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My Dad dying changed my Mum

by Gina Jackson 8 days ago in parents

Toxic relationships and my parents

My childhood was a seemingly happy one, I was the youngest of four girls and although there is a big age gap between me and my eldest sister; we still had a lot of fun that I can vividly remember. However, there are more sad memories than happy ones. It is no secret to friends and family that my parents were mildly neglectful; my dad loved a drink after work and he wanted my mum with him, regardless of the fact that there were four children at home that needed looking after. I remember my parents being at home a lot more at night when I was young but as soon as the sister above me was old enough, we were left on our own for hours on end. This was an age before mobiles and where we had to have a list of phone numbers

I can remember them stumbling in, at around midnight, normally with a takeaway and trying to be quiet. One of them would check in on me (my sister was in the converted attic and that was too many stairs for drunken legs), and I would see them in the morning. Now here's the thing, my dad was an early riser; he'd get up around 6/7am depending on where he was working and would wake me up. I can still remember him popping his head round the door, smiling "hello, petal", and then he'd be off.

This isn't a piece on my upbringing but my mother. She was always stand-offish, I don't remember getting hugs or being told that she loved me at any point in my childhood. Both my parents were depressive, there were whole weeks where one of them wouldn't get out of bed. The other parent would try and just get on with life, but when one neglectful parent is sleeping the day away, the other one just kind of forgot we were there.

I know both my parents love(d) their children very much, we weren't emotional enough to say it (which is potentially why I'm an oversharer, a hugger and tell my son I love him about 5000 times a day), and they showed it in very odd ways. My mother is a classic narcissist. Everything is about her, she had to be the centre of attention and never took responsibility for any mistakes. She hid behind her drunken episodes (there's a long running joke that if mum opens a second bottle of red wine, that we all leave), and lied constantly when I was growing up (another trait that I inherited and I'm still working on trying to get rid of). There are so many examples but again, this is not about my upbringing.

My dad passed away from alcohol-related illnesses in 2009, I was twenty-one, engaged and moving into my first mortgaged house. My sister had just got married and he'd been at the wedding, 6 weeks later he was dead. It was horrific and I still hold an awful lot of anger about it. My parents were living in France at the time, my mum stayed there for nearly a year after but had to return home due to money issues, the fact she couldn't speak French and she lived in the mountains in a tiny village with no amenities. It was not practical. To begin with, she acted like classic mum; lying, financial difficulties that we all had to get involved with and drinking like a fish.

The next 6 or so years were just as bad as they were when dad was alive. She didn't understand that she couldn't just rely on dad's pensions or that the government would look after her indefinitely. We had multiple issues with lying, money troubles, more lying and absolutely no responsibility. Bearing in mind, that although she loved to drink; my mum did manage to get us up for school most of the time, run a household (albeit shoddily) and remember appointments. Now, without dad, it was like she couldn't do anything for herself. She couldn't pay a bill, she couldn't do anything with the car (remember dad didn't drive so who did it all before?), and she couldn't deal with hospital appointments etc. She had a series of heart issues and I remember not even believing her. How awful is that? I went with her to a few appointments so I could check for myself. As the youngest, you get sheltered a lot and nobody tells me anything so this way, was the easiest way to get to the route of the issue. She's fine, just got to be careful.

When I fell pregnant with my son, it was like a lightbulb moment for her. I am extremely close to my mother-in-law, and although we live a couple of hours away, I would not hesitate to ask her for babysitting duties over my mum. My mum realised that this was probably her last chance to be an engaged grandmother. My eldest nephews are now 23 and 18, my eldest niece is 18 (and she's my brother-in-law's so we met her when she was 8) and the youngest is 10. My son was her do-over grandchild, which is fine, I needed childcare, she needed to be needed - it worked for both of us. She cut back on her drinking and is always working on her health. She was a huge help during the first year or so, and still is now, but I do wonder how she'd be if dad was still alive. It's only even more recently that she's started to accept that she was not the best mum (thanks eldest sister for having a few frank talks with her) and has started to show affection. Our relationship will always be strained, but I love her, she's my mum. She loves me, but there's always something that holds me back. I hate rejection, I get paranoid if people are even one minute late and I have to work really hard on being the best mum I can as I never want my child to feel neglected, or that he isn't loved.

I don't know if her behaviour shift is normal, or if she realises that she's changed or if she's made a conscious decision to try and be better now that my dad isn't demanding that she be with him - which always made me laugh as he would often go to the pub for peace and quiet with a book and then ask my mum to go and meet him. It's six of one and half a dozen of the other. I haven't done any research into whether this behaviour is normal, I don't think grieving is a one size fits all movement and everyone grieves differently. My mum is a big part of my life, I cannot talk to her on the phone but I don't mind going round and having a chat over a cup of tea and that's definitely not something I could have done before.

Dad, I love you to the moon and back but you and mum were toxic together. As much as I miss you, she's better. I imagine you'd be better without her too. It makes me wonder how you'd both have been if you'd split up rather than stayed together.

Gina Jackson
Gina Jackson
Read next: Understanding the Effects of Addiction on the Family
Gina Jackson

A 30-something writer who is trying to get into writing stories, in the vain hope I'll reseacrh a full novel eventually.

I love to read and write, I'm passionate about history and could spend all day researching my family tree.

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