Since adolescence, my relationship with my mother has been strained. We generally can get along, but I always feel that we’re like a ticking time bomb. Or maybe more like a grenade — once the pin gets pulled, we explode.
Since I’ve become a mother myself, it seems that the friction between us has only become more palpable. Becoming a mother made me realize just how toxic my mom could be and how it had been happening for a lot longer than I ever realized. These realizations have done irreparable damage to our relationship.
Growing up, my mom was never the type of person who I could sit down and have a heart to heart with. Empathy, or even just sympathy, is hard to get out of her. She has a very “if I had to do it, so do you” response when I talk to her about being a parent.
The first six or so months of my son’s life were incredibly overwhelming. As a single mother, I was grateful to my parents for giving us a place to stay while I got on my feet, but I never got a break. He was a high needs baby, and he couldn’t be separated from me for more than a short amount of time before totally freaking out. He was also a terrible sleeper, which meant that I was mentally and physically drained.
“Why can’t you just pump so someone else can give him a bottle?” she’d ask.
We’d had this discussion multiple times since my son was about two months old. That just wasn’t a feasible option for us, for many different reasons.
As I was having the life sucked out of me by this tiny human, the one person who should have been giving me unconditional support, was failing me. My mother turned into a passive-aggressive bully.
I admit, I can be sensitive to criticism because of her constantly heaping it on me over the years. Instead of talking to me, she would just ignore me. There would be entire days where my mother and I wouldn’t say more than a few words to each other. She’d huff around and make passive aggressive quips to my dad that only made me feel worse. I was already in crisis — my life had literally fallen apart around me — and I had to be strong for my son, but I had nowhere to pull from.
My relationship with my son’s father unraveled fairly quickly after our son was born. I never shared the details with my mom, but one day during an argument, she dropped this bomb:
“Did you get pregnant so he’d marry you?” she asked.
I felt like she’d slapped me in the face. She knew that I would never do something like that, and my heart was heavy with the realization that my mother thought so little of me that she believed I would purposefully trap the man I loved into marrying me by having a child.
The negativity was so stifling, I would try to make myself and my son as invisible as possible. In the dead of winter, I’d bundle my son up, strap him to my chest, and trudge out into the cold and snow just to get away from her. I’d scrounge together a few bucks to sit in Dunkin Donuts and have a hot chocolate while I wondered how my life had totally fallen apart. My mother, who claim to love me in public spaces like Facebook, couldn’t offer me one kind or supportive word in person.
One day, my son somehow opened the text messages on my mom’s phone and I saw what she was saying about me to my dad and her friends. Those messages broke my heart and killed any respect I had left for her.
“All she does is sit around with the baby on her tit not doing anything,” one read. What an absolute gut punch.
I had a hard time finding a job — no one wanted to hire a woman with a young child at home, and with a high needs baby and parents who were older and also worked, I had to find jobs that would accommodate our situation. When I tried to explain it to my mom, she just claimed I wasn’t trying hard enough. Eventually I did find work, but it still took time to save enough money to move out. I was secretly saving money, preparing an escape plan.
One night my son was having a rough night, and my mom’s response was the nail in the coffin that forced me to leave sooner than I had planned. My son was in full blown threenager mood, and he was just being impossible. His emotional delays mean traditional discipline doesn’t always work, especially when he’s worked up. My mom blew up at me and called my son a brat. I booked our flight out of town that night when she went to bed.
I don’t think there is much of anything my mother can do to ever gain back my respect. I will always appreciate everything she’s done for me and how much she loves my son, but I only have a relationship with her out of obligation. I will call and give her updates on my life to keep the peace, but it’s hard not to feel betrayed by everything she’s said and done.
“You’ll miss me when I’m gone,” she says. But honestly, I wonder if I will.