I ran away from home when I was 14. My father had left about five years earlier. He’d been addicted to pain killers and alcohol, and my mother was a wreck, working two (sometimes three) jobs. She cried a lot, and when she wasn’t crying, she was yelling. I was confused and pissed off and tired of fighting. That’s what I recall most from my childhood. Fighting with my mother over everything from homework, to curfew, to chores, to drugs. She didn’t have the support of my father, and I didn’t have the maturity to understand the situation. So one night, I packed my things and left.
No warning. No argument. I just left while she was cleaning housing in the evening.
I bounced around for a while. I stayed with my father for a short bit, but that situation wasn’t right. I stayed with friends. And then I eventually moved in with my grandmother. It’s hard to look back on that moment now, at 35, because it was the worst thing I’ve ever done to my mother. And yet, it was easily the best thing I ever did for myself.
I’d been using drugs. I was failing out of school. None of this was my mom’s fault. It was just the situation, but I must admit, my grandmother’s home gave me the calm security I needed to finish high school, choose better friends, and get clean. If I hadn’t left, I never would’ve finished high school and gone to college. Sadly, a few of the friends I hung out with before I left my mother’s home are now dead.
But the reality was, the way I left was cold and ungrateful, and it damaged the relationship I had with my mother for decades. But that’s the thing with rebuilding a fractured relationship — it’s all about time and perception. If you’d asked me about my mother 15 years ago, when I was 21, and still angry, I’d have blamed her. I’d have bought up every single petty argument we ever had without even considering the situation, the struggle my mother was up against trying to raise three children alone without a college education, and no paternal support.
I know that there are people reading this right now, thinking about a family member who might have wronged them or that they might have wronged. You feel a deep void inside that you can’t quite put your finger on, or give it a name, but it’s there, and you’re not 100% sure how to fix it, but you’re pretty sure it has to do with that missing relationship. I know how you feel, because I felt it with my mother for years after I left. And sure, in many ways, we were both to blame, but I had to come to terms with my own wrongs before I was ready to rebuild our relationship.
The wild thing about my mother and me is that my grandmother — the one I lived with from the time I was 14 to 19 — lived a stone’s throw from my mother. I could see her house from the back of my grandmother’s property. And yet, we didn’t talk. We didn’t call. When I rode my bike past her house, she looked down, and I looked away.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s and a father myself that I started to think — really think — about our relationship. I started to think about what I was missing, and how hard my mothers situation was, and how much I must have hurt her by leaving.
But that’s another thing about rebuilding a relationship. It needs to be right, and you need to be ready. It’s difficult. It takes time. I wish there was some turning point in the relationship I have with my mother, but there isn’t. It took many short moments for us to reconnect. It took many arguments and many apologies. It took a million thoughtful phone calls and visits. It took me having kids to begin to understand her struggle, and for her to try and forgive me so we could work on a functional relationship for my children.
Now, we’re okay. I can’t say it’s as good as it would have been if I’d never left, or if my father hadn’t walked out, or if I’d never been a pissed off and confused teenager, because there really is no way to know. But what I can say is that we talk a couple times a week. She visits us, and we visit her. She sends my three children gifts, and they think it’s pretty cool to visit Grandma’s house.
Last year, when my mother retired from her job — the job she got just before my father left to help support her and my family for over 20 years — we made the trek from Utah to Oregon as a family. We supported her, and she showed us around to all her coworkers. She said she was proud of me, and it felt good.
If you have a fractured family relationship, realize that it can be mended. Also realize that some relationships just can’t be fixed. It’s going to take work, and you are going to need to be ready. And they are going to need to be ready. And both of you are going to need to make some apologies. But with time, most wounds can heal.