real life

'Weeks before my daughter graduated, she sent me an email. She never wanted to see me again.'

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

This story discusses mental health and suicide, and might be triggering for some readers.

I was recently reading Constance Grey's article - I Haven't Spoken To My Family In Years. People Think I'm A Monster - because I'm suffering the same wounds but from the other side.

Eighteen months ago, our 23-year-old daughter informed my husband and I via email that she no longer wanted to have any contact with us, or for us to have any involvement in her life. She was about to finish university in the United Kingdom and our earlier plans made during her Christmas vacation to take her on a tour of Scotland as a graduation present were no longer wanted.

Unfortunately, the tickets, accommodation and rail travel were non-refundable, so her father and I went on the trip without her. I sat in the restaurant the first night we arrived in Edinburgh and cried, knowing that she was in her tiny flat about 400m away from us.

Watch: A spoken word video staring Laura Bryne articulating the contradiction of pressures that mothers face in their daily lives. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

On the Isle of Skye, we did our best to appreciate the scenery, the distilleries, the history and the food, but were of course weighed down with a leaden weight of sadness, bewilderment and, at times, anger. Yes, monsters do get angry sometimes.


The email she sent us was full of the current psycho pop buzz words. Toxic, Narcissistic, Enabler. It was long and rambling and seemed as though someone else had assisted her in drafting it. The reasons were imprecise and vague, no matter how many times we read it.

All she wanted was the sum of money we had told her years ago that we had put aside to give her after her graduation. She wanted it early, to set up her new life without us. My husband said, "Well, she is about to graduate. She has succeeded and whether we like the way she’s choosing her independence; it is her money."

I arranged the transfer and got a 'thanks, Mum' in reply.

We were not permitted to attend her graduation, and on the actual day I cried and cried. We had been saving a special bottle of champagne to celebrate the momentous occasion with her and instead we were in Europe while she was enjoying the day without us in Scotland.

We drank the champagne, with the learnings from our recent therapy session fresh in our minds. We helped her get there, surely we deserved to drink to her health and happiness. The champagne was my favourite but tasted predictably bitter and flat.

For months, every morning the thought that my only child thought I had been a terrible parent, and no longer wanted anything to do with me would literally feel like a punch to the gut. Taking a few deep breaths, I'd force myself to get out of bed, pull on the clothes nearby and take the dog out for a long walk.


The shame was unbearable. We did not know of any other parent who was enduring the same situation and feared judgement. "Well, there must be a reason why their daughter abandoned them; you never know what goes on behind closed doors..."

Behind our closed doors, from the age of 12, was abuse, occasional threats of suicide, hospital visits, running away from home, kicked in doors and screaming. From her. We were living away from our home country, and it felt like a switch had been turned on inside her, changing her from a loving, compassionate and intelligent child to one who actively loathed us. This destructive and frightening rage was reserved only for us when we were alone and I rarely hinted at the anguish it created other than a "Oh you know, moody teenagers" comment because I felt inadequate, responsible and utterly, utterly powerless to stop it.

We arranged for her to see a teenage psychologist, and this continued on a weekly basis until she finished high school with the highest academic score amongst her peers. By university there was hope: the unpredictable rages had longer periods of calm and happiness between them and she was about to start a new phase of her young adult life.

Alas, no, she struggled with anxiety and depression at university, and I visited her several times during each of the four years of her degree to be just 'mum'. To take out the rubbish, cook the meals and keep her off social media until she'd finished each late essay. We'd walk around the cobbled streets and pat each dog as it passed, photograph charming old buildings and share jokes. I always loved to see her laugh and when I returned home, would send her a meme or picture that I knew she'd like. I still see something and think "Oh, she'd love that," and have to stop myself from sending it.


Fearing a long wait if she was placed on the NHS list for mental health services, we arranged for her to see a private psychiatrist, paying each bill every month. In her final year, she was formally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. What an awful name to give a mental illness. She was in shock, as were we. Our baby did not fit all the criteria, but apparently you don’t have to. Just having a few of the key qualities was enough for a diagnosis.

She estranged herself from us three months later.

I would never dare ascribe having a mental illness as the reason she did this to us, but I know, in my heart, that we did everything we could to help her, support her, understand her and, most importantly, to show much we loved her.

We also had friends who had been through the same experience or had heard of someone who had, but the isolation was painful as there was no-one we knew, really knew, who was going through this at the same time we were. Monsters seem to be solitary creatures.

Therapy, reading a lot of books on the topic (over 20 at time of writing this) and joining a support group has helped. Not change the situation per se, but feel less alone, less of a failure, less jealous at seeing friends and classmates on Facebook celebrate birthdays, Mother's and Father's days, Christmases, weddings and births together, happy and smiling and shining and we spent Christmas alone, just the two of us. I didn't put up the tree, fairy lights or candles. There were no gifts, no shared FaceTime calls, no elaborate meals. Monsters don't deserve holiday happiness.


It hurt even more that our child was in touch with my parents, her grandparents, and they have not spoken to us in over six months. We have no idea what has been discussed including our daughter's new job, new address or health situation. We cannot ask my parents any questions about our child as they have made it very clear that the information she shares goes no further. Whatever she has told them, they clearly assume that we are monsters.

But if that's their judgement, I still ache for just a one-line email from them. Something like, "Just to let you know, your daughter is doing OK," but it has never come.

All I can say is that I feel a lot of things very deeply, the complex cycle of unresolved grief. Crushing me at the strangest times; tears streaming down my cheeks as I reach for a punnet of strawberries at the supermarket. Sadness that our daughter is living a life that includes everyone but us.

A friend took a screenshot of her Instagram page on her graduation day and sent it to me a few weeks later. She was radiant in her gown and cap, clutching a bright bouquet of sunflowers. She had turned to face the photographer, her pretty face beaming. Red lipstick and the familiar waves in her blonde hair. That's all we have.

Constance Grey asks if she's a monster and I've asked myself that many times. I hit my daughter once. When she was 14 years old, I was about to drive her to school and we were bickering about something minor and she said, "Shut the f*ck up, mum." I slapped her face and told her to walk to school. A month later, the psychiatrist I was seeing admitted that she would have done the same if her similarly aged teenage son had spoken to her like that. Maybe that qualifies me as a monster.


Listen: The Quicky take a look at different family dynamics, and hear from someone who had to make the difficult decision to break off one of the most important relationships in her life. Post continues below.

Unlike Constance Grey's mother, I have no crime to confess to, nor abuse to admit to or apologise for. I loved her with every ounce of my being and felt every sadness or disappointment she felt, like all mothers do. She went to a good school, had nice friends, a brilliant boyfriend who was welcome to stay over. She enjoyed many family holidays around Europe. We encouraged her artistic talents and funded a trip to Zambia and several other flights to meet her boyfriend’s family home in Finland. She loved having a summer long Eurail trip around Europe when school finished, and we were proud to fund it.

Now we are broken, lonely and tormented by endless 'what if' thoughts that never give us peace.

Those 'what if' thoughts never involve guilt. That's one negative emotion in a long shopping list that I can truly say I do not feel.

What we were not, was monsters. We are and were imperfect parents, but we know that we did everything we could with the knowledge, energy and love that we had. She has fled the nest and us, but we know that we helped her fly.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty.

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