how to be your own mother

be on your own side1

I have been avoiding writing this for weeks. But maybe now, that’s because I didn’t have the end of the story.

I had a draft ready about self-parenting, and how important it is after having the latest phone call with my mom. I called to ask for money–this was back in March. She didn’t have any. I called also to check in, since she really hadn’t been checking to see how I was doing. After all, I’ve been in a financial bind for a few months.

I had come to accept that part, sort of–the parentification. Maybe not all the way, yet. But I’m approaching 40 and there isn’t much room for pitching a fit about how un-maternal my mother is.

Or so I thought.

The reason I was going to blog was about a bout of shame I had from my mom asking me about some creditor calling her house. I just told her to ignore it. She kept insisting. She asked if I had given her information to them–they had called her home phone and cell phone. I was so annoyed. Why would I do that? Why would you think I’d do that? And then I basically spat out, like I was shaking off a viper into the fire: hey, if you want them to stop calling, pray I get a better job. And then I hung up.

Self-Parenting: Being On Your Own Side

It took me a bit to recover from the accusation, or really–how she thought I couldn’t be trusted. In that moment, it felt like a deep betrayal. She couldn’t think that this awful car loan folks, so awful that the Better Business Bureau hasn’t given them the thumbs up, would be the enemy. No, I was. The truth of what she implied really gutted me, unexpectedly. It felt like everything was in stark relief.

My mother is not on my side.

Self-parenting is something I’ve had to do for a while, although maybe not as effectively as I want. I talked about parentification in the previous post, and that’s essentially when you parent your parents as a child. But self-parenting, being the parent that you needed and deserved but didn’t get, for whatever reason: alcoholism, mental illness, death–it’s kind of a burden, but who else is going to do it?

After that phone call, I realized that I really needed to effectively self-parent. I had also listened to a personal development podcast or two that had touched on this topic somewhat–parenting styles, attachment styles, being the dad who can cheer you on, stuff like that.

I looked up this blog post from Huffington Post on self-parenting and I wrote down these ten steps:

No, I will not…

Automatically take the other person’s side.
Assume the worst about me.
Hold myself as responsible and to blame for the way I feel and whatever has gone wrong.
Discredit my own feelings.
Talk to myself as if I do not matter.
Shame myself for what I am feeling.
Reject or ignore myself when I am upset.
Put myself last.
Terrorize myself with potential disasters.
Be mean to or bully myself.

And finally: No, I will not accept being treated this way — by me.

My mom had committed the first and second no-no’s. She automatically took the side of my creditors and she assumed the worst about me. She didn’t ask me what was going on, or if I was in trouble. She asked if I had given them her information. I don’t know why I was so surprised. Maybe my journey in reluctant self-employment has caused me to go soft. I’ve known this woman for almost 40 years, but that night, I really saw her. So I decided that no, I will not accept being treated this way, by me or anyone else.

The Great Awakening

On Easter Sunday, I was listening to yet another personal development podcast. When I listen to these podcasts, usually it’s like poco a poco, bit by bit, little nuggets and nibbles for the long journey head. Maybe it’s like grabbing a water while running a marathon–refreshing, keeps you going, but it’s just water. This podcast was about narcissistic mothers.

I was thinking, well, this isn’t going to be about my mother. I’m actually in the shower, washing my hair listening to this, and then there’s something about how narcissistic mothers will blame you for how their lives turned out. “I gave up my career for you…”

My mother had told me something like this years ago, and then when I called her out on it, she said she didn’t remember saying it. I had never been able to put a label towards my mother’s coldness towards me.

The podcast went on to say that narcissists may seem great to everyone else. They overcompensate. Finally, someone was able to explain, ever so deftly, how my mom was so well liked and loved by everyone else, but how when it came to me and my brother, we were burdens.

I remember one time calling her out on how unenthusiastic she would answer the phone when I called vs. when she answered the phone for anyone else. It was always like, “Oh, it’s just you.” How does a child, young or old, not internalize that?

Oh. It’s just you.

By the time the podcast was over, I was crying and raining on the inside, hailstorms of truth was ricocheting off the tin roof of my heart. I can’t remember if I actually cried. I felt relieved, but I also knew that I was entering a new stage of grief.

I had to grieve the life I could have had if my mom wasn’t narcissistic. All the healthy relationships I missed. All the jobs I could have gone for if I believed in myself more–if she believed in me more. And it’s funny–I knew my dad was one a long time ago. Somehow it’s so much more easier to forgive, or at least accept. But if your mother can’t look out for you, who can?

So last week was one of the toughest I have ever had. I’m sure I was depressed–although it’d be hard to tell on the outside, except that I had to push my work and deadlines as much as I could, to have space for the grief. A few days after I listened to that podcast tweeted more of my thoughts here.

Like I said two posts ago, I have had to put a pause on all of my relationships. I feel hyperaware of how I act and react. Am I trying too hard? Am I trying to make up for the middle ground of the other side, too?

I think what hurts worst right now is knowing that I will never know how much damage this relationship did to my future–especially with having a family of my own. I feel like I’ve been spared, and that I spared any kids I would have had. To have a family be the collateral damage of my own family of origin drama–the Universe knows that I want to minimize that as much as possible. So maybe, I’ll accept being…unseen…for now.

Knowing that I have to be my own mother, be the nurturing, compassionate woman who will never leave my side, who will always believe the best about me…it’s so much better going into any relationship now knowing how I’m emotionally gimpy, and how, albeit painful and heartbreaking, I can finally start to heal from all of this properly.

Sunday morning in the shower, I wasn’t really bargaining for a full-on awakening. All roads lead back to this initial wound, from my mother who didn’t even want to remember when I was born–even if it was because it was a scary birth. There was no, “Even though the childbirth was scary, you are my favorite and most precious Christmas gift.”

Even though she has never said that to me, and never while, even writing that, and reading that–that does something to me. It touches me. Like it makes me feel a little more human, a little more connected to others. Oh, it would have been nice to have a sentimental, caring, compassionate mom, not a narcissist who sucked the life and love out of me on demand. But having me be my own mom is definitely the next best thing.

By Friday, the pain–it was actually physical pain. I know what heartbreak feels like now–was gone. I’m not sure if I was spiritual about it. I hope I was. I hope the angels and archangels were close by.

Tonight, I sit in deep gratitude. Do you know what it’s like to have the biggest life question rattling around inside of you, guiding you into the most desolate and desperate places, making you do the most foolish and unseemly things? And then, all at once, on a sleepy Sunday morning, someone strings all the right words together, words you’ve heard before, but just not in that order…

Question answered. I’m not crazy. I’m not unlovable. I just had the bad luck of having two narcissists as my parents.

Even though I had been in therapy for most of my adulthood, my therapists and I were just walking around these caverns of loss, never really arriving anywhere–or so it seems. Maybe it was just the scavenger hunt to the real bounty that I found almost two week ago now.

Right now, though, it’s been hard to think that I’m not permanently damaged, that I won’t find the love that I really want and need in my life. Having a mom-sized hole in your heart is not easily filled. It feels abysmal, like a black hole sucking the life out of everything and everyone. But starting with self-parenting is at least a cement mixer of love that’s on the way.

And even though I may not need to, I’d like to say I’m sorry to everyone I’ve hurt while I was whirling around this gaping hole of sorrow that I couldn’t heal just yet. I was blind in pain, so blind that I’m not even sure how many people I’ve hurt, annoyed, pushed away, sucked dry…I’m just sorry.

And like I said before, I don’t know if I would have had the time to get this message if life hadn’t knocked me on my ass again with underemployment. This gift of freedom, of true self-love and self-acceptance…it’s really invaluable to me now. I feel like I have the key that can unlock all the doors to what I want.

All of this is still unraveling, and I want to keep myself safe, keep my feelings, dreams, and desires, all safe, all with me, like they matter. Like I matter. Whatever happens now, I know that I am on my own side, that I can be my own mother, and that is far better than how I was living before.

 

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