I received a call a couple of weeks ago from my brother, telling me that my mother had broken her hip and was in need of help at home where she lives alone. I live 200 miles from her; she and I do not get along.
My experience of my mother is that she has always treated me like I’m 12 years old. We don’t have the type of relationship where we can simply talk about what is happening in our lives. There is no such thing as banter. If I try to “chat” about my comings and goings, I anticipate, and often receive, looks of disdain, judgements, advice, or criticism. Occasionally, I will receive some form of ostracism: told to stay well away her area of the country, for fear that what I may bring with me (should I approach the general extended family nest) will bring “shame” on her. In my humble opinion, my mother lives for the image she can portray to others, and she relies on her now very-grown-up children and our offspring and achievements to bolster that image.
It stands to reason that I am a huge disappointment to her. My life decisions have been a disappointment, if not an outrage to her. According to my mother, I have always been a “strange child.” One of her frequent laments, when she is particularly peeved with me is to question my lack of ability to “just be normal.”
“I don’t understand why you hate your family! I don’t understand why you are so hellbent on rejecting any semblance of a normal, civilised relationship!”
She has a point I suppose. I am not very good at maintaining normal, civilised relationships with anyone really … and this is one of the central reasons why I have now been handed a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (along with a smorgasbord of other things). I probably was a strange child. I haven’t really paid a whole lot of attention as to whether I was a strange adult … I left home when I was 16 and spent the majority of the next couple of decades just wandering the world on my own.
She has labelled me a “fantasist,” an “isolationist,” and “antisocial.”
Every blue moon, I attempt to have a grown-up conversation with my mother. On those occasions she will remind me of all the things that I have done to disappoint her or to “purposely” show her up or throw her attempts to raise me the right way back in her face. She will then remind me that I have always been distant, that I never let anyone touch me – even as a baby! – and she always thought I might have had “some form of Asbergers.”
My question to her has been, “If you have always been aware that I may have had a more deep-seated reason for my behaviour, even as a baby and child, then why do I constantly appear to surprise you with my actions? And why, if indeed I did display these behaviours when I was too young to be aware of what I was doing, do you still berate me, condemn me, vilify me, and accuse me of maliciously acting this way?
Once, I asked her, “Whatever happened to unconditional love between a mother and her child?”
She replied, “I don’t believe in that shit.”
When my son began assaulting me physically, I felt there would be little to gain from sharing the information with my mother. I dealt with the situation on my own, sharing only with agencies that I went to for help. The only person who took me seriously was a worker at Women’s Aid, usually designed for working with women who were victims of adult domestic violence. Social Services, in particular, showed little interest in what was going on, citing what was to become a seemingly flagship statement, “We are child protection not adult protection.” After about five months of escalating violence, I felt that at least someone in my family should know, so I called my older brother and told him.
Two months later , I told my mother.
She said nothing throughout the entire phone conversation. She hung up, and I never heard from her again until the day Boo was arrested and taken from my care in July last year. She had apparently been called by a social worker seeking a family member to take Boo for an emergency period until they could find a suitable foster family. The social worker had left a message on my mother’s answer machine, and my mother called me wanting to know “what the Hell is going on.” I reminded her that I had told her about what was happening in our household weeks earlier, that it had finally come to a dangerous head, and that Boo had been arrested and taken from me. Apparently the news came as a complete surprise to her, and I recognised then that she had neither retained nor believed a word I had told her during that earlier gutspill. She uttered some vile condemnation of me, and this time I hung up on her. Since then, I have received very few and very brief contacts from my mother, but minimal as those contacts have been, they always left me feeling horrible and alienated – so I sent her text (a cowardly move, I know) and suggested that for the sake of my own recovery, we should have no further contact for the foreseeable future.
My brother called me for a second time just before Easter, and in his special, “subtle” way suggested that I really should stay with my mother over the holiday weekend, because he and my other siblings “all have jobs and children” – the implication being that as I have lost my job and my child, I have nothing to prevent me from skipping across the country to take care of her. He also said this might be a good opportunity for me to mend our relationship, and besides, they didn’t want her left alone.
So I went.
The other thing about my mother is her uncanny ability to assume that time will heal all things (or at least make you forget why you’re cross with someone). So when I arrived, she greeted me with smiles and smalltalk as if there was not a care between us. I had prepared myself for the visit by promising to keep myself busy and out of the way as much as possible. I had brought things to crochet, reasons to spend time upstairs (she can’t climb the stairs at the moment) and plenty of ideas for working in her very long garden. I lasted almost two days without even a mention about my son, my health, my job, or my life, and managed to fend off several requests that I should use her car to drive her places.
But on Good Friday, she commented, “Oh do try to cheer up a little bit, Alice! I don’t know what’s the matter with you!”
I looked at her, and said, “You know what? I actually believe that you really don’t know what the matter is.” I then proceeded to spill my guts for a second time and filled her in on the details of how my life has fallen apart, I lost my son, my job, my health, how I feel the whole thing has snowballed out of control, how her occasional poisonous comments have not been helpful, how I have been hurting myself, how things have been a massive emotional struggle, how I want my baby back so much, and how there is now a high chance that I will never get him back. I finished with tear-covered face by telling her that it seems mental health services may be concerned about me, because they have recommended that I be placed on close suicide watch should the final court hearing determine that Boo will not be coming home.
There was a strange, uncomfortable silence. Then my mother, who had not moved nor changed her expression at all, said flatly and way too controlled for my liking, “And who are you looking to blame for that?”
That sinister, unnerving response left me stunned. I don’t know what I’d expected her to do or say. She had never given hugs so I hadn’t anticipated any tactile response – but not even a “sorry this has happened to you” or “where do you go from here?” Not a lick of emotion or compassion or ….
And then it hit me.
Empathy. There was no hint of empathy. And when I started to think historically, I couldn’t remember any incident or time when she had ever shown emotion or empathy. It explained the meanness, the disregard for others’ feelings, and the ability to forget or reject any hurt she may have caused.
That same empty, emotionless disconnection that has everyone concerned about my son’s future was staring me right in the face of my mother.
I don’t know enough about how personality disorders develop, but certainly, if there’s a case to be made for nature over nurture, this could certainly add weight to argument for genetics.
The apple has indeed not fallen far.
© Alice through the Macro Lens