“You no longer mean anything to me, and I hope you know that.”
“I should have had an abortion like I wanted to.”
“You are nothing but a godless, liberal bitch.”
These are just a few of the voice messages my mother has left me over the years. I saved them. I’m not sure why. Listening to them is just as painful as the first time I heard them. I think I keep them to remind myself of why I no longer talk to my mother. When the creeping doubts come sneaking in, and when I start to think I should make amends and let her back into my life, I listen to these messages. It is a reminder of why I chose to cut her out of my life.
I can’t remember a time when I felt genuine love for my mother. I realize that sounds awful, but years of emotional trauma and gas-lighting have left me resentful. I am sure I loved her when I was a child. Most children feel inherent love and compassion towards their mother. My childhood memories hold happy moments, but I can’t deny the negative impact of my mother’s behavior.
When I was around 10-years-old, I remember going into her closet, thumbing through her dresses and clothes to pick out an item to try on. It was something I had done many times before. I decided to look onto the top shelf where her sweaters and purses sat neatly arranged. Reaching up, my hand grazed a book. I opened it, and my name was printed on the first page, in my mother’s recognizable penmanship. However, my last name was different.
I slowly flipped through the first several pages of information and special items: my hospital bracelet, a locket of hair from my first haircut, typical infant milestones like my “first word,” and my “first steps.” As I turned to the next page, I saw pictures of me as a newborn. One photo, in particular, showed a man I didn’t recognize. He was holding me, and my mother had captioned it, “Dana holding Amanda.” I looked under the photo, and the printed label underneath it said, “Baby and Daddy.”As I looked through the book holding the secrets of my first few years of life, I realized that the father I had always known was not my father. For as long as I could remember, the man I had called dad was not my dad after all.
I ran into the living room with the book in hand, tears running down my face. Standing in front of my mother, I watched the expression on her face turn to shock. I remember her calling my dad into the room, and they sat me down on the sofa. That day they finally told me the truth they had kept for years. My dad, the man who taught me to ride a bike and took me go-carting, was not my biological dad.
Devastation doesn’t even cover the full spectrum of emotions that I felt that day — Betrayed, angry, hurt, confused. My mother didn’t even do a very good job of keeping the secret from me. Maybe she wanted me to find out. I have never asked her about it or spoken about it since that day. Not that I would expect an honest answer anyway.
When I was 13, my mother began having an affair. She wasted no time in involving me. She never hid it from me but instead used me as an excuse to meet up with him. Telling my dad she was taking me to the mall to go shopping, she would meet up with him there, and he would toss me some cash and tell me to get lost. He would call the house when my dad was at work. She had him in our home when my dad was out of town on a job.
In her narcissistic mind, what she was doing was acceptable. She had been unhappy for years, citing things like my father’s weight, level of intelligence, and messiness as reasons for her adultery. I don’t even recall her feeling any guilt or remorse for her actions.
Using manipulation, she kept me quiet through threats. She warned me that if I told my father about her affair, she would disown me and throw me out onto the street, and I would have nowhere to go. Then she would deny it to my dad. As a kid, this all seemed like a very plausible outcome, so I chose to keep my mouth shut.
Their affair continued off and on for years. The tension in my home was palpable, and to avoid the mounting pressure cooker that it was, I stayed with friends many nights instead of coming home. I told everyone who would listen outside of my family. I figured if I couldn’t tell my dad, I would tell anyone in proximity.
As expected, my dad eventually found out. We lived in a small town, and I honestly thought it would happen much sooner. The whole mess of it became much worse. My dad was devastated. When my mother left to go live with her adulterer, she left me to care for my emotionally destroyed father. I watched him fall apart, drinking his feelings away and neglecting his health. I saw his clothes hang loosely on him as he lost weight from not eating. I held him when he came into my bedroom at night and sobbed. Somehow throughout it all, I managed to graduate high school, move out on my own, and start college. Yet, my mother’s actions left me with lasting trauma.
My mother is now alone, miserable, and still has no accountability for her actions. For years I have tried to patch up our relationship to the best of my abilities, given that she and I are living two states apart. I have shown her love and compassion, nurturing her as though I was the parent. Being the child of a narcissist means that roles are always blurred.
It is hard to love someone like her. Not for lack of effort on my part. I have tried very hard, jeopardizing my mental health in the process. Whenever my phone rings and I see “Mom” on the screen, my skin goes clammy, and my heart races. She induces anxiety in me as few other things do. No effort that I make will ever be fruitful, and my mere existence is enough to send her into an angry tirade. When her bullying and personal attacks became directed towards my daughter (her only granddaughter), I knew I had to say ENOUGH.
There were several times we had gone a year or more without speaking. Times when I would draw the line at her emotional and verbal abuse and cut communication. Yet somehow, she would always find her way back in, or I would begin to feel guilty at the thought of her being all alone in her small apartment. The lingering voice in my head was saying, “She is your mother; she gave you life, so you owe her your love no matter what.”
There is an unspoken expectation that one is always supposed to love and “honor thy mother.” Just because someone gave birth to you and managed to get you to adulthood doesn’t mean they can’t be a terrible person. Just because you are bound by blood doesn’t mean that you are bound to love. If a parent makes you feel awful and has caused you copious amounts of emotional pain, you have every right to let them go.
The best thing I could do for my mental health was to cut my mother loose. I feel lingering guilt, and I still instinctually want to reach for the phone to call her. I have to shut off that voice in my head and remind myself that her suffering is not my responsibility. I long for a loving and healthy relationship with my mother, but I know this isn’t possible. I have mourned the thought of having a mother who can nurture a relationship with their adult child, and I have laid it to rest.
I wanted to have a little girl for as long as I can remember. I was elated when my daughter was born. I loved every minute of the baby and toddler years. Watching her see everything around her as exciting and new gave life promise. As she grew older, and now that she is a teenager, I realize just how quickly things become complex and challenging. I work hard not to parent like my mother. I am hyper-aware of every interaction my daughter and I undertake. I am wholly determined to fight for a healthy relationship with her. I have always been transparent and honest and given her the truths that are hers.
There is a heavy burden with toxic family relationships. We continue to take their abuses in the name of love. We defend ourselves, and we protect their actions in the same breath. We endure emotional upset, painful trauma, and neglect because cutting our family out of our lives feels impossible.
I know that many, many people have suffered abuse and trauma at the hands of their parents. I am sure that my experiences are minute compared to some of the atrocities that others have gone through. I questioned sharing my story because perhaps it was too trivial to be relevant. Ultimately, we all just want to be loved and accepted by our parents, no matter how old we are.
Stopping the toxic dynamics within our families is immensely challenging. The first step in the process is to love ourselves enough to advocate for what we deserve. We don’t have to suffer through the pain inflicted upon us by those that claim to love us. We aren’t obligated to risk our mental health to ensure that familial ties aren’t broken. It is essential to our happiness to cut these people loose.
Two months ago, I decided I’d had enough, and I removed my mother from my life. I made a promise that I will love myself more, advocate for myself and my daughter’s wellbeing, cut the toxicity out, and let her go. This time it’s different, and I don’t feel any guilt. I actually feel free.