by Patricia Kuykendoll
A motherless daughter teen recently shared this excerpt from a classroom English writing assignment with me. She calls it Seeing the True Colors of the Person I Once Called Mom.
She wanted the normal family but she didn’t have it. She tried for many years to make it that way but throughout those years the true colors of the person she once called mom was shown. The little girl had to be her own parent when she was with this woman called mom. The little girl didn’t understand, “I keep telling her how I feel but it never changes. What am I doing wrong?” For the longest time this child thought that her mother acted this way because of something she did but with time she learned and was shown that it was never her fault, it was her mother’s.”
This person she once called ‘mom’ lives in a pile of lies. This is the woman’s comfort blanket, she can’t feel secure unless she lies, even if it was to her own daughter. …the lies the little girl heard and were told were shocking. Some of them she would never forget. She was told that she wasn’t smart enough, or that her brain ‘shut off’ during the weekend, and much more extreme ones.
The ones that stick out most to the girl are, “I have cancer” but three days later…”I am cancer free. I only told you that I might have cancer.” Or showing up to a dreaded visit and confronting her mother about being married, after her mother took her ring off in the bathroom so the girl wouldn’t notice. Or the worst one of all to tell a small child who wanted the normal family was, “If you say anything to anyone, I will go to jail and you’ll never see me again.”
The small girl learned and understood the manipulation that this was and learned how to use her voice. Throughout growing up the girl promised to only tell the truth to people and people began to understand that. She didn’t want to become like this strange woman, so she vowed to be different and to love people through the truth.’
Loss is a central theme for a motherless daughter teen. Notice the many losses riddled throughout this excerpt. The loss of a dream of a “normal family”, the loss of a playful childhood as she steps into the role of parenting herself, the loss of trust in her mother through lies told, and the lack of nurturance in a mother who was emotionally on vacation and unable to validate the personhood of her daughter.
This type of loss is called ambiguous loss. The parent is physically present, yet emotionally unavailable. It is a loss of nurturance from the most natural place one seeks it, a mother. This is a deep loss of a teen who reaches for expected soothing and exhortation and instead finds the physical person of mother who has no emotional substance to offer. She is there but she is not present.
Pauline Boss, author of Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, says it so well in describing it as a “goodbye without leaving.” Mother is emotionally unreachable though she might be standing right in front of you.
If you listen further in this motherless daughter teen’s story you will hear the beginning steps she somehow finds towards her own healing. First she recognizes the truth and secondly she calls it by name. She lays the responsibility at the feet of her mother. “…with time she learned and was shown that it was never her fault.” She named it “manipulation.” Thirdly, she found her voice. These powerful steps march this motherless daughter teen to her present and future healing. She cannot deny her past yet she will not be imprisoned by it. Hopelessness of the past has been transformed to hopefulness in the present and future.