I started to notice over the last month just how much society, especially via social media, gives out an extremely pressurizing message on mother and child relationships and how they are supposed to work.
This also has timing worthy of a black comedy. Having reached the point of understanding I’d experienced years of emotional abuse it coincides with that marketing frenzy for all things maternal; Mothering Sunday on 26th March (as Mother’s Day is traditionally called in the U.K).
I’ve thought about what I’d be usually doing at this time of year. I’d already be mentally bracing myself for a barely comfortable, at best, lunch visit at my mother and stepfather’s house.
The event would typically run like this: it takes two hours to reach where they live and my partner has always driven there (as I cannot drive). We’d have to hurry through our morning routines, with me slow and reluctant to go through the ordeal for yet another year but without being open about why. I didn’t think about why very much at all, in hindsight, just that it made me feel stressed, unhappy and guilty that I didn’t want to go.
On arriving there would be the very cheerful greeting on the doorstep, the hug and cheek kissing, quickly followed by the dismissive/disinterested attitude of my mother towards whatever gifts I’d bought for her. No matter how carefully chosen, according to her tastes and what she declared she liked, it would be treated with all the delight and enthusiasm of having presented her with last week’s crumpled newspaper.
I’d been trying for years to give exactly the right gift that would make her face light up and her say to or show me her reaction of; “This is so lovely!” It never happened and it never would because that’s not how it works with her. Nothing I could give was ever going to be good enough.
I’d be herded into the kitchen by my stepfather; “so your Mum can catch up with you” which would turn into the usual litany of all the problems she’d recently had, most of which would have her cast as the poor, misunderstood, victim of events. Criticism of my stepfather for whatever failings had made her life even more difficult and then emotional vampirism in delightedly relating the pains and tragedies of friends and relatives.
If she managed a break from this it was so I could talk about what I’d been doing. Not because she was truly interested in my life. I’d learned over the years to be cagey about giving information, as it would trigger an outburst or some other response that made it clear that whatever I did; if she could draw the maximum drama out of it, whilst twisting it to make it all about herself, then she would do so.
Then it would be a sit down buffet meal with her, my stepfather and my partner where the conversation had to be steered as carefully as possible onto neutral topics or unpleasantness would ensue. To finish up there would be dessert and passive-aggressive sniping towards me for never staying long enough, often with a sexist flavour of supposed female ‘bossiness’ towards my partner because of mentioning; “Gosh, is that the time? We really should be going.”
If I could make it through the visit without feeling explosively angry or completely inadequate, or both, it generally counted as a win, although the whole thing would be physically and mentally exhausting whatever happened.
Year after year, with little variation, it sapped my will and what remained of my positive feelings towards her.