She’s beautiful, I should tell you.
She’s a fighter, too. She sewed my Halloween costumes each year, stitch by stitch, pushed heaping loads of her children’s clothes to the laundromat in her baby’s stroller, wrote letters to senators for the unborn, and carried the financial burden of the family at times. She was never happy in our small apartment, children busting out the seams, but she busied herself with improving it, using what means we had. She taught me how to find the slimy creatures in tide pools; she introduced me to the wonder of nature.
Her spirit is beautiful, like I was saying, and she loves me.
She is my mother.
I was young when I first sensed her grief. What I sensed inside was later confirmed by muffled cries in the night, creeping into my room from hers. When I told her what That Boy had done to me and she told me it was my fault, a partnership formed between her failed response and her mysterious burden and they would both reprimand me for hoping, for longing for more in a mother.
I learned, in that moment and under the shadow of her grief, that I should never expect my mother to enter into my pain, to be with me, to express her love affectionately, as other mothers did.
I learned I should protect her.
So, I carried the burden of sexual abuse alone. My father would have been my champion, but he wasn’t told what happened. When cellulite found its way to my thighs, when hips and breasts called for new clothes, I didn’t know how to handle the changes. My abuse had taught me that I was rejected; profound lies about my worth and value had solidified in a broken soul. I found that mastering my food, counting calories and maintaining strict dietary standards gave me a sense of control I hadn’t had before. I reasoned I might be rejected for facial features or for uncool clothes, but it would not be because of my body.
And while I would pull myself out of my eating disorder, while I would become my own coach for health and wholeness, my mother’s silence on the matter would wound me again.
We’d love and grow in our ability to express affection. As I transitioned to womanhood, we found more in common and I’d marry and move and bear children of my own. And then I’d hear God tell me to share my story of abuse with my church community.
I sat Mom down and told her of my plans. I was afraid, again, of contributing to her mysterious burden of pain, the one that kept her from sharing in mine. And as patterns and defaults have it, she didn’t approve of my sharing my story. She doubted, aloud, it would help anyone and Doesn’t Beth Moore Do a Great Job by Not Telling What Actually Happened to Her? I kept in line with the default of role reversal, the dynamic we knew so well. I apologized if I’d caused her any pain, assured her she wasn’t at fault and asked her to take her sorrow to Jesus.
Although that wasn’t my first attempt to talk about What Happened, the reverberations from that conversation ate away at my soul. I was no longer okay with our dynamic. I wanted change. Bitterness was seeping into soul marrow and it would only increase, I knew, as my children grew and I began to compare parenting experiences.
I sat myself on an aged couch at my counselor’s office and begged for wisdom. He told me I needed to confront my mom, show her the evil and selfishness of abandoning my needs. He told me I needed to transition into a new relationship—one of peers, one that lets the other bear her own weight, face her own mistakes.
I agreed with him about change, about my need to grow up. But the talk? It didn’t settle right within me. I tried to discern the source of my discomfort. Was my not wanting to confront her one more extension of the dynamic I was trying to leave behind?
I wondered what the outcome would be of forced repentance. I’d already told my mom about the role reversal I’d sensed, and I had offered vulnerability regarding my abuse time and time again. And yet, she kept missing my heart. She kept missing the opportunities to step up, to enter into my grief and to be with me. She would not own her mistakes, the grand and the trivial. Due to my choice to parent and to protect, I hadn’t allowed her to either.
Mom came up to visit last weekend. We ate and talked and she played with her grandkids. We drank coffee and swept up crumbs and I chose to let the moments pass without having the talk.
I chose a different kind of change. One that has entirely everything to do with me. I would not beg her to be the mother she was not when I needed her most; she couldn’t give that back to me if she wanted to. I would not ask her to revisit her failures and repent; she’d had plenty of opportunities and had passed them up.
I would instead, move forward, creating a new kind of relationship one interaction at a time.
An outsider wouldn’t have discerned a difference. But I did. In the small, trivial exchanges of relationship a new boldness stumbled to find its way. A voice, seeking to speak the truth in love. A choice, allowing the discomfort of tension to linger a little bit longer. A girl, learning to love authentically, in renewed dependence on a God who fights for both mother and daughter alike.
(April–thank you, for sharing these vulnerable and poignant thoughts re: your relationship with your mother.)