A Mothers (Complicated) Love

How my Mothers complicated love affected me into Adult hood.

"You were born out of Love" my Mother would tell me when I was a child, lovingly stroking my hair and looking into my eyes, adoring me and drinking me in. I was raised for most of my life by my mother as a single parent. My father had chosen to be absent from my life, and she would say this deliberately to me reassure me that I was planned and wanted. She was aware I may feel abandoned by him and wanted me to feel secure. She Loved me.

Paradoxically, through my childhood into my teens, I was treated as an inconvenience and a hindrance by her; a millstone around her neck. For most of the time, I felt like a nuisance. My wants and needs would always come second to hers. I would walk around in my teens with holes in my shoes and jumpers while she was wearing the newest designer outfit. Mum would justify this in telling me she worked hard for her money and she did, but how did we get here? How did we move from this strong Mother-Daughter bond to as trained relationship where I was ostracized at any given opportunity.

It was 1979 when my father left. I was 5 years old. They had endured a tempestuous, volatile relationship that had been brought to an end by my mother declaring "enough" and with that, my Father moved to another country. I would not see him physically again until I was 18 and he was ravaged by Cancer, soon to leave this world.

My Mother, divorced, had a new found freedom. She was an intelligent, vivacious and attractive woman. She was driven to believe that there was more to life and embarked on taking a full-time job to pay for the voracious appetite for a life she had now. This meant large periods of time for me at a young age after school, parenting myself.

She taught me many wonderful life lessons, including that you could be anyone you wanted to be you just had to work hard to achieve it. Her personality was vibrant, electric, radiating tenaciousness, energy and achievement. When her light beamed on you, you felt it, such was her mesmerizing personality. The juxtaposition of this was when she was in a bad mood I would feel the cold shivers go down my spine when she shot me a look due to my alleged poor behaviour — looking at me like I was the devil incarnate, following it up with a beating if I had completely stepped over the line.

My Mother was a strong as a Lion yet as fragile as a Faberge egg. The face she showed the world was very different to the one at home, and in those low moments as the only other person in the house I bore the brunt of the anger, despair and disappointment. One such episode led to me having to be complicit in a lie to school friends which told of me being beaten up by a gang of girls on the way home from school, the bruises were that bad.

A few years after her divorce she embarked on an affair with a Married man, he would later become my Step Father. As affairs need to be conducted in non-social hours I would often be told not to come home after Primary School on time. It was not uncommon for me to sit outside the front door on the wall waiting to be allowed back in, as my key to the house wouldn't work, the door had been bolted. To sustain this relationship I was often shipped out to other people's houses to stay for the night or weekend, agreements by parents had not always filtered through to the children and I remember curious looks by friends "why are you here?", awkwardly I would shuffle and start to play with a toy, secretly happy I would have some company.

In times when she was not amused by her paramour, then I would be welcomed with snuggles and love, I would drink up the affection and attention in droves, like a hungry person who hadn't eaten for days. Then a call would come in to say her lover was unable to get away from commitments and visit her, resulting in floods of tears, anger, disappointment and distracted by her pain she would be emotionally unavailable to me for days at a time. I became the emotional support, the one to make Mummy happy. It was expected of me and I felt the burden so strongly.

The tale continues but for brevity sake I will expedite. On and off this continued for 10 years until my Step Father moved in when I was16. One year later the front door locks had been changed and I was told not to return. I was getting good grades at school, however, I had a boyfriend they despised and this was the choice that was made for me.

I was extremely lucky that a family graciously took me in.At the age of 17 I was sleeping on a camp bed in a bedroom of a school friend, however, this story could have had a completely different path, and for the generosity, I will be eternally grateful.

My Mother loved me as much as she could love anyone or give anyone. I know to the core that this was true, she would often say "I would take a bullet for you" but her actions did not reflect this. She was now what I understand as a narcissist, she would tell me she was proud of me for getting a degree; but seeing as I paid for everything myself (including working 30 hours a week while doing it) I would wonder "what exactly do you have to be proud of?" But I craved and wanted her attention so badly, I would be rendered silent.

She had experienced a troubled childhood herself and found it hard not to be seduced by instant gratification as an adult, in whatever form that was. It is no wonder that this led me to grow up believing that if my own parents didn't love me enough to put me first, then who would ever feel that way about me?

Now, after decades of reviewing with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how a lack of Fathers presence and a Mother who was unavailable to me emotionally, manifested in all my personal relationships in my 20's and 30's. At the time, I never saw it.

I picked emotionally unavailable partners time and time again; thoughts of "Why won't they love me?" became a common thread.I had no appreciation of what personal boundaries where  "Just love me" was all I cared about. When I would tire from hanging on, waiting for these guys to see what they had in front of them, I would change tack and go to the other extreme. Now I would choose partners who needed me emotionally. I could do this, I knew I was proficient in this, it would come as second nature, but needless to say, that didn't work either. Once again I was responsible for making someone happy and that would be exhausting, I would disentangle myself as quickly as possible, in order to breathe again. In some relationships I had both traits in the same person; again this would feel stifling and exhausting.

The goal of acceptance also permeated into my work life, striving to be the best I could be was so important to me. If a call came through to visit my boss unexpectedly I would feel the terror of doom. What did they want?; I would resolve that it had to be bad news, my stomach would be in knots, my body would tense as I was running through all the ways they must be sacking me – it never occurred to me that I had done nothing wrong in the first place to warrant that.

It took decades to realise that this was affecting me and my life now. After a lot of work, I accept that my experiences do not have to define who I am today. I can choose to leave it in my past and give a nod of appreciation and respect to it, or I can carry it like a monkey on my back for the rest of my life.

Ironically it's the ability to view its impact, which has lessened its impact day by day. I now see the triggers and the hangover of my experience and catch it before it holds true in the "right now".

Devastatingly my Mother's life was brought to an abrupt end by cancer 11 years ago. I miss her. I miss her voracious spirit immensely, I remember the beautiful things she taught me, the sense of independence and the ability to "have a go at anything". I also miss the Mother I never had. The cheerleader, the one who would always be there for me, the security of knowing I was always loved unconditionally.

I can separate my childhood experiences now and centre my thoughts around the positive in her. I keep my childhood experiences in my back pocket to flick through and inform my future decisions, but I do not let it dominate my story. It is true I was born out of love and I now have that love for me.

She loved me as much as she could love anyone.