Adoption, Depression, Empathy, Family, Half-brother, Mother as Guru, Mother's Day, PTSD, Therapy
I’ve got some confessions to share with y’all. And some venting.
Today is Mother’s day. I’ve always had a problem with those cards expressing gooey sentiments about wonderful mythical mothers who are loving and generous to their children. I’ve felt a little guilty that I don’t feel that way about my own mother… that I’ve never once wanted to write ‘thanks for being a great mum’ on her card…
Anyway, the family plans for today changed when mum came down with a nasty dose of the flu, all aches and pains and totally bed-ridden. So, Mother’s day lunch was transferred to my sister and brother-in-law’s place with everyone except mum.
Sorry as I am that she’s unwell, to be honest it was something of a relief that mum wasn’t there. Sounds horrible, I know.
Jaliya has written a thought-provoking post for Mother’s day, and the innate ability within us all to develop mothering-type qualities. Even if we aren’t mothers, or even females.
In Tantra and Hindu traditions, one’s mother is considered the first Guru (teacher) – for many years, the mother is everything to the child. Then, as the child gains independence, the mother’s role morphs to provide support, love and advice, but her life-sustaining qualities are no longer required. All children eventually need other teachers.
While I understand the reasons its hard for mothers to let go, it’s crucial for the health of the parent/child relationship. Mothers and fathers must learn to adapt their ‘job description’, for want of a better term… to grow with their children and enable new ways of relating to them.
So I confess… I love both my parents, but I’m finding increasingly difficult to have a relationship with my mum.
Partly, the reason for that has to do with her inability to see me as an adult. The few months I spent living at my parents’ place revealed this very clearly.
The other part of the problem has to do with our seemingly incompatible emotional states.
As I’ve mentioned before, my mother had a child out of wedlock in the 60’s. The method of dealing with such things in Australia at the time was to put pressure on young mothers to give their children up for adoption.
This happened to my mother. Between the doctor and my nan, mum was coerced into giving up her child (one she almost died giving birth to). She wasn’t allowed to see her boyfriend, and never saw her newborn child.
There’s way more to this story than I’ll ever know, and I’ve heard plenty. Neither my grandmother or mother have a penchant for telling the truth. Rather, they’re both proficient at re-writing history to suit their tastes. Possibly, this has coloured my desire to be as utterly and painfully truthful with myself and other people as I can be.
According to my mother, nan destroyed the adoption papers and told mum they would never speak of the matter again. She was expected to keep it all a secret. And she did that for a long, long time.
When she met my father, mum did tell him at some point. Maybe part of the reason they suited each other is because she doesn’t want to let stuff out, and he colludes with her desire to remain as she is…
Because of the ‘lost’ papers, mum never knew her son’s exact date of birth (til they met decades later – another story). She only knew it was some time in February. And apparently she’d always ‘go a little funny’ around that time of year. Not that I ever noticed, because while growing up my experience of mum was that of an emotional yo-yo. There was always a crisis, she was always mad about something and then in tears. We kids would have to be quiet, say nothing, and walk on egg-shells for days afterwards to avoid any flare-ups.
Eventually, I was told about my half-brother, but sworn into secrecy too (which I found to be rather impossible). I’ve given as much support to mum as I’ve been permitted… I was there to support her the first time she met him, suggested ways to get professional help, and talked to her about it whenever she felt like talking.
However as the years passed, I noticed her unavailability whenever I was a mess. I don’t mean physically, just emotionally. If I called in tears, she couldn’t find anything to say. So she’d say things that were just… inappropriate… awkward… strange.
My sister and I gradually realised that mum has no plans to ever put down the mantle of her life-wounds. In fact, I’m certain she intends to carry them to the grave.
All of which means she has no capacity for other people’s issues. This has been particularly hard for me in the last few years, while I’ve been dealing with depression and a vicious case of PTSD.
Except for the weekend directly after the assault, I was never once asked how I was doing. There wasn’t a single attempt to find out what happened, offer support or even anything practical. And there was a long time there when I could barely take care of myself. Cooking was impossible. Getting out of bed was outrageously tough.
But it wasn’t just a lack of care from mum – seems to be a trait going back generations on both sides of the family. And maybe that’s part of the reason I over-share, and feel the need to talk about things so much? I seem to be the polar opposite of my family in so many ways!
Then, maybe I’m like her in other ways… do I focus too much on what’s happening in my life to the detriment of those I love? Perhaps sadly, I do…
It’s been an added source of pain, and I’ve often discussed it in therapy – it’s natural to want to turn to one’s family in times of need. But mine is not available.
Additionally, things haven’t exactly been good between mum and I since I stayed with my folks after my return from Thailand.
But it’s tough to resolve problems with someone who won’t talk, and lets you know they’re mad in very subtle ways, every time they see you. So, we’ve limped along in this half-life of a familial bond for months now… when I lost my job, mum didn’t call me, not even once.
On one level, I really do find it hard to understand how my own mother has no empathy for the suffering of others. Even though I understand what she’s been through.
But my own experiences of trauma cause me to feel for others very much, and it’s generated a desire to help other people.
And so, on this Mother’s day, day of thanks for the gift of this life, I find myself glad I didn’t have to see my own mother.
It’s not something I’m proud of – it just is what it is… part of my process of recovery, I suspect.
This is a brave post. Thank you for sharing it with us.
So…I’m going to write about this much more later in the week because people have been asking how I overcame depression and anxity, BUT I have to comment here…right now.
Sometimes the only function parents fulfill is biological. This is not a judgment but a fact of life. There are parents who do nothing more than have children. Period. The fact that then the children are who feel badly about this can make me so angry.
You are allowed to have your hurt feelings. You are allowed to feel relieved that you did not have to participate in a farce today involving celebrating a woman who CHOSE not to be more than she was in light of her own history. YOU choose to be more than YOUR abuse; YOU choose to rise above what has happened to you. EVERYONE has that choice and everyone has the capacity. Some simply CHOOSE not to exercise it.
And it is not our job to make it better, you know? It is our job to make it better for US, but other people have to do their own work — including our parents.
I can relate so much to this post. As you said: it is just what it is. I hope you had a peaceful day Svasti.
Michele Rosenthal said:
I think part of the strength of healing is 1) being able to speak truthfully about ourselves, 2) being able to speak truthfully about others, 3) being able to see ourselves and others with clarity and objectivity. This is not only a brave post but also, one full of strength, courage and stability.
No matter how PTSD you feel on any given day, don’t forget that this sage person exists inside you! Love the voice, and your persistent healing acts. 🙂
*hugs* Yes, it is just what it is.
@la – Thanks… I really almost didn’t publish this one…
@Blisschick – My mother isn’t all bad. And I get what you’re saying, but I still feel kinda guilty about writing this post. I think my mother has done what she could within her limitations, which includes not doing anything about her issues. That said, much of her life was possibly spent thinking there was little she could do. I mean, therapy hasn’t really been around in Australia as long as it has been in the US. And I think she just tried to get on with life and bringing up three other kids.
So, while I know I’m allowed to feel hurt, I feel so much for her years of struggle. I know I can’t help her, she has to want to help herself, but I still find it hard sometimes to feel angry about the way she behaves as a result of not getting the help she desperately needs…
@tricia – It was a lovely day, with my sis, bro-in-law, dad and two little nieces who are getting cuter every day!
@Michele – The problem with speaking truthfully like this on my blog is… I know I’m only telling my side of the story. I know she will have her version of events and I feel as though in some ways I’m being unfair by talking about her. She’d be mortified and angry if she ever read this post and she wouldn’t understand. But every Mother’s day for many years now, its really bugged me that I’ve never had a mother I can look up to. I know many people don’t, and I’m not alone in that.
@Immi – Thanks Immi. Glad you’re doing better!
John Folk-Williams said:
… no capacity for other people’s issues … How familiar that sounds. Mom’s life was an endless grievance, all about her not getting enough from anyone, always betrayed, always about her. “Choosing” not to live like that, sealed tight, was my undoing – “choosing” to feel it all over again, dwell in it to get rid of it, was my salvation. Who but the most fortunate could fail to have mixed feelings about a day for Mom?
All my best to a brave and human heart — John
@John – I understand how easy it must be to live that way. Especially for something as devestating as losing a child. But sometimes her childishness and extreme self-focus just… leaves me speechless.
Oh … *Mom*. Is there a more loaded word in any language? … love and loathing; bliss and despair; glee and contempt; terror and heart … Our feelings for Mother are forever mixed and messy … Mine still are, more than seven years after my own mother’s death …
Putting down the mantle of life-wounds, as you wrote … Sometimes I wonder if my own mantle doesn’t have a will of its own … I think I’ve put it down and BOOMF! — it’s back on my shoulders — “You again!” … Perhaps the mantle is our creation; it’s composed of the survival strategies that protect our wounds … My sense of it is that it grows like an exoskeleton, a shell … that it’s protective of us … and sometimes suffocating. The mantle protects the wounds … which heal to the best extent that they can …
I’ve been becoming more mercifully aware of my wounds … and of my body/being’s astounding capacity for restoration, despite all … I think this awareness — of our innate genius for healing, wholeness and evolution — has jump-started my compassion towards what I went through when I was very young … I am continually amazed that I survived with my sanity and presence intact … (I’ve told a few understanding folks, with a laugh in my voice, “I know I’m sane … I’m just not always lucid…”) ;-D
Svasti, what you felt … what you’ve written … is not horrible. It’s one of the inevitable mosaic of feelings that we express towards our parents … Your nausea (so to speak) at those mush-ridden greeting cards makes perfect sense … I remember a Mother’s day dinnner — at a restaurant — during which my mother went on ad nauseum about how we (her children — our parents were separated) neglected her … It was agony on the one hand … On the other, I wanted to dump my food on her head! Lord … no one can mess with our heads and hearts like our mothers … !!
Love to you, and lots of understanding xoxo
@Jaliya – Yeah, I guess it is a loaded word, for so many of us. My dad asked me once if I remembered how mum used to make us laugh as kids. I didn’t and don’t… mostly I just remember her tantrums, anger and tears. I know she was struggling, and that she still struggles. And I try to love her as she is and accept those things. But its hard. Most people try to show some compassion for others, no matter what they’re going through. But not my mum.
My mum would never go on and on about what terrible kids we are. Its what she doesn’t say – what she witholds – that hurts the most.
In fact, writing this post, I realise, has really helped me to understand a few more things about myself – why I react the way I do when people clam up on me, stop talking to me etc. Its a big red, raw button that’s been pushed many times. That, and my tendency for the dramatic, for intense feelings and for sometimes (despite my best efforts) losing sight of the needs of others in the midst of my suffering…
Catatonic Kid said:
My father lacks that emotional capacity, too… it’s extraordinarily difficult to find balance with. To co-exist with it somehow. Because we want to, and it isn’t a lack of love or anything missing in us. And that’s frustrating and damn unfair.
Truthfully i’m not sure i’d fix him, though… i’m at the point where i just think, well, bugger it, i love him and that’s that. he is what he is. though that’s not to say i accept everything he does, you know? ’cause he can be a right bugger.
Anyway, i wanted to say i get the struggle… the intimacies and intricacies, and the insistent pulling at your heart, first one way then another. families! oath.
@CK – Actually, I think part of my problem with all of this is… that even though I know how mum is and that’s never changed in all these years, that little girl in me still wants that care and affection from her parents. Throughout my recovery, its hit me over and over again just how little capacity they have. The months I spent in hiding and the way I’ve withdrawn into my hard protective shell, they’ve said nothing at all. That’s been hard, its made the sense of isolation I’ve had here (in my home town funnily enough) more intense.
I don’t have any wish to fix my mum, its just that I’d love to see her throw off some of her own suffering. Get help for herself. See her become happier in her old age, instead of what I fear for her, which is increasing bitterness as she passes into her twilight years.
Families, yeah. Thank goodness for my baby nieces, is all I can say!
Hey Svasti, I can so relate to your feelings about Mother’s Day, and not being a mom myself, it goes by like any other. I’m sure there are many out here that feel as you do, but dissing moms won’t win most popularity contests!! I admire the truthful and fair sharing of your feelings about such a loaded topic. I don’t acknowledge my own mother on mother’s day – she started abusing me in infancy, and never had the role of mother in my life. Tormentor teacher, is more like it! While we have made peace over the years, and I have learned a great deal through the experiences of growing up with someone completely incapable of nurturing, I too can sometimes shake my head in wonder at how someone can be so self centered and choose to be so miserable day in and day out… but it’s her journey, and an ever present reminder for me in how I do not want to be! In the mean time, I try to find compassionate, strong, open and honest women to be in my life, and to become myself.
much peace, Karin
@Karin – Seems there’s plenty of people out there with ambivalence (if not stronger negative feelings) towards their mothers. But of course.
I’m so sorry to hear that you were badly mis-treated by your mother. Mine was neglectful and selfish, but not abusive. You’re right – I think its important to have strong female role models to look up to and be inspired by, especially when those we grew up with just don’t do the job!
A good brave honest post (I am reading your blog backwards by the way; can you tell?) Injured, damaged parents – and let’s face it we are all damaged in some way – are always going to pass on a little of their pain to their kids. Having said that, a person either chooses to wallow in, ignore or actively deal with problems, and whichever attitude you have, you are passing that on to your kids too. My parents were absolutely rigid with their pain, sounds like your mum is similar. I had a pretty ambivalent attitude to my mum and I’ve only recently learned not to beat myself up about it.
I think it’s also fair to point out that older generations or less advantaged social groups have different coping strategies for pain. My parents for instance grew up in harrowing, unimaginable poverty during WW2 and in such conditions you keep your suffering to yourself in an effort to be strong and not be a burden to others. Everything is as tightly buttoned up as possible. I don’t think that way of coping is as common now, but it still can persist from generation to generation, (it has in my family) and it’s almost impossible to break through – a real culture clash. People get stuck in their own private agony that they can’t express and are so eaten up that they have nothing at all to give. Hard to watch when it’s someone you love, but I learned from my parents example and try to be open as I can.
…oh, and I should also say I hope your Mum eventually breaks down her wall enough for you to both find strength and comfort in each other…but if it doesn’t happen anytime soon, just remember Blisschicks beautiful post…
@Bird – You raise some good points. And I know my mum’s own experience was that of repression growing up. She’s working with what she’s got, I understand that.
Staying as open as we can, that’s definitely a good starting point for each day, isn’t it?
Yeah, I hope one day mum and I can find a way to have a better relationship, but I’m not pinning any expectations to that. Perhaps it requires more time and softening on both our parts?
My mother … such a complicated relationship and one with a lot of pain. However, even when my mother disappears emotionally, she always comes back and she acknowledges her absences, at least to the best of her ability. I am not sure how I would feel about her (and myself) if she didn’t.
One of the hardest things to do with a parent is to let go of our expectation that our needs will be met. And then there’s the heaviness of past pain, a history that doesn’t go away. Sometimes resolution in mother-child relationships feels almost impossible. As a mother, I also find that pretty terrifying.
Anyway, I’m glad you had a good day with your sister and family. Sounds like that was the best outcome.
(p.s. — My mother and I never have celebrated mother’s day, though I’m beginning to feel a bit guilty about it now. It always falls around her birthday, too, which I somehow basically ignored this year. Think I have some mother issues? 😉 )
@Jennifer – From what I understand, its way more common to have a complex relationship with one’s mother, than it is to have an easy one. Not that unusual, really.
Karmically, we’re so closely bonded with our parents, but especially our mothers that its hard for either mother or child to see each other clearly. Or something like that.
I’m sure it must be strange, to watch the wheel turn again as you become a mother yourself, and see another perspective.
Hands up who *doesn’t* have mother issues? 😉