Over lunch one day, a colleague said, “You know what it is like with mothers; they can be worn down to the bone and going crazy, but they stand by you no matter what.” I was struck by this. I found myself thinking, “Oh, so that’s how most people feel about their mothers”. Since that day, which was many years ago, I have often wondered what it would feel like to have a mother who stood by me, believed in me and saw me.
As my children have grown into teens and young adults, I have marveled at their self esteem; at their ability to advocate for themselves; at their ability to know what they want. My children have voices, they know who they are. and they feel pretty good about themselves. My husband and I see this and know that we have done something right. But we have also admitted that, at times, we are envious of them. We have both wondered how our lives might be different if we had felt loved, seen and supported by our parents.
My mother left us when I was still a teen. Physically, her departure was slow. She would travel for a week here and there, then weeks and months at a time. By the time I was
ready to leave high school, she was gone more often than she was home. But emotionally, she left us long before that. Once she started to travel, she complained incessantly about her life with us. She resented “being treated like the maid”. It got to the point where all of us, my sisters, my dad and I, dreaded the time when she was home.
Now that I am the mother of a 17 and a 20 year old, I find myself vacillating between sympathy and judgement for the woman who left us. There are moments when I understand why she felt she had to leave. I can imagine how hard it would be to watch children leaving you when you had built your entire life around them. But most of the time, I am shocked by the enormity of her abandonment. I see how much my near adult children still need me and I cannot imagine anybody walking away from that.
Those are the moments when I realize how much my sisters and I missed. I finished high school and went to university with no mother. No one helped me find a place to live. No
one gave me dishes and sheets to start out on my own. No one phoned to see if I was okay. My sisters and I each carry the weight of our mother’s abandonment in different ways.
Now, as our mother’s mental health is slipping, we are being pulled back into her life, and we must all deal with a complex brew of emotions. Rage about her selfish decisions is pressed up against a deep sadness for the old woman who is struggling against confusion and blindness to maintain some independence in her life. I don’t want to be responsible for this woman who has been absent from my life for 40 years, but I cannot walk away. I hate the position she has put us in but I cannot stop loving the woman who bore me.