So many adults don’t get the opportunity to talk to their parents about their relationship with each other, the good times, but also the bad, often because the parent has died.
When my breakdown began and my (then un-diagnosed) illness was triggered, I had to step away from my family, specifically my mother and father.
I needed to be alone with my thoughts and ideas to process what had happened to me during my childhood, how that manifested as an adult, and how I was going to use (or not use) that to help my parenting of my, then, three-year-old.
Being from a close-knit Italian family that had some enmeshment, that had few boundaries and lots of criticism, this separation was crucial. It was confusing to all of us, especially since I cut off all contact with my entire family (including cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.), because the paranoid thoughts in my head only gave way to anxiety, anger and depression, but I knew what was best for me, and resisted the temptation of obligation: “But they’re your parents….you HAVE TO talk to them.”
After going through extensive therapy and introspection for over two years, I was finally able to reconnect with them.
It was terrifying reaching out to take that step: How would they react? Would they be so angry that I’d, essentially, cut them off for so long and turn their backs on me? Would they blame me for having a breakdown? Would they ignore my newly-diagnosed ADHD, telling me that I could get over it if I wanted to, but that I was just being lazy? Would they even talk to me and my child again?
I needed to face my fears because that’s who I am. I can’t stand not knowing (or controlling), and need to find closure for almost everything, so I had no choice but to reach out and confront the situation.
After sending my mother and my father, each, an email, detailing the breakdown, the reasons behind it, which were mostly issues from my childhood and early adulthood that had involved my parents’ (or their opinions, at least), I suggested that they reconnect with me if and when they were ready, but that I wasn’t going to argue or take the criticism that they so easily doled out before.
Whoa, was I shocked when I was welcomed back with tears of joy and happiness!
Open discussion, humility, people actually taking responsibility for their behaviour – however unaware of the issues they were, now, they were interested and intent on informing themselves of what ADHD is and how they could support me.
It was phenomenal and something that few people may experience due to the potential for blame, shame and toxicity through misunderstanding.
I never, ever thought that my relationship with my parents could be as wonderful as it is today. During the height of my illness, I swore I’d never see them again, even saying, “If they died right now, I wouldn’t give a shit. I’d celebrate.” Words of anger that come from a place of deep hurt.
Now, when I have conversations with my parents (which rarely happened prior – it was arguments, not conversations), there is a true respect for who I am and the things that I do. There is unencumbered support from them for my Learning Disability and my mental illness. There is a positive relationship, where they see me as an adult and as a mother, no longer feeling as though they have to “guide me” by pointing things out that I could do better or differently, but by supporting the choices that I make, for myself and my family.
I am lucky and I know it, because this could have gone way, way worse.
I spoke with my mother recently about this period in our lives and of the transition in reconnecting, and how it affected her as a parent. She graciously wrote this piece for me to publish, telling her story, in the hopes that it will help and inspire other parents and children of parents who may be going through something similar.
A MOTHER’S STORY
by Anne M.
I am the mother of two grown children, a daughter and a son, and I am now a grandmother to three beautiful and smart grandchildren.
Raising my children in the 1970’s was a full-time task for me.
Back then, women were just starting to come into the professional workplace, before that in the 1960’s many girls graduated high school and took jobs as secretaries, teachers, bank clerks, hairdressers, or got married just after graduation, had children and stayed home raising them.
Husbands went to work.
In my case, my husband had a successful job that allowed me to stay home, but I did everything from cooking, cleaning, shopping, taking the kids to school, doctor appointments, ballet lessons, etc.
My husband was very busy at work and he took my son to his sports while I took care of my daughter’s social activities.
At times, I felt overwhelmed, frustrated and unfulfilled. It’s quite interesting how two children from the same parents can be very different; my son was calm and easy going, but my daughter was more vocal and emotional. She had a hard time focusing on things and also a hard time making and keeping friends. She was challenging much of what we tried to teach or show her.
It turns out she has ADHD, which was not recognized at the time, and so we were unaware of what to do; we would just get angry with her and discipline her according to the way we were brought up.
Through the years, it progressively got worse and she had a very traumatic life, resulting in mental issues which she is still battling with today. I wish I could back in time and knowing what we know now, would handle her in a totally different way: talking and listening to her, letting her talk to us, understanding her and patience, lots of patience.
She is now in a loving relationship with a good man and has a young daughter, but a few years ago, she was going through a difficult time and she cut all contact with us and all the family. It was very devastating for everyone, including herself, but she felt she had to do it because she was dealing with so many memories from her childhood.
We didn’t speak or see each other for almost three years. It was very hard not seeing her and my granddaughter.
At first, I was very hurt, then angry “Why is she doing this to us? We were always there for her! How could she not let us see our grandchild? All we’ve ever wanted to do was help her.” And I thought this way for the first six months of the separation, but then her partner – who’d maintained contact with us throughout – told us how difficult things had been going for her, and we started to understand that this was serious.
People told me to “Just go over, knock on the door and give her a big hug,” but I knew that she needed her space and to be left alone and, if I’d had gone over, it could have caused an irreparable rift.
So we stayed away, painfully, but it was the right choice.
Luckily, we have reconnected and are able to talk and sort out 40 years of misunderstanding to develop a warm relationship with each other. We have been fortunate to work out many issues through positive conversations, but many others go on for years and maybe never see each other again.
This, unfortunately, happens to many families……I have several friends who have suffered the same scenario.
The main point I want to make is that a child is a special undertaking that we are given to nurture and raise, but must always allow them space to be themselves and free to think on their own…..and of course to love them as much as possible so they truly feel it.
If you are struggling with your mental health, please reach out for help.
There are resources available, including:
Big White Wall (BigWhiteWall.com) – An anonymous community where members can support each other.
Parental Mental (ParentalMental.com) – An honest, anonymous forum for parents to share experiences and feelings while navigating our own mental health challenges, including mental illness.
Or contact your local healthcare provider to find a therapist or psychiatrist in your area.
If you are feeling dangerously overwhelmed, please call 9-1-1 or the emergency service in your area.
Photo: Leanne (age 2?) and her mom.