Los Angeles native and screenwriter Nicole Gonzalez McIntosh was eight years old when her mother first threw her out of the house to live on her own.
Janette Rosario-Brol of Illinois recently took out a protective order against her mother—a woman who, among other things, once told her young daughter she wished she’d spent her drug money on getting the girl aborted instead.
Houston’s Krissy Guzman watched in astonishment as her mother pretended to only have two children when in fact she had four—and never understood why the woman paid for one daughter to go to college but told the other she wasn’t worth it.
Boston salon owner Nancy Brown’s mother found her mauled by a dog in the neck and face—and bleeding nearly to death—in their native Costa Rica, and berated the elementary school girl for “ruining the sofa” with her blood.
Bay area photographer Micaela Martinez Grant has such a troubled relationship with her abusive mother that she describes her as being “as evil as Satan’s spit” and says she looks forward to the day she dies.
With Mother’s Day coming up, not all of us are preparing to celebrate our moms. Some of us are struggling to come to terms with the holiday in a culture that seems to expect everyone to adore and honor Mommie Dearest, no matter what.
“People tell me I shouldn’t be so hard on my mom,” says Austin’s Brenda Velarde, who says her mother was so neglectful she sometimes went for days without eating while her mom got high, often in front of her. “They act like I’m the bad guy if I tell the truth about my mom. What’s weird is they don’t say the same thing if I talk about my dad. If it’s your dad, it’s like it’s okay to hate him for hurting you.”
Women are actually more likely to abuse their children than men are, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. In a report on child maltreatment issues in 2010, the department reported that 53.6 percent of all child abusers were women, compared to 45.2 percent who were men. (The rest were of unknown sex.) Four fifths of duplicate offenders were parents, meaning that kids are more likely to be abused by their mothers than any other person in their lives.
For the year 2010, 3.6 million children were abused badly enough in the U.S. to end up having a report written about it with the government. Countless others are thought to have been abused but never been brought to the attention of authorities.
For those among us who were abused by our mothers, it can be difficult to deal with the syrupy sweet messages and images that bombard us this time of year. Not only do we not have a mom like ones in TV ads, but we kind of hate the one we have.
NO CELEBRATING MOM
Tracy S, from Oil City, PA, says one of her first memories of her mother was of the woman making fun of the girl for not knowing anything about her father. “She’s just say the most hateful, hurtful things,” says Tracy. Another memory she shares is from when she was 12 years old and her mother locked herself in her room for days on end and attempted suicide; it was just the two of them at home and Tracy was left not only to fend for herself but to rescue her mom.
“I don’t celebrate Mother’s Day at all,” says Tracy. “I just don’t.”
Other women, like Erin Z. of Albuquerque, NM, celebrate Mother’s Day now that they themselves are moms, by honoring themselves and others. Erin travels with her family to Colorado for a mini vacation every year, and invites all of the other moms she knows who have awful mothers. Together, they honor one another and, in a way, fill in for the mothering none of them ever got as kids.
FORGIVENESS AND HEALING
For some, there is healing to be found. Though it doesn’t always come easily.
David M. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee and author of the book How Dysfunctional Families Spur Mental Disorders, is like many therapists who advise their patients to forgive abusive mothers. But, he warns, this doesn’t mean accepting further victimization.
“The most difficult and painful part of (therapy) is convincing my patients that it is in their best interest to find a way to metacommunicate with their family of origin members so that these horrible interactions in the present can be stopped.,” writes Allen in an article on forgiving abusive parents that appears in Psychology Today.
Patients tend to think Allen is asking them to change the past, but he says that’s not the case at all. What forgiveness does is change the effect the past has upon us in the present.
Forgiveness does not mean acceptance, nor does it mean you must continue to have a relationship of any kind with an abusive mother. It means that you free yourself to see the fault as being with her, and you move on with your life without anger.
Musician and artist Tim Tobias of Las Vegas tells of doing exactly this with his own abusive mother, and recounts the freedom it has given him to be a good father to his own children. “I used to think I had a bad mom,” he says as he recounts a drug-addicted woman who was an angry and physically abusive, manipulative drunk. One of nine children, he had to watch others suffer as often as he himself was victimized.
“About fifteen years ago I found out what circumstances had shaped my mom,” he says. “She was abandoned by her mother when she was eight years old, left to raise her two younger brothers. The authorities placed them in orphanages. The woman who took her in was extremely abusive and unimaginably cruel.”
This realization helped Tobias to see his mother not just as a victimizer, but as a victim as well. This helped him forgive her, and understand at a deep and fundamental level that whatever she had done to him was never his fault—and to get on with his life.
For more information, see: