You Don’t Have To Love Your Mom

by Jessica Wildfire
A mother gazes through a window, observing her daughter in the garden, dressed in a pink shirt.
Johner Images / Getty

Family’s all you have. Or so they say. You’re supposed to stand by them no matter what. This flawed mantra has ruined countless lives. Ten years ago, I’d be damned if I was going to throw my life away for loyalty’s sake. So I cut ties and moved out in my late teens.

What do I mean by cutting ties? It’s better to say I’ve distanced myself. I don’t visit often. A phone call every few months is the best I can do.

My mom? I haven’t spoken to her in five years. They’ve been the best years of my life. A while ago, I wrote a post about not having to love your family. What I really meant is you don’t have to love all of them.

Some of your family can go fuck themselves. They can die alone. I won’t be attending my mom’s death bed. Or her funeral. Maybe her grave some day. My kid will never know her grandma.

She wasn’t invited to my wedding, either. She’s ruined enough moments — proms, concerts, graduations, vacations, holidays.

Plenty of blog posts talk about removing toxic friends from your life.

Well, sometimes you have to remove a toxic parent.

It takes a lot to hate your own mom. She has to constantly berate you. Scream at you daily. Throw things. Sew doubt into you at the atomic level. When I was 10, my mom convinced me that my friends were stealing from us. She called me naive, weak, pathetic.

To prove her wrong, I started patting down my guests on the porch before they went home. Part of me thought my mom was right. A Barbie accessory was bound to fall out of someone’s pocket.

Imagine the shame when I searched four of my friends and found nothing except their hurt faces.

I’m not sure where I learned the pat down procedure. Television’s a fantastic teacher. Anyway, people stopped coming over.

Halfway through elementary, my mom found out that some other kids and I had been playing with a girl who had Down syndrome. We’d spent one recess picking dandelions and making wreaths. More like nests, but it’s the thought that counts.

One of our teachers saw us and gave me a ribbon for my behavior. It felt a little odd, receiving a reward for not acting like an utter fuckhead. We didn’t know what down syndrome was, exactly. But we knew Megan was different. We just didn’t care that much.

My mom found the ribbon in my lunch bag and asked about it. When I explained, she broke a bowl in the sink and threw eggs at me from behind the fridge door. “You’re playing with a retard?” she shouted.

For days, she ignored me. Except sometimes she called me “retard,” when we passed in the hallway.

A few years later, my mom sat in an auditorium and watched me play second chair cello in the high school orchestra. On the ride home, she asked why I didn’t play first chair.

“That’s reserved for a senior,” I said.

She rolled her eyes. “Why aren’t you in the master class?”

I said, “Because you aren’t eligible for master class until you’re a sophomore.”

“Bull shit,” she said. “Your teacher doesn’t believe you’re talented. Maybe you’re not. If I were you, I’d quit.”

My dad remained silent, like a chauffeur.

For days, I weighed her word against our conductor’s. I didn’t know who the liar was. Finally I had to make a choice. Words from neither of them mattered. What did was my love for music.

So I kept practicing. I made master class, and told my parents I didn’t want them to attend performances anymore. In college, I gave up music for another passion — writing. But the lesson stuck: I didn’t need my mom’s advice. Or her approval. Or her support. In fact, she was always wrong.

“Your mom loves you,” my dad said the night she tried to kill us. Earlier, she’d waved around a kitchen knife and chased us. We called the police. They weren’t impressed. They told us she didn’t look like much of a threat. A weak, dehydrated, middle-aged woman with a dull blade. Who hadn’t slept in 36 hours. No, to them she appeared harmless.

Did I seriously think my mom was capable of slicing my throat? No, not physically. Still, she wanted to. She thought I was a space alien. A clone. Both? She waffled on the details. Call me paranoid, but you don’t take chances with this kind of thing. Even if it’s your mom.

My mom suffered dozens of schizophrenic breaks over the years. But she was an ugly person well before mental illness turned her into a monster. In my mid-teens, my mom ceased to exist.

Her body didn’t die, but her mind did. For years, I tried to be a good kid and pretend to have conversations with her that went nowhere. Except sometimes her eyes would focus and she would start making passive-aggressive comments about my weight, or my hair, or my career plans.

So finally I stopped making visits. She lives in a facility now, mostly alone. Nobody drops in anymore. Sometimes I feel sad for her. But I know what her presence does to me, and I can’t afford it. I’ve got my own future, career, and family. Other people depend on me. So I stay away.

Other people’s moms baffle me. None of them are perfect. But most of them have done a surprisingly decent job.

I watch my spouse hug his mom on Christmas and wonder what that must feel like. But I don’t envy it for a second. It’s just a curiosity.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and see my mom. On the one hand, it’s a blessing. On the outside, my mom was beautiful.

Every day, I feel her in me. Not in a good way. I feel her urge to judge. To hate. To live in constant suspicion and mistrust.

My mom had no friends. She pushed them all way. I remind myself not to make the same mistakes she did.

And yet her paranoia and relentless criticism have, once refined, become useful tools. They keep me from becoming too complacent, too trusting, or too reliant on other people.

I’m long past the decision to forgive or reunite with my mom. Despite everything, her abuse forced me to evolve and adapt. I don’t pine for a different one, who would’ve rocked me to sleep and sang to me, who would’ve shown unconditional love and support.

Some of us should stop binding ourselves to the myth of reconciliation. It ain’t gonna happen. My mom’s mind is Swiss cheese. She doesn’t know who I am. And I’m not going to make some misguided pilgrimage home for some glimpse of recognition. I never had her love. And now I know that I never needed it in the first place. Adversity defines us, one way or the other. We’ll face it as kids, or as adults. Or both.