Love and Hate

I read somewhere once, perhaps in a college class I took years ago, that the children of abuse will generally not speak harshly about their parents even when the abuse occurred at their hands. They will paint their childhoods out to be "not that bad" or generally happy even when they lived hell on earth.

For many years, I found an outlet from my childhood in my childhood. (Yes, I typed that correctly.) I placed blame, frustration and anger on my father's absence from my life while neatly and easily ignoring the other bigger issues--my mother's mental illness and the broken system of my childhood years.

It was easy to paint the picture of the girl without a father. As a child growing up in the first generation of socially acceptable divorce, it was okay to acknowledge the effects of not having a father. Early on in my childhood, I had been publicly called on this lack, called a bastard for coming from a home without married parents. I was an illegitimate child.

For me, this was simple to acknowledge because it required no blame on my part. Clearly, I had no control or say in my parents' decision to be intimate outside of marriage nor on the decision made for them not to be together--married or otherwise. This was easy for me to see and name. It required nothing of me.

But calling my mother out as a mentally unstable, sick woman was an entirely different matter.


Although at this point it is so easy for me to say this, it is a new knowledge for me: I was not to blame, not responsible, not at fault for my mother's problem. But for almost 33 years, I did not know that. I believed that the problem with my mother was:


I have loved my mother deeply my entire life. Even after leaving home, moving thousands of miles away, I often struggled with the distance. On the one hand, I had a barrier from the hurtful comments and odd behaviors, but I also lost most of my family (extended family in addition to my mother) during this period. I knew that my family missed me.

My mother never verbally blamed me for the condition of the house, as such. On occasion, she blamed me for other failures in her life. Her consideration of putting me up for adoption from birth was not kept a secret. I knew that I teetered between the beloved child and the unwanted pregnancy, depending on the winds of her emotions. When her personal relationships teetered, this reminder came back frequently: "If only I had put you up for adoption, if only I hadn't kept you, so-and-so would have married me already."

From that point, the blame for the whole problem is a quick, slippery slope. If I was to blame for her romantic problems with a man I had really never met, than certainly I must be to blame for her inability to have the energy and time to clean and organize the house. I was too much--I needed rides to this activity and that, I required these funds for this activity or that one requiring extra hours at the office, etc.

My belief that I was to blame for my mother's problems coupled with emotional abuse and neglect caused me to walk away from my family. Run far, far away. I truly believed that if I left, my mother would have the time and energy to put into her and her life, her relationships, and her home. If I was gone, she would be the woman she was supposed to be. I didn't leave because of the mess. I left because I believed I was the cause of the mess.

It was my act of love. I wanted to give my mother her life back.

But alas, as is often the case, the problem did not resolve itself. For a while it got worse. My mother had been unemployed most of my senior year of high school, and after I moved across the country, my mother threatened suicide. She would call and yell at me. She was experiencing grief because of my departure. I felt responsible.

I felt responsible even in my absence for another five years. It wasn't until I returned to the area for a month prior to moving to Japan in 1999 that the family secret began to be exposed for me. At the age of 23, for the very first time, a family member revealed a secret: my mother's messiness (we didn't know there was a clinical issue of hoarding) had been a part of her life since she was in high school.

What? My birth didn't cause this? Why hadn't I been told this before?

But the revelation was only a single ray of clarity into the problem.

I love my mother. Recently, she had to be taken to the hospital with a possible stroke. The whole way to the hospital, I tried to make peace with the possibility of her passing. I was so torn apart. Together, we've made steps toward health over the last six months. I was not ready for that journey to be over. I still have questions that I need answered. I still have feelings I need to share with her. I couldn't turn my heart to stone. I love her.

But I love her today in a healthier way. I set boundaries. There are things I don't share with her. If I have a great idea, I don't call her to encourage me. If I have a decision to make, I don't seek her counsel. If I'm having a good day or a bad day, I don't share most of it with her.

The past has proven her emotions and responses to be fickle and haphazard. I cannot afford that open door in my life for potential abuse or apathy. So I don't open that door.

I balance the amount of help I can give her with the needs of my family--my husband and our children. I can help, but I cannot be her only source of support. That is not safe or healthy for either of us.

I still parent my mother, but now I am a healthy parent. I have to veto purchases from time to time. I have to be the source of reality on occasion, but I do it with love and honesty. I give love with truth and grace.

I have always loved my mother. I always will. I have hated her actions, her behaviors, her illness most of my life. But I will not let her illness rob me of a relationship with her. I will love her where she is, and when she's ready, I will accompany her as she ventures out into the world.


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