Family

My Mom Doesn’t Like Me

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woman sitting on bench

“I don’t like you, but I’ll always love you.”

My mom stood next to me as I put on my shoes. I was seventeen and had only lived with her, my step-father, and my two-year-old brother for a few months, and I didn’t feel like I belonged. They had their family … and then there was me — the daughter my mom had at nineteen while married to my dad.

I don’t remember my response, but her words wedged into my heart and brain and still sit there nearly thirty years later.

A deep sense of loss has always hung over me. As a young child, I was quiet, shy, and timid, and as a teen and young adult, I struggled with making close friends and believed if they saw the real me, they’d leave. I exhausted myself giving everyone the version of me that they wanted: a good wife, a good mother, a fun friend, and a dutiful daughter.

But mostly, I wanted my mother to like me.

My parents divorced when I was around six, and the preceding two years were filled with court hearings and visitation arguments that my younger sister and I had front row passes to.

Ultimately, my dad won sole custody, and my mom left Michigan to live with her family in California. She was only twenty-six or twenty-seven at the time, divorced, and had no job. I believe she made the right decision, and I don’t blame her for leaving. I may have done the same under those circumstances.

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After she left, our relationship became distant.

It was the 1980s, and the only way to communicate was by mail or expensive long-distance phone calls. I did visit her in California a few times — once when I was around nine, once for her wedding when I was twelve, and once the Christmas I was fifteen. But mostly, my mom was somebody I romanticized.

I told my friends she lived in a mansion in California. I told myself she was wealthy and would one day whisk me away from deary Detroit. I dreamed about what life would have been like if she had taken me with her, and the summer I was sixteen, I had a chance to find out. My best friend, my sister, and I flew to California, and I asked to move in with my mom and her family.

After many conversations with my dad and between my parents, it was decided that I could live with my mom for the rest of high school. There were conditions: I had to get no grade lower than a ‘B,’ I had to babysit my toddler brother as needed, and I had to have a part-time job. Desperate to not return to Detroit, I agreed.

During those eighteen months, I did what was expected of me, and I loved the experience. Being in California gave me opportunities that hadn’t existed in Michigan, and I’m thankful I had a chance to forge a different path. My mom is part of that story.

But then she said she didn’t like me, and it reinforced everything I believed about myself. If my own mother didn’t like me, who could?

I wish I could say my mom and I fixed things as I grew older, but we didn’t, and I’ve spent my entire adult life stressed about her opinion of me. When my boys were young, we lived 45 minutes away from her, but she rarely (as in maybe four times) visited us. When she did offer to come, she frequently canceled, citing my two younger brothers as the reason. In her mind, they needed her; I didn’t.

For the twelve years we lived in San Francisco, I subjected myself to my mother’s repeated rejection because I loved my brothers and I wanted my boys to know their grandmother and uncles. Unfortunately, being her daughter hurt, and I didn’t know how to stop it.

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When I published my first book in 2011, my mom boasted about it on her Facebook page. She was, if you believed her posts, my biggest cheerleader, and she was undeniably proud of me.

But really, she loved having a semi-famous daughter and the way her friends fawned over that fact. It bothered me, but not as much as her “Playing a Grandma on Facebook” did. Still, I never said anything, and instead avoided interacting with her as much as possible. It hurt less to ignore her than face the reality that she only liked me when it was convenient.

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A few times, I did speak to her about my feelings, but she cried and said she did the best she could — which I don’t doubt — and I’d leave feeling even worse for upsetting her. My husband tried having a conversation with her also, and he, too, met the same response. And once, my sister and I wrote her a long note, but she never replied or acknowledged receiving it.

And yet, I still wanted her to like me, and I wasn’t ready to walk away from our unhealthy relationship. She is my mom, and I felt a tremendous obligation to keep her in my life — if only out of hope that she’d one day be the grandma to my boys that she pretended to be on Facebook.

In March 2021, I published a memoir about my life after my husband’s devastating traffic accident and brain injury. The focus of the memoir was my mental health and how my family rebuilt itself. My mom doesn’t appear on the page often because her physical presence only played a small role in my life, but my amazing relationship with my mother-in-law is central to the story.

For two months, I heard nothing from my mom, and I avoided reaching out to her after I noticed she’d removed all mentions of me from her Facebook page. She no longer bragged about me and instead hid our connection. I muted her to avoid her passive-aggressive posts about loving people who hurt you.

Just after Mother’s Day, I received the typewritten letter. My sister had warned me it was coming, but I was still shocked at my mother’s words.

She did not dispute any of the things I wrote in my memoir that pertained to her or the divorce. No, she was upset that she had told her friends that it was a true story, and she was embarrassed. She also said she didn’t read past the fifth chapter and never would. For the record, she’s barely mentioned in the first five chapters, so it’s a curious place for her to quit reading.

What was she embarrassed by? That my husband’s accident plunged me into bipolar depression? That he had an affair? That I turned to self-harm? Or maybe that I fell apart and couldn’t parent my darling boys?

Or was it her absence, and that she played no role in helping me rebuild my family and mental health? Was it that her friends realized we didn’t have the relationship she claimed we did?

The letter was a set of wildly swinging accusations. At one point, she called me bipolar and blamed my illness for our lack of relationship, and at no point did she accept responsibility for her actions or acknowledge mistakes that set us on this trajectory.

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She then went on to say she didn’t blame me for anything, but that I’m cold and distant and hard to be around, and I had caused her years of tears and anguish. So, in a way, it was my fault after all.

My mom finished by saying she hoped to have a relationship with me if I wanted one.

I sat with her letter for a day, thinking over my response and talking it over with my sister. My husband told me my mom had given me a gift and to let go of the dream I had of making her like me. While I knew he was right, and our relationship was a never-ending source of stress for me, I couldn’t reconcile what I knew was best for me with what my heart said a good daughter should do.

Luckily, she made the decision for me, because when I tried to message her via Facebook (that’s the only way we’ve communicated in years), I discovered she had blocked me.

So much for wanting a relationship.

It’s been nearly eight months since I received her letter, and I feel free. I’m no longer holding onto a relationship that has never nurtured me, and I no longer feel an obligation or desire for my children to have a relationship with their grandmother. My stress level has plummeted, and I don’t panic when my Facebook messenger lights up.

I guess I should have listened when she told me at seventeen that she didn’t like me. It would have saved me years of heartache.

Mia’s memoir Always Yours, Bee, about her husband’s accident and her subsequent spiral into mental illness, was selected by BookBub as one of “15 Powerful Memoirs to Read in 2021.” She is also the author of the women’s fiction series, The Waterford Novels.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.