I remember the first time it happened, I was five. My brother and I were in the bathtub and my mom asked me if I washed my body. I lied and said yes, not realizing that the bar of soap in the dish was completely dry. There was sort of a lapse in time, then I was somehow looking at the wall. My right cheek and neck stung, and her mouth was a thin line. I was ordered out of the tub, to get dressed and get to bed immediately. Everything was in slow motion. I didn’t cry, I just stared. It was complete confusion, and complete understanding: she wasn’t a safe person.
Fast forward to eighth grade. I have no idea what we fought about, but my mom got so mad at me that she grabbed my upper arm and left bruised nail marks. She pinched the mark and raised her eyebrows a few hours after the fight. “Wear long sleeves for a few days.” I ran into my room and slammed the door. She threw it open and walked towards me with her hands out. When I backed away and turned my shoulder she laughed and said, “Oh come on! Don’t act like you’re scared of me!” She really had no idea how I saw her. I was counting down the days until I no longer lived in the house.
The rift between my mother and I continued to grow as she tried to pry into my life. She didn’t know how to talk to me, especially as a middle schooler, and then it would be my fault when I wasn’t receptive. The questions would be phrased like, “why don’t you hang out with Adriana anymore? Were you as nasty to her as you are to me? I bet you talk to her mom.” I would yell back at her, or when I mentioned other friends I had, she would tell me I’m barking up the wrong tree or she didn’t like their mothers.
I would watch Gilmore Girls and get so envious of the banter between Lorelai and Rory. Rory could talk to her mom about dating advice, even the physical stuff. When I was a freshman in high school, a senior boy asked me to be his girlfriend. He had driven me home after band practice (with my parents’ permission) and we sat in my driveway. I remember getting crazy butterflies after I high fived him, with a sheepish “okay!” Apologies to my husband for this one, but that small question was one of the highest flying feelings I’ve ever had! When I got out of the car and into my house, I sat down for dinner with a gigantic smile plastered to my face. I couldn’t contain my excitement and blurted, “Alex asked me out!” Silence. The response? It was disrespectful of me not to ask if I was allowed to have a boyfriend.
This dynamic between my mom and me only turned me into a great liar. I became extremely manipulative to get what I wanted, because I didn’t feel like I could have difficult conversations and avoidance of everything made it so much easier. “Are you having sex?” No. “Do you have homework tonight?” Finished it at school. “You’re at Laura’s house tonight?” Obviously.
Lying meant freedom, and I took full advantage. I didn’t drink or do drugs in high school, but I lied to keep myself out of the house as much as possible, and kept any social or relationship drama to myself. I would tell my parents I had a group project, had an extra band practice or my daycare job asked me to pick up another day (occasionally that was true). When I had relationships in high school, I insisted that I spend time at their house instead of my own. I lied and told my mom that the parents were home at other houses so that I could have my boyfriend(s) there. I even had my friends’ parents convinced that mine were so oppressive that even some of them would cover for me (though they saw for themselves how strict they were at times). I would have blowout fights with my mom, while my dad stayed silent. This only reinforced the idea that I was right, and I would later be able to divide and conquer the parents to get what I wanted even more.
After I went to college, my relationship with my mom was still strained. We could relate a bit more because we took some of the same courses and she understood how difficult molecular biology and chemistry were. However, if I wasn’t calling enough or she didn’t like my tone, I was back to being the “nasty child.” I’d be reminded how sweet and attentive my brothers were, though my parents were much more lax with them and expected less. My mom would tell me how laid back and insightful the boys were to talk to, and how much easier it’s been to raise them than me at their age.….so why would I want to be a part of this family? I would sit on the phone and cry listening to my mom berate me for at least an hour. My college boyfriend and my roommate would hug me while I cried and downloaded the fight to them. I always felt obligated to take the phone call, because it was my family, and you don’t hang up on them, you always have to call them back. Boundaries were non-existent. Not even a word in my vocabulary.
In my previous post, I referenced that my family had a breakdown around January 2019. I was tired of the secrecy dynamic, and the divide and conquer mentality was completely breaking me. Because of my relationship with my mom, I knew the berating and fights would be overwhelming to me if I shared our secret. It’s what kept me quiet for so long, kept us all quiet. We were “loyal” to my dad, because he was the easier parent. He only yelled when he was really upset. The reality? He wasn’t protecting us or modeling how to work through issues either. The weight of one parent against the other became too great for me, and I remember the conversation with my mom very clearly. I was scared, because I thought she would be upset about covering for my dad for so many years. Instead, she was silent. She let me complete my whole story, share the details of the past years. In the coming weeks, she shared her side, and much of our dysfunctional dynamics became clear. We didn’t agree, but we understood each other as people, not just as mother and daughter. After that, our relationship changed.
Our road to recovery is ongoing. She and I are both in therapy and are learning how to speak to each other. I’ve been able to share my PTSD struggles with her, and been able to address some of the issues between us that arose when I was very young. Some of the events she remembers, and others she doesn’t, and that’s alright. We’ve had discussions that I never thought were possible in my entire life. My mom has apologized for her wrongdoings in parenting, and I have been able to open up about why I never talked to her about such personal things growing up. We both still have much work to do, and we continue to make mistakes. She still violates boundaries, and still I blow up. The difference? We both have compassion, and don’t ignore our issues. I cry occasionally for the things I’ve been through, and so does she. Your parents are people too, and I promise if they’re committed to progress just as you are, the bricks will start to lay themselves.