How do you protect yourself from the hurt?
***UPDATE AT END OF POST
Greetings all, sorry I know I have been completely absent as of late. I am still working 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. Should be done in about two weeks which will be nice as I am missing having a life. But I am also very much struggling with being hurt and thought writing might help, so I am going to sneak in a post despite my schedule.
As some of you may remember, my brother died in August and at that time my aunt told my mother about an incident that happened with my father (I think before I was born) that no one had ever told my mother (see Enraged, Working Through and Sitting for all the gory details). Oddly enough, I was certain that my mother would not contact me about this. So was BN. Everyone else was convinced it would change my mother but I knew better. Things were already strained between us because of how my mother behaved when my MIL died five years ago.
She totally ignored it, despite knowing how badly it affected my family. I had been keeping my distance due to stuff I was hitting in therapy, but had called at Thanksgiving to explain what was going on because I didn’t feel like it was fair to just cut her off. I had also called her Christmas day to say hello and we had chatted for 45 minutes. So although I was not in regular contact with her, I had also made it clear that I was not abandoning the relationship. Two weeks later we lost my mother-in-law after a three-day death watch in the hospital. My husband, my two children and both of my brother in-laws were devastated, so despite my own grief, I had to hold it together. I was making all of the out-of-town phone calls to let people know what was going on, in between being at the hospital, making meals, making sure the kids were ok, etc. My one sister, with whom I am close, also knew and loved my MIL, so I had called her to let her know what was going on. She let me know that she would let my mom know, which was a relief as it was one less person I had to call.
Long story short, my mother never called, never sent flowers, never even sent a card. I was trying to rationalize it away as her trying not to intrude since I had been keeping my distance but then it hit me that she was ignoring her son-in-law of 22 years, who had never been anything but good to her, and her two granddaughters, who were devastated. My MIL had lived with us the last five years of her life and was an integral part of our family. There was no normal to return to, and every way you looked, there was something to remind you afresh of your grief. That’s when I got really furious. It’s one thing to hurt me, but quite another to hurt my children and my husband.
I didn’t talk to my mother for almost a year I was so angry. I was also acutely aware that confronting her about this would change nothing. I knew her well enough to know that not only would she not acknowledge having done anything wrong, it would be turned into her being angry at me for not contacting her. ‘Cause that’s how it works right? It’s the responsibility of the grieving person to reach out, right? This was rendered even more cruel by remembering that when my stepfather had died a few years before, I dropped everything to go to my mother’s and help with the funeral luncheon (most of which I also paid for) and my husband, whose work schedule wouldn’t allow him to get away, sent two dozen roses.) I couldn’t stand my stepfather, but I knew my mother had lost her husband, so I went.
I eventually got back in touch with my mother but the only conversation we have EVER had about my MIL’s death was my mother asking me what we were going to do with her in-law apartment (which is part of my home.) So I will freely confess that this has been festering for a while. And when the incident with my aunt happened, it burst forth with renewed fury.
I had a session a while back where I talked to BN about my mother and talked about going out for my stepfather’s funeral, and then when my MIL died nothing. Then, when my brother died, despite still being fairly distant, I immediately called my mother. At a minimum, I had compassion on her as a mother losing her first-born. But she hears that from my aunt and nothing. I was complaining about how unfair it was and how angry I was about it and how I needed to do something about it. BN looked at me and said “you want your mother to at least treat you with basic compassion and care as another human being and she’s not going to, she’s not capable of it.” I needed to hear it put so starkly.
So ever since, I have been coming to grips with the fact that my mother is who she is, and no matter what I want, or how badly I want her to be different, it ain’t going to happen. I have also been seriously sitting on the fence of whether I even wanted a relationship with her anymore. I kept going to call her and realizing I was still very angry. So Thanksgiving and Christmas passed without a phone call (I did send gifts at Christmas and I have never missed at least sending a card on Mother’s Day and her birthday). My mother quite firmly believes a phone works only in one direction: you calling her, so I pretty much control the level of contact we have.
I spoke to my sister recently and found out that my mother is very angry with me for abandoning her (evidently she’s angry at me for cutting her off after she couldn’t be bothered to call me after she talked to my aunt and gotten outside confirmation of my father’s behavior that she has not believed me about these 20 years. What kind of selfish monster am I?!) That if I don’t want to be her daughter then she doesn’t want to be my mother. The last time I talked to my sister, she told me that we are both very dug in. When I pushed back at her, she readily admitted that mom is like a seven-year old. Which leaves me, again, as the only adult in the relationship. Nothing new there, except I am sick to death of it. I read somewhere (forgive me, I can’t remember where) that being too enmeshed or completely estranged in significant relationships is not ideal as it causes too much intensity. I feel like this is true with my mom. I am also aware that my mother did a lot after my father left to take care of us, and I do have some affectionate memories of her. I am also acutely aware that a lot of my strength and backbone come from her. I do believe that she loves me in as much as she is capable of loving.
But I am acutely aware of the many people who do love and value me (a fact highly evident on my birthday :)) which brings more comfort than I can say. I could never treat my girls this way, so its hard to understand. The truth is, that my mom would be a lot easier to deal with if she weren’t my mom. I’d have a lot more compassion for everything she’s been through, and how damaged she is from it, if I could stop wanting the fact that I’m her daughter to be more important then whatever happened to her. I honestly feel like I am not being fair or compassionate enough (not to mention discounting all the very real sacrifices she made when dad abandoned us) but … she’s my mom. But I’m also 52, so I think its time to let this go.
Whether we have any kind of relationship going forward is up to her. I am going to call the next two Saturdays and if she has not responded by the third phone call I am going to tell her that I am willing to talk, but obviously she isn’t ready to, so, if and when she is, then she needs to call me.
Lord forgive me, but at times I am just hoping she’ll continue to ignore me so I can walk away with a clean conscience. Ambivalence, thy name is AG. I’m not sure what I want her to do. In the meantime, I emailed BN to ask to schedule a session (although where I am going to fit it in I have no idea). But mom ignoring me is hitting harder than I expected, so I thought it best to be prepared. I am trying to find some way to recognize who and what my mother is and her limitations but be able to have a relationship with her without getting so hurt. So far, it eludes me.
UPDATE: I called my mom again today, Sunday, eight days after the last message and again got her answering machine. I left a message saying I had called last weekend but had not heard back and that I woud really like to talk to her. I have recieved no reply. I see BN tomorrow morning and am looking forward to it as there is a lot to work and think through. I have very much appreciated everyone’s input, both here in the comments and by email, as it has provided me with such comfort, insight and food for thought. Thank you all who took the time to write. I will see how I feel after talking with BN tomorrow, but if I do not hear back from my mother, next weekend will be my third and final message in which I will make it clear that of she intends this relationship to go on, she’s going to need to contact me. Three calls is as far as I can bend right now.
I will try and post about my session tomorrow if I can find the time. We’re down to the wire and things are quite crazy. 🙂