Like many women in their mid to late twenties, I grew up watching the Gilmore Girls every week on TV. I loved their relationship, their overdone late nineties dialogue, and their ability to eat horrendous amounts of junk food and maintain a steady 2% body fat. I loved it all, and to this day the theme song sets off an overwhelming wave of nostalgia whenever I hear it.
My mom and I watched that show together, over the years. It’s one of the fondest memories I have of her; I think now because we were both lost in a little world that wasn’t our own- where that kind of life was possible. In Stars Hollow, things were good.
In reality, we lived an emotionally tumultuous life that we fiercely pretended was totally fine. I knew my mother was different to my friends’ parents, but she was also so smart and beautiful- it never occurred to me that there was something more sinister behind the thinking and behaviour that I couldn’t understand. When the cracks would show, I would patch them with silence and agreement. After all, I was the oldest of five- and we needed to keep things good for the little ones. This farce was a double edged sword; I have many good memories jumbled amongst the frequent disagreements, meltdowns, and even domestic disturbances when things would inevitably bubble over. For the most part I would voice my opinions and quickly back down, or just stay quiet completely; this kept me firmly on her side, and protected from the worst. As I became an adult things improved, and I thought that it would be fine to leave my suspicions and questions unvoiced; that life would go on and we would all be fine. Of course, as it always does, life had other plans.
My son was born exactly one month after Mother’s Day in 2016, into an environment of overwhelming love and, on my part, debilitating stress.
For the past seven months I had been battling with my own mother, desperately trying to rake her back down to earth while her mental health rocketed her into the atmosphere, away from normalcy and reality. Our interactions were getting worse and worse, as for the first time in my life I refused to comply with her demands for unquestioning support of her questionable behaviour. Each time I uncovered and confronted a lie, the fault line in our relationship grew wider.
The day my son was born I knew, as most mothers do, that there was nothing I wouldn’t do to protect him. From danger, from harm. From a cycle of dysfunction that I was only just beginning to grasp the scope of.
I did not settle into motherhood the way many new mother do. The stress of my own mother’s meltdowns, theatrical suicide threats, and pleas for help from my kid siblings had taken my feet out from under me before I ever entered motherhood. She had always been someone you wanted to avoid conflict with, but this was on a whole new level. I felt swept along by it, bounced from rocks and scraped through debris. Sometimes, the river would ebb and I would crawl to shore, praying that this was the last of it. Each time I was dragged back in, the torrent even more violent than before.
When my son was three months old I became a pseudo-parent to my siblings, who could no longer be subject to what I, a fully grown adult, was barely surviving. They moved into our home, and overnight my steadfast husband and I became responsible for four human beings that needed me desperately. Still the onslaught from my mother continued, and I fought to remain present for my son- to remember special moments, appreciate his smallness and neediness before it was gone. It was a fight I often lost, as I cried myself to sleep night after night, my phone buzzing incessantly with a familiar cycle of manipulation, rage, and guilt.
On my first real Mother’s Day, mine put herself in hospital. Not well enough to be alone unsupervised, she nonetheless had the mental capacity to send me strings of grammatically perfect and abusive emails. She was discharged within a few days. The weeks following were full of the same- histrionic threats, abusive manipulation, and unbridled venom.
All of a sudden it was my son’s first birthday. 12 months had come and gone; I felt like I had been distracted the entire time.
I was heartbroken, and furious. He deserved to have an unbroken mother- he deserved to grow up with parents that were functional, content, and well. He wasn’t ever going to get that if I continued to act as the gatekeeper and punching bag of my family.
That weekend I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made- to cut off all contact with my mother. I blocked everything, stopped responding, and threw my weight against every door she tried to push through. I felt overwhelming guilt and crushing grief as I relived happy memories and saw bad ones with new clarity. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her or hope that I could help her; but I knew, for my son, that this cycle had to end.
It’s Mother’s Day today. My son will be two in a few weeks, and it has been almost a year since I ended communication with the woman who gave birth to me and raised me. There is no day when that’s not hard; but Mother’s Day will always be just a little harder. So many mothers in my life have their own mountains to overcome when it comes to this day- estrangement, loss, illness, miscarriage, infertility.
Unconventional grief is a tough thing to overcome; the one you grieve is often still a part of your life in one way or another, making it impossible to make progress sometimes. On Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to grant myself the grace to not be OK- but also to practice gratitude for the beautiful relationships I do have, so I can be the best version of myself for my own baby. My son is my whole world; my husband is the best partner I could ever have asked for. My siblings and I have a bond that means the world to me, especially as they become adults themselves. My son is surrounded by nothing but love and affection from everyone he encounters, and for that I am so incredibly grateful. I might not be OK on Mother’s Day, but I am more than OK for my son- and that’s a beautiful thing.