At a recent family gathering I said something about the way my mother would have handled some sort of issue (I can’t even remember the exact circumstance we were discussing now!) and it was said, “You really need to let that go.”
The fact that I write about what I dealt with growing up, or continue to deal with now, with regard to this relationship I have with my mother, has nothing to do with harboring any sort of ill will. As I stated before, I love my mother — in that sense that I want what is best for her. But, I don’t have a huge amount of affection for her. She doesn’t have much affection for me, either.
Stating that doesn’t mean I haven’t let anything go.
Flashback 16 years ago: I was expecting my first child whom I had learned was a girl. It was kind of a shock to find out I was having a daughter. I had always pictured myself having a son first. Maybe that was because growing up I had an older brother and always took a bit of pride in the fact that I did (though our relationship varied on the closeness). Regardless of why, it simply is what it is (as they say) that I felt a bit uncertain and even a some fear at having a daughter.
It was at that time that I started to think about my relationship with my mother more from my mother’s point of view. I wondered if I had been unfair in my judgments of her and her lack of attention towards me in my life. As I began viewing the relationship we had from her end of it, I gave her quite a bit of credit: She was a single parent (wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy); She was tenacious about her schooling and her future career as a nurse; She was a single parent TO FIVE CHILDREN; She was alone in life — obviously not by choice, so that had to be difficult.
From the time I had Sarah even through having four of my children, I made a conscious effort with regard to my relationship with my mom. I made sure to call her regularly. I found a Mother’s Day card or a Birthday Card at the appropriate times, or I sent her flowers. While pregnant with Dani, we even spent a WHOLE WEEK at her home in the mountains, far away from anything to entertain us — isolated and at her “beck and call” so to speak so she could talk and talk and talk at us. (Side Note: at that visit, I found where she had pictures from my youth. there were pictures of my siblings, some pictures of us with our Dad. I spent an entire afternoon looking at them. i asked her if I could take them with me. She refused. She had them all thrown haphazardly into an end table, most likely the way they had been for years, never been looked at, sorted or shared — but yet, she refused to allow me to take them. I was angry about that for awhile.) My years of conscious effort included many phone calls of me getting off the phone curtly and with frustration at her telling me negative things about someone in my family — usually my father, but sometimes a sibling — that I simply couldn’t bear to allow her to do. I believe during that time is when I was gathering my strength to set boundaries. I had small children and was learning the value of setting boundaries for them, and abiding by the boundaries set by them and my husband, and it is then that I began to realize the fault in most things with my mother lies in her inability to identify, set, accept and abide by emotional boundaries we all have (or should have).
I’m not sure what happened that caused me to realize that all my conscious effort was never going to make a difference. I COULDN’T MAKE HER INTO THE MOTHER I WANTED AND NEEDED. So, I have not ever cut her out of my life entirely, but I stopped making the effort that I had for those 8 or so years.
During those 8 years of effort, I let a lot of things go. And honestly, I’ve never taken them back on. I’m not angry with my mom anymore. I’m not. I’m sad. I still long for a mother-daughter relationship that I’ll never have. I mourn it in my own way. I cherish every wonderful (breathtakingly wonderful sometimes) moment I have with my daughters.
I think I am glad I heard that: “You really need to let that go.”
Hearing that helped me think about it and realize that I’ve let everything go.
Letting something go doesn’t mean you excuse the behavior or explain away the results as “nothing big.” The results of bad behavior exist whether or not we “let it go.” The chasm in a family relationship still exists when one person hurts or neglects another. Even when we “let it go” we learn and move on from it and act accordingly.
When trust is broken, “letting it go” helps us heal, but it doesn’t rebuild the trust. Trust is a two-way street and one person making a conscious effort for eight years will not rebuild that trust when only that person is making the effort.
I find it interesting how I am able to work through these sorts of things now. Over time, emotion has emptied, and I often am able to view both memories and current events with a matter-of-fact-ness not possible when angry or hurt. Sure, I am still sad at times for not having the sort of mother-daughter relationship of many people I see. but I don’t wallow in it — I’m busy cultivating my relationships I DO have in the present.
I think the best way to describe how I view my relationship with my mother is that it “just is.” I love her, but I don’t have affection for her. I know people who have wonderful relationships with their parents would read that and possibly think I am ungrateful. But they don’t understand — and they should feel grateful that they don’t — what it’s like to have a mother who is simply more interested in herself than anything or anyone else.