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'My Mother Might Be Out of My Life, but My Kids' Too?'

Sad girl
Photograph by ThinkStock

The last time I heard anything from my mother was when she sent me a long email a few months ago telling me that what I had done to her felt like my father rising from the dead. My abusive, alcoholic father. And that terrible thing that was causing her so much pain? My brother and I had cleaned out her near-Hoarders level house and made it livable.

Actually, we made it immaculate: professionally cleaned, completely repainted and organized from top to bottom.

This wasn’t the first time my mother had laid her years of living with an abusive husband on my shoulders.

This wasn’t the first time my mother had laid her years of living with an abusive husband on my shoulders. Our relationship has been tumultuous ever since my father died, and I realized that I was angry at her, too, for not protecting me from him.

It also didn’t help that I'd ditched religion.

But we made amends when I got pregnant with my oldest daughter nine years ago, and since then, we’ve cobbled together a relationship. No religious or political discussions, no references to the sex book for parents that I wrote, which apparently embarrassed her, and all was well.

Or, “well.”

She’s my mother, after all, and I was not a perfect child, though I certainly wasn’t terrible either, finishing college, finding a job, then completing graduate school. I was a freaking college professor when I got pregnant. But there was my divorce from my first husband, and then my out-of-wedlock baby, which negated everything else wonderful that I had done.

But I put everything aside because I wanted a mom. And I wanted my kids to have a grandmother.

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Then this past summer she ended up in the emergency room, which turned into open-heart surgery and a long, challenging recovery, at which point I decided to clean out her house so she’d finally be able to sell it and move out like she had been talking about for years.

Unfortunately, she was more attached to the clutter than I thought. But this time I didn’t grin and bear it. And instead, decided to speak my mind, which apparently ended all our communication. Not a new development, but a painful one, nonetheless. Especially since she interpreted that as not talking to my kids, either.

My two youngest girls’ birthdays passed with no phone calls from their grandmother, though she did send a card and small gift for each of them. I thanked her with photos of my kids in the dresses she bought them, but never received a reply.

She sent them a Christmas gift as well, but didn’t call to wish them a Merry Christmas. Or a Happy New Year.

And even though she didn’t talk to my kids super frequently before our falling out, choosing to send them lovely handwritten notes on a regular basis instead, she’d at least call them on their birthdays. And on Christmas Day.

I tried to bring her down to visit, for the kids’ sake, but after sharing her schedule with my husband, who offered to handle her travel plans, she decided not to come.

“Too busy,” she texted.

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And so I’ve decided to just not try anymore, which feels an awful lot like giving up, not really on our relationship because I have low hopes, but for my children, who I want desperately to have a relationship with their grandmother. As misguided and hurt as I think she is from her terrible past, she’s an amazing person that my kids should have in their life.

But how long do I make the effort? And then what do I say to my children when they ask why they haven’t talked to their “Mimi" and wonder why they haven’t seen her in so long?

Fortunately, that hasn’t happened just yet. And up until now, I’ve kept the candle burning, the possibility that she’ll reach out, even if it’s through my husband (with whom she has spoken and texted before and has no ill-will against) to continue the relationship with my kids.

But now I’m learning that trying to force something that doesn’t seem to be a priority for her is hurting me. Because in believing that she’ll change her mind, or at least call or text or email me to try to work things out, the pain that all this is causing can’t heal. Or at least, scab over. It’s an open wound, and I just can’t be a good parent to my kids with it like that.

Instead of wishing for something that’s not going to happen between me and my mom, I’m going to use that energy in taking better care of myself and my own issues. And making sure that my own problems never ever come between me and my children. Because unlike my mom, I’d be completely and utterly devastated. And I can guarantee you that I’d do every single thing in my power to see my grandchildren and make it right with my daughter.

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