Monday, June 05, 2017

When a Mother Won't Help Her Child

Once there was a woman. A strong, fiercely independent woman. She worked very hard to do the right thing. She got 2 degrees, she got married, she got a good job, and she had 2 kids, a boy and a girl. She did all the right things people are supposed to do. And then, it all fell apart. She normally didn't ask for help unless the situation was dire.

She was in a bad situation and she reached out to her mother. She listened over the phone, since she lived about a 3 hour plane ride away. Her mother encouraged her when she wanted to get out of the bad situation. She told her about a similar bad situation she had been in before, which she had never before shared.

It quickly became apparent, after leaving the bad situation, that the woman was pushed beyond her limits. She needed help with the kids. She needed help with her job. She needed help in every sense of the word. She exhausted all her resources and community in all the ways she could. Shortly thereafter, the woman and her mother were in the same town for Thanksgiving. The woman begged her mother to stay in the same place as her because she needed the help so much. After initially agreeing, the mother decided to stay with her son instead.

The woman said, "I drove, for the first time ever, by myself with my two kids, 5 hours. My youngest child will not sleep where I am staying. I don't have the energy or ability to leave. The place I am staying is not fun for my child, so even when we do eventually all get up, I cannot provide the stimulation he needs, much less that of my older child. I am tired and emotionally drained. Can you please come and help? Even a few hours would be good."

Her mother responded with excuses, "I have to get food, I wanted to sleep a bit more, and I was going to take a shower. I cannot."

The woman sadly now felt worse. She was struggling. She asked for help. If she asked for help, she was desperate. At the end of her rope. And it was met with excuses.

"Ok, then," said the woman. "Could you come and help later?"

"No," replied her mother. "I have to go grocery shopping later, and help your brother with his dishes and laundry."

"Mom," the woman pleaded, "I'm sorry to keep asking, but since you are my mother I figured it was ok. Is there any way you could help me instead? Because I am desperate and I have rarely asked you for help directly before. I may complain to you. I may tell you my problems. But I have made it a point to not ask you for things unless I absolutely need it."

Her mother did not respond. Instead, her Dad came over. And that was helpful. Thanksgiving continued, with the woman confused and miserable and depressed. A counselor advised, "Perhaps your mother cannot provide the support you need right now. It's best if you can accept that." So the woman didn't talk to her mother for a few months while she worked on getting to a more stable place. But the loss of that relationship stung. The fact that her own mother wouldn't help, much less recognize the pain, was baffling to her. Even when they spoke on the phone, her mother talked about how much worse other people had it. Not once did she empathize and say she was sorry she couldn't help the way the woman needed. But the woman decided to forgive and move forward.

A few months later the woman asked her mother if she could visit during her child's spring break. Her mother didn't work and the woman hoped her mother could help with the kids while the woman worked. Her mother agreed.

While she was there, the woman profusely thanked her mother. Her mother's presence alone was enough to create breathing room for her. She was beyond grateful. Her mother wasn't as hands on with the kids as the woman had hoped, but that was ok. She helped in other ways--cooking, cleaning, simply being there to listen.

The woman asked her mother, "could you come and visit again? This was so helpful and I'm having such a hard time. Could you do this again in a month? Or even every few months?"

"We don't have the money," her mother said.

"That's ok, I'm happy to pay. You have saved me so much money in babysitters, food, and peace of mind, it's more than worth it. Plus it's only a 3 hour flight."

"I don't like packing," her mother said.

"I would be more than happy to buy duplicates of your items and keep them here if it meant you could visit more often," the woman pleaded.

"Well, I don't want to get sick," her mother responded. "And I don't like travel."

"Ok," the woman relented. It was clear her mother did not want to come. She did not want to help. She did not want to empathize and tell the woman that she was sorry she couldn't help her and that she had limitations.

The woman accepted that her mother would probably not come regularly. And they remained friendly, talking about their lives, etc. Until one day, the woman became so desperate she was practically suicidal. She could not manage her children, her jobs, or her circumstances. She was at the very end of her rope. Again. And she reached out to her mother. She had exhausted all other support and resources. She texted her mother, "Please, if there is any chance you can come in the next month, it would be a huge help. I am desperate. I am at the end of my rope. I'm depressed and worried that if I don't get a breather I will go so far off the deep end that I won't even be able to work or take care of my kids. Please. If there's anything you can do, I would be beyond grateful."

Her mother did not respond. And the woman found out that her mother instead went to visit her brother, who has no children and minimal responsibilities compared to the woman. After her mother had told her she didn't like traveling and she didn't like packing and she couldn't afford it, and her daughter desperately begged her many times to help, the mother visited the other child instead. Over and over.

What would you do? Would you help out your daughter? Or ignore her and her children in their time of desperate pleas, and instead visit your other child?

If you hadn't already guessed, I'm the woman. My mother doesn't like me as a person. Our personalities are different and I overwhelm her. And yet, I still hold out desperate hope that she will help me in my time of need. What's worse, she insists that my brother needs more help than me. She visits him to "help" him all the time. He has no kids. He has a wife that is disabled, but between the 2 of them, managing a small apartment is doable. Every person to whom I have told this story reacts in horror. That a mother would ignore and refuse to help her own child, especially in such dire circumstances. These are people that see me every day, including therapists, and close friends. People who see how overwhelmed and fatigued I am. No one can fathom that a mother would act this way towards someone going through what I am very visibly experiencing. And, yet, it's another blow to a person who is already going through a hard time.