This is a personal essay, so there will not be a rating. This is a continuation of the series Indigo Talks Relationships, centered around non-romantic relationships in my life. The first installment can be found here.
I haven’t been shy about admitting that my relationship with my mother is…frayed. To put it nicely, we don’t understand one another very well. It has come up on Twitter, where I have received some resounding support and love from people around me. These days, my mother an I are working to get closer. She’s made a few strides. However, it took over a decade, and she can still hurt me with a sentence when I’m not careful around her.
My mother is a baby boomer that is drowning in privilege she cannot see. If she read this, she would laugh out loud. She is white, cisgender, and fairly well-off. She could afford to go to college and get a degree. She worked for the government and can now afford to be retired. She isn’t great with money, but her privilege helps her keep the debt down somewhat. In addition to these privileges which she still holds, she was pretty in her young age. I believe she still is, but she wouldn’t and she has lost some of that privilege with age (because we largely don’t value older beauty in our society). My mother can’t see these privilege because she’s had a lot of hardship in her life. This included two abusive husbands, and a family that had too many kids. There are more, I’m sure. However, my mother protects herself by not talking about these things. So I couldn’t expand upon them, even if it was my story to tell.
From a young age, I saw how unhappy my mother was. She didn’t like her husband. He was emotionally abusive to her and her children. Despite that, I know she loved him because she felt truly lost when he died. I know that wasn’t easy on her, and I don’t want to hold things against her regarding my father’s death. She didn’t like her job. She wanted to be an artist, but felt that she couldn’t because she got married and had kids instead. Hell, it sometimes felt like she didn’t like her own kids. When I watched my mother be sad or angry about her life, I decided that I never wanted to do that. I made the decision to stubbornly pursue what I wanted. I have created a strong mentality that is focused on changing absolutely everything I can which makes me unhappy. I understand that my mother made decisions around her children, and she stayed with my father for our sake. However, he has been dead for over a decade and she still acts like he’s affecting her life. She blames things that are currently actively happening on people who are dead. It follows a pattern of her perceived lack of control. She blames others for the choices she made.
From a young age, I feel as if I have taken a lot of my mother’s burdens somehow. I think it started when my father died. My sister’s response was to run. She could drive away from her issues and get high. Meanwhile, I was too young to drive, so I was stuck at home with my mother and whatever the coping mechanism of the day was. As a result, I would often watch as she desperately tried to overcome her mental health problems. In secret, I was a therapist, gathering information. It was usually not in a full support role. It also wasn’t the role of punching bag (emotional or physical). I see the paths of time my mother and I walked down, and I know that only a few steps away is a reality much worse than this one. Instead, I usually played the role of crutch. Mom did things with me, for me. I remember going to get ice cream one time because she couldn’t be in the house anymore. It isn’t an unhappy memory. She actually found a coping mechanism. But it isn’t a happy memory either. I remember I could feel how strained she was, and not getting the help she needed.
In order to cope with these feelings, I started to spend more time with friends. I got my best friends to teach me to drive. I got a job. This allowed me to sustain living with my mother for another decade before I had to kick myself out of the house or risk a true altercation with her.
After my a father died, I tried to tell my mother about my life. I tried to tell her about my friends, but she responded as if they were idiots more often than not. I remember her judging me for driving so far to see my friends, but it was worth it for me because they were good friends. To this day, many of those people are in my life. I think when my mother looks at my friends, compared to the friends of my siblings (who are, by and large, either gone or terrible friends), she understands why I spent so much money to keep good people around.
When I tried to tell her I was depressed and wanted to stop music lessons, she was frustrated that I was “wasting the time and money I had spent on them for so many years.” So I stopped practicing. It should have been a red flag to someone in my life, but I was so charming in person that I was able to hide the depression from just about everyone. One day I decided to ask for help with the depression, and went to my mother. I told her I wanted to get help and see a therapist. She laughed at me. When I told her I might be suicidal, she said “You don’t want to say that. Then they will take you away and put you in an institution. Do you want that?” There was only one obvious answer, according to the derision in her voice.
When I came out as bisexual at the age of 14, she said “No you’re not.” So when I came out as not-cis, she didn’t try to understand that either. Eventually, I stopped trying to tell my mother about my life. When I started seeing a therapist, I kept it a secret. When I started dating anyone, I worked to hide it as much as possible. Slowly, I shut down parts of my life from her view, trying to protect myself from the judgement and denial she threw at me.
After I moved out, I finally felt freedom. I could move where I wanted, and see who I wanted. When I went back to school, she offered for me to move back home. I laughed at the prospect. Subject myself to that again? The derision? The judgement? Never again will I live with my mother. My car is more comfortable to me than any house that comes with the price of being under her domain, even as much as she has improved lately.
After years of hiding, I was so tired. My sister outed me as a sex blogger on accident during one family thanksgiving. After that incident I just stopped hiding completely. It was more effort to hide than it was to stop caring. I began using this rule: I’ll answer any questions she asks, but whatever she learns is her problem at that point. And I will never volunteer information. My mother, through her nosiness has found out that I am kinky, have a sex blog where I write erotica, am polyamorous, love sex workers, and has even slept in my room where I proudly display items that speak to such traits.
Sometimes, she says something careless to me, and some of those old wounds are opened again. This person who should have provided love and growth used to provide primarily judgement and disdain. Instead of saying “It seems like your personality type struggles with polyamory; how are you coping?” She says “You’re not polyamorous. You’re just not.” And immediately, I am reduced to a small child in my mind, insisting that I am something I know I am, which she will not listen to.
In the past, my mother wouldn’t just make fun of every insecurity I shared. She would weaponize them. Every tiny invalidation chipped away a little more of me. The direct hits to my heart no longer hurt like they did when I was young and confused and depressed. I know myself better now. I’ve grown now. But they can still hurt, taking chips and chunks out. Usually I can have a calm and easy conversation. But once in awhile, it feels like I’m under constant fire from her off-hand discrimination against who I am. On those days, I build a glass wall between us. “You can look, mom, but you can’t touch.” As each topic becomes a weapon, the list of things I tell her not to mention anymore grows.
I know my mother has good intentions. Though I firmly believe in impact over intent, I will not ignore the fact that my mother did (and does) the best she can. My anger with my mother is not around the things she did, or what she failed at. My anger is around how I told her to get help, and tried to get her to listen to me, but she would not. It’s not the limits of what she couldn’t do, but what she wouldn’t do. My mother lives her life scared of being hurt and abandoned. Her power over me wasn’t a weapon she used on purpose. I just had the poor luck of being sensitive, and born to a mother who couldn’t find the time or space to grow with that. I know her love for me comes out in other ways now. She supports me in the ways I let her, and she tries hard to understand the life that I’m living away from my family. She let’s me keep it separate these days. That is exactly what I need, because the place I’m in right now just means I keep remembering how I continued reaching out. I continued offering pieces of myself, silently praying for her to see me, and by seeing me, know me.
I’m spending more time thinking of all the moments she’s missed out on watching me change and grow. Instead of this distant, but loving relationship we had to work for years to get to, my mother could have had a hundred amazing conversations around how I’ve overcome my own biases, and begun living the life I always wanted. We could have talked about how I am smart enough to be cautious about falling in love, but free enough to fall hard when I do. Every moment that I tried to share is still mine, and they were never hers to criticize. I have taken them back now, and I have forgiven her.
One day, I hope she can see how amazing my life is, and how it’s because of me. She might even be able to understand how our strained relationship shaped me. I would never say thank you for that struggle. It shouldn’t have been that way. But I am willing to say that it’s in the past and she is helping more than hurting these days.
I do love my mother, despite the crazy flaws she has, and the flaws she gave me.