Repairing My Relationship With My Mother

A JOURNEY OF FORGIVENESS 

 

I had been thinking about calling my mom for weeks. I’d imagined what it would be like, to call and tell her I felt disappointed, hurt, that she hadn’t called or texted me about my fertility results. Seven weeks prior, I called to tell her that my husband and I were getting tested, after failing to conceive for a year. I told her I could potentially need surgery. Loved ones checked in on me regularly, after several hospital runs and one very painful allergic reaction. But I heard nothing from my mom.

“You have a happy uterus,” my fertility doctor joyfully told us while sharing the positive results. I wanted to call my mom to tell her the good news, but I felt too rattled. She hasn’t even reach out once, I thought. I vented to my husband when he asked if I was going to call her, “I told her about our fertility struggles, that was my attempt to include her in my life. Clearly she just doesn’t care.”

While weighing out the pros and cons of calling her, to tell her about my disappointment, I abruptly stopped overthinking it and dialed her number instead. I didn’t realize what I was doing until I heard her voice on the other line. “Hi Santa!” she cheerfully answered, calling me by my childhood nickname. Fuck, I thought. With an increasing heart rate, I did my best to small talk. We gave surface level updates, something we had both grown accustomed to as we’ve been trying to repair our relationship. Usually, that is where the conversation would end, but I needed to move the needle forward. I was going to be brave and tell my mom I was hurt.

“Look, I’m calling because I have something to say. Normally I would just keep this bottled up, but if we’re going to work on our relationship, I need to tell you when I feel hurt or disappointed,” I said diplomatically. She agreed, “Please tell me, Santa.”

I told her I was upset that she never checked in about my fertility results. “I don’t need an apology or anything; I just want you to know that it hurt me…” I admitted. “And…” But she interrupted me. I could tell she didn’t want to yell, but she was going to. I could tell she didn’t want to cry, but she was unable to control her reaction to what I had just said. I braced myself as so many of these conversations flashed through my mind. These conversations usually end up going sideways. One of us will probably hang up, I thought.

“I have thought about you every single day since you last called,” she yelled. “You don’t want me in your life, so I don’t call because you have told me over and over again that you don’t. I’m so worried that if I say or do the wrong thing, you won’t speak to me again,” she continued frantically. She finally caught her breath as her voice cracked, and I knew the tears were present, “I haven’t been a part of your life for 15 years, that’s half of your life. How do you think that makes me feel as your mother?! You haven’t created any room for me and I’m doing my best to try and squeeze myself in, walking on eggshells in fear that you’ll kick me out again.”

She sounded heartbroken, defeated really, and for the first time in a very long time, I saw her side. I’m angry at her for not being a part of my life, but I’m not yet willing to make any room for her in it, I thought.

 

 

As most mother-daughter relationships, ours fall under “it’s complicated.” I grew up with a single mother, who was dedicated, loving, and nurturing. My earliest memories involve snuggling up on the couch with her to watch her favorite soap opera, or crawling into her bed at 6 in the morning before she woke up. As a child, I looked up to her. I examined the way she moved and the way she could light up any room she walked into. I would watch her in the mirror as she applied her eyeliner and think, She’s the most beautiful woman in the whole world.

She was my mother and my best friend, the one who I relied on for any emotional and spiritual guidance. It wasn’t until I started becoming a young woman myself that our bond started to reveal deep cracks in what I thought was a strong foundation. My increasing independence became a threat to her, and the only way for her to gain control again, over me, was to regulate every part of my life under a microscope. I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes. I wasn’t allowed to be an evolving person, growing and learning. I wasn’t allowed to be human. I couldn’t do anything right, even when I made honor roll every semester. My mother was no longer someone I felt comfortable turning to, especially as I navigated my way through a confusing pubescence.

While distance and silence grew between us, my anger towards her steadily increased. I was mad at her for her inability to provide for us. I was mad at her for her choice in men. I was mad at her for no longer being able to offer me a home that felt safe. When I was 15, after my mom caught me sneaking out again, she sent me to live with my father overseas, and after a year of arguing with her, I didn’t even put up a fight. I shrugged when she asked me if I even cared. Anywhere away from here, even if it meant moving in with a family I didn’t really know, would be better than this, I thought.

It’s hard to sum up the next 15 years. They say time heals everything, but in our case, time was our enemy. It allowed us to slip from being best friends to strangers almost overnight. I didn’t speak with my mom for several years, even when she made many attempts. She even showed up at my boarding school overseas, just to give me a hug, and I refused to see her.

In my early 20s, after I ended a 7 year relationship and felt the need to be around family, I started allowing her back into my life. She bought me a tool kit when I moved into a new home, so I could hang artwork. She even helped me get financially back on my feet. Though she really tried to show me she cared, I didn’t trust her. Not enough to let her fully back into my life; I was still too angry. We never had a conversation about repairing our relationship, so instead, we just both tried picking up the many broken pieces shattered all over. More often than not, we failed miserably. We tried pretending to be the holograms of what we used to be, but every time we took a small step forward, we’d leap back, resorting to taking many, many breaks from each other. This went on for years. Obligatory birthday calls. A New Year’s text message. And somewhere in between, one or two annual attempts to try to see each other, with one of us leaving incredibly angry, or annoyed over something of no consequence.

Since my dad’s passing last year, I’ve worked hard on letting her in. Though my mom is much younger than my dad was, it made me think about guarantees in life, and that there aren’t any. I thought about the devastating grief I would feel if she died and our relationship never improved. My heart sank every time I thought about the fact that it had been years since I told her I loved her.

And so I tried calling her more often, telling her more about my life. But more often than not, I resorted back to old habits, and nothing really changed between us.

 

 

“You’re right,” I said to my mom, as I took a deep sigh. “It’s not fair to be mad at you for not asking about my life when I make it so hard for you to.” I paused. “But I do want you in my life,” I admitted as my voice cracked and my eyes started to well up. Every thought in my brain told me to toughen up, to not show any vulnerability in front of her. But I was unable to control myself, and I told her through my tears, “I’d like to have a mom in my life. I’d like to have you in my life.”

After we hung up the phone, together, I walked downstairs to tell my husband about the call. “I think we just started a new chapter. Hell, maybe the start of a new book,” I shared, stunned. So many times we said we’d try, but this time felt different. Maybe it was because it was the first time I allowed myself to be honest with her. It was the first time I didn’t pretend, and the first time, since I can remember, that I told her I needed her.

Since that call, I’ve been learning to make more room for my mom in my life. It includes calling her regularly, and being patient with her when semblances of old behaviors start annoying me. But most importantly, it’s meant acknowledging my own shortcomings, and how I might have hurt her over the last 15 years. My previous anger allowed me to transfer the sole blame of our destruction onto my mother, while completely ignoring my own blunders. Like when I didn’t show up to my grandmother’s funeral a few years back, or how incredibly hurtful my rejection towards her must have been. It’s also meant recognizing my mother’s own wounds and trauma, with care and compassion, while trying to get to know the human behind the mother, without any judgements about what she should have been like. I’m learning to put down my guard, my weapons, and my anger, and allow for more compassion and forgiveness. While I’m learning to mother myself, for the first time in 15 years, I’m allowing her to mother me too. It’ll take a lot to repair, but for right now, I tell her I love her every time we get off a call. Because I do. And I want her to know that.

 

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3 Comments

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THIS ARTICLE

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Alex. My mom and I are not on talking terms and have been on/off for many years.
    A few days ago, I actually got something in the mail from her that I have been refusing to open because I am unable to anticipate what will surface – I also dont know if I am ready to deal with whatever comes of it.
    Your story is a great reminder of the human behind the mother, accepting their imperfections with love and empathy versus judgment. When I was little, I looked up to my mom so much – She was like superwoman 4.0 in my eyes, a perfect person who I once admired and wanted to be just like. Once I felt she violated my trust, years of judgement, disappointment, distance and anger followed (which is still very present today).
    I started shutting my mom out of my life at the age of 6 years old. Now almost 30 years old, we go back and forth between trying to hold a surface level relationship without rocking the boat to not speaking for months. With that we have mountains of unresolved problems to sort. My mom suffers from depression and anxiety – same as me – which also makes our relationship a bit more intricate. Every time I am feeling low, I see the parts of her I rejected and it freaks me the fuck out. I think ‘I’ve done my work to never be this person – how and why is this showing up for me?’ Forgiveness is the medicine I was missing. It’s a slow process (and a major struggle) but I am working on it.
    I haven’t shared this with my mom quite yet but reading your story, calls me to do so sooner than later. Also accepting the taboo idea that mothers are susceptible to wounds just as every other human on earth. I love my mom dearly and hope one day I can allow her to be my mom again – because I think we both need this.
    Thank you again for sharing your story – It was catalyzing for me.

  2. Reading this was so beautiful and familiar. Different, but familiar. “It’s also meant recognizing my mother’s own wounds and trauma, with care and compassion, while trying to get to know the human behind the mother, without any judgements about what she should have been like.” This is something I remind myself of every single interaction I have with my mother. Thank you for sharing this.

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