I Divorced My Mom

She was, although I never saw it in her, a beautiful woman. My father loved her and stayed by her, although he was never monogamous. I loved her, as all children love their mothers. But she was always just a bit cold, a bit distant, and a bit withholding. She worked hard, kept busy, and if she had any emotional depth, I never knew it.

In the generation that produced the girls who burned their bras and went to Woodstock, she was conventional and unimaginative. She never seemed to know what to do with the wildly insecure and sensitive child that I was. I must have sensed my adored father’s wandering eye, and I manifested my insecurity by worrying about everything. I had phobias about mental illness, cancer, and the atomic bomb. I had stomachaches and chronic respiratory problems. I read hundreds of books, brooded about things, and bit my nails. Mom had her hands full.

She came from an immigrant family. My grandparents arrived from Czechoslovakia as teenagers. The English language was never spoken fluently, and my Mother learned it as a first grader. She didn’t share much about her childhood, but I knew enough: her father was ruthless. He expected his three children to excel in music. My mother was the least talented, and her father apparently made that very clear to her and the family. She grew up keeping her emotions to herself, standing tall while quaking on the inside, and she stayed safe by being strong. I grew up fearing my grandfather, who softened little in his old age.

I know now that Mom was probably never comfortable in the maternal role. I think she would have made a wonderful accountant or secretary. She was highly organized. She had a creative streak, which she expressed by making delicious meals, baking, and mastering craft after craft. She made afghans, silk Christmas decorations, hand sewn Barbie clothes, and assorted candles and embroidered dish towels. She loved flower arranging and decorating the house.

She was a wonderful nurse. My fondest memories are from when I was sick. She insisted on staying with me in the hospital when I had my tonsils out, even though that was unheard of in the fifties. She sat with me when I had the flu, and bought me Ginger Ale.

But on a daily basis, something was missing. Her lap was available very seldom, and hugs were meted out. She was uncomfortable with any physical demonstrations, and when I embraced her, she stiffened. “That’s enough of THAT,” she would declare, “I have too much to do.” She addressed my myriad worries by telling me that unless I “stopped all this foolishness,” she would call a psychiatrist. So I learned to keep my worries to myself. And I longed for warmth from her.

She was selfish. She got her way. My father did her bidding in most things, probably out of a sense of guilt. He never made it a secret that other women found him attractive, and though we didn’t speak of it, Mom, my sister, and I knew. At some level, I was always worried that my adored father might leave us.

So as time passed, Mom got more militant, more self-protective, and less giving. As her daughter, I felt her pulling away. Was it her way of asserting her worth to us and to my father? Gifts were rejected. Promises were made and broken.

As she became colder, I stepped up my efforts to please. One Christmas, I bought her what I thought was the perfect gift: a sewing machine. Hers was an old Singer with no attachments. I got her a new one with a slew of nifty accessories. I thought she would be thrilled and excited. Instead, she called and said she didn’t want it and was sending it back to me.

I continued my quest for Mom’s love and good graces, but nothing seemed to work. More gifts were rejected. Trips to visit us were cancelled. She stopped giving us gifts at holidays, instead sending me a check with the note “get yourself and the kids something, and say it’s from me.”

Dad was always the warm and loving parent, and I adored him, in spite of the hurt he doled out with every infidelity. When he died, my mother grew more strident in her rejections, extending them to friends and neighbors as well as to me. My sister escaped most of my Mom’s negative behavior. Mom seemed to lean on her, and the two of them got closer as Mom and I diverged.

There was guilt. Was I a bad child? Did I do something wrong that caused Mom to reject me so much? What could I do to win her over?  I continued to try, and Mom continued to slap me down. Years went by. My children grew up.

About seven years ago, I opened a letter from my Mom. In her usual brusque fashion, she was writing to tell me that she had decided not to leave me anything in her will, “because you don’t need it.” Nothing else. It was the final rejection. Although she was not wealthy, and I truly did not need any money, I felt that Mom was finally revealing her complete indifference.

I divorced her that day. I saw her a few more times, but there were no more phone calls, no more letters, and no more gifts.

She lapsed into dementia soon after that, and I was spared any further unpleasantness. I felt much guilt about my defection, but I remained steadfast in my decision to give her up. My sister stepped into the breach and cared for her until Mom died.

I think about this as I reflect on my own career as a mother. I may have overcompensated by hugging my girls too much. I never wanted either of them to feel one second of rejection. I wonder if they knew just how much I wanted them to love me.

I still wish that I had discovered the key to my Mom’s heart. I kept all the afghans, the Christmas decorations, and there is one dish towel that I never used, but put away in a drawer for safekeeping.

There will always be a hole where my Mother should have been. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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  • Shauna Engtrom

    Molly, I know all too well what you went through. I think it is that we learned what not to be as parents and we are more nurturing because we have recognized what it is we needed as adolescents and now we know we can give that to our children. You’ve very brave for sharing your story and I’d like to thank you. God Bless. -SKE

  • fissymranklin

    My mom died when I was six. I think this is worse.

    • fissymranklin

      Never mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristen.gill1 Kristen Gill

    Thank you for sharing your story…

  • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

  • your cousin

    This is lovely. Relationships between mothers and daughters have got to be the most complicated and heartbreaking in the human sphere. I don’t have children of my own yet, but I worry that I’ll never find the balance between my mom’s extreme sentimentality – which has irritated me for decades – and the stoic robot that I seem to have become as a result of it. I hope I don’t screw them up.

    • Mpo 1986

      Your moms sentimentality irritated you? Thats a new one. Are you allergic to hugs and kisses too? Maybe you dont need children if you have become a robot. Figure that problem out first. You became this way because she was too loving?

      • Polly Ester

        People are different, get over it. Over-bearing and suffocating parents can be just as bad sometimes. 

      • your cousin

        I was adopted. My adoptive mother and I just don’t… mesh. Yes, I’m allergic to her touch.

  • http://newhandsweepstakes.com/contributors/brian-mcelmurry/ Brian M

    Wow! Really deep and powerful. GREAT!

  • Flower Kat

    wow, reminds me of my mum except she was never that cold. very nicely written and a bit heart breaking

  • Slh

    you did the right thing…all the thinking and guessing and trying over and over with no result…I know about that…you deserve to be free…excellent piece!!!

  • Ruthied

    I think of the Thanksgiving dinner I prepared, from scratch, a few years ago. I made everything I remember my mother preparing and enjoying, down to the pumpkin pie and air-whipped mashed potatoes. I spent two days making it. Thanksgiving afternoon, as a very light dusting of snow fell to the streets, my mother and brother (your sister’s role) cancelled one hour before their expected arrival time. I took plates of food to my local gas station attendants, and ate Thanksgiving dinner in a bowl, staring out the window, very much alone. She never called to apologize. She has never bothered to write down my phone number.

    That was my final straw. I left her. Thank you so much for this post. It is more than comforting to know I am not alone.

    • Clover

      wow, Ruth thats touching, I would have been so mad if i were you. 

      • Ruthied

        I hadn’t yet learned to get mad about it, but I was very hurt, but not surprised. Now I’ve learned to let myself get angry. What is it about daughters that makes us hate being angry towards our mothers, especially the ones with their own scars upon their backs?

      • Mpo 1986

        I dont understand. Why are you guys not getting in their faces? Fighting it out if you must. Sure you can live with the coldness or you can sit down and talk. Where are the answers? Why didnt you call to give her a peice of your mind? Are you content to hold it all in?

      • oversimplification

        The shortest way to answer your questions: go read a psychology textbook on attachment. Confrontation doesn’t work with dismissive/distant individuals.

      • Mpo 1986

        Well staring out the window after your mother and brother cancel works real well? How come ruthied didnt go and see her mother instead of sitting home. At the very least you tell them how you feel, so they will know. How much of a waste of a life is it to sit in a prison of your own greif. You can have your texts books, Someone needs to ask the tough questions. Maybe a “Why dont you love me?” would jar them a little.

  • Melissa

    so. sad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1021630760 Emily Innes

    I too, divorced my mom.  Twice.  Divorced her for about 2 years, tried to reconnect, only to realize it wasn’t worth the pain she inflicted and finally divorced her for good about 5 years ago.  As much as I know it was one of the best decisions I ever made,  I still feel daily guilt over it (especially for not inviting her to my wedding).  I imagine I always will.  It’s hard to voluntarily give up a parent.  But despite all the hurt they caused you, you can say they did one good thing for you – they made you a better parent.  I know that when I have children I’m going to make sure to show them everyday how much I love them and I will never ever make the mistakes she did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ARosario589 Alex Rosario

    Wow. I believe this is one of the best pieces I’ve read on TC. So moving, and so indicative of how complicated mother-daughter relationships can be. Thank you for having the courage to share. 

  • Clover

    This is one of the BEST stories I have read on Thoughtcataloge by far. It hits close to home for me. My mother was like this growing up, I had really great memories when i was a little child coloring with her, she would read to me and she was very kind but as I grew up and was in school she stopped saying i love you and i remember it was always something we said when i was little but never again. she used to say i love you while screaming at me that i was a whore when she found a condom in my purse at 16, or when I turned 18 and flew to NYC on a whim to live with a boyfriend. But never like my friends parents, they would leave for school or we’d have a night on the town and as they left there mothers would say “I love you” and to me it was shocking, My husbands family are those people, they give out hugs when you greet them and when you leave my husband still kisses his mother goodbye, and for awhile i was creeped out because for me that wasn’t normal. I have to say Molly This is the first story on here to make me ball like a baby.  Now that i have a child of my own, my mother is soft and kind and wants to reconnect and its strange for me. I proud of you you did something not a lot of people can do. 

  • ramble

    My mum has always been cold.

    Like you, I remember warm, loving times – when I had septicemia and I was in hospital, she came to visit me every day and slept in the same room as me on the first two nights. 

    But she’s never in my memory said “I love you,” nor has she been around for the last few years – she left me with my brother when I reached 15 and ‘retired’ early – moving to another country in the interim. I still don’t know how I feel about this – in a way it feels like she abandoned me to live in a dingy apartment with a person I never got along with, making me have to worry [at what I thought was] a young age about jobs, paying rent, buying my own food, electricity bills, tax and all that other fun stuff that living on your own entails. However, without that experience, I wouldn’t be where I am today – in a good relationship, able to live on my own comfortably (monetary situations notwithstanding).
    Being around her was similar to being around an awkward friend, which isn’t the sort of relationship I see those closest to me sharing with their parents. The last straw was her denying me a place in her home when I hit hard times. I haven’t spoken to her since. My brother says he has memories of her being a ‘real’ mother to us when my father was still alive, but since his death she has grown apart from the both of us. His opinion is that if she wishes to treat her children this way, she shouldn’t have had them in the first place. I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s made me the independent person I am today, compared to my acquaintances close to my age, who are still living at home, don’t have jobs or any discernible goals re: careers/creativity. It’s also taught me that I will never treat my own children that way. Or pets. Or whatever./Ramble

  • Buglove10

    I was telling my mother in law a similar thing about two days ago. Its sad that I keep wanting to make my mom happy, and try helping her out. I still have but really hope to get rid of the rejected feeling I had while growing up. Im always wondering should I just give up and stop looking for the bond I might never get…wish I can.

  • Rg

    Beautiful. Most women never realize how much they aren’t ready for motherhood until they have children and are compelled to be mothers, for them. My mother was the same, distant. She never told me stories, never hugged or kissed me, never said the words I love you. She was weak in my eyes, yes. Hearing it from other people so makes me feel cheated. Like I have been robbed of those things while growing up. At 20, she’s still the same and I’m trying to accept it. But the pain is always there. My dad too is not father material. I keep asking myself the question why did they made me. They don’t know how much baggage they can give their child when they’re actually not ready at all to be parents. This article is relevant to me in so many ways. Thank you.

  • bee

    My mother is not cold, but she is an alcoholic.  I can relate to a lot of this.  My immediate family is emotionally distant – my parents divorced when I was young, and you can hear a pin drop in my father’s house even when my sister and I are there (which she is full-time now – I moved out on my own) because we just don’t talk.  It’s so disconcerting.  I never feel comfortable around adults now, because I simply do not know how to converse with them.. It drives me insane.  The only thing I can relate it to is being homeschooled until the age of 18, then going off to a university; social skills in that respect would be lacking, as mine are with adults.
    It sucks when children are adopted and never meet their mothers, or (as one commenter said) their mothers pass away.  However, that is more ‘understandable’.  People can understand why an experience like that would be traumatic.  But when you simply aren’t close by ANY means with your parents (I’m 19, so speaking from a college student perspective) isn’t understood.  People will always try to relate (IF I bring it up), “yeah, my parents and I aren’t very close.  I mean we spend time together a lot, but they don’t really KNOW me, so I totally know where you’re coming from.”  And I just have to shrug and say, “right”, even though I’m screaming WRONG WRONG WRONG in my mind.  These situations have no words.  It’s simply a void.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

    This made me cry. I know how it feels. I don’t think there’s such thing as “too much hugging.”

    However, the way your Mother was – it shaped you. Her parenting directly attributed to what a fantastic person you are today. 

  • Suzi

    So sad, wish you could have had a mom like mine!

  • beesoo

    I have a very similar story. Eventually, I realized that I needed to forgive her and accept that she did the best she could. And that her script did not need to be mine.  I am not her. Once that hit center, I felt free. Best wishes. 

  • thatkindofgirl

    the first time i remember my mom kissed me was in college. since the university is far from home, i seldom see them. she kissed me the very first time i got home from my own apartment. i was teary-eyed because i have always wanted that kiss from her. i have always longed for her hugs and signs of affection. and that first kiss became phenomenal.

    now that i am a mother, i make sure that i give and show the affection my son deserves. like the author….i don’t want my son to feel the same emptiness i had when i was a child.

    this is a sad story though. but i’m sure there is more than that cold woman. oftentimes, we just don’t understand someone. we just don’t connect. and sometimes, it’s meant to be that way.

  • Anonymous

    Molly, Thank you for writing this. I can relate to so much of it. My mother is very distant and not affectionate at all. (Which of course means I smother my little ones in kisses and I love you’s.)

  • http://twitter.com/Amphx AnnaMariaPhilippeaux

    This really broke my heart! Motherhood is in the VERY distant future for me, but a lot of times I wonder what kind of mother I’ll be, and how fortunate I am to have the one I have. This reminds me never to take her for granted. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Anonymous

      Similar thoughts :)

  • http://www.melaniecrutchfield.com/ Melanie Crutchfield

    A gorgeous reflection on family. Thank you.

  • Campbelldayton

    I thank you all so very much for your touching and heartfelt comments. This was a hard one for me to write, but I had been carrying it around for a long time. Love to you all. molly

    • Kailey

      Hi Molly,

      Thank you for writing this. I hope you feel some comfort knowing that many of us have gone/ are going through the same situation to some degree and we can completely empathize. It would be interesting to speak about (as ‘Jafife’ mentioned) the relationship between, and/or you and your siblings’ relationships with your father. 

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