I’ve been hesitant to share this story, partially because it’s ongoing but mostly because it’s not fully my story to share. But it’s a story of generational trauma and family and unconditional love: things every single one of us can relate to in some way or another. It’s a story that has affected me my entire life and still affects me today. But there’s this pressure in my heart to share it. And like a diamond forming under pressure, beauty can come from this for myself and hopefully others.
My mother and I have had tumultuous relationship. Over the years we have gone from being estranged to close to barely talking back to close and around again. It’s been a struggle I’ve tried to reconcile for years.
My mom and dad separated when I was 12. Mom left and I stayed with my dad and two younger sisters. As the oldest, I felt I had to step into the mom role which of course, as a child, isn’t easy. I failed miserably. A few months after their separation I moved in with my mom in a town where I knew no one. Mom ran a daycare in our home and when she left, she left with little money and very few things. Work became important to her because she had to pay her own way for the first time in her life. This meant she was gone a lot. I was left to fend for myself and I basically ran wild with friends until late into the night, every night. There was little parenting taking place. Mom was more my friend, which felt “cool” when I was young. But it’s not cool when you look back and see how badly you needed a mother during the hard teenage years and only found a tired, overworked “friend”.
My mom’s life has never been easy. A history of physical, emotional and mental abuse as a child forced Mom to leave home at an early age. She met my dad when she was 15 and they were living together within weeks. They got married when she was 18 and I was born just before her 20th birthday. She had three kids under age five by the time she was 25.
Her relationship with her mother was ugly. My grandmother was a hard woman to understand. She put men before her family and these men were alcoholics and worse, abusive. Until she met the man I call Grandpa, she had been in toxic relationships her entire life. Of course that would affect her children. Monkey see, monkey do, right? Also, my Grandma didn’t show emotion. She didn’t show affection unless it was to her bottle of vodka. Her lack of presence and love left a void in my mom that would never be filled. Their relationship would never mend: my grandmother died in 2015.
As most generational trauma goes, a pattern emerged. My mother, who had never felt true love from her own, sought love elsewhere. Since the age of 14 my mother has always been in a relationship. She’s truly never been alone to work on herself and heal the trauma of her youth. I don’t say this in a judgmental way; many people do the same. It’s easier to seek love eternally than to do the hard work of finding it internally. It’s a story many of us subscribe too.
I notice this in my sisters. I notice this in friends with troubling pasts. I noticed this in the Aboriginal people of my community. It’s incredibly common, especially in women. My step mother tells a similar story of always needing validation in her relationships.
So how do we stop the buck from passing on? How do we break a pattern that isn’t healthy?
For me, to ensure I don’t pass on the trauma from my mom via my grandma (and maybe even via her grandmother), I have to see the pattern. I have to be aware of my actions and how I am conducting myself. I have to actively work at changing the pattern. I don’t want to contribute to the history of the poor mother-daughter relationships rampant in my family. I don’t want the relationship with my mom that she had with hers. Life is so short and I know if Mom and I fell out again and something happened to her I would be devastated. I’d be crushed I didn’t try harder when she was alive. I’d be begging forgiveness for a forgiveness I couldn’t ever receive. It would leave a really big, irreparable hole in my heart.
My mom hasn’t made the best choices all the time but she’s done the best she can given the tools she had. She didn’t know what a mother-daughter relationship could be because she never experienced it first-hand. Similarly, she’s HUMAN! None of us are perfect! I forgive my mom for everything she didn’t do just as I hope she forgives me for all the shit I put her through. I’m sure many of her grey hairs are from my many terrible escapades. Forgiving someone is the best feeding for your soul. It releases anger, bitterness, resentment and all the other heavy feelings associated with the conflict. You know that feeling you get in your chest when you take a deep breath laying down and let it out slowly? You feel your body sink a little deeper into the bed and you feel relaxed and light? Your chest feels lighter and closer to the bed even though you didn’t actually move? That’s what forgiveness feels like. A lightening and a relaxing deep within.
I have never doubted my mom’s love for me. She may not show it in the way I need sometimes but we all have different love languages (referencing The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman). I love her the way I know how and she loves me the way she knows how. It’s not my job to sit here and judge her. It’s my job to love her and support her. I’m done with judging the past and all the things I felt she did wrong. I’m more interested in celebrating my mom and all the things she does right. She’s generous and kind. She’s got a stellar sense of humour and a great work ethic. She inspires me to work hard and be the best person I can be.
Not everyone can accept a person who’s hurt them. Sexual abuse survivors or other people with harrowing pasts can probably never accept their circumstances or the people who inflicted the pain. But for me, I accept my mom for who she is. There’s no rosy-coloured glasses of youth blinding me anymore. I know her faults and I know her strengths. I need to accept that she will probably never give me the relationship I want. But I accept the relationship we have. And it’s better than ever. Trying to force something not meant to be is like banging your head against a brick wall. The wall doesn’t move and you only hurt yourself. Acceptance is seeing there’s a door in the wall. You know what’s on the other side and you knock anyways.
A lot of times I write blogs that have an “end lesson”. With family, I don’t know that there is ever an end lesson. These are your people. Through thick, thin, good, bad and everything in between, they are your people, your blood. Mom and I are a constant work in progress but one that’s finally progressing towards a relationship I’m proud of. We’re breaking the pattern and weaving a new story for her, myself and hopefully my kids. Generational trauma can heal. Like all things worth having, it takes hard work and A LOT of love. Can’t forget the love, even on the hard days.
United we rise,