I Broke Up with My Mom, So Mother's Day Is a Little Awkward

Instead of a mother, I have an acquaintance.
Publish date:
May 7, 2016
moms, mothers, mother's day, estrangement

Mother's Day is difficult for many people. Maybe they've lost their mothers or never had one. For me, Mother's Day is just a reminder of what I had to give up.

I "broke up" with my mother, and while it's the healthiest thing I've ever done for myself, Hallmark doesn't make a "thanks for raising me, but it's probably for the best that we don't talk much anymore" card.

Unlike a traditional break-up, it's not like I can cut her out of all my pictures, erase her contacts from my phone and never talk to her again. The rules of this relationship would be a lot clearer if this were an estrangement. Instead, I live in this odd sort of limbo where she's still a part of my life. I can only take solace int he fact that I've begun to dictate the terms.

In retrospect, the parallels to an unhealthy marriage are easy to spot. Passive aggression. One-sided arguments. Lots of tears. One person upset, the other unaffected. Emotional blackmail. But while it's incredibly difficult to get yourself out of an unhealthy romantic relationship, what do you do when the person making you feel that way is your mother?

My dad passed away 11 years ago. He was diagnosed with Leukemia and I was living in another state. I dropped everything and moved home. Three months later, he was gone. My mother has never had her driver's license. They spent their entire lives living above their means and paycheck to paycheck. They never owned a home and she was always someone's secretary. To say I was worried about what she'd do next was an understatement. That and my need to pay off college bills lead to me living with her for about six years. By the end of that time, I was in tears of anger, hurt and frustration nearly once a week.

I'm brash and loud and emotional. I hate going to bed angry and always want to talk about whatever is going on. My mother hates anything that could possibly be connoted as confrontation. She was stellar at making me feel dumb, invalid and silly for my feelings. Our ongoing fights followed a script in which I'd express to her why I was upset or hurt and she'd tell me I was wrong or overreacting. She'd roll her eyes, belittle whatever concern I had and refuse to engage.

The next day, I'd be angry and frustrated and hurt and she'd be fine. Nothing would change and I'd wonder why I cared so much when she clearly didn't care at all. Rinse and repeat every few weeks.

Many of our fights centered around the man that's now her husband. She rushed into a relationship with a man that's basically my father reincarnate. The man epitomizes all the things she'd complain about my father for, leaving me baffled as to why she'd put herself in that position all over again. She started doing things for her new husband that she had refused to do for us as kids and couldn't understand why I found that insulting.

When we sat in an over-crowded restaurant the day before Thanksgiving last year while her new husband quoted Fox News and lectured me and my husband about millennials, work ethic and how ludicrous a higher minimum wage is and I once again ended up in tears while my mom sat there silently, I was reaffirmed in my decision that this isn't someone I need in my life.

If she were a friend, we'd have just drifted apart. If we were dating, we'd have broken up over irreconcilable differences. I'd never allow anyone else in my life treat me and make me feel this way. But this was my mother. The rules on how to handle this have never been very clear to me.

It was both a relief and heartbreaking when I came to grips with the idea that I had to step back and let go. For my own health, I had to admit that in many ways, I was the problem. I naively thought that she would compromise and change. I kept engaging, looking for a different outcome . I put myself on the line, hoping to change things and improve our relationship, leaving myself vulnerable and open to being hurt. I gave her a lot of power over my emotional well-being. I expected things of her she clearly wasn't willing to give. I was continually putting myself in an emotionally unhealthy situation and I needed to stop.

She wasn't interested in changing the things that were upsetting and hurtful to me, so I had to be the one to change. I had to stop caring so much and expecting things that were never going to come.

The first step was to no longer live with her. But from there, I had to make a conscious decision not to engage with her and emotionally distance myself. I blocked her husband on Facebook and unfollowed her feed. I only call her when I have upcoming plans, so there's a finite amount of time I can be on the phone. In management speak, I set myself up for success and control as much of the situation as I can.

My mom has made things difficult and our relationship wasn't healthy for me, but she's not done anything to deserve me cutting her off. If you asked her, she probably wouldn't even realize something was wrong. Can you be estranged when one party is living in oblivion?

So now, instead of a mother, I have an acquaintance. It's a shame, as both my husband's parents have passed away. My mom is the only living parent we have, but we're cordial, if not warm. We speak on the phone about the most surface things and see each other once or twice a year.

In a few weeks, I'll awkwardly loiter in the greeting card aisle searching for a Mother's Day card that isn't overly effusive and thus feels incredibly false and fake. If the past few years are any indication, I'll end up with one of the sassy, funny ones, draw a heart and add my name and that will be the end of the anxiety for another year.

I love my mother for what she provided for me growing up and for putting me on the path to becoming the person I am today. The problem is that person is someone who stands up for herself and doesn't allow herself to be in toxic relationships.