“You think you’re smart enough to go to college?” she asked.
As I turned to look at her, my mouth opened in shock.
My mother looked back at me with no remorse, her face defiant, sneering; as if she wanted to get a rise outta me.
I was 16 at the time.
This is an example of typical conversations with my mom.
She was emotionally toxic with her children, largely due to her own relationship with her mother. My dad worked doubles to keep us fed, then slept when he was home. Being the middle child of nine meant there was never much parental attention to go around. With my mom as the only option, that didn’t seem like such a bad thing.
Between my mom’s inability to function and my dad’s exhaustion, the result was a childhood of filth. Mold in the bathroom and laundry backed up so far you couldn’t close the door to the laundry room. We got head lice and were labeled as the charity case come Christmas time by our local church.
I moved out of my parent’s house at a young age. I couldn’t stay in a place where I wasn’t safe—emotionally or physically. After years of bullshit, I was old enough to get the hell out. I saved up $1000 as fast as I could, and I left without telling her where I was going.
Over the years, the cracks in our broken relationship continued to widen.
After yet another blowout fight, I stopped calling. I stopped trying. The child in me wanted to see her make some effort for once, and the adult in me knew I couldn’t keep doing this. I couldn’t keep begging her to be the mother I knew she could be.
She never called, and my mommy issues intensified.
Most of my twenties were spent harboring acute resentment for her. I couldn’t understand why my mom refused to be like the mothers my friends had. I used every vice imaginable to fill the gaping mom-shaped hole I had. Grieving the loss of a mother I had never known was going to take more than weed and vodka.
By the time I entered my thirties, I found a therapist and read all the books. I started doing the work that my mother didn’t have the strength for. The pain was going to stop with me.
My mom has spent most of her life trying to ignore the pain of her own fucked up childhood. She could never talk about it, and still can’t. The little I do know has helped me understand the emotional torment she put us through in that house. I have compassion for my mother, now that I recognize and acknowledge her pain. Her wounds are deep. They have not healed, and I wonder if they ever will.
My efforts to heal unearthed a truth that was hiding under years of bitterness. The epiphany I had was something I wasn’t expecting:
My mother is not perfect.
She is human. She is perfectly imperfect. I realized that she wasn’t refusing to be a good mom like I thought; it was more that she couldn’t. She didn’t know how, because no one had ever taught her.
She tried her best with what she had.
I thought that she had failed me. It took me a long time to accept that she had really failed herself. By diverting her pain to her children, she ostracized herself from us, the same way her mother had.
This realization has helped me forgive her, and to forgive myself.
I still do not have a relationship with my mom, though I want it.
In the meantime, I will continue to work on my relationship with myself. I will be there for the little girl that still yearns for her mother, and I will be stronger than the pain that tried to define my lineage.
I can only hope she is doing the same for herself.