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I Don't Miss My Estranged Mother — I Miss Having A Mom

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My estranged mother is a narcissist. She may or may not be pathological, but she spent my childhood putting me down. I had “no common sense.” She’d ask “what was wrong” with me. In public, she was all smiles; after every sports practice, she berated me for every perceived failing. She didn’t intervene when I was brutally bullied, because it might have looked bad. Nor did she treat my severe mental health issues — for the same reason. She cared more about her image than her child. We were somehow better than everyone else, especially rich people, who were “crazy” and “lived on a different planet than us.” And on and on.

We finally broke ties with her during COVID-19, and I started intensive therapy to deal with my childhood trauma. During that therapy, I realized something very important: I didn’t miss my estranged mother. I didn’t miss her at all. In fact, I was grateful that she wasn’t part of our lives. I no longer had to cope with so many indignities I’d always brushed off and even excused: constant criticism of my parenting, constant undermining of my parenting, gross favoritism of my oldest son. She’d put me down while we were alone and criticize me under the guise of “advice.”

I’m grateful I don’t have to deal with her. I don’t miss her at all. Sometimes I’ll feel a small pang when I see a recipe or a note, but mostly, I want to throw out things she gave me.

But I realized that while I don’t miss my estranged mother, I miss having a mom.

I really, really miss having a mom.

Technically, My Estranged Mother Never Was “A Mom”

I recall a moment when I told my mother, very calmly and with no idea that it was anything strange, that I loved my best friend’s mom almost as much as I loved her. She lost her mind. Now that I have children, I understand how devastating that tossed off, innocent comment must have seemed. No matter how narcissistic my estranged mother is, she did love my brother and me as much as she was capable of (she isn’t capable of it, but she believes she is), and that statement must have seemed a threat, a statement of her failure (probably why I was berated to the point of tears).

That statement said: my friend’s mother is a mom. You are not. That’s what I meant, what I was trying to say. My friend’s mother listened to us. She talked to us, and she never said mean things. Sure, she probably yelled. But that yelling didn’t insinuate that we were failed human beings.

I realized the full truth of my relationship with my mother when a friend told me about her abortion. We were in college at the time. Her mother took her to the clinic. Her mother. And her mother took care of her afterwards. I didn’t know what to say, how to react. I only hurt. The abortion didn’t bother me. But I couldn’t imagine trusting my estranged mother enough to tell her I was pregnant in the first place, let alone her loving me enough to quietly and calmly take me to Planned Parenthood, then helping me through what would surely have been a difficult experience.

I realized then that I did not have a mom. Your mom loves you no matter what happens.

I never had that in the first place.

I Wish I Had A Mom Now

When friends talk about their moms, I ache. I could pretend my estranged mother was a mom, and I did. But when we severed ties and I really confronted her behavior, I couldn’t pretend anymore. I think about my best friend’s moms and simply hurt for the relationship I never had. I wish I could build one with someone else, but my mother-in-law isn’t a great candidate for a lot of reasons, and you can’t exactly put yourself up for adoption at age forty.

I wish I could.

It’s lonely without a real mom. Other people can rely on an older woman to ask for advice, to laugh with them, and to love them. They talk about Christmases and grandmothers. I sit quietly and listen. I see pictures of them with their moms on Facebook, and they are happy.

No one but my husband and children love me unconditionally. I’ll go through menopause without someone who’s been there, done that. I’ve lost my childhood stories. Having an estranged mother is somewhat like a death, but a death someone blames on you, a death people are nosy about. But why would you ever… people say. You brought this on yourself, they continue.

I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I’ll say this: I had no choice, and I did it for my own mental health, and for the sake of my children. I denied myself a mom — or at least, pretending I had a mom — so I could get better, and so my children could have a better life. I could pretend my mother-in-law was my mom, but that would be just as much of a lie. A kinder lie — she’s nothing if not kind — but a lie nonetheless.

I have older friends I wish I could share this with. Won’t you be my mom, I want to say. But it’s too bare, too much to ask of someone. So I stay quiet and listen to friends talk. I sit silent in my own pain. I don’t miss my estranged mother. I miss what I never had in the first place.

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