parent opinion

'I've been estranged from my mum for 10 years. Here's how I learned to cope.'

I was in the library when I spotted a book titled something like Life Without Mother. With hope for answers I picked it up and started reading the blurb. 

The excerpts tell of a woman who was so close with her mother it seemed as though she had lost a part of herself with her mother's death.

I dropped the book and ran home to cry under my doona for the rest of the day. My answers weren’t in that book.

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I haven’t been in contact with my mother for more than a decade now and I mourn greatly for that almost daily. But my mother isn’t dead. Something is broken. 

I am not mourning for a person I had and then lost but for something I never had, which every person deserves.

Not because she is a bad person, or because she abandoned me, but because she simply wasn’t able to fill the role of being a mother. 

When I was born I spent two months in an NICU 1000km away from my mother, and maybe that has something to do with the lack of connection - but perhaps not, as her relationship to my brother is also similar. 

As a child, an adult and a mother the loss is significant. Here’s how I’ve learned to cope:

Boundaries

The past few years have been the age of empowerment, particularly for women. 

I’m bombarded with messages like “you do you”, “embrace your inner goddess”, “own your emotions”. And yet there are also those messages about family being number one priority and your mum being the best friend you’ll ever have. 

Of course my primal need to belong has me seeking out that which hurts me.

In her book Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, Dr. Karyl McBride highlights the need to take space. 

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It could be actual time apart or just setting rules about things you’re not willing to discuss.

For me, I took the hard line and broke all contact in order to care for myself and discover what my needs really were. 

We are each responsible to ourselves. I am not responsible for making my mum happy and neither is she responsible for my happiness.

'Blame doesn’t come here'

This one actually came from a specialist who was treating my son. 

She said this to me in our first meeting using a firm but non-judgemental tone and I replay it almost daily in my own parenting. 

I am not a terrible daughter because I don’t have contact with my mum and thinking those thoughts is futile.

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Perhaps if I knew my mum’s story I would be able to understand why she had difficulty connecting with her children. 

It’s obvious to me that her actions are not under her conscious control, that she lives in a state of fight or flight and her higher reasoning is limited. That has to be enough for me. 

Blame is disempowering - to blame my mother would be to identify myself as powerless.

Women

Most of my friends are older women. 

I’ve never actively sought out a mother figure, it’s more that I’m drawn to role models. 

The messages I received growing up were that women should be supportive of the men in their lives and not strive to achieve for themselves alone. 

As an adult, I have unconsciously surrounded myself with single mothers, female entrepreneurs, nonconformist women.

It’s these relationships that have given me strength and options.

Seeing what my friends achieved in their lives showed me it’s actually possible to be something other than the mould I had been slowly solidifying into. I began to blossom.

Grieving

I could be angry looking back at all the times as a child my mother didn’t meet my needs or all the times as an adult that she has undermined me. But it’s actually just sad.

If I don’t allow myself to feel that sadness it will continue to rise up in me masquerading as anger. 

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There is grief for the mother I never had as a child, grief for the mother I don’t have as an adult and grief for the mother I never will have.

Even if we were to regain contact, my mother hasn’t known me as an adult apart from some very brief periods.

We will never have a normal mother-daughter relationship.

This grief rises from time to time and I now welcome it in and support myself to carry it. It’s much easier now that my kids are almost grown.

Motherhood

From my childhood I developed a strong list of what-not-to-dos. I haven’t always been perfect at sticking to them and I’ve certainly made plenty of my own mistakes. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any to-dos so a big part of how I parented has been passivity. I’ve been guilty of resentment towards my children and, of course, I struggle most with my daughter.

To me it’s important that I admit when I’ve not been a great parent and I apologise. 

I will try to make better decisions next time. It’s valuable to my kids to know I am only human and that actions can be taken consciously, change is possible. 

I’m pleased to say they have seen a lot of change and that in turn has allowed them to grow and change.

My own healing has come about because I made a choice not to continue the cycle. 

I wish I had time and insight to deal with this much earlier but I had both of my children before 20. 

Fortunately, watching me actively pursue healing has worn off. I don’t hide my struggles from my children, I couldn’t if I wanted to - kids have a way of knowing. So this journey we share.

My own mother wasn’t as fortunate as me. 

To her, mental health support and information were almost non-existent and there was a lot of stigma. And there were a lot of limitations and judgements put on women.

There is more to being a parent than meeting physical needs and it’s the shared bond of healing with my own children that lets me know we have an unbreakable connection. 

My mother did her best, I love and appreciate her for that. I hope one day she finds healing of her own.

Feature Image: Supplied.