Surviving Mother’s Day When Your Own Mother Is Estranged
It’s that time of year again. That time of year when shop windows are packed with flower bouquets, chocolates that read ‘Best Mum Ever’, delicate scarves and other feminine products to lavish on your mother. Endless marketing tells us we must purchase our declarations of gratitude on Mother’s Day. We must show our mother how she means to us, how much we appreciate her, how we know that everything she does, she does for us.
But what if your mother isn’t your best friend? What if your mother isn’t a shoulder to cry on, a parent you can rely on no matter what? What if your mother is far from the best mother in the world? What if the endless social media posts – those adoring messages and loving photos – make your heart twinge with the realisation that you don’t have that: you don’t have a ‘normal’ relationship with your mother?
I can tell you right now, you’re not alone. That twinge in your heart is felt by so many people out there. It’s a twinge of longing – of emptiness. It’s where the love from your mother should be. But that painful twinge doesn’t mean you’re not strong; it means you’re human.
I recently published a memoir entitled ‘My Mother, The Psychopath’. For the first 23 years of my life my mother put me through appalling psychological torture and abuse. She was incapable of loving me: to her, I was her possession. But while writing my book was cathartic and I want to share my story, that isn’t why I’m writing to you now. I survived my mother, and now I’m on a mission to never, ever let her tear me down again, or make me doubt how strong I am. But that doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t ache just a little bit every Mother’s Day.
I’ve been afraid of my mother ever since I can remember. By the time I turned 18 I’d lost count of the ways I’d been betrayed, manipulated or used. So much of my childhood was spent feeling worthless, invisible, or frightened, but it wasn’t until I broke contact with my mother that I could finally see the effect her behaviour had had on me.
At the age of 23 I was a scared little girl. I would cower in front of my mother while she screamed that she loved my abusive, drug-addicted boyfriend more than she loved me. The memory of her telling me, after she survived leukemia when I was seven, that I wasn’t worth living for still rings in my ears today
Ashamed to have caused my mother so much pain and heartache, I would pick the skin on my arms to punish myself. I looked for love in all the wrong places. I thought I’d found it in my controlling, paranoid partner, in my cruel mother, in my absent father. That was what love looked like to me.
I believed for so long that I wasn’t worth living for, that I was a horrid little girl who broke her mother’s heart. The truth – that I learnt later – was that my mother never had a heart to break. In its wake there was only hatred, spite, and a unshakeable desire to control me, her only child.
Writing my memoir with my best friend helped me feel validated. I know now that I amworth living for. I amworth more than my mother ever believed. Even better, I’ve been told that my book helped other people too, and that in itself has been worth living for. Publishing my life’s journey has helped other people find their own strength and break free from their own abusers, and I’m endlessly honored by the reactions the book has received.
It’s been five years since I’ve spoken to my mother – five years since I broke free, found my voice, and finally became my own woman. That’s not to say that my mother’s ambition to ruin my life has gone; she’s tried – unsuccessfully – to get me fired from jobs, spreading lies about drug abuse and mental illness. But I’ve never looked back. I’m not bitter. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want to use my experiences as an excuse for failure; it fuels my desire to be independent and successful. It makes me feel worthy of having the love of the most gentle, generous and supportive man.
What helped me finally break contact with my mother? My self-worth. The realisation that I was better than the way I had been treated all my life. The realisation that I was stronger on my own. That I didn’t need to be controlled, manipulated, belittled and broken to be loved. I had a job, I had the start of my career and I threw myself into it. I’d just thrown my ex out of our rental, changed the locks, turned my mother’s blackmail money away and was living off £10 a week after rent and bills. But I was determined. Determined to never need my mother for anything.
My friends and granny were and still are my rocks throughout my independence. I’m open and honest about everything with them. I never hide my pain away like a dirty little secret, never hide my heart away to protect it, I wear it proudly on my sleeve.
Strong is defined by ‘being able to withstand force, pressure, or wear’. The secret to being strong is to withstand everything that life throws but not let it make you cold, defeatist or resentful. It’s tempting to shut people out, to lock down your emotions, to bury your vulnerability so deep you never let anyone get close again. But don’t shut your heart away. It’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to not be okay, it’s okay to talk through your feelings and let people help you. You will feel validated I promise you.
I want to tell everyone out there who may have a similar story to my own that there is hope. That on the day we’re meant to celebrate our mothers, you shouldn’t be ashamed if you don’t feel the same way about yours. I don’t begrudge the children who shower their loving mothers with gifts on Mother’s Day; I just feel a bit sad. And that’s normal. You need to let yourself feel.
No two people have the same story, and no two people have the same mothers. There are wonderful, selfless, giving mothers – but there are also narcissistic mothers, abusive mothers, neglectful mothers. There are mothers who try to make you hate yourself, try to make you feel like it’s your fault you’re not reaching for that ‘Best Mum In The World!’ card on Mother’s Day.
But it isn’t your fault. So if you’re in a similar situation to me this Mother’s Day, what you should you do? My advice is to go out and treat yourself: spend the money you would have spent on a meaningless card and wilting flowers and buy yourself something that makes you feel fucking fabulous. Something that makes you feel strong and resilient, beautiful and bold. That’s what I’m going to do – and when I’ve done that, I’m going to raise a glass to toast my mother. I’m going to thank her – not for loving me or looking after me or being there for me – but for making me the woman I am today… even if she didn’t intend to.
@oliviaoliverayne on instagram