I Don’t Love My Mom, But She Didn’t Love Me First
Why we must not judge a child abuse survivor for the way they speak about their abuser.
I don’t love my mom.
I can already hear the choruses of people asking “surely you still love her just a little bit?” But no. I don’t love her. And I don’t feel bad about that because she didn’t love me first.
It wasn’t until I heard of another estranged child say “they didn’t love me first” that I realised my feelings we valid. He’s right. Our parents started this. We spent our entire childhood loving them in the hope they would love us back. Often, people spend their entire adulthood trying to win their parent’s affection too. And it’s okay if the time comes when you can’t take anymore and you realise you never loved your parent either. How could you love them? They never let you. What happens is we love the idea of our parent. We love their potential to be good, even if that potential is imagined.
I feel judged for not loving my mother. I can understand this from other people’s point of view. They have a healthy template for relationships that was handed down to them by their parents because they loved them. They are trying to put themselves in my shoes, but they can’t. They can only imagine what it would be like to not love the sort of mother they have.
My mother is not like those mothers. In fact, she wasn’t a mother at all. I was the parental figure. I looked after her. I protected her. I regulated her emotions. I made excuses for her. I loved her. But it was not the love of a healthy mother-daughter dynamic. This love was laced with desperation, anxiety, duty, and a constant feeling of not being good enough. I thought if I was devoted enough and if I loved hard enough, maybe she would love me all of the time and not just when it was convenient for her.
I spent twenty-four years loving my mother. It wasn’t easy to love her. In fact, it was constantly painful and ruined my mental health. I constantly forgave her. I changed myself to make her like me more. I would assume responsibility for things because I knew she wouldn’t. I treated her like a child and allowed her not to take ownership of her mistakes. I was like an overprotective parent. I would shield her from everything, including the consequences of her own actions.
Maybe it’s partly my fault she is such an awful person. Although my intentions were good, I helped create a monster. But I was a child. And I did it because that’s the position she forced me into. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought it would win her love. I thought it would make me good enough.
When I say I don’t love my mother, nobody understands just how hard I used to love her. They don’t understand that no longer loving her has set me free. They never stop to question why I don’t love her and what drove me to feel this way. It’s a huge part of our culture to “honour thy mother and father.” But how can I honour my mother? There is nothing honourable about her.
The hardest part is that my mother has no remorse. And when I reflect on my childhood, I can’t recall and single time when she was sorry. She wasn’t sorry when she put me in dangerous situations that led to me and my sisters being sexually abused. She wasn’t sorry when she saw how this was affecting us psychologically. She wasn’t sorry when the abuser went to prison and each of us began to suffer terribly with mental health problems. She wasn’t sorry when we were frightened of her temper. She wasn’t sorry when her cruel words stripped us of our confidence. And she wasn’t sorry when I plucked up the courage as an adult to tell her all of this.
Most mothers experience “mom guilt.” I’m a mother myself and I experience it a lot. My own mother, however, always seemed incapable of that emotion. It was never her fault. Often it was always my fault. An example of this was when she flew into a rage over literally nothing. This was very typical behaviour as refused to take responsibility for regulating her emotions. If she felt annoyed she would shout. If she felt a bit down she would sob hysterically. It didn’t matter if it was inappropriate or insensitive to others.
She was screaming at me and calling me names that hit all of my insecurities. I stood outside of the room she was in and started having a panic attack. She realised she had gone too far. But instead of being sorry, she blamed me for panicking. “I can’t see through walls,” she snapped, referring to the fact I wasn’t visible to her when I was having the attack. But she could hear me gasping for air. She could hear her own child struggling to breathe. But she felt nothing.
Sometimes it wasn’t so much what my mom did to me that hurt. It’s what she didn’t do. If I was being bullied at school she would find ways to suggest it was my fault by blaming my mannerisms, the way I looked, and generally picking apart the situation to see how I could have possibly provoked the bully. “You shouldn’t have said this” or “you sounded pathetic when you said that” were pointers she tended to give.
Of course, this hurt and it has had a lasting psychological impact. But what made me feel most unloved was the absence of hugs, support, validation, and loyalty. She was never on my side. It was as if she understood why people wanted to bully me. I couldn’t understand this as a child. As an adult, I understand it perfectly. She was relating to the kids that bullied me because she was my first bully. Of course she understood them. They shared the same mindset and need to tear someone down so they would feel better about themselves.
She never protected me. She never protected me from bullies. She never protected me from my father when he was too hard on me or made it clear he favoured my sister. She never protected me from sexual abuse. Yet I always protected her. I didn’t feel like it at the time because she never taught me to see anything positive in myself, but I was a good daughter. I was kind to her. I was loyal to her. I always forgave her. And I always loved her.
There came a point in adulthood when I couldn’t take anymore and I had to break away. It wasn’t because I wanted to. I had to. That’s something people don’t understand when you estrange yourself from your parent. It doesn’t feel like your choice. It feels like you have no choice.
I know I wouldn’t have survived if I stayed, both emotionally and in terms of actually staying alive. On a number of occasions her lack of love pushed me to make plans to attempt suicide. I would get to the point where I felt wasn’t good enough for her and I had tried everything, so what was the point of living when it was this painful.
Not loving her gives me back the power. It has enabled me to truly live life. I no longer want her approval. I have accepted she never loved me. And although the road to letting go of the love I had for her has been so painful at times I thought it would kill me, it’s the best thing I have ever done.
I don’t love my mom because I am a bad person. I don’t love her because I am brave. I don’t love her because I have worked and continue to work hard to heal. I don’t love her because I have more important people to love. I have my sisters, my husband, and a daughter of my own. Why waste love on a person who makes me wish I was dead when I could be giving it to the very people who make my life worth living?
I don’t love my mom because I love myself too much to allow her to hurt me again.