relationships

My Mom Is Toxic, And It's Shaped My Relationship With My Daughter

I will never make her feel like she’s a burden or too much.

When I was a teen and felt scared or lonely I don’t remember wanting my mom there to comfort me. I’m guessing it was sometime in elementary school that I stopped searching for her, but honestly, I have no memory of thinking, “I want my mom.”

When I was younger I stuttered and was too loud for my mother. She was always telling me to calm down. She would say, “Can you go five minutes without moving or talking?” She had me sit at the kitchen table and turn on a timer and remind me that when I was around it “felt like she had ten extra kids.” I grew up with two sisters who were very quiet. It was obvious my mother favored them over me. She didn’t know what to do with me and I grew up feeling like I was too much to handle.

We fought a lot when I was in high school. For years, a family member had been touching me inappropriately. When I finally summoned the courage to tell her about it, I hoped she’d offer protection or reassurance. Instead, she did nothing.

In college, all my friends would call their mothers often and I remember thinking, I wonder what that feels like? It was rare I wanted to talk to my mom and I felt so much happier not being around her. I did whatever it took to get my own place after I graduated college, even though I had mountains of college debt. There were a few times I couldn’t afford toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins, so I would bring home extra napkins every time I went into a fast food joint. I had to ask my landlord a few times if I could pay rent a week or so late. Even then, it never crossed my mind to move back in with my mother.

I am, though, very close with my sisters, who do have a relationship with her. For me, I’ve learned the best way to maintain a relationship with her is not to get too close or expect too much.

But I didn’t realize how bad our bond was broken until I had a daughter of my own. I remember looking at my sweet girl the first time I got to hold her and one of my first thoughts was, How could my mother be okay with anyone hurting me in that way? How could she simply do nothing about it?

My sweet baby is now seventeen and there hasn’t been a day in her life that has gone by without thinking about how much I will nurture our relationship. I know my daughter loves me. Even on those really hard teenage days where she struggles to be nice to anyone (including me) I know she depends on me.

I don’t just want her to love me because I am her mother. I want her to need me the way I’ve seen other women need their mothers when they are sick or after they’ve had a baby or when they are going through a tough time.

I want my daughter to feel that she can come to me for help. Like the time when she got caught shoplifting or when I caught her smoking pot in her bedroom. I want to show her that I will do whatever it takes to get her out of hard situations. Whether coaching her how to right her wrongs or reminding her every single day she can tell me anything, I will never make her feel like she’s a burden, too much, or that I’m too busy and important to deal with her.

I’m so thankful for the relationship I have with my daughter; it is exactly what I wanted even before she was born. Over the years I’ve become thankful for my relationship with my mom in some ways. She’s shown me the kind of mom I don’t want to be. I’ve tried hard never to make my daughter feel like she was too much trouble for me. I’ve seen firsthand what that can do to a mother/daughter relationship and there’s no way I will repeat the cycle with my daughter.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.