It is because of you that I will be an amazing mom.
Not because you were “the best mom ever.” Not because you were an addict, abusive, or mean, but because of your absence, your inability to have the hard conversations, or hear me.
I remember your soft voice and love for animals. I remember how you were incredibly artistic whenever we did crafts together and how my sisters and I would beg to be the first one to get our backs rubbed when you tucked us in at night. I remember the prayers, devotionals, books, and songs in our daily routines. I remember how you always did our hair and kept us exceptionally clean. Unfortunately, most of the things that I remember were outside of our bedtime and morning schedules.
My heart is breaking. Although I’ve tried to tell you everything before, I can see that you were never strong enough in those moments to hear what I had to say. I feel like I am bashing you already. You won’t see this as my expression, or point of view…this will hurt you.
You blamed three little girls when they questioned why you weren't able to be present for them physically or emotionally to be their mother. I often blamed myself for your absence, for not being enough to make you want to stay and be there no matter what, even when it was hard. You revert to faith and the bible to manipulate our emotions, view of the world, and situations we were in. I felt like my authentic self wasn’t good enough, a “sinner,” because you’d do things to try to change my mind out of fear or through scripture so that I would be agreeable to you and your specific beliefs. I ask questions and discern between facts and my experiences; I believe that love is abundant–free of judgment and limitations. I have grown in spirituality and I believe empathy can save the world. My values, morals, and convictions are clear, and I don’t think you want to believe that, even today. Our childhood wasn’t a safe space to have opinions. I know now that it wasn’t me, it was you and what you were going through. You were never well (who is?), but I’m talking about being healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally…but I know now that you were abused too.
It’s not my fault what happened to me, but I am responsible for my healing.
My sisters and I were all under the age of 12 when we decided that we didn’t want to be with you full-time anymore.
Before the age of 12, we knew how much child support and alimony you received, plus the cost of our private education and extracurricular activities that you didn’t contribute to. We knew that our dad paid for all of it. No child should have known this, but we knew. We knew that with all that money, you still couldn’t show up for us. We knew that you’d be late to everything, including dropping us off and picking us up from school every day. And we knew that with that money, even most of our meals came from a drive-thru window.
Before the age of 12, we knew that when we were with our dad, we were always going to have home-cooked meals, clothes on our backs, and all the supplies and sports equipment we would need so that we would never feel “less than” our peers. He knew that we felt so ashamed that our family was not like our friends’. I know now that he was ashamed too. Our family was dysfunctional; our parents were “divorced” (still a strange thing in the 90s and within a Catholic household), but we knew that we would NEVER have to feel the panic of wondering where our dad or grandparents were. We never questioned if our dad had “forgotten about us.”
Dad would be at every single sports game, award ceremony, and every other extracurricular activity. We knew that he would pick us up for school on time and if he wasn’t able to, we knew he would make sure that grandpa would be there for us. Do you remember, mom? Were you aware of how many times you left us waiting for you to pick us up from school or from practices after the sun had gone down? We would wait, and wait with our coaches, school staff, or we’d just be alone. We’d often call dad to come and pick us up when you wouldn’t answer the phone, everyone knew that he’d drop everything to make sure we were taken care of even when it wasn’t his days to have us according to the custody agreement.
Dad wasn’t loving or affectionate. He was cold…nothing like you. He has said multiple times that he was a “bad father, but a great provider.” You’ve got to hand it to him, he always shows up. Despite not being able to achieve a deep emotional connection with him, we felt safe physically and financially, at least for a while. However, we were already traumatized by this point. While you were both still married, you fought…physically. Constant yelling and abuse, while three little girls hid in the back bedroom and covered each others’ ears. After the big fights, we’d all pack up and leave. We knew that we were driving around for hours in order to evade the cops that would get called by our neighbors. We were an afterthought to your personal problems with each other. You both panicked and thought about what might happen to us after your fights and never considered what was happening to us during your fights. What does it say, when three children under the age of 9 are happy when their parents’ divorce is final?
I know my dad isn’t a good dad, I know my dad was an even worse husband, but your spite was never subtle. You both had no problem talking badly about each other to us when we were young, but the desperation of “getting even” was just a shadow of who you both were when you were in public. My dad is, by far, one of the most charming men I have ever met. You were one of the kindest gentlewomen I have ever known.
You have this innate ability to make people feel like they can be vulnerable and confide in you, but your loneliness feeds the urgency to “spill the tea” about things that are shared with you in private. You justify your gossip with the excuse of being “concerned” and needing to seek “opinions” from those that have been far removed from our lives for years. You talk about me and share things I’ve told you, my secrets, my personal life, my struggles with depression, and my health…it’s just content that you use to chat for hours with distant family members and friends. It gives the appearance that you are actively present in my life and that we talk all of the time, but are you there, really?
Before the age of 12, we decided that we wanted to be with dad more. And when you no longer had full custody of us, you left quickly. You’ll say the reason that you left was something other than losing us full-time (who knows), but the brand new 50/50 custody agreement with dad, turned into sole custody overnight. You just…took off. As my sisters cried, missing you, you refused to acknowledge, or at least, you had all the excuses as to why you couldn’t come back. You blamed us for your absence by saying, “you girls have a choice, if you want to see me, you can come and see me,” “if you want to be with me, you have to move out here to be with me,” or “I can only come back if you are with me full-time.” That was money talking, mom. Before the age of 12, we knew that and we barely talked until you returned after I graduated from high school.
I know, mom. I know how much you’ve hidden from me. I know that your husband borrowed thousands of dollars from my grandmother, lost it all, and can’t pay her back. I know that you’re sick and he won’t prioritize your need to see a doctor. I can see your health declining. I can see his health declining. I know that he controls 100% of the money and won’t let you borrow his car or pay for alternate transportation for you to see your kids and grandkids. I know that my uncle has been willing to help you and pay for some major health expenses and is willing to take you in. My brother is 21 now, and because he’s on the autism spectrum, he is fully dependent on you. He doesn’t have health insurance, nor any support systems in place to help him obtain any sense of independence. What happens when you both are gone?
I am at a loss for words. There is pain just lingering around my heart for you, and yet, I hold onto hope because I know I won’t be able to live with myself if I lose you while there was a chance at knowing peace between us. I can’t lose you without giving my all to be the best version of myself, to reconcile and ensure your declining health isn’t ignored so that we aren’t robbed of time.
Despite your actions, I still feel shame in expressing your faults. Because of who you’ve always been, it’s so difficult to justify any anger or resentment. It may seem impossible to comprehend thus far in this letter, but it is heartbreaking to express all of these memories that have made you the type of mother that I don’t want to be. My sisters and I always stuck up for you when anyone talked poorly behind your back, even when you didn’t show up for us. You always have and will be able to hide behind that kind, gentle, Christian demeanor. I don’t think you realize it, not that you aren’t a kind, gentle Christian, but you are MORE than that. More than a person free of blame because her sins are always forgiven by her Lord and Savior. I believe there is more to you than just those titles; there are complexities beyond the facade that we choose to show every day. You can be an artist, you can be a hard worker, you can have the mouth of a sailor, you can make mistakes and be human, and you can be an enthusiast about anything– not JUST an enthusiast of religion.
I’ve cried while expressing my pain to you for not making the effort to right your wrongs or be present in my life. Those words that took so much courage to share with you and the conversations that we had…I thought I just needed to hear the right thing from you to gain closure and move past our trauma, but it has always ended at a dead end. You would respond with “don’t you think it goes both ways? Maybe I need more support from my daughter? I just need more ‘grace’ from my own children.” I responded, with tears rolling down my cheeks, “I have no more grace left to give.”
I’ve shown grace to you for the same things over and over again for 30 years, and now…there’s no grace left for such repeated behavior. There is no more grace when you do not seek to better yourself. There is no grace for you when I am willing to be vulnerable, to jump headfirst into the trenches to fight for a better relationship with you, and you won’t reciprocate. When I have expressed my thoughts surrounding you and me, I have only been greeted with excuses. There is absolutely no more grace if you aren’t willing to have the courage to be vulnerable, to take a chance, and be willing to be open to any information or idea that can change your mind.
Your “I love you and I miss you” texts, the cute pictures, and bible verses; the phone calls, sharing of sad and fearful news stories, and self-research into diagnoses for yourself and all of those around you…my mind is exhausted from all the information I receive with very little containing any real substance. Whenever my sisters or I bring up something that is hurting us within our relationship with you, it’s just “I’m sorry, I’ll do better” then you don’t talk to us for weeks, sometimes months, and then you just pop back in one day as if nothing had ever happened. If only you truly knew the reasons behind your apologies instead of just repeating the words “I’m. Sorry.”
We do not “forgive and forget.” We can forgive and learn. Apologies without accountability or changed behavior lack meaning. “Sorry” alone, “sorry” over and over again over the same thing is no longer forgivable.
Oh, the hours I spent in therapy trying to wrap my head around how a mother could be ok with her children feeling this way and continue to expect “grace” from them. It’s an illness. It’s your loneliness. The hours I spent waiting for you to show up. The hours I wasted trying to explain myself, my suicidal thoughts, and my hopes for a better future with you in it. The time has come and gone to learn and experience a healthy mother-daughter relationship within youth. Whether or not a healthy relationship can exist between us in adulthood remains uncertain, but I know that you are a great grandmother when you actually show up for them. I know that my nieces and nephews love you dearly and you are missed greatly during the months between visits. I know that your caring nature is not found often. I do believe that it is a rarity. Maybe the slate can’t be wiped clean for us, but you can make up for the childhood bond that was never established through your presence as a grandmother and your effort with my brother.
I pleaded with you as a child to stay with us, to come to my games, and be present for my major accomplishments, but you chose to be late or not show up at all.
I pleaded with you as a young adult to have lunch with me, and you’d leave me waiting hours for you in the parking lots. You chose different excuses, and I quickly learned that my time and presence weren’t a priority.
I pleaded with you as a 30-year-old, to take care of your health, to show up when it was hard, and not just after so much time has passed and we missed each other. Even after I gave up on needing a “mommy,” I still told you first when I had a miscarriage, and when I needed your support, it was up to me to drive an hour to come to you. I really needed a hug then.
I originally said I will be a good mom because of you, but the further I dive into this letter, it sounds unbearingly clear that I will be a good mother in spite of you. However, I don’t want that to be the case.
I have come off frustrated, but I am no longer angry at you. I am in mourning of you. I am in mourning of my family which is broken into many pieces. I am mourning the fact that my pain and my love weren’t enough for you to want to try harder. I am grieving the time that I wasted hoping that things would change. “If only I waited longer. If only I continued to pour out my heart to you. If only I stayed, and continued to be available to everyone in the family despite the toxicity, sadness, expectations…the mistreatment.” I am grieving those thoughts that “I didn’t do enough.” The truth is: I gave everything I could at the times I was called on and needed, even when it wasn’t healthy or convenient for me. I made the tough decisions that no one wanted to make and said all the things that no one wanted to say. I accepted the emotional abuse and criticism of being a black sheep. The belief that the same lifestyle and behaviors we engaged in our entire lives would eventually help us grow and create healthy relationships with each other was insane. I chose to be ostracized. I chose the pain. I chose to lose everything I had ever known: my home, my things, my family and friends, and my financial security. I needed to be deliberate and extreme if everything (literally) needed to change. I needed to heal in order to be an example.
Thinking about it now, I have honestly never seen either of my parents truly happy. Like, happiness as a whole, and happiness overall in life. I have only seen the misery, problems, and discontent…those images have deeply affected me and, ultimately, those around me. I actually think that may be my first traumatic experience: realizing that not even I can make my parents happy. I’ve seen you and my dad smile and laugh with sad eyes. Always sad, tired eyes. There have been good moments but always overshadowed by a dark cloud. Always one topic of conversation, one uncomfortable, invalidating, or inauthentic moment that comes up, and when I leave, I have to carry those memories home with me. Then, it’s up to me to manage, unpack the baggage and let it go. Our encounters are “nice,” but not without burden. I love you, I miss you, and yet I also have to make preparations to cope after we visit each other.
I cannot wait for you anymore. I weep over the idea that we can heal and be better as a result of our experiences. I have heard the words “I will try to be better” countless times without any action. There is no proof that your word is good. Now, I know that I can stand tall and nod. I can let you speak without understanding you or being understood. I can feel ok knowing that our distant conversations have made you happy for a period of time. I no longer rely on your words to bring me peace and closure, but I do hope to see my mother truly…truly happy, safe, and content, at least once in my life.
My future children will know love and safety. They will know that who they are is enough and they are always worthy. Always. Worthy. They will know that their mother is proud of them. They will know that they will never have to beg for affection and that their mom is going to be there to hug them no matter what, she will make it happen. They will never be manipulated by religion or my personal opinions. They will have every opportunity to be their own person and form their own beliefs. My children will be validated, their emotions and vulnerability celebrated. They will not be shamed. They will know that their mother loves life. They will see happiness and peace in her eyes. They will know that she valued physical, mental, and spiritual health in order to be the best version of herself for herself and her family. They will know that she will admit when she is wrong and always follow through with her word. They will know that she will never leave even when it’s hard, and will never raise her voice. They will know that she will do everything she can to understand and empathize with them, to hug them even when they act out. My children will know, without a doubt, that I will always be there for them.
When life is hard, in our most imperfect times, we don’t need scolding, abandonment, and punishment to teach lessons. What we really need is an abundance of love. We need to know that even when we fuck up, we are still loveable.
I love you, mom. I am so sad, hurt, and so thankful for you. I hope that one day you can see your worth and receive all the help that you need. I hope to see you truly happy and healthy in this lifetime. I don’t want you to suffer anymore from your mistakes. This is the last time I pour my heart out to you. I don’t want to punish you by telling you things that you aren’t yet ready to hear anymore. This letter, mom, was never meant for you…it was meant only for me.
I forgive you.
Love always and forever,