Sunday, May 8, 2016

When Mother's Day Isn't All Flowers and Brunch

For the last twenty years or so, I've had a love/hate relationship with Mother's Day. As a mom, I love the way my husband and kids have always surprised me with breakfasts in bed, the perfect cards, and idyllic days spent together.

The Past

As a daughter, more of my memories are bitter than sweet. Growing up the fifth of seven children, we all had a "label" to distinguish one from the other. I wasn't the "pretty one," or the "smart one." I wasn't the "oldest" or the "youngest." I wasn't "one of the twins." I was the "other one."

No. Seriously. I would go to family gatherings and relatives would say, "Now, which one are you again? Oh, right. You're not one of the twins or the pretty one; you're the 'other one.'"

There's a helluva moniker to live up to, huh? 

That was basically how I lived my life. As the Other One, never feeling like I fit in with my own family. And my parents not only allowed it, they pretty much encouraged it. I was six the first time I begged my mother to tell me I was adopted or the milkman's child--something to explain why I felt like such a stranger in my own home, why I was always the target of all the torment and torture of my siblings. Her reply (every single time) was to say if I didn't react to their abuse toward me, they wouldn't find so much entertainment in it. My father's reply was to mutter under his breath that I was "useless" or "oversensitive" and ignore my tears and pleas for help.

I could write a book about what I put up with over the years, but there's no point. I'm not alone and this post isn't about making anyone relive their own particular brand of misery.

The Decision

It was only when I saw the cycle repeated with my own kids, who were considered not as "special" as the other grandkids my parents had and wound up crushed by the callousness of those who should've loved them unconditionally, that I made the decision to divorce my family. I cut them out of my life. And for the first year or two afterwards, I became the subject of so much online harassment and destructive behavior from my siblings, I had to involve the police. 

I can't tell you how many people tried to convince me to return to the fold with comments like, "What if your parents die and you've left this unresolved? Will you be able to live with yourself?"

The answer is yes. I tried. I really did. I spent too many years putting up with the abuse and running back for more, hoping, this time would be different. But it never was. And when my father passed away after our estrangement, I allowed my daughter to attend the wake. Naturally, my family embraced her immediately and told her how horrible I was to keep her from them. She believed them and blamed me. I said nothing and kept my own counsel, allowing her to discover for herself the truth that I knew. It took less than two weeks before my mother showed her true colors and one of my siblings attacked my daughter online, dragging friends and other family members into the mess. My poor girl found out on her own what I'd protected her from, and after that, she vowed to make sure her baby brother never experienced what we had.

When my mother passed away, there was no guilt, no feeling of a lost opportunity. There was a sense of peace for me that I no longer had to hope for some kind of resolution that would never come. Do I wish our circumstances could have been different? Of course. But I also understood that my parents were who they were, crafted from their own pasts and the relationships they had with their own families. Nothing would have ever changed. The limbo would have just continued for a longer period of time. 

The Aftermath

My kids have suffered no ill effects from not knowing my side of their family. In fact, they've flourished without that ugliness in their lives. They're independent, bright, witty individuals who know their place in the world and feel sure about where they stand. They don't suffer the self-doubt and insecurities that plague me to this day. 

I'm extremely fortunate that I have my mother-in-law. She is the mother and grandmother all kids deserve. She's loving and generous with her time. She adores all her grandchildren. Ask her about my place in her family and she'll tell you, "Gina's not just a daughter-in-law. She's my daughter." I am so grateful for her influence in my family's life.

The Others

I know I'm not alone in my experience. Nor are we the only ones who are less than thrilled to face Mother's Day this year. 

For all those who've lost the mother who loved them unconditionally, a woman who gave them support and encouragement and inspiration, I wish you find some peace and comfort in realizing how lucky you were to have that kind of mother in your life. So many of us never knew her or only knew her after we married.

If you've lost a child, there are no words I can provide to ease your burden, and I won't dare to try. I don't know your pain and I pray I never do. 

To those who are still trying to find a way to make peace with their toxic families because you're afraid of what people will think if you break away, please know I (and many others like me) understand why you're torn. You can divorce a spouse after experiencing a lot less abuse and receive sympathy and support, but for some reason, it's still not acceptable to admit you have no contact with your parents, no matter what they've done to you.

Find your joy, my friends. No matter why you may not be celebrating this day, don't dwell on the misery. Seek out whatever makes you happy and understand there are many of us who share your feelings, even if it's not for the same reason.

Wishing all of my readers love, today and always!

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