The words hung in the air between us, piercing my heart and demolishing what was left of our difficult relationship. After a particularly contentious family gathering, the evening devolved into yelling and hurt feelings, each of us retreating into our corners like two boxers in a ring.
“Your father never really liked you much and, frankly, neither have I.”
My mother had gone for the jugular and delivered a crushing blow. Words she could never unsay, words that had been simmering between us for decades.
And her words broke me for the final time.
As I stood in my kitchen, stunned into silence after yet another screaming match, I took a hard look into the brown eyes that match my own. I searched for the reason that we’d never connected or communicated the same way my friends do with their mothers and came up empty. I looked at her, my eyes brimming with tears, and I quietly and firmly told my mom to leave our home.
My relationship with my mother came to an abrupt halt and though it was the right thing to do for my mental health and that of my family’s, ending my relationship with her hasn’t been easy.
In fact, I’ve told very few people that I’ve had to make the choice to not have my mother in my life.
I smile when I’m invited to parties where the hostess’ mother has helped her daughter cook for three days, never letting on that little girl in me wonders what I did to make my mother look at me with decades’ worth of pent-up anger.
I gleefully greet the moms who are visiting their daughters and grandchildren when they join us at the bus stop. I inquire about their plans, secretly wishing they’d include me, too.
And, as I watch as a friend hugs her mother goodbye, I have to turn away when I hear her mother whisper “Call me tomorrow, okay?” into my friend’s ear.
I know that will never be my situation and when I encounter a mother daughter union that is kind and loving, I feel a jolt of longing in my heart.
While I am mostly at peace with my choice to end my relationship with my mother, I have frequently heard “But she’s your mother, you should just let bygones be bygones!” from well-meaning friends and family who want nothing more than for us to have a Hallmark ending to a very difficult 40 years.
Yes, she’s my mother but she’s not the one who has mothered me.
There’s a difference and, when a friend tells you she’s struggling in her relationship with her mother, simply saying, “I’m sorry” and giving her a hug helps more than reminding her of the shame that comes with having to admit to polite society that she’s not close with her mother.
Because one scroll through Facebook or Instagram says that people who have chosen to exclude their mothers from their lives are not in the majority. I see my friends smiling next to their moms at pedicures or on shopping dates and I feel wounded. Not because I want them to feel the way I do but because I’d give anything to have a fulfilling, bonded relationship with the woman who gave me life.
It’s not to be and thus it’s a private shame I keep hidden. Only monsters can’t find it in their hearts to forgive their mothers, right?
Growing up, I knew my relationship with my mother was strained and I realized from an early age that I’d need to seek out other ways to be mothered. Over the years, family friends, relatives and even friends have served as surrogate mothers for me. My chosen mothers, the women I surround myself with, have filled the void when my mother couldn’t deliver the love and support I’ve desperately craved.
In my 20s and 30s, it was easy to ignore the fact that I didn’t have a cozy relationship with my mom. A new career post college and a happy marriage kept me busy, focused on the strong bonds in my life.
The day I first held him, I looked at his red puckered face and said, “I’m going to be different, I promise.”
And, I have done the daily work of making sure my kids never feel the emotional upheaval I experienced in my home as a child. Therapy has done wonders and I’ve worked hard to not fall back on the discipline behaviors I learned from a young age. No silent treatment allowed in our house.
While it hasn’t been easy to escape the shame of ending my relationship with my mom, I’m seeing the rewards of letting myself off the hook when it comes to making a choice to say no to the toxicity that my mother brings to my life.
I see it when my teenagers openly talk to me about their sexuality and the emotions they have for the loves in their lives.
I see it when my son texts me in the middle of the day to tell me he loves me, that he can’t wait to come home and binge watch our latest Netflix find.
I see it when my daughter tells me I’m her best friend, that there’s no one she feels more comfortable telling her secrets.
And, I see it when both kids come home from school and visibly relax. Our home has become their safe place to land and I’m the gatekeeper of that safety. I am mothering them in spite of the way I was mothered.
Some days, it’s hard not to be jealous of my teens. They are living in the home environment I craved and while I’m proud of my husband and I for creating a loving home free of insults and hurtful words, my heart feels heavy when my childhood self looks around our dinner table.
But, when my teen son envelops me in a bear hug as we do the dishes and talk about his day, I know in my heart I’m protecting him from feeling rejected in the way I did at his age.
I have forgiven myself for not being able to meet my mother where she is in her emotional journey and I have chosen to stop thinking about the end of my relationship as walking away from my mother. Instead, I remind myself daily that I am walking towards the bonded relationship I want with my teens.
This author wishes to remain anonymous.