Dear Dr. Archer,
I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season! I'm not sure where to start, so here I go. I was an only child -- my mother was deliberately cruel to almost everyone in her life, and my father was the buffer between her and me, as well as between her and the world.
With maturity I have realized that all of her miscarriages, at least 7 that I was told about, and constant losing of babies when she was only four or five months pregnant wrecked havoc on her mind.
Being told that I was a "mongoloid idiot" when I was born by the naval doctor and nurse who delivered me, was apparently too much for her. I heard that story almost every day of my life until she died, and I never understood why she felt compelled to repeat it so frequently.
She refused to allow me to know my IQ -- and even A+'s were not good enough for her. When I was 4 she decided that I was fat and put me on a strict diet from then on. She didn't see that my body was normal for my age group and wouldn't listen to anyone who told her that.
When I was a teen, she insisted I needed therapy, but was told by the psychologist I didn't need help, that she did, which ended that, after one session.
Never once did she tell me "I love you." In fact, she demeaned and belittled me as often as she could. Additionally she mocked me when I chose a radically different method of raising my children since I refused to mimic her behavior.
I always told them I loved them. Unfortunately, when my children were little and I took advantage of my parents for babysitting, she spoke ill of me every chance she got, until she completely eroded my children's trust and faith in me. In the end, she also destroyed my father's love for me.
I have forgiven her many times, and am only sharing this to set the background for the rest of the story. Due to her behavior, my children are convinced that I am a liar, a whore, who cannot handle money, and various and sundry other things she perpetrated upon them and me over the course of their growing up.
In fact, she convinced my first and second husbands of the same thing. She even attempted to over-ride my discipline many times.
My son is now 41 and my daughter is 39; both are married but neither have children. My daughter and son-in-law do not want children which is fine with me -- it's their life and they get to choose how they live it. My son and daughter-in-law may have children eventually and that's fine also, whatever works best for them.
I have always taught my children to treat others the way they wish to be treated in return, and when they asked for advice as teens or adults, I have said "you have to do what's best for you."
I did not mean that as a cop out, but I feel that after talking a situation through, each person should make their own decisions, not rely on someone else to determine their actions, especially now that they are adults -- chronologically, at least.
Unfortunately, my daughter and I had some years where we didn't speak much and she didn't like me at all. She blamed me for things her grandmother actually did without my knowledge.
We have become somewhat closer again, and that is a joy for me! Today, it is my son who is not speaking to me; his anger is such that I'm unsure he will ever be able to move forward.
From my vantage point of 66, I know that he is still in teen-mode emotionally, and some days I despair of him ever maturing. I have made several overtures; I have, however, been rebuffed each time.
I do acknowledge his anger. However, I also know that it is only hurting him. The reason I know this is because I spent way too many years being angry with my mother, only to discover that anger toward her had created health problems for me and had absolutely no affect on her.
Let me say that I have always loved my children, even when they are at their snarliest. Their father was 16 years older than me, and it took me 7 of the 13 years we were married to decide to divorce him.
That decision was not made lightly; however, it was made with their best interests in mind. I, thank goodness, have changed over the years, from having lived down to my mother's expectations of me, to now living up to my own expectations for myself.
I have been able to shift the overwhelmingly negative mindset of the past to a positive mindset for the present and future. It would be wonderful to be able to talk with my son and daughter frankly and openly about their grandmother and her behavior, although I doubt that will ever happen.
It is enough now, to pray for a reconciliation and hope that neither one of us pass on before that happens, leaving regret and guilt in our wake.
I wonder how I can communicate my changes with my children, and have them open their hearts to accepting that people that are not static or frozen in time and behavior patterns can and do change.
I also know that deep inside, I still feel the unworthiness that was communicated to me by my mother. How can I break that mindset and move beyond it?
So far, not much has worked, at least not on a permanent basis. Thank you for listening to this story. I DO know that stories can be changed, and I am working on that. I just haven't quite gotten there - yet.
Congratulations for overcoming overwhelming odds. Despite the challenges you faced as a mere child -- and you had more than your fair share -- you sound like a loving, caring and insightful individual. And while you may not have gotten where you wish to go, look how far you have come from where you started.
Unfrotunately your kids will never understand the hell you went through as a child, but that’s ok, you survived that and I promise you anyone who has been there will be touched by your perseverance. I recommend you start a journal of how you did it. I promise there will be folkjs it could help.
You mention something that everyone needs to hear, Barbara. You held on to, and possibly even fed, the anger that you held towards your mom, while she was oblivious to the anger. The only person it ended up hurting was YOU! This is something so many people practice, and in the end they only become miserable and bitter. I applaud you for finding that insight, very few ever do.
For the time being, concentrate on your children and leave their grandmother out of it. Write your son a letter, and let it come from the heart. Tell him how you felt the first time you held him in your arms, the first time you looked into his eyes, how you felt the first time he uttered the word "mom."
Let him know you will always be there for him, no matter what, and that you love him more than life itself. Mail it, and let it be something he can read over and over. I fully believe eventually he will come around. There are always hurts, but hurts can be soothed, and they're best soothed with time…..and love. Most importantly you must never give up trying to reconnect. If you believe it will happen, it probably will.
Neglect is oh so difficult a thing to overcome, but it can happen, and you are proof, you are a survivor, much like, "The Power Of Hope."
Never give up on hope, Barbara.
Also, remember the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is important not only for those who have hurt us, but even forgiveness of self is even more important. This is portrayed perfectly in a letter I received from Pia, "Self-Forgiveness Brings Healing".
She had much to forgive, but forgive she did and now can walk through the rest of her life in peace.
Life is rarely perfect, but we have choices to make which guide our future. For you, Barbara, I truly hope you and your daughter can tighten the mother/daughter bond. Keep reaching out to her whenever possible.
As far as your son, again, I truly believe with time and a mother who exhibits unconditional love -- something you never received yourself -- he will come around.
There's not much more I'd rather hear than the three of you coming together and becoming a true family, with all the joys, irritations, laughter and disagreements that a family brings, all the while knowing that the three of you are a bound together by love, and will be there for each other the rest of your lives.
You are a success story Barbara, I wish you all a very happy future.