My mom left our family when I was 16 years old and moved next door to us.
I speak on motherly abandonment in my new memoir, “My Mother Next Door.”
I choose to frame my life and my mother’s as a tale of curiosity, compassion, and forgiveness.
My mom was a headstrong, independent woman who felt like she was dying in her suburban life. Just as the feminist movement was rising in revolutionary 1970s London, she undertook her first trailblazing move: walking out on me and my father when I turned 16 to move directly next door and live with three hot college guys.
A week after my 16th birthday, my mother cornered me in the kitchen and said, “I’ve given your father and you 16 years of my life, and you’re old enough to take care of the dog, your father, and yourself.” Actually, the dog arrived when I was 8, but that’s 56 years in a dog’s life, so she clearly loved the dog more.
I was caught in a ball of confusion and hurt, split down the middle, as I teetered between the convenience of her being next door and the inconvenience of witnessing her unapologetic abandonment each time I exited my home.
I found ways to cope
I coped by compartmentalizing my life: friendships, school, mom’s new independent life, and home life with dad.
My best friend’s family home became my refuge, along with my friends at school. They normalized my teenage life, lifted my spirits, and never questioned nor shamed me.
Forming independent bonds with my older siblings gave me a sense of family and helped me navigate my parents.
Ultimately, music (primarily Diana Ross’) and dance were — and always will be — my salvation, a way to express myself, release the remnants of pain and stress, and feel joy in the madness.
I never blamed her for what she did
I never blamed my mother for leaving or her actions thereafter. I never held her accountable for her narcissism. It wasn’t until a few years before she died that I found myself at a breaking point from the latest torrent of her maternal wrath.
I saw a therapist who told me, “What your mother did was wrong. What she expected of a 16-year-old wasn’t normal, and you don’t need to make excuses for her anymore. She left you, a child, to handle it on your own.”
She freed me of any shame and validated my newly chosen path. My childhood shaped the person I am today.
I learned to listen to both sides of a story, to have an open mind so I could navigate and flourish in the pure absurdity and beauty of life and people, while finally understanding that I can’t fix everything and the importance of setting boundaries.
Ultimately, our mothers are imperfect, but for all the pain mine caused, she also gave me the gifts of courage and acceptance.
I’ve always believed that I chose to be born to my mother so she could toughen me up for the world while encouraging me to think not just outside of the box but way beyond it. I pass this down to my own children.
Breaking the cycle of a toxic mother-daughter relationship is possible, but first, you may have to look at the story from your mother’s point of view. And then, hopefully, you’ll find a greater capacity for compassion, love, and forgiveness.
Diane Danvers Simmons is the author of “My Mother Next Door” and host of the intergenerational podcast “Mothers & Daughters Unfiltered.”
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