What to Do When Someone Won't Talk to You – Tina Gilbertson, LPC (2023)

I’m trying to hear all this as a mother… and as a daughter. At 47 years old, I am truly in the middle. I now understand that my mother’s perceptions, actions and feelings, and reactions and comments are… just… well… her perspective and very self-focused. Her world is oozing with all things ‘her’ like. Sometimes she’ll say something to me about our that I want to scream “That’s a blatant lie!” but I listen to her instead and I hear what she a story of what she WANTED it to be like, not how it truly was.

Example: In my real life (my perception) I had just turned 18 years old, a girl entrenched in an abusive relationship I wanted desperately to escape. I was obeying my boyfriend because I was frightened of him and what he would do. My mother seemed so angry at me for “spending all my time with him”, but she wasn’t making herself available to me as an alternative. I was also hurt, as a teenager, that she spent so much time with her boyfriend/fiancee’ and never did anything with me. It was August, and we had a fight. I put so much effort into selecting a college in Philadelphia, and made multiple trips there to get my registration set up. I just needed help with funding… or the paperwork to get it together. We were arguing over this and she yelled at me, “I’m not setting you up in Philadelphia just so you can fuck your boyfriend!!” so viciously and vehemently. I was so deflated and felt so hopeless. Moving to Philadelphia was the only solution I could come up with to escape him, and now that wasn’t even a possibility.

The reality for my mom though was that she really didn’t know how to fill out financial aid paperwork, and she really didn’t think she’d be able to afford it with the way her finances were going with the fiancee/stepfather. Maybe she actually did believe that I was really into my boyfriend and enjoying being practically raped by him. I don’t know. It wasn’t something I discussed with her.

I signed up full time at a county college and found a 20 hour per week job as a bank teller. I figured i would get stronger and more powerful and be able to plan a new escape. I continued to try to break it off with the boyfriend. On September 14th, the abusive boyfriend got into our house in the middle of night, flicked on my bedroom night, I woke, startled, and saw him… he flicked the light back out then was on me, covering my mouth telling me to be quiet, that he really needed to talk. He begged and pleaded that I not break up with him, threatening suicide and homicide. I appeased and said it was fine, we could continue dating just to be able to sleep and work out a new plan later. He wouldn’t leave until I ‘sealed the deal’ with sex. I appeased, non-consensual.

I continued to try to break off the relationship, and keep busy with school and work. In the middle of October I found out I was pregnant. I cried to my mother, so so convinced that NOW she would feel sorry for me and help me. Her response was “I wash my hands of this! You are on your own.” and I was crushed.

I determined, in my naive way, that I would show her… that I would be a success in life despite all her horrible opinions of me. My perception was that she thought I was a slut who’s promiscuity put me in this position.

Just today, 30 years later, she told me “Back when you and Mike were just dating, I was trying so hard to get you to go to college in Philadelphia, but you just loved him so much, you wouldn’t leave him. And I knew about the fights! And I even tried to get a restraining order to keep you two apart”

This is complete fantasy. But I understand it’s a fantasy of what she wishes she had done to spare me the next 20 years of domestic violence, that I never told her about until years after the divorce.

My mom and I are best friends now, and just like any true friend, I allow her flaws because I love her. In this case, i am the bigger person and I know better. She can say these complete falsehoods about the past, and I used to try to correct her, but she would get understandably defensive and argue. After all… it opposed her ‘reality’. When she uttered this brand new story today, I just kept my mouth shut, and then even closed my eyes and imagined her fantasy. Even though it’s not true, it indicates how much she WISHES it were, and that she loves me so much and wishes she could have protected me.

Why can’t we as daughter’s allow our mothers to be less than perfect people? Why do we hold them to such an unattainable expectation of being patient, kind, loving, and always saying and doing the right thing?

Another example: my grandmother was a mean woman. Downright cruel. When we were little she constantly told me and my siblings that we “should be ashamed of ourselves” for behaviors like laughing, or tickling each other… the types of things siblings do and our mother allowed. So we were bewildered by her. She only got worse as years went on.

Somewhere along the line, she told me this horrific story of her 4th pregnancy. She was elated and overjoyed about it. She went to the doctor and he told it was a tumor, not a pregnancy. He ‘removed’ it and gave her a full hysterectomy. I thought the story sounded too unreal and looked up the doctor to find he had lost his license for malpractice.

Her meanness was intolerable, but I always held to this image of her… pictures of her pregnant with my mother lovingly embracing her belly. I still feel her pain! Physically and emotionally. It’s written in my genes.

Wouldn’t it be unfair to call her a ‘bitch’ for her behavior when I know better now? Maybe she was a bitch, but imagine the cruelty and lies and deceit she experienced. How could I expect more of her?

Why can’t we as daughter’s allow our mothers to be less than perfect people? Why do we hold them to such an unattainable expectation of being patient, kind, loving, and always saying and doing the right thing?

And now, my daughter turns 29 today, and hasn’t spoken to me in months.

A few months ago I was attending a conference far from me demographically in Newark. I was scared to drive there. Along my drive, I was arranging to meet her after her work, which was a 1/2 hour away, getting closer to NYC. I was even more scared! I wasn’t the kindest person on the phone, very frantic, and very self-centered (‘all about me’) because my instincts turned to survival mode. I was cat-called on the streets. Then, at the conference, a male presentor had to be told to stop discussing sexual topics (AT A BUSINESS CONFERENCE!!!). Yes, yes, “ALL ABOUT ME”, I can hear all the hurt daughters saying. I drove to my daugher’s work, a completely unfamiliar territory to me, I even got a fine from EZPASS for making some driving error I am unaware of. I waited at my daughter’s work, and watched her work, so FULL of complete love and awe of her! Every time she tried to interject any comment about pushing herself for more achievement and higher pay, and more recognition in her career I shooed it away. I should have just told her “You are so perfect the way you are”, but i figured she must already know that every time she wakes up and looks at her beautiful being in the mirror.

The truth is, I would be so in love with her even if she were a cleaning lady in a fast food place. I would be so in love with her even if she were in prison. Her being this super high-powered high-payed career woman doesn’t make me love her anymore. And I don’t know why she wouldn’t know that, but I suspect maybe she doesn’t. And I’m not perfect and wonderful and always knowing the right thing to say at the right time, and I can’t even recognize the pain my child might have been feeling, or possibly even equating it to me being uninterested in her because I shooed off discussions of her career success.

At dinner, and with a shared bottle of wine, the conversation did shift away from career and to rape. She told me of two rapes she experienced. One I knew of, because as she said, “You saved me, when you walked into that public rest room screaming at me to get out, you saved me, he was raping me”… and I thought to myself that finally we were getting to a healing point, and I could be that one who helps her heal. And she told me about the other rape that i didn’t know about. And we were hushed in a restaurant and blotting our tears and I was sooo in love with this courageous survivor! My hands were reached across the table, and i was cooing quietly, it’s ok, its ok.

But it wasn’t. She kept saying things like “Don’t you remember?” and “Remember what you said?” and “Remember what you did?” and i replayed as much as I knew, of course from my perspective. And then she kept telling me I owed her an apology, and that I needed to apologize. And I didn’t know for what.

I thought maybe she just wanted that listening ear, and that empathy, so I said I’m so sorry these things happened… happened to her… to me… to so many. It’s so awful. And it so wonderful that such powerful amazing women are changing the world now, and I’m so proud that she has that opportunity to be a part of the change in this new world.

But that wasn’t the apology she was looking for. I was confused. Especially when she stood up and walked out of the restaurant, leaving me in an unfamiliar place without a car, and in a suit with high heels, at night, somewhere by NYC.

She later sent me a text saying “You told me I deserved to be raped.” I texted back “I did?”. She texted, “Cute.” and then next “You lost a daughter tonight”.

Later I researched all about rape victims and how to consul them or help them or support them. And I thought long and hard about how hard I was on her in her pre-teen and teen years about wearing provocative clothing and the message it sends out. I sent a lengthy apology for that, explaining I didn’t mean for it to sound anything like ‘girls are to blame for the rape culture’.

…and that is where it ended. …and now it’s her 29th birthday. I typed up a text to send her using this article as guidance, but I still can’t help to think we should be be kinder to our mothers and not expect such perfection from them. I’m doing my best and I’m sure many others are too.

(I didn’t edit or proofread or even read back my emotional outpouring here. i just spilled it. I apologize in advance for how it comes off, if in any way insensitive or with errors)


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