Mother’s Day affected me pretty negatively this year (2024) and while being upset, I remembered an essay I wrote early in 2021. Instead of recreating the wheel, I have decided to share this exactly as it was written three years ago. Just as with any grief, I have learned how to ride the waves that come about. Until it smacked me in the face harder than usual this past Sunday.

I’ve never really had the best relationship with my parents. Hell, I really can’t recall any day that I felt truly safe, loved or happy with them or because of them. People often reflect on their childhood fondly. I just try not to look back. 

We moved around quite a bit as my father was in the military. That definitely puts a strain on people without children, even moreso people with families. My parents drank. A LOT. And behind alcoholism are people struggling with their own trauma. I don’t think they willfully inflicted pain upon us, but they didn’t deal with their own shit so it overflowed onto me and my brother. There are plenty of instances I remember feeling alone, sad, angry and really, really afraid. While other people reflect fondly on their childhood, I try like hell not to look back.

Despite all this, I loved my parents very much. There are so many instances where I felt if I loved them with all my might, maybe they’d stop drinking. They’d stop neglecting me. They would see me and love me back.

When I was 9 or 10, I took an old flat bedsheet and made a Happy Birthday banner for my mother while she was at work. I hung it up over the garage door so she wouldn’t miss it when she got home.

My parents used to bring those big honking speakers outside in our backyard to listen to music (it was the 90s, folks). As they were getting lit on one of their wedding anniversaries, I called in to the radio station and requested “their” song to be played. I still recall the glimmer of appreciation in their eyes, even though they didn’t express it.

I’d write them countless notes and draw pictures. I even worked really hard in my room to come up with dance sequences and small plays to entertain them. I’d help around the house as much as I could (some days I had to do it just because they couldn’t). Still, I just wanted them to feel how much I loved them.

And I’m not saying I didn’t have my moments of being an outright little shit. I have three children of my own. I know exactly how draining and agitating parenthood can be at times. At my worst, I am a mouthy, stubborn instigator. And that energy will overtake a city if I will it.

As I grew into an adult and went to therapy, I learned about my codependency and anxiety. I explored the reasons why my parents were likely hitting the bottle. I started cultivating understanding and compassion for the people they were apart from being my parents.

So, I loved them harder. But now it was so they would hopefully see and love themselves. 

When I still lived in town, I’d visit them weekly or at the very least, biweekly. I’d call them constantly. I’d invite them to do things and they would almost always decline. I didn’t give up on them. 

I didn’t give up on them.  
Because I felt the rest of the world had.

Eventually I moved away, got married and had children. They helped me move to New York and the only other time they ever visited any home of mine was in December 2007 – my eldest son’s first Christmas. The rest of the time, I traveled to Virginia pregnant or with an infant if I wanted to see my parents. Later, I would travel with an infant and a toddler. 

Even living states away, I would call my parents weekly, or very close to it. Eventually, the calls became more and more depleting. Almost every time I called, I’d receive sarcastic comments about how long it had been (days, y’all) or how much time I didn’t have to talk (always at least 20 minutes. Always). Not to mention the incessant complaining about the world. Look, I am all about people having bad days. Weeks even. Shit happens. However, at some point, you’ve gotta try to dig yourself out of the hole—or let someone help you out.

When I’d travel to Virginia with the kids (and sometimes my now ex-husband), our visits with my parents would be ridiculously strained. Either the kids were too loud or we were interrupting a TV show. And they would continue to complain about everything in the world around them. Nothing was ever good enough. Honestly, there wasn’t much incentive to travelling that many hours with children to be around people who were visibly and vocally miserable with us.

Eventually, I realized that I was making all the effort for this very unnatural relationship with my parents. So, a few years ago, I decided I would wait for them to call me. I wanted to step back and see how much energy they were contributing to having a connection with me. 

In the time I’ve been waiting, I have been divorced, moved three times, been remarried, had a miscarriage, and my third child. 

The little voice inside me keeps asking “Why didn’t they reach out? Why haven’t they now?”

a picture of a person displaying despair surrounded with smoke
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

As it has been a few years, I decided to write my parents a letter this summer. With so much time passing, a lot of the anger I felt simmered to disappointment. I expressed how sad I am they haven’t contacted their oldest grandchildren – to be fair, I assumed their issue was with me, not my descendants. I asked a few questions only they can answer about my childhood and the trauma I had went through. I expressed that they I feel they do not love me, like me, or even respect me. And how me not being their cup of tea is quite alright. I also let them know the only reason we haven’t talked in years is because they haven’t picked up the phone. 

It’s now been months since I sent the letter.
…and they still haven’t called. (or emailed or texted. Pretty sure Snapchat is out of their wheelhouse.)

I’ve been quite sad that all the feelings I have had my whole life have been reinforced through their silence. It’s admittedly a really fucking big pill to swallow. I never really felt I had parents as a child and even now, knowing that people can change and grow from past experiences, they have chosen to not be a part of my life as an adult. 

Some days have been really tough to get through.
Especially when I ponder how parents can love one of their children while the other doesn’t exist at all to them. 

Here’s the thing though – their actions have provided lessons for me to be and become a better version of myself. I realized that the lack of love my parents gave me set the tone for my friendships and relationships as an adult. Giving them space simultaneously gave me courage to let go of all the relationships that mirrored the malignant one with my parents. Almost all the connections I had made resembled the dynamic I had with my mother and father.  Well, shit.

Fresh starts are terrifying, but also liberating. 

In the past few years, all of these awful and amazing events have occurred in my life because I finally decided to try and love myself (though I still am unsure how to). Through my divorce, my relationship with my two oldest children deepened and grew stronger despite my fears of them hating me because of leaving. The man who has always loved me simply because I am me flittered back into my life. And now I have an opportunity to get to know his loving family who became mine when I took his last name. And with the birth of my third child this spring, I am learning just how much love radiates in my own bubble. I love each of my children and my husband as they are and as they will be. The same goes for anyone in my life now or in the future.

Through my grieving over my living parents, I have found gratitude in what my experiences with them have given me. Moving around place to place gifted me resilience and adaptability. Allowing me to join in very few extracurricular activities cultivated an unending curiosity about the world. Their lack of encouragement in my successes has reminded me to be supportive to my loved ones in their endeavors. And their unwillingness to come out of their darkness has helped me explore my own so I can hopefully become a beacon for others to find their way.

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