Abuse all around. BPD’s create this term called ‘Flying Monkeys’ — they recruit either themselves and/or other people to make you feel guilty and look bad. Just something to consider. Most BPDs also marry psychopaths or high end narcissists. I relate very much to your pain. Hugs*

    • “You may realize with time that your mother was 100% equally as damaging as your father. ” In some ways this is true, but I completely feel the entire stage was created by my father. he is the one that crafted our roles and pinned us against each other. I don’t think my mom is very strong, and possibly narcissistic. I’m not sure if a stronger disorder may be lurking there though. Good information, thanks for the comment, definitely worth thinking about.

  10. Thanks for sharing your experiences. In a dysfunctional family, we feel so alone. I blog about my experiences–different from yours but somewhat the same–at http://www.farfromnormal.net. My mother was completely out of control and had some serious mental problems–not a great environment for children. Thanks again for writing.

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