As Mother’s Day 2014 neared I began to dread it; the same way I do every year. I had planned to write a piece about how hard the day is for me due to my fractured relationship with my mom, but for whatever reason the words just weren’t coming to me.
I have written a lot over the years about my strained, and now altogether non-existent, relationship with my mother, but recently I have been asking myself, “What message are you trying to get across with this? Are you just complaining; are you looking for a hug? Or are you actually trying to convey a real message and connect with others who might be dealing with the same issue?” To be honest, I’m not sure, but having looked back as much of my writings it feels like I’m doing a great deal of whining and not as much connecting as I would have liked. I’d like to change that going forward.
In 2006, after what felt like a life time of emotional abuse (and physical when I was younger), I cut off all communication with my mother. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I can remember standing on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant where my girlfriend (now my awesome Wife) and I had just shared Sunday brunch. I can also still vividly remember feeling the pain of listening to my mother on the other end of the phone telling me that I was no longer welcome in the family; I had been told this on many occasions during my life, as it was my mother’s favorite dagger to use when bullying me or trying to emotionally break me to get her way. But most of all I can also remember the overwhelming sense of relief when on that day after brunch, I finally stood up for myself and said, “No more!” I chose to be free of the abuse.
I wish I could say life got easier once I made that choice, but the reality is that it didn’t. In many ways it got worse, but those are stories for another time.
Eventually my Wife and I decided to relocate to the other side of the country, not altogether because of my mother, but she definitely factored into the decision. And since living on the East Coast, life has chilled out as it pertains to my estranged family. But every year (mostly around the holidays, and Mother’s Day) I’m reminded of a dynamic that is missing from my life, which I so desperately wish was there. I wish I had a mother/son relationship to foster in my life, and even more now that I have a child of my own.
It has been very difficult to see other friends who have had children cultivate, grow and experience this new and awesome relationship with their kids and their parents. I witness how they change as adults, and cannot help but be a bit envious as they can lean on the lessons of their parents to help them become better parents themselves. I don’t have that feeling or resource for my son, but more importantly I don’t have that relationship for me. This leads to a great deal of my anxiety about being a parent.
I know that parental estrangement is not as uncommon as it used to be, which is kind of sad in itself, because that just means the idea of broken families and estranged kids has become the norm now. In fact, it’s becoming so common that individuals in the media are starting to take notice.
At the end of 2013, I was honored to be interviewed for article written on the Huffington Post Parents website. The article was about people who have become estranged from their parents, and have now become parents themselves. Titled, “How To Be A Parent When You’ve Stopped Talking To Your Own,” was written by Catherin Pearson and did an excellent job capturing the whirlwind of feelings experienced by a new generation of young parents who don’t necessarily have the strong family dynamic to lean on.
In the article Pearson quotes a psychologist (Joshua Coleman) who says that one reason why we see estrangement on the rise is that over the last five decades we have become a “culture of individualism.” He goes on to say that kids are now asking themselves, “Does this family work for me? Is this where I want to be?” While not altogether untrue, I really feel Coleman’s point of view make this topic way too narrow.
At least for me, and many others whom I have spoken with over the years, the decision to break ties with our families did not come as easy as it sounds in Coleman’s questions. It wasn’t simply a question of does this work for me. The simplistic question strips away all contexts for why people feel the need to break ties. It instead make people sound selfish and self-centered, when in many, if not most cases those same individuals would give anything to have family support. For me, I had dealt with what felt like a lifetime of abuse, and one day I decided enough was enough. And though I made that decision, almost a decade later it’s still very hard on me; sometimes on a daily basis. Since making that decision I have battled my own substance abuse issues, and I still battle depression on a regular basis. But through all my trials I do feel lucky that I have had some incredible friends and loved ones, like my Wife, by my side to help me through.
The past eight years’ worth of Mother’s Days have been hard; not having someone of my own to call and say, “Hey, thanks for being an awesome mom to me.” But, it’s not like the mother’s days pre-estrangement were all puppy dogs and rainbows either. So for last two years I have made a strong effort to reframe how I see Mother’s Day. While it will always be hard because of my past, I have instead chosen to focus on, not the mother that I had, but the mother I live with now. I am trading in the sadness and negativity of the mother who I lived with growing up, for the mother that I live with now and who is raising our son to be a healthy and happy boy. And like so many ways we celebrate in our house, my Wife chose to celebrate Mother’s Day 2014 with me. She did that by buying me a Mother’s Day gift saying, “I know this is my day, but I couldn’t do it without you.” We both know she could, but it’s still nice to be loved so much that she would say that.
Mike Cruse is the author of the very insightful Papa Does Preach. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.