On my first Mother’s Day as a mother myself, my own mom created a fake Twitter account under a fake name for no other reason than to harass me. She knew it would sour the day for me, and it did. Because that’s what toxic family members do best, and this is just one example of thousands. Every Mother’s Day since, the memory slithers to the surface like a weed, but what she doesn’t know is that my garden is too full of life and beauty to be marred by it.
I haven’t seen her in at least a decade, but my mother is alive and lives only a handful of miles from my own home. I’ve had the same phone number since high school, and she’s had it memorized for 17 years. She was not invited to my wedding, nor the wedding of my sister. She was not present for the birth of either of my daughters. I navigated new motherhood without a mother—one of the most difficult trials of my adult life.
At one of my lowest points, postpartum depression and anxiety almost swallowed me whole and I desperately wished I had a mom to go to for comfort and reassurance. For a simple break. But my mother is not that mother.
We last spoke on my 26th birthday. I will turn 36 this summer.
When I found out I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I remember crying with relief that all the love I’d spent a lifetime building up finally had a safe, necessary outlet—my child. Once she arrived, I knew I’d never have to worry about history repeating itself and that my boundaries for all toxic family members are eternal.
With my life free of my mother’s wrath and my subsequent anguish, I am capable of being fully present and mentally healthy enough to parent my children with the unconditional love I never received. As my daughters reach new milestones in their lives, specific moments of trauma I’ve either repressed or never processed as trauma will resurface as I think to myself, “My God, I would never do that to them.”
And because of my boundaries, they’ll never have to bear witness to my mother traumatizing their mother, either. Though her absence in my life is necessary, the void is still keenly felt. Especially this time of year.
Every spring, my inbox is flooded with the typical Mother’s Day missives and the “perfect gifts for Grandma” roundups are always a gut-punch. My mother-in-law is a wonderful grandmother, but knowing I can’t ever give my daughters a grandma will always bother me. The pastel-colored graphics telling me how to pamper and spoil my mother go directly into my trash folder. That’s an easy fix.
Less simple than hitting the ‘delete’ button is scrolling through any social media platform during Mother’s Day, where I am flooded with images of mothers and daughters at brunch, at a family picnic, out shopping together, and lovingly snuggling children and grandchildren. They’re beautiful, happy faces radiate joy and contentment with a life I’ve never known but will instead create myself. These moments of wistfulness and envy aren’t limited to Mother’s Day, of course. It just hits differently.
A lot of people assume that because I have my own family now, that the pain directly tied to my mother must have lessened by now. (When there’s a family estrangement, a lot of people like to insert themselves in it and assume a lot of things. It’s exhausting.) Honestly, I think the opposite is true. Because I will now forever see life through the lens of motherhood, it’s become crystal clear that the way I was raised is an exact blueprint for how not to parent my girls.
- I know that when talking to your children, your tone matters as much as your words.
- I know the impact of maternal physical affection because I’ve spent a lifetime craving it.
- I know that speaking kindly about myself is just as poignant as speaking kindly to my children.
- I have cultivated a plethora of coping skills to turn to in moments of anger or frustration so that my children never fear me.
- I know how important it is for my children to see mutual love and respect between both of their parents.
- I know it’s even more important to be humble and apologize to them when we get it wrong.
A lot of people believe that sharing a bloodline entitles someone to forgiveness. That no matter what, “you only get one mother.”
Here’s the thing about that. You do not get unlimited chances to hurt other people. Unconditional love and unconditional tolerance are two very different things.
I would give anything to have had a loving mother by my side during these last 15 years. I needed one, many times. Unfortunately, that just isn’t in the cards for me, so I have to put all that energy into giving my girls what I never had. I won’t be able to control everything in their lives, but my toxic family won’t ever cloud over their sunshine.
After years of therapy and now that I’ve created my own wonderful family, I know my boundaries will be in place no matter what happens. Not even declining health or other drastic circumstances will change that. Because that is the consequence of a lifetime of abuse. If you deeply, irreparably damage someone in this life, you are not entitled to forgiveness. Not even at the end of yours. That is the consequence of that type of damage, and it’s not my burden to help anyone make peace with that.
I have a heart. I love deeply and unconditionally. And the people who love me get to see it every day. My children get to bear witness to my love every minute of every day and I hope it fills them up enough for 10 lifetimes.
While I didn’t initiate the estranged relationship between my mother and me, I will uphold it. It’s the hardest breakup that exists in human nature. Unfortunately for many people out there, when it comes to the person whose primal existence is supposed to sustain us, separation is necessary for survival.
For this Mother’s Day and all the rest, I’ll celebrate the fact that I broke up with my mom because it provided me with the courage to give and receive love. And my children and I are better for it.