Wednesday, November 11, 2009

As is without warranty...

It's official, mom and dad are separating. My dad told my mother that he was through last week and wanted to "call it quits". It's pretty tense right now between them. I am frustrated and hurt. She had the audacity to tell me that it was - more or less - my fault. She told me that I'm dad's wife in every way but the sexual way. What kind of thing is that to say to your child? Although, I'm not entirely surprised... mother and I have always had a complicated relationship - at best. On the contrary, dad and I have always been close and affectionately maintain our relationship to this day. She acts like it was some kind of transference of affection... like my relationship with dad had some kind of bearing on her deteriorating relationship with him. It's twisted. Just because they grew apart and he still invests in his relationship with me, doesn't make it my fault. She also said a recent difficult challenge with one of my children contributed to the break. I'm really sick of being blamed for the disappointments in her life. I don't get it??? I'm reading a book called "mean mothers" - it's very good. It talks about generational issues in parenting and how one emotionally unavailable mother - aka "mean mother" - paves the way for another... how parenting is learned, in large part in the deepest part of the psyche, from parents and a series of repeated, familiar interactions... how learned behaviors and maternal instincts culminate in a legacy of emotionally unavailable, tormented mothers... mothering emotionally devastated, tormented children.

It's been an awakening of sorts, so I decided to blog about it... blogging has become a therapeutic outlet for me and enables me to freely express myself, my hurt, disappointment, and my thoughts... my avenue for spiritual cleansing - a dumping ground for emotional waste and a garden for new growth. Examining my experience on a broader scale has led to an awakening of sorts... painful self-realization. By finding the strength to examine my childhood and my relationship with my mother, my mother's relationship with her mother, and her relationship with her mother before her... I am learning to face the pain, look it in the eye... acknowledge the challenges that generational maternal dysfunction that effects my life and the obstacles that I have to overcome in order to break the cycle. I scheduled an appointment with a therapist to begin the necessary journey to self-awareness and plan to write as a therapeutic outlet for documenting the discoveries, struggles, and the healing along the way - so that, in time, and can reflect on where I am today and identify areas of interpersonal growth.

I loved my grandmother but she never fit the stereotype of a grandmother... you know, the doting, aged woman with a sparkle in her eye that gains pleasure from the simple things in life - like watching her grandchildren devour her freshly baked cookies with a glass of milk. No, quite the contrary... My grandmother was a lot of things - she was fun and witty. She'd say "shit" if she had a mouthful and she was feisty and spirited. She was a lot of things, the least of which was a good mother. My uncle (who killed himself years ago) - my mom's only full-blood brother -had a lot of "issues", most of which seemed to resonate from his relationship with my grandmother. He called her Pearl (pearl was her first name). He never called her mother or mom... I guess he didn't feel like she had earned the right to be called mom or mother.

Grandma was extremely selfish. When we were kids, she and my grandfather would travel around Mexico in caravans with their RV, vacationing for the majority of the year. Cell phones were in their infancy at the time and we had no way to contact them. When one of us got sick or when there was a crisis in the family, we'd just have to wait for them to show up in the spring to fill them in on what had happened throughout the year. They wouldn't tell us when they were coming either. I remember driving by the RV park day after day with mom each year when May rolled around, and observing the hopeful look on her face as she searched the RV park for some sign that they had come back. One time they came within 50 miles and stopped at an RV park outside of our home-town. They stayed there for several weeks - fishing and enjoying Montana. They didn't want us to know that they had arrived. Mom got so distraught when they didn't show up that she went from RV park to RV park hunting for them. Sure enough, there they were... hiding out. They wanted to enjoy Montana without family "hassles". I remember how mom cried over that. She felt so hurt that after months of non-existence in her life, her mother didn't seem the least bit interested or compelled to see her. I can also remember how hurt my mother was that they NEVER called - all year - not once. Mom struggled with her disappointment, and she would keep her feelings private - never saying "ouch" to her mother... I don't imagine it would have helped, as I suspect that she would never have validated her feelings. My mother's repression of the deep seeded issues and pain in her life surfaced in other ways, not defined by our relationship. She'd grind her teeth so severely in her sleep that she hardly had any teeth at all. Years ago, after years or grinding her teeth, they all had to be crowned. She'd bite her fingernails and chew on her fingers until her fingertips would scab and bleed.

My grandparents were generous on their own terms. They wouldn't come to any of our graduations or weddings because they said that if they did it for one grandkid, they'd have to do it for all of us. Heaven forbid you enjoy participating in your grandchildren's lives by choice and not obligation! We never received a call or even a Christmas card over the holidays. If we stopped by to see them before they'd had their "mush" in the morning (that's what they called it), they wouldn't open the door. You could stand there and knock for hours... and they'd pretend you weren't there. In fact, they made no excuses for their ambivalence, explaining that they liked to enjoy their mornings without interruption. We were told that that if we came before they'd adequately prepared for the day - they had no intention of acknowledging us. It was an established rule and therefore they had formulated a "no fault" policy (even if it only existed within the confines of their conscience). So, as it was, they excused themselves from blame, and as a result we had no right to be hurt by their blatant acts of avoidance. If we didn't want to be hurt - the solution was simple... we would establish a relationship on their terms... which began after they had eaten their mush and sufficiently prepared for the day. When my uncle David committed suicide, she refused to go to the funeral. It was a conscious decision not to face her own "demons" and a history of maternal ambivalence.

Examine the generation before her and you'll find a similar set of issues. I've come to realize that every "mean mother" was probably once the daughter of a "mean mother" herself. I've heard the stories about my grandmother's mother and how selfish she was. She used to lock my grandmother and her other children out of the house when they were kids because she didn't want to be bothered with them. When we were little (and she was still lucid), she never wanted to hold us. I remember a story that I heard about her when I was a kid. Everyone was adoring a new baby in the family. When asked if she'd like to hold the child, she reportedly said, "I don't want to hold IT... IT'LL get me dirty." My grandmother used to speak about her with blatant disdain. She made no efforts to cover up the "love loss"... that is, if any love ever existed.

So, I have been compelled to examine my own relationship with my mother... and consequently, my relationship with my children. When my mother laid blame at my feet for her failure as a wife, I was taken back by the flood of emotion that surged through my heart and soul. I've been trying to explore those feelings and emotions. I can identify some deficiencies in myself as a parent as I struggle to cultivate relationships with my own children. Because I'm committed to break the cycle, I'm forced to examine the impact that the relationship with my mother has had on my life. My dad taught me something profound... if you can find the courage to face it, then you can find the courage to change it. So, I am left to explore a relationship that was the source of so much childhood pain... so that I can examine it's impact on my life. This is the relationship that is the most familiar... a relationship that exists "AS IS WITHOUT WARRANTY".

Mom came out to visit our family with dad for Halloween a couple of weeks ago, then left the day before Halloween (after less than 48 hours), saying that she needed to get back in time for work and the flights didn't look good for stand by. When I asked why she didn't take any time off she said, "That's not the problem, Christina, flying stand-by is the problem". Actually, flying stand-by could be a huge benefit for her if she wanted a relationship with my family... because it enables her to fly for free. Despite frequent trips to Salt Lake (what seems like monthly) to visit my brothers and sister, she hasn't been out in over a year to spend time with me and my family... not once. It was obvious, from the time I picked her up at the airport, that she came out of duress (responding to pressure from dad). She wouldn't talk, despite my efforts to connect with her, it was tense, and she seemed annoyed by dad's carefree and happy connection with me... almost resentful and angry. I didn't cause their problems but, once again, I was being indirectly punished for them. When my brother (the one who works for an airline) came out to visit me a few months ago, he made a remark in an effort to be humorous and said, "mom said there's a downside to the free flight benefits because she feels obligated to come see you." Of course, when confronted, she vehemently denied saying it, because if she admits that she said it... then she would be forced to face some difficult questions..."why?"... "why did I say that?"... "why am I unable to connect with my daughter?" She's doesn't have the strength to look in the mirror... really look... without excuses.

I have to say that I can understand. This recent experience with her has dug up some very hurtful emotions... familiar emotions... emotions that have not been resolved. I've had to dig deep to try to understand them and the complex labyrinth of attachment... or should I say "detachment" that I feel for my mother... and in retrospect my own children. I struggle with her on a very real level... I resent her for not having the courage to face the "demons" in her life that have eroded, distorted, and demented her perception of maternal love for me. She knew that she couldn't connect to me... she verbalized it on more than one occasion... she actually said that she couldn't bond with me... and she didn't know why. I don't blame her for her inability to really love me... I know, now, that this is an issue that cuts deeper than the innocence of childhood... I was not an unlovable child. I was a child with a mother who could not love. The hate, hurt, and anger that surfaces in familiar scenarios today comes from the realization that she despised me so much that she would, not only allow me to internalize her rejection, but actively blamed me for it. She didn't understand why, but it became extremely obvious that she couldn't bond with me... so she took me to a child psychiatrist when I was eight or nine. I sat in a room with a complete stranger while she asked me strange questions and poked and prodded at my mind to try to understand my pathology. I remember that mom was always so sweet during those trips to the psychologist. The drive lasted for more than an hour and a half each direction. She found comfort in her lie... a lie that enabled her to avoid the ugly truth of who she WAS... the mother she was NOT. The deception allowed her to remain avoidant with herself... it bought her time, served as a distraction, after all - she was doing something about the "problem"... me. Like ointment in a wound-bed, it soothed her insecurity and allowed her to remain in a state of conscious avoidance. She would grin and glow, patronizing me with a sweet conversive tone and attention that she never lavished on me outside of those trips to and from the shrink. I soaked her attention up like an aged sponge in the rain, willingly accepting the burden of responsibility for the emotional abandonment in my life. The message was clear... I was the problem... her problem... there was something wrong with me and if I could be fixed, then she would be happy... she would finally be able to love me. I readily went about the task of trying to "fix" myself... a self that had been emotionally abandoned... a self that had spent hours alone with her with nary a conversation, a look, a smile, or acknowledgement that I even existed. I spent the majority of my childhood invisible. I would fantasize that I had been separated from my real mother at birth... and that one day she would find me, scoop me up in her arms, and tell me that she loved me... that she had never stopped looking for me... and that she would never abandon me again.

I would go to my friends houses for sleep-overs and marvel at the relationships that my friends had with their mothers. Although their mothers would discipline them from time to time, they never had to "beg for their supper". Their mother knew they existed. Aside, from the typical mother-daughter conflict, I caught a glimpse of genuine love by mothers who hugged their daughters, softened when they touched them, caressed them, and frequently smiled at them with a beaming sense of pride. Knowing that those relationships existed beyond the walls of my home only magnified my pain and reaffirmed my worthlessness. If a loving mother-daughter relationship exists, then why does it not exist in my world? The answer was simple... I must truly be unlovable (or so I rationalized).


  1. I knew some of this because of our talks but had no idea what all you have gone through to get to where you are today. I cannot imagine being raised by such a mother. I am sorry that was your experience but you seem to know what you need to do to break the cycle and are trying hard to do better by your kids. I love you!

  2. Christina you are being so self centered and selfish right now. You are being two faced and hypocritical. We did not have a mean mother. Our mother was kind and loving and I know she loved you then and she still does now. You have taken Dads affection from her. I can't believe I actually tried to reach out to you. How can you say so many neat and seemingly spiritual things in one blog and turn around and vent venomous hatred and false accusations in another. This is the lowest thing you could have done. Vent in a private journal if you wish, but don't justify you own inadequacies by placing blame on our mother in a public blog. You should be ashamed. I am so angry and hurt. I still love you, and I have tried to be supportive, and I tried to reach out to you. I have strived to remain neutral, but i can no longer ignore the fact that you are placing blame everywhere else but will not look within for the problem. I obviously was wrong about what I posted in my last letter. You have some serious issues to adress, and until you realize you are wrong you will never be happy. Wallow in your hatred it will destroy you in the end. I want everyone to know that I have three other siblings and we all had a happy and loving childhood with loving parents. Christina rebelled and is the source for her own hartache and hatred. My mother is a saint, and she tried harder with Christina than any of us. So take her venomous words with a grain of salt.