My mother walked out of my life and never looked back: How to move on from parental abandonment

November 16 2015 | Guest post by Minerva Siegel
My mother walked out of my life and never looked back: How to move on from parental abandonment
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I always get irrationally angry when people post pictures on Facebook with captions like, "A Mother's Love is Forever," and "Nothing Is Stronger Than The Bond Between Mother and Child."

What a bunch of bullshit. My mother walked out of my life years ago, and never looked back.

I think it would've been much easier had she just died. It's hard knowing that she's out there, living her life, being mother to her other children, being wife to my former step dad.

It's better that she's out of my life. She wasn't good for me, and my life improved significantly once she removed herself from it. Now that she's not in the picture, it's easier to see more objectively just how terrible she really was as a mother to me; my most basic needs went un-met. I'm so much healthier and better off without her in my life.

But, even though intellectually I understand this, not having a mother still stings, and leaves me feeling rejected. I still want a mother. I want a mother to get my nails done with me, a mother to call up when I need marital advice or a good cry, a mother to teach me things, a mother to be a mother.

So how do I deal with it? How does one cope with the loss of a parent not to death, but by parental abandonment?…

The wound gets less raw as the years go on, and I take a lot of comfort in that. In another seven years, maybe it won't hurt at all. Maybe I'll be able to get through a Mother's Day without bitter tears and an all-consuming jealousy of my mothered friends.

Yes, I get so bitterly jealous of my friends who have relationships with their parents, that I start to resent them. And that's so unhealthy. I'm still working on getting over it. Years of therapy have taught me to focus on the positives and try to forget about her.

Creating a child-free family with my husband has helped me to get over a lot of the abuse and neglect. We have two rescued dogs, through which I get out a lot of my maternal inclinations. And, for the most part, I feel totally fulfilled in life. The hole inside me where my mother used to be grows smaller all the time. I really hope that one day, it'll be completely gone, because she's not worth my time.

Maybe that's what makes me angriest: how much time I've devoted to worrying about her, thinking about her, hating her. It's time that I let go and stop being so angry. I want to turn the page completely, but my thumb and forefinger are still gripping it tightly, unwilling to move on.

This is me letting go. This is me giving the five year old in me a hug and tucking her into a warm, safe bed. This is me learning that I'm content within myself, and that I'm happy for my friends with parents, not resentful. Good for them. I hope they appreciate what they have in their relationships. I hope they know how special that bond is, because my story is proof that there isn't an automatic biological bond that forces the mother to love the child; the parent makes a decision to love the child or not. Mine chose not to, and I feel sorry for her, because I'm a fantastic person who's worthy of love, and she'll never get to see that. She'll miss out on my whole life, and I pity her for it.

That's how you move on when a parent abandons you: You create your own life for yourself, feel sorry for yourself for a minute, then learn to pity your parent, and move on.

The missing parent isn't worth your time or even the energy it takes to miss them. They're pathetic, they're nothing, they're gone. Now's your time to be strong, build yourself up and just let go.

  1. I…wait, what? This person doesn't sound over or coping with anything yet. DUDE, I am so sorry this happened to you. It isn't fair and no kid deserves to be abandoned. Good luck with therapy and puppy-love and everything.

    15 agree
    • With respect I strongly disagree. The OP sounds like an amazing and strong person who is coping magnificently. Of course it still hurts and of course it still has affects them, it always will, but it sounds like the OP has a really clear handle on that feedback loop and is striving towards reducing it, which is so much more than so many of us with less traumatic experiences ever do.

      32 agree
  2. Please allow your feelings and your wounds a chance to scab over and heal. Don't pick your scabs. Brace yourself – one day your parent might come back! Repentant and contrite. How would you deal with that?

    My dad and I had a long 15-year hiatus (1986 – 2001) when he came back in the worse possible way – he got back together with my mom! And he expected that to give him instant entre! back into my life and that of my brothers. HA. We made him run a gauntlet of obstacles for the next 15 years (1996-2011)!

    My parents remarried on what would have been their 50th anniversary in 2012 and we are now a fairly functional family. Which is what I and my mom always wanted. My brothers too.

    Every once in a while, I have to snap my dad's leash, but he actually calls me when he's worried. And since I am 53 and disabled, it's really cool to see that number on my caller id.

    It's never too late. Keep your options open.

    4 agree
    • When my parents returned, we had to come to an understanding: it was impossible for us to have a parent/child relationship–that got broken beyond repair–but it was still possible for us to become friends. Just don't expect filial reverence or anything like that, I told them. Don't play the mother-card or the father-card–you burned those; they don't exist. Just ask of me what you would ask of any human being that you would like to get to know.

      They tried a couple of times to pull the "you owe your parent" routine, and I refused to play along, and told them why they no longer qualified for my gratitude. They stopped the game. They had to let go of a missing relationship as much as I did.

      My Dad died as my friend, and my mom is my friend on facebook, where I call her by her first name so that nobody will know she's the one who tied me up and abandoned me when I was a toddler. She wasn't in her right mind, I get that. But that doesn't change that the relationship aborted. All you can do is start over from scratch and make a different relationship.

      9 agree
    • I disagree. My mom didn't abandon me, but she's not much of a mothering mother. My entire life people have told me, "Oh when x (you leave for college, you get married, you get pregnant, etc) happens, then you're mom will really be there for you!" Bullshit. That's holding on to false hope which makes me feel more disappointed. Come to terms with your parent being exactly as they are for the rest of your life. If the change, bonus and you can deal with it then. Otherwise you're just setting yourself up for more heartbreak.

      18 agree
      • I feel this so much. My own relationship with my mum is similar. I wonder sometimes why she had children at all when she lacks anything resembling a maternal feeling. I've resigned myself to the fact that she'll be present now and going forward, yet not present at all, at birthdays, births, weddings and similar. Not in the way other people's parents are. She's never told me she loves me as far as I can remember. She's hugged me exactly once in my adult life (I'm 32). I've accepted that that's just how it is. Or how she is. My partner on the other hand cannot wrap his mind around it at all. Not that I'd expect him to. His mum is my mum's polar opposite. He gets quite angry on my behalf, about all the stuff I don't have the energy to anymore. I don't think he'll ever get used to it.

        2 agree
  3. I've never related to a post about mothers more in my life! My mom disappeared from my life completely when my son was 1 year old. No explanation, just gone. She'd been an absentee parent since I was 17 anyway, but that really was a shock to me. She made the decision that her husband was more important than me a long time before and I can only assume that it had to do with him. I'm trying to be a better mom and never let my kids feel like I've felt.

    10 agree
    • I completely agree! I have never related more to an article about mothers than I did with this. (Thank you, Minerva, for your story!) In my case, however, I walked away from my mother, which meant that I walked away from my father and two of my three sisters, also. She was abusive and hate-filled and controlling. When she started to show this side towards my then seven year old son, I told her that I was done with any sort of relationship with her. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time.

      While I am sure that I am still affected by this fifteen years later, I am finally calmed in my heart about it. Having someone with the title "mother" in my life is not worth the emotional risk that she presented.

      9 agree
  4. I've experienced this and it's the hardest thing in my life. I tried therapy to deal with it, but to no avail. Honestly, the worst thing about it for me is that no one cares. None of my friends give a single shit, even the ones who I've helped get through the death of a parent. I'm surprised that wasn't mentioned in this post but maybe the author had a different experience.

    6 agree
    • Death is a natural, normal part of life. People have prescribed rituals for dealing with it, including a "script" of acceptable things to say to show concern. A parent leaving their child goes against everything we're taught, and if we have loving parents, we often don't realize how important that is. It's hard to see how deep that hole goes in someone else, and it's harder to know how to react to it.

      So maybe your friends don't give a shit. I don't know them, so I don't know. But it could also be that they do give a shit, but they don't know how to show it. Or that they do give a shit, but they don't realize the support they think they're giving you isn't enough. Unfortunately, having a parent who chose not to be a part of your life is an experience that someone probably has to have in order to properly support other people in the same boat.

      12 agree
      • Mmm, no. I've been blamed by the other side of my family (i.e. they're not even related to the parent in question), I've had a friend try to argue that her significant other is in a more difficult situation, I've had another friend use undeniably insensitive language…things that can't be explained away with the idea that they don't know how to show that they care. They don't care. And I reject the idea that a person has to have something actually happen to them to have any sympathy or sensitivity to it.

        2 agree
        • You, unfortunately, are surrounded by terrible people. Clean house, get yourself in the right headspace, and the right people will enter your life. Empathy is an important, but learned skill, and it sounds like the people surrounding you don't have it.

          11 agree
        • I would argue that you are surrounded by average not terrible people. In my experience most people are more wrapped up in their own problems than somebody else's, even if that somebody has suffered a terrible loss and their own problems are small by comparison. There's a reason there are armies of therapists, counselors and mental health professionals out there.
          I'm sorry that approach didn't work for you. I hope the pain will subside over time.

          4 agree
        • I never bought that "somebody else has it worse than you" dodge. Yes, they'll quote the old chestnut, "I mourned that I had no shoes till I met a man with no feet", but how does his lack of feet make mine any warmer? It's a cheap trick to get out of caring. There's always somebody worse off, until finally you get to some starved and tortured child conveniently on the other side of the world who can be the one person worthy of caring about, except there's nothing you can do about her.

          6 agree
        • I hear you on this; I've experienced many people who were not able to comprehend or deal with my mother's abandonment. When I was 14 I had an extremely painful conflict with my group of friends at the time (most of those friendships did not survive), and one of the things they said to me was that they didn't want to hear about my mother because it scared them. The people in your life may just be shitty (in which case, totally get new people), but the crazy thing I realized is that maternal abandonment is also a truly terrifying idea to some people. Mind=blown in not the good way. I've come across several of these "does not compute" reactions over the years and the best thing I've been able to do is just cut those ties or not allow those relationships to develop into anything beyond acquaintance. They do not have the ability to see me or my experience, and thus they do not have a place in my life. It is difficult even for folks who DO want to be supportive, and I honestly think one of the reasons why these wounds tend to fester is because there is such a burden placed on us to explain the experience, to prove that mothers do indeed abandon children, and to be okay enough to have those conversations. But having support is essential. If no one in your life is willing to have the difficult, awkward conversations with you, try seeking out other folks with similar experiences. There ARE people who can handle it and be supportive.

          4 agree
  5. My mother doesn't talk to me due to religious reasons – her religion, not mine. I wish the adult me could get to know my mother. I have adult children and I would never shun* them. (*Shun – no contact whatsoever as in I could be bleeding to death and my mother would act as if I were invisible.)

    2 agree
    • It amazes me that any religion that supposedly worships a loving god could think that formal shunning was ever acceptable, especially for one's family. It's insane.

      24 agree
  6. OP, you're right – the hole that creates keeps getting smaller and smaller. It definitely continues to not matter as much.

    7 agree
  7. I'm so sorry that your mother didn't have the foresight to see how cantankerous her behavior was, and how much she will regret not being there for you.
    I really appreciate your writing and willingness to open the sound for there's to read about… I'm in a similar situation, not where the parent outright left, he just got remarried, stays in his little 5 mile bubble, doesn't call or communicate, basically acts like he forgot he had children and grandkids and just ignores us the whole year and when our family matriarch makes him (his mother) he shows up twice a year, for Christmas and my daughters birthday, exactly 6 months apart… He's never emotionally, monetarily, or physically been there so it's almost like he doesn't exist, except family members insist he does and i only have the memories of abuse in my childhood to recall -hope do you deal with a parent like this? One who is alive and kicking and in a 100 mile radius, but could care less until his family forces him to care for an evening every 6 months….?

    3 agree
    • Return the favor. My brother for years played the game of periodically disowning me after screaming insults at me and then cutting off all communication (and all opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings or tell my side) and then years later reopening communication only to do the same thing (I did not then know how to recognize narcissistic personality disorder, but he rings every bell on that one!) Finally I became the one to break ties–politely, without rancor, telling him that it was the kindest thing to do for both of our sakes. He was staggered! He tried to woo me back, all of a sudden flooding me with praise. I politely but firmly disengaged myself. He sent horrible emails. I had my husband handle the ones involving legal matters and did not read them. I do not need his dysfuntional love when I have wonderful functional love from husband and friends. Whatever I owed him as a blood relation, he wore out years ago.

      5 agree
  8. I was abandoned by my mother and father when I was 3. My father then turned around and raised two other step daughters while I was raised by his adoptive parents who were not to pleased to take care of me. Now as an adult who has made a relationship with his family because of my own two boys, it still stings everyday that I have to make an effort to see them, and they give no gifts/babysitting for my kids (not the same situation with my step sisters kids in which they do the opposite).

    The plus side on all this is that my husband and I (whose family lives in France) get to make all our own holiday traditions.

    4 agree
  9. I suspect it mightn't help you to hear this, but—just in case—I'll say this: Usually, the pain of missing a mother doesn't stem from missing her physically—not directly, anyway. Her presence wouldn't matter anymore than having a cardboard cut out of her standing in the corner of your living room would. What you mourn is an emotionally-connected mother. My mother was physically present, but she never mothered me. She was here, but not here for me. Now, as she faces the end of her life, she is trying to rewrite history, which is a whole other level of resentment for me. Revisionist history is invalidating.

    But, that's beside the point.

    I'm not sure if knowing what NOT to do made me a better mother, but I hope so. Although becoming a better mother hasn't erased the bitterness and pain of being rejected myself. But, I had to come to terms with that: No amount of recovery erases rejection. At least, I haven't found it to be so. But recognizing your rejection gives your own feelings credence, validation. It wasn't you. You're not crazy. You're worthy of all love. Sometimes, it helps to shout it out just so you remember that it was never about your failings, but is only proof of her own.

    10 agree
  10. Reply to the post about dealing with maternal abandonment.

    Dear, I hear you. Been there. Going into somebody else's custody didn't help the insecurity, because you can't unlearn that people can leave, no matter how seemingly obligated they might be. It took me thirty years to finally accept that my husband is in it for the long haul; I used to look at gifts of love from him and think, "That's going to really hurt to look at when he divorces me." Hasn't happened, though.

    I forgive my Mom; she got married at fourteen and had a nervous breakdown by nineteen. She had her reasons. But if a driver has a nervous breakdown on the road and accidentally runs over me, I'm still run over, no matter how much I forgive that driver, and it's the same with mothers who fail, for whatever reason. People act as though being hurt is the same thing as not forgiving, but they don't have a clue. You still need to take care of yourself.

    One thing that really helps me is to tell myself, "I'm the mother now." I picture myself going back in time to be with that abandoned child I used to be, to do the mother-things I wanted done. And child-me knows adult-me won't leave because we're one. The body can't tell the difference between imagination and reality; you watch a movie or read a book with a hair-raising scene, and your body pumps full of adrenaline just as if it's really happening. So imagining for yourself a better childhood can help get rid of that long-term pent-up stress recorded in the body.

    One other thing. On Mother's Day, for church, I go to a mass for immigrants, in a foreign language. That way I can get my Sunday sacred-fix without hearing a heartbreaking sermon about how dedicated mothers are supposed to be. And then my husband picks me up and we go for a drive in the country, out where the wild things won't gush to me about motherhood.

    12 agree
  11. I'm sorry you have to go through this. For large-scale problems and disappointments it helps me to remember that the unfairness of life is not limited to flat tires and oversized noses. Reminding myself that I did nothing to cause the unfairness is a comfort to me.

    4 agree
  12. I'm sorry your mother hasn't given you the love and attention you deserve. It is good to know that you have a loving family with your husband and dogs. I hope the hole in your heart continues to grow smaller.

    I can relate to what you wrote, although for me it is my father. Last year when I tried to stand up for myself, I told him how I felt disrespected with the way he talks to me and how it is painful that he treats me so differently from my brother. My husband and I are wanting to try to have a child, and the thought of my father disrespecting me in front of our child or me crying in the bathroom because of him like I have countless times throughout my life was enough to finally make me speak up.

    His response was to stop talking to me for a while, and when he did start talking to me again, he pretended it never happened. It really hurt that he would have nothing to do with me and completely cut me out of his life rather than make any attempt to be more respectful or caring towards me. I tried to remind myself that it shouldn't be surprising considering other memories of our relationship include me as a teen telling him I didn't feel like he loved me, and his reply being that I needed to make more of an effort in our relationship.

    It came up recently in a conversation with my mother that he had actually told her when I was five years old that he felt no connection or attachment to me. I can't really imagine knowing when your child is five years old that you basically just don't love them. I never felt like he made much of an effort to have a relationship with me so while it wasn't really a shock, the news was still painful. That he feels and has always felt differently towards my brother added to the rejection.

    It does create a hole in my heart to know half of who brought me into this world doesn't love me. It's hard to not feel like something is wrong with me or that I'm a bit of a freak when none of my friends have had these issues with their parents. It is also hard seeing other people having loving relationships with their parents and knowing that is just something you'll never have, and they can't really understand what you're going through.

    I am very grateful to have a loving husband. I wasn't sure I would ever meet a man that I could trust to really love a child. It's one of my biggest fears in life to have a child and have him or her feel the way I have. I'm so glad and thankful that I have met such a kind and caring man and that I have hope that any future child of ours will really be loved and respected. It also helps me feel less alone knowing that he doesn't appreciate or like the way my dad treats me and is okay with me limiting him in our lives.

    4 agree
  13. I've gone through something similiar. My mother was a teen mom. Eventually her own mom decided she wasn't providing proper care for me and took custody (when I was like 2) and she didn't object. This is over two decades later, she's had three more kids, and I've always felt like.. the one she just kind of pretends she took a mulligan on? it's an awful feeling. Then again, she's an awful mother. My sisters have their own issues with her, their own resentments, so I might not have been better off. But we all live in the same town and we've barely had two conversations in five years, I think. She's just.. I don't know. Decided it's not worth pursuing a relationship with me anymore. Wish I could understand what it always was about me that made her just not care. I mean.. I'm getting married in a few months. you'd think a mother would care about that? But.. no. She has other priorities, I guess. (Historically drugs and awful men.)

    I try not to feel bad about it by thinking that I had a good mom (my grandma) who I know loves me and would literally fight like, 50 rabid Wolverines (the x-man) and win if it meant my wellbeing or happiness. She wasn't perfect either, but her love has never been in question.

    In any case, my experience with her has sure as hell convinced me to only bring a child into the world that I 100% WANT. I will love and cherish my kids, that's for damn sure, more than she ever did.

    2 agree
    • "Wish I could understand what it always was about me that made her just not care"

      Nothing. It is never ever anything about the child that makes the parent leave or neglect or abuse, it's something about the parent. So easy for someone else to say and so hard to believe oneself but always true. Take care.

      10 agree
  14. My mother basically disowned me after I married someone she didn’t feel was appropriate. This meant that most others in my family had limited contact with me for fear of her reactions to them. I understand their feelings; no one wanted to be on the receiving end of her anger. However, as adults, they could have made choices to maintain contact with me. I was never invited to baby showers, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, weddings, graduations, etc.
    Now that my “mother” has passed away, they want to have contact. I’m not sure really what to make of it. It’s not like I wasn’t available for 26 – yes, 26- years. The feeling of abandonment by almost everyone in my family really weighs on me in deciding to pursue relationships with them. The saving grace is that I live in another city (in the same state) so I’m not forced to have a lot of contact. And I should add that she behaved poorly towards me long before I got married. She even took the time to write me a nice letter telling me she was going to tell everyone that I just died so she wouldn’t be embarrassed by me. The fact that so many family members would cower to her demands and behavior galls me.

    2 agree

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