How Do You Mourn a Mean Mom?

My mother was so mean, she actually died on Mother’s Day. Is that unbelievable? Who does that? Mother’s Day was always an emotionally complicated holiday for her since she was estranged from her 2 sons. So, while I tried to make up for their absences with special luncheons she was usually depressed.

I feel like her depression is contagious since Mother’s Day is now the anniversary of her death which makes it a sad day of remembrance. It was just like her to stick it to me; even in death making the mourning process more complicated than necessary.

I wish I didn’t feel this way – but the truth is some moms – well they just weren’t meant to be moms. And my mom was a mean mom to three kids. She should have stopped after having her first one, but like all her life decisions she was a victim of circumstance. Somehow, she mysteriously gave birth to 3 kids in four years without planning even one pregnancy. She had a knack for making us feel both unwanted and dependent on us.

To hear her tell it, she had an incredible childhood steeped in wealth, family and friends. While most families were suffering after the Depression, my mother’s family was flourishing with 2 homes and a Cadillac. But upon college graduation, she met and married my physically abusive father – a mistake she would live to regret the rest of her life and never recover from.

My husband, 2 kids and my mean mother
My mom with my husband and kids
My mother in the 1960's
My mom in here 40’s
Myself, my mother, grandparents and sister-in-law
My mom with my grandparents

She suffered from bouts of clinical depression, but never would admit it and therefore never sought effective treatment. When she was depressed she was even meaner. She pushed people away and took to her bed saying she was sick with one thing or another. If I spoke with her by phone during these episodes, she would start fights with me, tell me I am making her sick and hang up the phone on me.

She was extremely insecure and manipulative and pitted myself and my siblings against each other. If she was mad at one of us for any reason we were shut out at the family dinner table. No one could look you in the eye or speak to you. It was humiliating. This could go on night after night until you eventually apologized to her – even though you had done nothing particularly egregious. Since we never knew who might be next we maintained distant relationships with each other and today we are three middle-aged adults that have no relationship with each other at all. I’m talking about the “not speaking for years” kind of relationship.

When she wasn’t depressed she could be lots of fun to be with, but I never could be myself since she never said she was sorry or took any responsibility for her abusive tendencies when she was depressed. It’s like she expected everyone to just forget and move on. You just never knew what personality you were getting when you saw or spoke with her.

After 10 years of psychotherapy and spending close to $100,000 (view My Mental Health Journey here), I was able to create a completely different family dynamic with my husband and two kids. My brothers teased and made fun of me for seeking treatment, and to no surprise they reproduced the drama they grew up with. Each has been divorced and re-married and has kids they don’t speak with.

Because I am an honest, hard-working, happily married woman it made my relationship with her even more problematic. Because she was such a narcissist, my happy marriage, in her mind, meant I was less attentive to her. Along with her depression came feelings of self-pity and hypochondria. She wanted everyone to feel sorry for her and it was alienating.

Through it all, I included her in all of our family holidays and celebrations for more than 20 years and made sure she felt welcomed. My brothers didn’t include her in anything. I felt bad for her and it gave her pleasure to spend time with 2 of her 6 grandchildren. Then, towards the end of her life she reconciled with my middle brother who lived only a few blocks away from her and hadn’t communicated with her in over 10 years (he blamed the ex-wife). His children really never knew her.

In my heart, I knew that their reconciliation meant bad things for her and me. She only had room to love us one at a time and he was financially supporting her. Suddenly, he was all she spoke about and our conversations and interactions got far more contentious. In the last two years of her life she was so abusive to me, I only saw and spoke to her several times.

So, how do I mourn the person who gave me life but made it miserable at the same time? No one talks about how to feel when someone you feel so conflicted about dies. I haven’t shed a tear and I am a pretty emotional person. When my dog Romeo died unexpectedly four years ago, I was a wreck.

I guess, there’s no simple answer, but just try and remember some good times and try to forgive her irrational and hurtful behavior. It has only been only 2 yearssince she passed, so we’ll see how time heals.

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Published by Amy Sandelman Harris

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