If you read that headline, and your first thought was something along the lines of:
Are you kidding? They birthed you, and raised you, and did the best they could.
Forgive and move forward. Don’t live in the past.
You only get one mom! You’ll have so many regrets later in life.
Then you likely didn’t have a toxic or abusive parent, and this article isn’t for you. I’m happy for you. Really, that isn’t sarcasm.
But if you read the headline, and you nodded along emphatically or you felt a shock in your heart, an increase in your anxiety, or a stab of emotional pain, then you know.
Unfortunately, you know.
You know that sometimes we are unable to maintain relationships with the people who birthed us. We literally have to break up, separate, divorce them in order to live our best lives.
And I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what you have to do to protect your heart, your mind, your family.
You can feel sad. I’m not sure if the sadness for what should have been, for the images we’ve conjured up in our minds of magical family memories, ever truly fades away. It dulls because every day life keeps you busy and grounded, but it’s always there poking at you.
The reality, though, is you’re not missing out. Because what you yearn for, what you envy from afar when you see tightly bonded families celebrating magical holidays and joyous, chaotic birthdays and backyard barbecues and random “just because” gatherings, wouldn’t unfold that way for you.
And that reality sucks. God, it sucks so damn bad.
It sucks for you and for your children because you wanted more for them too. You wanted them to have those childhood memories of gathering at Grandma’s for Sunday dinners and having someone they loved to spend time with while you dipped out for a long overdue movie date with your spouse.
So, you (like me) likely held on to those hopes and wishes for too long. Let yourself feel defeated and small and cast aside. Let yourself be manipulated, and gaslighted, and strung along. Yelled, cried, lashed out. Forgave, and forgave, and forgave some more.
And nothing changed.
You were never heard. You were never validated. You were never asked for forgiveness. You didn’t receive a genuine, not half-assed, apology.
You were likely labeled things like “melodramatic” and “attention whore” and “selfish.” Likely told things like, “You need to get over it,” and “nobody’s perfect,” and “It wasn’t that bad.”
And those words, and the complete dismissal of your very valid feelings and distinct memories, cuts so deep. That wound never really heals. It’s a scab that keeps getting picked.
Until you finally say enough. No more. I’m done. Goodbye.
I said, “Enough, no more, goodbye,” nearly four years ago, and other than a small lapse in my good judgment (which only further reinforced my original decision), my mother and I have had no contact.
And let me tell you, it’s complicated. Not just for me, but for my sibling and extended family relationships too. They have certainly suffered, and I hate that so much, but it feels impossible to exit these toxic family relationships without some collateral damage. Your mileage may vary, of course, as you may have siblings who feel the same way you do. Family ties are so complex.
While I love my siblings fiercely, and I will always take their call, I have other people who depend on me now who have to take priority. Little people whom I love more than anyone else, and they need their mom to be healthy, happy, and emotionally stable.
And in order to be that mom to them, the kind of mom I always wished for (and still do), I had to say goodbye to my own mother.
I had to say goodbye to my mother’s abuse and gaslighting and manipulation. Sometimes her actions were bold and straightforward, and sometimes they were passive-aggressive and delivered calmly, so as to make me question whether I was being “overly sensitive” and “dramatic.” But they were always there, always visible to others around me, and always left me feeling unloved.
My mother’s treatment of me is so ingrained in my psyche that she is literally a trigger for my generalized anxiety disorder. Just typing this essay has me feeling like I have a vice grip on my heart and an elephant on my chest. It’s drudging up memories that I’ve learned to stuff down because the flashbacks bring me instantly to tears and leave me in a fog of sadness for days.
And I’m not alone. I know I’m not alone. This is the effect that toxic parents have on their children. It’s ugly. It’s brutal. It’s painful. Nobody deserves this.
It goes against the tide, against cultural and societal expectations, to disconnect from your parent(s). It can be really hard for people to understand. They are often shocked that I don’t invite my mother to birthdays and award ceremonies, that I don’t call her randomly throughout the week to gossip or complain that my kids didn’t sleep the night before. That I am not connected with her on Facebook, that I don’t know where she works, or her address, or her favorite TV show.
But this is my reality because I don’t have the kind of parent whom I can safely share those things with. And I had to let go of that dysfunctional, toxic relationship, so that I could blossom into my best self. My happiest self. My most confident self. So that I could be the mom that I need to be for my kids. So that when they are grown, they will always come home. And bring my grandbabies with them.