About a year after my second sister was born, when I was eight, my parents separated for a few years and my mom and my sisters and I ended up moving in with my youngest sister’s biological father for part of that time. During the time that we lived separate from my father, he brought us groceries weekly, paid my mom child support (without having to go through the courts), took us on family outings frequently, and never ceased trying to get my mother back. Meanwhile, she became increasingly verbally and physically abusive to me. In retrospect, I think she may have been doing a lot of drugs (maybe cocaine?) because she was getting very thin and because her behavior was increasingly erratic. As a ten-year-old, I would frequently be left overnight to care for my 5- and 3-year-old sisters while she partied.
Eventually things ended with the guy that she was with (she caught him cheating!–shocker) and we moved back in with my dad. He is kind of a saint, but he has a blind spot where she is concerned, and, after we moved back in, he looked the other way as far as her behavior is concerned. She stopped going out as much but instead had her bar friends over at all times of the day and night to drink, and she never felt particularly compelled to make sure her children were adequately dressed or fed for school in the morning or even sent to school at all. She rarely came to any school functions such as plays and performances, and she never ceased her physical and emotional abuse towards me. (She called me a whore and accused me of being pregnant well before I even lost my virginity, frequently hitting or kicking me when she was mad, etc).
During my whole life, she has always maintained outward appearances of being some kind of Suzy-homemaker, and has been obsessed with spending more money than Dad can make to furnish her house just so or to dress a certain way. One of her worst offenses, in my eyes, has been her ability to falsely assert her love and pride over her children whenever she is presenting herself to someone outside of the immediate family, since it is in such a stark contrast from how she actually behaves.
Now I am married, have young child, and am pregnant with my second. I recently (within the past month) discovered that my mother is again cheating on my father. My proof is not irrefutable but is very strong circumstantial evidence, and it was made that much stronger by her behavior since I confronted her. I never intended to tell my father or shame her to the whole family (which is what she deserves, but it is not my place) but I guess, since she was scared that I would tell on her, she decided to get out ahead of me and tell her own version of reality to everyone, which includes painting me as a mentally deranged person who can’t deal with issues from her past and who hates her sister (my sister born of mom’s affair over 15 years ago).
I really didn’t expect this, even from her. I did not expect systematic alienation from the extended family, to whom she has always worked so hard to maintain appearances, because I never thought she would tell them what I said to her! I thought she would want to keep it between us! I only even confronted her, clearly foolishly, because I wanted to protect my father and because I thought, if she knew I was on to her, maybe she would stop. And I don’t know where the part about me hating my sister comes from–we have a very good relationship and she is supposed to be throwing my baby shower– except that it further serves to create the illusion that I am this unhappy person looking to create problems in the family.
Anyway, things have gotten bad and I am overwhelmed with sadness. Despite everything, I love my mother and don’t want things to be this way, but I doubt at this point that I can forgive her. I don’t actually even want to talk to her at all and have told her to consider our relationship over. It is much harder to stick to my guns about this when I consider what repercussions this has for my relationships with the rest of the family since my parents are still together and live in my childhood home with my two youngest sisters (including a fourth daughter my parents had after they got back together). I do not want to miss out on relationships with my father or my sisters. My father doesn’t really know what’s going on, except for my mother’s skewed version of the story. Furthermore, I don’t want my daughters to miss out on those relationships. However, for as long as I am not talking to my mother, she will not allow much interaction between the people in her household and the people in mine.
Is it worth it to cut ties with her? If not, what do I say to make up with the world’s most selfish person? The idea sickens me, frankly, because if I decide to be the bigger person and apologize for the sake of peace, this is just another battle she wins by being an awful person. And should I address the situation to the rest of the family, instead of sitting silently by while she paints me as a crazy person? I’ve heard through the family rumor mill all kinds of nonsense about myself, and it really hurts. That’s the thanks I get for trying to keep things private, I guess. My husband is in the turn-the-other-cheek camp, but watching her play the victim while I get publicly smeared is a little more than I can handle sometimes. I still haven’t told on her! I don’t understand how she can go on the offense when she should be thankful that I haven’t aired my grievances to the whole family. — Mommy Dearest’s Daughter
I’m so sorry that you grew up not knowing the love and care of a good mother. Not only were you cheated out of a healthy relationship with your mother, but you were also forced to take on way more responsibility — caring for your younger siblings, and even, to an extent, your parents — than any child should have to. It’s not fair, and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do to right the wrongs of your childhood and give you the past you deserved to have. Fortunately, you can give yourself and your children the life and happiness and stability you didn’t have as a kid, and it sounds as if you are doing just that, despite the trauma of your childhood.
In order to keep moving forward, you have to accept that you are no longer responsible for your mother or your father. That means, it’s not your job to save one from the other (or from themselves) any more than it’s your responsibility to seek an apology or force your mother to acknowledge what a shitty person she is. You also need to accept that, as much as you would love an apology from her for all the crap she’s done to you and put you through, every time you give her an opportunity to make amends and she fails you’re letting her hurt you all over again. That’s what happened when you told her privately that you knew of her affair. Maybe you told her so she would confess to your father, but I think the more likely truth is that you told her in hopes that she’d have an “a-ha moment,” realize what a fuck-up she is, and finally acknowledge at least some of her transgressions to you, if not apologize for them. Maybe you thought that, if you shared a secret together, she might even feel some sort of kinship to you or feel indebted to you for keeping her secret safe.
Instead, she bad-mouthed you to the rest of the family. She threw you under the bus to save her own ass, and your father, yet again, looked the other way. It sucks, and I’m sorry, and, unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to change what has happened. But what you can do moving forward is to live well. You’ve heard that saying that living well is the best revenge? Well, it’s true. And you are capable of living well. You are capable of having the happy family life now that you missed as a child, complete with strong relationships with your siblings and extended family.
Don’t let your mother continue to rob you of the things that make you feel whole. If you have to “make up” with her in order to keep your siblings and father in your life, then swallow your pride and apologize for making her business your business. Tell her you should have kept out of her affairs (pun intended) and will do so in the future. This isn’t letting her win the battle. This isn’t giving her another victory she can celebrate. Because she’s still herself, with all her flaws and unhappiness — and you better believe a person like her is unhappy — and that is nothing to celebrate. And you are still you, living well and being happy.
As for the family smear campaign your mother has launched against you, let the rumors run their course and die out. If your mother works as hard as you say she does to maintain appearances of a quaint home life, she will shape this narrative in a way that paints a happy reconciliation between the two of you. It may be a tough pill to swallow, thinking that people might believe such a thing, and that your mother has, yet again, gotten away with bad behavior. But remember, your mother is not and never has been a victor. She is just a sad person who knows how to manipulate people and who won’t ever have true relationships with anyone because she is incapable of being true. You, on the other hand, are the true victor. You managed to rise above your own painful childhood and create a fulfilling life as an adult — as a loving wife, a responsible mother, and a loving sister and family member. That is more than your mother has ever been able to say for herself.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.