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My Mother's Estranged Adult Child

Updated on February 6, 2013

Thirty Years Without a Word

Vee hasn't called or written her mother in 30 years and just as Vee wanted it turned her mother into a weeping wreck. "What did I do?" Mom begs me when I visit. "Tell me what I did wrong! I fed her! I raised her!"

I used to say, "Mom, I can't help you. Go to a counselor." Mom won't hear of it. What, tell a stranger her worst secret, that her own daughter won't talk to her? How could that help? These days I say, "Mom, you got two out of three. That's pretty good."

Vee was the middle child, caught in a sister sandwich. Vee didn't get the attention the first baby got, and she wasn't the cute baby of the family. Even as a small child Vee eyed our dessert plates to see if Mom was favoring us over her. She cried a lot. She was called "sensitive" and "bashful" or "had a chip on her shoulder." It was "just the way she was."

It is not our parents' fault that they were not like parents are today. Dad and Mom were underpaid and overworked, and Mom enjoyed, in a sadistic way, the little bit of power she did have. When we cried she yelled "Louder! Louder!" Fifty years ago adults slapping kids was discipline, not abuse; it meant you were a caring parent and believed what the bible said: "Spare the rod and spoil the child." I can't say that kind of discipline did me a lot of good, but I got over it. Vee took it very hard and never forgave Mom.

Vee went to college on a scholarship. Mom had mellowed a bit by then, and gave Vee $5000 as a graduation gift. Vee went East for a job, cashed the check and didn't send a thank-you. Vee's diploma came to Mom's address. Mom had it framed and sent along to Vee. In transit the glass shattered and the diploma was damaged. Vee thought Mom had done this deliberately. I said I didn't think so. "She did it because she's jealous of me," Vee insisted.

Vee hasn't seen or spoken with Mom since. She doesn't visit us, her sisters, either. She and her husband (a very nice guy) have a house and money, and no children. I last visited them 16 years ago. Vee talked only about how she has been wronged, especially by Mom. I said, "As long as you are mad at Mom, she has power over you." But I guess Vee likes her anger. She didn't come to our sister's wedding because Mom would be there. She has never met her niece, now 14. She sent me a gift card when I got married, which was good of her. We exchange holiday cards in December but I can count our phone conversations on one hand.

I'm not a big family person, and if Vee doesn't want to be with family that is her choice. But Mom pesters me. "Does she call you? Does she talk about me?" On the Internet looking for help, I found almost nothing about estranged adult children, and no support groups. But I learned that it's rare that estrangements last this long and that there's no hope. One time Mom was fussing and I said, "She doesn't seem to care for any of us. I say forget about her." Mom burst into tears. And then got angry. And later made a new will excluding Vee. Mom thinks that is good revenge.

Now I avoid the whole subject, although on Mom's living-room wall hangs a huge gold-framed repro of a painting she has always liked, of two little girls. One of them looks very much as Vee did as a child; that's why Mom bought the painting.The other doesn't look at all like Mom's other daughters, the ones who stuck with her, forgave her, and so on. No, it's the same old tragic story: You always want most the one who doesn't want you.


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