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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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      6 years ago

      . My mom passed away on Wednesday morning at 8:59 am, March 14th, in the midst of her long battle with cancer. Exactly 1 day and 4 hours after the anniversary of my father’s passing 15 years earlier. I had the honor to be by her bedside leading up to her big transition, and to be with her as she released her final breath. She was surrounded by her children during the final hours of her life. We stroked her hair, massaged her hands and feet, rubbed her swollen belly, swabbed her parched lips with a tiny wet sponge, and told her how much we loved her over and over and over. It was an experience that left me all blown open to the mystery of life and filled with a wild awe at the transcendent force called love. In a family that has seen more than its share of sorrow, conflict, confusion and separation, finally here was an experience that united us all in a way that left no doubt that love is, in fact, stronger and more powerful than any other force.

      After a lifetime of confusion, doubt and regret – interlaced with great love, passion and deep family bonds, my mother at last made peace with life – and death – in her final days, and I was graced to be the one who shared the long final nights with her as she wrestled with her demons and prepared to move into the next adventure. My sister and I were on a schedule by her bedside, so that she was never alone, and I had volunteered to take the night shift. Fortunately all of the personal history between us was dissolved during the time we spent together last year, and by the time she passed on, we were just two souls sharing one of the most intimate gifts that life has to offer.

      No longer mother and daughter, no more regrets, disappointments or resentments. Just two hearts opening more and more as the great mystery of Death moved quietly into the room and waited patiently for her to accept his outstretched hand.

      Throughout my life, my mother always seemed moody, in and out of depression with a bit of a predisposition to narcissism, self-centeredness and much exaggeration. She was prone to temper tantrums and in general was hard to live with. But she could be warm and loving -- and always insisted upon how much she loved me -- though her mood-swings and emotional behavior were definitely more predominant.

      My mother could be extremely witty, however always quite insecure about her Philippine accent and lack of life experience. Bitterness and depression seemed to be her anchor. Her marriage to my father seemed to be a constant source of frustration and regret. Our relationship waned and finally fizzled as I grew into adulthood and middle-age. Finally, after much heart ache and forgiveness my mother and I enjoyed each other’s company during her final years, though mom didn't really remember much from moment to moment. The irony of life.

      When my father died years ago my mother was understandably falling apart. By this time, I had painted a picture of her as this vicious, mentally ill woman...this crazy woman! What kind of woman was this? What kind of daughter was I to be thinking such thoughts?

      After a prolonged hospital stay and the discovery of her cancer. I was told that my mother probably also suffered from dementia. I really do believe to some degree that her dementia was somehow always lurking in her brain, perhaps already influencing her behavior many decades ago.

      Strangely enough, as both the cancer and the disease progressed and mom went into an assisted living home -- she became generally more pleasant, even-tempered and positive. She smiled often, loved going to observe and chat with all the widowed men and charmed the heck out of most of the staff much of the time.

      She also had down days where she griped at her roommate whom she didn’t care for and asked about her grandchildren who she missed terribly. But all in all many of her days were good ones. She occasionally became very aware of all that she has lost – her freedom, her home, her husband, her financial struggles, her beloved pets, time not spent with her granddaughters – those times were indeed hard to observe her going through.

      However, last year, I was finally able to appreciate a gift I had received at birth but had never unwrapped. I transformed my relationship with my mother.

      My mother and I were at odds ever since I was a little girl. Blame it on personalities -- Whatever it was, there was never any love lost between us because there was never any love.

      My teenage years were painful, the dysfunction went deeper than anyone could imagine. Due to other dynamics in our family, there were several factors at play which severely undermined my relationship with my mother until the two of us were almost strangers.

      My mother was just not the kind of woman who put her children first. She was never there for anything that I can recall. I would see other girls having a close loving relationship with their moms. I resented the fact that she was just not capable of that. I grew up feeling that I had no mother; I cooked my own meals, packed my own lunches, cleaned, and took care of my sister. I never had a childhood like the other kids had. I never felt she loved me. When I was old enough I told her that I didn’t respect her and that I would leave home as soon as I was old enough. I believe she resigned herself to the fact that her eldest daughter was lost to her. Over the years we stopped the cattiness and wars and settled into a kind of cold artificial politeness.

      When I got married, you can be sure my mother was not in the picture. I was on my own shopping for my dress, picking centerpieces and menus, and all the trials and tribulations of making a wedding. My mother showed up as a guest, late of course as always, cordially invited yet coolly welcomed. She watched from the sidelines as I married the man I had chosen as my husband and I made no attempt to hide my satisfaction at finally being free of her apron strings.

      For too many years, I deeply resented my mother, I unconsciously held her accountable for her inability to acknowledge the pain I felt she inflicted on me as a child.

      However, when my children were born I found her to be a much better grandmother than I ever imagined. She and my father were lovingly there for every step that each of my daughters took. Of course I would find fault in anything she ever did. With each passing day, unknowingly I was passing on my entrenched anger and resentment to the next generation, giving my children subtle vibes that their grandmother was really nothing special.

      Our favorite, time-honored tradition together consisted of getting into an argument, then analyzing our dysfunctional relationship, crying together, vowing to reform, and then blowing up at each other anew. Most of the time it was best not to have anything to do with each other at all. But I could tell she never gave up hope that one day I would come back to her and give her the pleasure of allowing her to be my mother in more than just a figurative sense.

      One day, a friend who I admire for living with such exuberance and joy, told me that she and her mother had always had a severely strained relationship. But one day she thought about the fact that her mother was getting older and would eventually pass on to another world. Suddenly she realized that she wasn't comfortable with the status quo. She hated the thought of her mother dying as a stranger to her. So she did a good bit of praying, took a deep breath, and made a move toward reconciliation.

      It was a long process, she told me, but they both invested much time and effort and it paid off. Finally, she and her mother were able to find the love that had been lost between them for so many long years. A short while later, her mother passed away, and my friend felt very at peace with her mother's death.

      "When I meet my mother in heaven," my friend told me, "I know she will tell me, I love you and I'm proud of you'. And we will hug and embrace."

      At first, her story didn't move me. Very nice that she and her mom had reconciled, but me and mother? Forget it! Our relationship was beyond resuscitation; the patient was long de

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      6 years ago

      My mother and I have been estranged for over 25 years. I feel so bad she just had a major operation yesterday. I said a prayer for her, I don't wish her anything bad.

      I won't visit her. It is a very long story dealing with abuse (mainly verbal abuse... bad at times), affairs,etc.

      I do feel bad that when her second husband died I was cold and said horrible things because I did not want to go to the funeral which I didn't. She and my biological father had an ugly divorce and I was let to

      believe that he did not love me. Being several states aay I believed this until after his death.

      She tells my friends that I hold grudges and tells things I do as a dysfunctional kid/teen. I was a mess back them.

      My mom ask me to be there when she dies but I told her it is not my responsibilty. I said other horrible things (I did not use bad language). Do I feel bad. Yes. She told me years ago to stay out of her life.... now she needs me. This hurts me so much.

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      6 years ago


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      Supta Gupta. 

      6 years ago

      I am going through the same with an adult child. My son in this case. He married about two years ago. My daughter in law is a very nice girl. But her mother is something else . She tells my son that keeping in touch with his parents shows his lack of love for his wife. My son loves his wife very much, and is gullible. I wish I could make him see that at the end of the day , men who completely give ;up their natal family for the sake of their wives, start resenting the fact that this happened because of their wife or her family. I want to see him happy, but at the same time my heart aches for my child. , who i raised with love and compassion and a lot of sacrifice. Is there a resolution to the situation? Does anyone have a solution to my problem or any suggestions. I keep trying to talk to him, so does his father. Even when he calls he is stiff and does not open up to us. It really really hurts.

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      6 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Perhaps Vee and her Mother were never meant to be close, maybe it is not about the methods her Mother used but rather a personality clash that is irreconcilable. Just because they are related by blood doesn't mean they have to want to be together, there seems to be a deeper repulsion in these family estrangements that goes beyond certain circumstances that took place over the years. Interesting, emotional and thought provoking piece. Voted up.


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