Most of you know I have an uneasy relationship with my mother.
Lately, I don’t have a relationship with her at all. The last time I saw her was at Christmas, and only then because she was invited to the family meal by my father’s side of the family. We barely spoke, and she left early without saying goodbye to me, a supposed punishment. There are two emails from her in my inbox that I don’t intend to reply to. I have no intention of reinstating contact in the near future. Maybe one day, I won’t rule it out. Certainly not this year. I feel as though I should feel ashamed of this decision, but I don’t. I don’t feel proud, either. I don’t feel anything but resolved.
This mother’s day was easier than the last, or the one before it. Far less emotional on my part, and I found social media easier to bear. As I hurt less, other’s joy hurts less. It’s never a good feeling to be standing on the outside of a happy group, scowling in. Among the joy, which this year I could appreciate and allow to warm my heart, was plenty of acknowledgement that mothers and motherhood are complicated, from both sides. That among the people rejoicing and loving each other there are people nursing hurts and injury and loss. That even people with good relationships with their mothers rarely have simple ones. That age and time create cracks in everything. Sometimes these cracks and bumps add to the story and the joy of the thing. Sometimes they break it.
When my mother was the age I am now, she had a two year old – me. When I look at photos of her, she seems achingly young. She was living in a caravan on an 18 acre property in the Adelaide Hills that was mostly scrub and falling down buildings. She was helping to build a house, and sharing a desk job in the city with my father. She was grieving for her brother, who had died a handful of years before in a motorcycle accident when a car cut a corner on a hilly road. She had a troubled relationship with her own mother, who did all the things to her that she would do to me, but magnified by many factors.
Two years before my uncle’s death there had been an argument, during which my grandmother had slapped him, and he said he wouldn’t see them again until an apology was made. The apology never came. Christmas gifts were sent back unopened. And two years later there was no time left for apologies.
As every year for me passes, I see shadowy reflections of that woman in the choices that I make. We are similar, we always have been. And our stories are similar, they carry the same themes, hit some of the same notes. I can see, from here, how many advantages I have had that she didn’t. Advantages of time and place, of being born when I was and having extra choices. But also the advantages of the choices that I have made, and the work that I have done to teach myself better ways of being. I am finding ways to give myself credit for the things I did right while still being infinitely thankful that I had the freedom and ability to do those things. Through sheer dumb luck.
I understand my mother – or at least I understand that woman that was. As I come to know myself, I come to know her, too. I feel the echoes of her. I feel her hurts and her anger. I do not accept them as my own, but I can grieve for her. For the shitty hand that she got dealt. I come from a long line of hobbled, confined women. Women with strong, quick minds and tempers who had no choice but to put them aside and pretend to be meek, to be less than themselves and pretend a joy in sacrifice. Women who dealt with poverty and death and other traumas, and who passed them on like a legacy.
Praise be to modernity, while my grandmother was one of 14 children who survived to adulthood, my mother was one of four, three still walking the earth, and I am one of two, both of us still here. Each generation had more food, more clothes, more medical care. More love. I can’t pretend to think that 100 years ago I would be anything but bitter and hurtful, along with those women. That is my legacy.
I am happy to leave that legacy behind. To turn the coldness back on itself and freeze it off of me. Enough.
Sometimes I feel the distance between who my mother was and who I am becoming shifting, as though I were slipping back and forth between realities. I catch myself standing like her, laughing like her. I catch a scared and angry reaction to a stressful situation and I know in that moment how she felt when she was at her most hurtful. I stop while sewing children’s clothes for friends to reflect on all the nights I saw her sewing, creating, clothing others.
I see my child-self from the other side, and I see my mother from where she stood, and I am sad for how much and how little promise we had as a family. For how much hurt was behind her hurtfulness, how what I saw as her power came from powerlessness. How similar we are and how that closeness keeps us apart. And in those slippery times I feel more confidence in the choices I am making. The choice not to be a mother, and not to have a mother either.
I don’t have a mother. I do not have a woman who mothers me, who provides love and comfort and who tells me stories of myself with fondness. I don’t, and I can’t have that. And that’s ok. I’m not angry about it anymore. But neither am I willing to maintain a relationship with a person – any person – who refuses to treat me with kindness and respect. Who refuses to understand that I exist outside of her wants and needs, and have my own. Who consistently acts thoughtlessly and hurtfully.
The fact that one of those people is the person to whom I feel closest in my most personal self, is the person who did a very good job of parenting me up until the point where my needs became too inconvenient, that is irrelevant. If it ever counted for anything, it has been worn down to nothing by years of hurt.
I choose not to allow myself to continue in a relationship that means emotional servitude to someone else. I choose to protect myself from that. To mother myself. To refrain from mothering her. The relationship we could have – have had – where I parent her and tend to her emotional needs, is no relationship at all. Nor is the one where I manage her, and spend every minute of contact policing my own boundaries. I have no patience left for that. I am tired. 30 years is enough.
In some ways this leaves me bereft, missing something. But I have come to a place where I am so accustomed to not having that thing that there is simply no place in my life for it. I don’t feel alone or abandoned anymore. I have many communities of amazing women (and some men), who provide me with friendship and support, who are mothers and sisters and aunts and friends of the heart. I don’t have a mother. But I have enough.
Maybe one day I will be up to the task of building some kind of relationship with the woman who is my mother. I would like to hope so, because I would like to hope that one day I will be the person with the strength and wisdom that will take. Right now I am not. And that’s ok.
One day I will be more. But for now, I am enough.