I never knew what a happy, healthy family model looked like. When I started my own family, I led based only on what I learned growing up that happiness at home is earned through hard work, and being accomplished through the day. I remember growing up, there was a small wooden wall decor in our kitchen that read, “One should be rewarded by his deeds, not his needs.”
I remember reading that sign over and over again to my mom when I was a young boy. Happiness is something you earn. That’s what my parents believed and it passed down to me as an adult. For some reason, that memory of the sign showed up for me and it didn’t sit well with me. Most recently, I attended my cousin’s wedding and my mom was also there. When asked if she had fun, she replied, “how fun could it be? It’s just another wedding.”
Not only was I appalled and disgusted by that response, I made it a point to let her know how much of a good time I had and how happy I was seeing my cousin finally meet the love of his life. I’ve also recently come to realize that my mom was emotionally unavailable throughout my life. She feared closeness, love and the expression of love. Expressing anger, frustration and resentment came quite naturally for her, however, along with contempt and jealousy towards anything or anyone who expressed happiness. This stark realization for me, threw me for a loop. Over the years, I’ve struggled to understand why my mom and I haven’t been close at all. We talk about surface things, like the weather or travel, but when it comes to the things that matter such as relationships, family and love, she steers the conversation away quite obviously. When we talk about anything fun, she will immediately point out the negative side of it and put out that flame very quickly. She struggles to have fun and looks at those who do live more liberated lives with disdain. Sometimes I use that as fuel to allow myself to have more fun, just to rebel against her misguided belief system.
And when my mom does lean in to touch my arm during a converstation, I pull away. Again, I’ve never understood why until my therapist helped me unravel a possible reason. Growing up, I was physically abused by my parents and struck hard often. My siblings and I often got into shoving matches, and none of them were expressive of love at all. So when my mom does every lean in to touch my arm, it feels violating. Touch from my mom is subconsciously associated with the physical abuse and therefore a bad feeeling.
So I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the relationship I have with my mom. I’m learning to accept that it is what it is and it will not change. I can not make the relationship into something it is not. I can not pretend there’s a level of safety or love that I can identify with. Realizating this has been liberating. Mom demonstrates love through her actions. She’s an amazing cook and is very generous with investing her time into preparing amazing meals when I do visit. We speak two different love languages, and that’s OK. However, is it possible to simply accept the relationship as is and not feel any connection, any love at all? Society says we have to love our mothers. My inner critic says, I must be a bad son and person, if I don’t love my mom. I feel conflicted sometimes with this.
In contrast, my auntie Cat has been an angel for as long as I’ve known her. She’s my only family member (married into) whom I feel safe with emotionally and physically. She so compassionate, empathetic and has a heart that I feel connected to. My relationship with my aunt has always been foiled by my jealous mom who looks at her with disdain. She attempt to smears my aunt’s reputation whenever I do praise her, which makes me resent my mom even more.
As I unravel my thoughts these recent weeks, I also realize that mom is mom because of her upbringing and hardships she endured. She’s had a difficult life without much play as a child. She had strict parents with high expectations from her as the eldest daughter of twelve kids. Mom had to assimilate to a new country in 1968 when she moved from Brunei to Canada. She had to look after the three kids while Dad worked, and perhaps the most tragic is when her eldest son (my brother) fell ill with schizophrenia when he was twenty-one.
It’s a complex web of emotions and thoughts that betray some of my nasty old belief system. I’m told I need to heal my relationship with my mom. What does that even look like? I’m haunted by this.