A Mother in Love’s Name Only

My mother loved me, and she still loves me. I used to question that, but then too I used to think that ‘Love’, especially the familial sort, included having responsibilities to a person; I’ve realised since that love is just an emotion. A powerful emotion, but not one that carries a contractual agreement. Between me and my mother love is sadly all there is, when there ought to be many other things. Namely respect, trust, and mutual understanding of who the other is. We are working on building some of those things now, but for most of my life love is all she could offer, and therefore all I could reciprocate. As a result, for a lot of my childhood it felt like I was the parent, for her and myself.

When I was 14 I remember her hearing her leaving at 2am, I got up chasing after her up the street. My tone was lecturing and scolding, I told her she was being irresponsible, and that she shouldn’t be out alone at night going to friends houses. When she snapped at me in return, I switched to begging her to come home, and told her I was worried for her. My mother responded: “Don’t worry about me mom, I can take care of myself, it’s my life.” She called me mom; she didn’t catch herself and she wasn’t being sarcastic. This is the first time I remember it, but far from the last it happened. My mother often would flip into a mode where she spoke like a rebellious teenager arguing with her parent, and I was assigned the role of parent.

My mother wasn’t always like that, when I was very small she was dedicated to teaching me things, to enriching my life as much as possible. Being an actual parent. All this changed with her postpartum depression following the birth of the 3rd person I felt I was parenting, my youngest brother. My mother was always a little flighty, but it was as if she underwent a personality shift where qualities that had been in the background came to the foreground. After that she retreated into herself, love became the only thing she could give, other than arguments. She fought with everyone, especially me.

We had disagreements about almost everything. A common one was about my brother and went like so: “I didn’t have a baby, you did! I don’t want to parent him, you’re supposed to do that!” She would respond: “You’re his sister, that’s close enough. Big sisters can parent– and you’re not! You’re just baby sitting.” Just baby sitting. It still stings; what a massive minimizing of my efforts.

There were several years where as soon as I got home from school it was up to me to do caregiving for the rest of the day, til my father came home and put my little brother to bed. Years of childminding for 6-8 hours everyday, plus weekends. My poor brother, I was ill-equipped to be a caregiver, I snapped too easily and my words were harsh. Small mercy we had a no spanking policy, so the worst I would do was yell. Often what I snapped hardest when he was asking for our mother, or refusing because “You’re not mommy!” I had misdirected hostility. It was her I was mad at, because I never knew when she would be home, and her instability was not something he could understand at that age. My poor brother, love is all she could offer him as well.

My parents loved each other, but after a while, just as for my siblings, there wasn’t anything beyond that between them. All pretense that they could work things out, and respect each other, died when my mom developed a romantic attraction to their marriage counselor. My father still loved her for 10 years post break-up, even though he knew they could not live together or be together. My mother you see, is very loving and lovable, it’s everything else beyond that which proves difficult. Especially her need for others to take care of her.

The last time she called me mom she was flustered at me denying her a request, she wanted me to do something for her, and when I said no she replied “But you have to, you’re my mother!” I corrected her “I’m your daughter-” to which she interjected “-daughter, yeah, but you’re like my mother.” It is true. We’ve talked about it twice since, not in a fight. I’m resigned to it. She is my mother, and I can sometimes lean on her for help, and we love each other, but I have been more responsible and ‘parental‘ since my early teens.

It’s mothers day today, and I can’t help but feel maybe I did enough work that I can give myself credit. So happy mothers day to my mom, but also happy mothers day to me. It wasn’t easy halfway-raising myself and trying to half-way raise my brother while parenting my own mother. I had help from my dad, when he wasn’t too crushed under his depression, and siblings, when they weren’t desperately trying to survive their own struggles, but I did a lot on my own too.

In a lot of ways after my brother was born the only thing my mother did was love me, the rest was left to me. I’m making peace with that, as best as I can. I love my mother, but I hope someday we can have respect, and trust, in addition to love. For now, she is my mother in love’s name only. For now, love will have to be enough.


3 thoughts on “A Mother in Love’s Name Only

  1. Wow. This was powerfully conveyed and I bet your situation is more common than people realize. I’m sorry you had to struggle with all that growing up. I’m glad you can separate out love and still feel loved/feel love for your mother while also acknowledging all that should’ve been there that wasn’t!

    • Thank you, that means a lot. Especially because I know you more than understand ‘mother issues’.
      I’m trying to eek out a space for the nuance, because I feel like discussing the ways in which children can be failed or neglected without being straight up unloved and abused doesn’t happen much. Always worried that it won’t come across right, but you give me some confidence that it is. ^_^

      I wanted to reply when you first made this comment but I was too emotional then.
      Just, thank you so much.

      • Good timing in replying now, as today is actually my mother’s 55th birthday and I’ve been thinking of writing a blog post about some of the nuance and some of the good things despite all the bad and stuff… I mean I have a lot of thoughts and haven’t written anything about this topic in a little while. My situation is pretty different from yours but if you ever write more on this topic I’d be so fascinated and interested in your insights!!

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