Take a moment to feel sorry her. But then stop and think about the implications of that. She holds something that I had no say in against me. By court order, I was raised with some interaction with my father, and he had some minimal influence over how I lived. My mother begrudges me that, and the fact that now, as an adult, I have a fairly healthy and comfortable relationship with him.
Emotion is generally something fairly unpredictable and illogical, but I freely admit that my mother has grounds to hate my father. He was violent and emotionally abusive to her –- plus my sister and me –- while they were married. Being young and both figuratively and mentally scarred, it was hard for her to summon the nerve to pack up two babies and leave him. She had no backing from her family, who were well aware of the situation, and lived as a single parent for a couple of years before she had the good fortune to get together with my stepfather (who is a great guy).
I knew from an early age why my parents were divorced. My mother told us stories and never hid that our father had been violent; as much for our protection and for her own vindication. I remember repeating the stories and comprehensively articulating the knowledge that I came from a family broken up by abuse in primary school. I talked about it in front of the other kids and was probably too forward with this information if asked.
I felt like the violence and whatever else happened was definitely part of my identity and while I didn’t wear it like a badge of honour, the way that my mother presented it -– as undeniable, not something we shied away from discussing at home, in fact something covered extensively virtually every time my father rang -– meant that I aggressively pushed the idea of my having been a victim of abuse on nearly everyone that knew me.
Abuse is shitty. That’s a massive understatement, but it’s true. It’s hard to overcome, and you find it informing so many elements of your personality and how you live your life. In my early life, abuse also set the tone. There were a handful of abuse "legends" that my mother used to tell me, and they occurred during a period of six months all up, as I was about that old when my mother upped and left. So I was lucky. You don’t have much of a memory of the very early part of your life and I had to experience only a fraction of what some people are unfortunate enough to be subjected to. But how can you come back from the start I’ve had?
The answer is that it’s hard to. I was a smart kid; I picked up on emotions of the adults in my life and regurgitated much of that back out. I felt isolated -– and not only because my mother uprooted our family and moved us about two hours away from my father. I felt inadequate. Most of all, I felt anxious.
I always felt profoundly uncomfortable at school around the kids that had known each other their whole lives and who didn’t have violent fathers. I had this sense most of the time that I’d missed two or three years of learning or growing that the other kids had had, and I was frustrated in trying to play catch-ups. My school reports say I had trouble making friends, in tolerating the kids who weren’t up to my level, and in controlling my temper.
My childhood diaries and stories and drawings show that I was obsessed with rules, wtrying to be noticed on my own merit and with trying to achieve what I perceived as success. I confessed to myself in private writing that I would have died before showing anyone that I knew why no one wanted to be my friend -- because I was ugly, fat, too loud, dumb and aggressive. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter because I was going to keep my distance deliberately and work on getting smarter than the others so my teachers and parents would like me. Realistically however, I was already ahead intellectually, I was more physically developed, and emotionally, I’d endured more in the scope of a few years than my peers might have gone through by adolescence.
So you can see where my mother stands in all of this. She had a relationship fall apart from abuse, she struggled to find her feet as a single parent and then had to suffer through not so much bringing us up as dragging us up from that unfortunate beginning. Anyone would have sympathy for her. I do, though maybe it’s not readily apparent. I have actually thanked her a few times for what she had done to remove us from the violence, although I dare say she has forgotten.
And you can also see where I stand. Domestic violence is not something that people talk about easily, even in this day and age, and while I have been lucky enough to be taught that it is abhorrent, the message hit home a little too hard; I assumed some personal responsibility for what had happened. Aside from what she could inflict through the legal system, my mother’s revenge on my father has definitely been to sow the seeds of doubt in my young mind and propagate this legacy of abuse and despair. In this way, it has also been a punishment to my sister and I: the vessels of bad blood.
The ritual when we came “home” from our custody weekends was to sit on my mother’s bed and tell her in excruciating detail what the weekend had entailed. What we wore, what we ate, where we went and who we saw. Part concern for our well-being after an unsupervised stint with someone who had hurt us before ,and part morbid curiosity about his actions and his life. Even knowing that he’d hurt me and perpetuated the worst sin a parent could again their child, it felt like treasonous behavior from my sister and I, and it troubled me.
I often think that the element of the divorce that most troubled her was not being able to have a proper emotional breakup. She must have relived what happened constantly to keep herself firm and unyielding against his influence. She must have also obsessed endlessly over what he stood for and how she could oppose it. She said having to see him after the divorce and interact with him was hard to bear, and I can understand that.
I can also understand why she was nasty about the toys he bought us and the ways he tried to demonstrate affection and happiness that we were there. But she fixated to an unhealthy extent and tried to destroy our feelings of love towards him and excitement to see him for our one weekend a fortnight. Her behavior when my father had the nerve to try and establish a new relationship certainly proved that she hadn’t let go: despite being happily remarried, despite having had her arms broken so many times that she was forced to become ambidextrous to keep going.
I do not condone my father’s behavior –- not then and not since, though he has not raised a hand towards us since the divorce –- but I can say that he suffered and turned that suffering into personal growth and development. And that’s why I can have a relationship with him. Not that I owe an explanation to anyone, including my mother. I was forced into the position of being a devil’s advocate for so many years. The untenable situation that she put me in -– again, understandable –- was so fraught and awful that I can’t forgive her; even as an adult and an extremely reasonable and forgiving person.
She always maintained that she couldn’t deny our right to know the other side of where we came from, but we certainly weren’t supposed to love him and weren’t allowed to be comfortable. She told me within the last few years that I was a “difficult child,” and I don’t doubt that. But I was so desperately unhappy and so mortified about that shameful past that I can’t imagine how I could have been anything but. She might not have intended to, but she has punished me for being the child of her enemy.
I grew up depressed, profoundly anxious and with an inclination towards self-harm that necessitated interventions during the periods where I was suicidal. It seems inevitable now, as an adult who has seen a psychologist for counseling for eight years straight. A lot has happened since I moved out of my mother’s house and I have been able to gain some perspective. It has caused me to revoke the forgiveness I used to grant her for the emotional abuse she perpetuated against me -- I no longer speak to her.
She harasses my sister via text message on a regular basis -– my sister doesn’t deal with her either anymore -– and has said that it’s therapeutic for her. My sister forwards the texts to me and the rants and constructions contained within bear very little resemblance to my childhood, or the girl that I was: scared, unhappy and uncomfortable, but still loving, affectionate, bright and caring. But I don’t let it trouble me. I used to exhaust myself to try to be who she wanted me to be to show gratitude for her saving us from abuse, but now I think I have actually found my own truth.
I don’t "side" with either of my biological parents. My "favorite" parent is my stepfather, though he doesn’t speak to me anymore out of loyalty to my mother. I don’t hold out any hope for having a relationship with my mother that is either healthy or happy and I don’t have any regret over that anymore. My relationship with my father is pretty good; we are both working on ourselves. On a good day, he treats me with the kind of respect and loyalty you would receive from a good friend, and I know that he would take a bullet for me. On a bad day, he can be overly critical and says hurtful things to disable my defenses. But I fight back and I tell him when he is challenging my boundaries in a way that I won’t tolerate.
Above all, I protect myself. My needs and development come first, and my sense of self-worth will never be based on the opinions of either of my parents -- or anyone for that matter -- again. I’m glad to say that I know my sister and father have my back, and will be there for me no matter what. I don’t hate my mother, but I hope for her sake and for the benefit of my stepfather and brothers that she seeks professional help for her problems and makes peace with her life. At the end of the day, I’ve got my own life to live.