A bad start in life, but still happy


Having a difficult relationship with your parents is nothing new, but it is still as sad. This week an Australian lady tells her story about her mother. Due to their poor relationship, her mom had been dead years before Janet found out. Read about her difficult childhood and how she herself still has managed to create a happy family. A bad start does not mean a bad life. It is usually about how we handle things and how much we let them affect us. Easier said than done, but it is possible. This story will hopefully inspire and help others in the same situation.

Name: Janet Camilleri

Age: 52

Occupation: Copywriter and blogger 


Family: Married since 1990, with a 24 year old son and 22 year old daughter

Lives: Brisbane, Australia

Some years ago you lost your mother. But you sadly found out on the internet that she had passed away, and had been gone for quite some time. How come?

It was quite a shock to stumble across her funeral notice online in 2011 - nearly FIVE YEARS after she'd died, in 2007.

We hadn't had contact since 1994, when I was pregnant with my first child. My husband answered the phone that day, and told my mum that we were about to visit my father. As soon as I got on the phone, she unleashed all this vitriol at me that she had inside of her about us seeing him. I told her that I was tired of having to choose between my parents and she would just have to accept it - and she hung up on me! (I should add that my parents had been divorced nearly twenty years by that point.) This wasn't the first time I'd been estranged from my mum, but it was the last. We never spoke again.

Obviously my mum was very bitter about her divorce, and about life in general. She was a very difficult person to get along with. I'd known since I was a teenager that she had "manic depression" (now known as bipolar disorder), but as I grew older I read more about this diagnosis and it didn't quite fit.

About ten years later, I came across a book at the library called "Walking on Eggshells". I was intrigued, because that is what I always said I would call my book, if I ever ended up writing one about my difficult childhood.

The book was about borderline personality disorder so I took it home, and the tears started sliding down my face as I read. I'd blamed myself for so long for not being a "good (enough) daughter" but with each page I came to the realization that it wasn't my fault! I would never have been able to please my mum, no matter what I did. The authors understood that I'd had little choice but to cut my mother out of my life.

She was bipolar and due to the effects of her mental health issues she did not even met your children, her grandchildren. She could be violent and you have described her as narcissistic. How would you explain such a difficult situation for someone who has not been there?

She didn't even come to my wedding! That says it all, doesn't it?!

As a mum myself, I find it difficult to believe that she could have been so cruel to her own child. Mum said that if I invited my father, she wouldn't come. As my husband and I paid for our own wedding, I didn't think she had the right to say that - and I was sick of having to pander to her demands. So when the time came to send the invitations, I sent one to my mother and her partner, and one to my father and his partner. She wouldn't speak to me for nearly three years after that, only getting in touch to tell me she was getting married again (her 4th marriage!). In hindsight, she only reached out because she wanted to pretend she had a happy family to her new man.

During that year when we last had contact, she said some terrible things to me - including how upset she was that she wasn't at my wedding. I bit my tongue to try and keep the peace, but inside I was screaming: But that was YOUR fault! You received an invitation like everybody else, YOU were the stupid one that couldn't put your bitterness aside for just one day!

It's almost impossible to explain it to other people, so I usually save the explanations for when I've known somebody a while. I'm fortunate my husband saw my mother "in action" in the early days of our relationship so he knows exactly what she was like - no explanation required!

I find that once people learn that my mother refused to come to my wedding, and never met my children, they begin to understand that there was something very wrong in my family. If they've known me for any length of time, they can see that I now have a lovely family and great relationships, so the problem obviously wasn't me...

You have seen the judgment in the eyes of people when your mother was still alive and you told them that you had no contact. Why do you think they added insult to injury?

Mothers are seen as being these wonderful loving people, and most of them are, which is why it's so hard for people to realise that not all mums are like that. There's an old saying, "You can pick your friends, but you can't choose your family", and the fact is some of us manage to pull the dud straw in this lottery of life, when it comes to their parents. It was hard enough dealing with the pain of not having a loving mother.

When my children were little I would see other young women out shopping with their baby, and their mother would be there to help them, and it would make me cry. I was already in a world of pain without having to endure the judgment from others, who had no idea what I had been through and just how strong I have had to be to cope.

Several years have passed since she died; are you at peace with life and the fact that the two of you never became close?

It may sound strange but I was actually at peace with having no contact with my mother, long before she died. I'd reached a place of forgiveness, and genuinely hoped she was happy and enjoying life - and deep down I guess I hoped that she felt the same about me. I even hoped that maybe one day we could reconcile.

Alas it was not to be. My workmates didn't understand why I was so upset about my mother's death, after all I'd had no contact with her for more than 10 years at that point. But no matter how fraught the relationship, it is still your mother and death is so final.

In other ways it's been easier. If anybody asks me about my mother now, I can just say, "She passed away" and they say "Oh I'm so sorry to hear that", and that's the end of the conversation. However, I've always struggled with working out how much of mum's nastiness was caused by her mental illness, or her choice.

To end this emotional interview with something positive, you are married and have two grown up children. How much does it mean to have a functional family of your own after the childhood you had?

As I mentioned earlier, being a mother myself I will never understand the way my mother treated me (and her other children). My kids aren't perfect but I will always be there for them, and am so proud of the wonderful human beings they have become.

I used to have a secret fear that I would end up like my mum, so I feel so very blessed to have been married to a wonderful, supportive man for nearly three decades. Mind you I had to work hard to set aside some bad habits and correct some of the self-talk I'd picked up from mum in my formative years!

It is also truly precious to have the mother-daughter relationship with my own daughter, which I never had with my own mother. My daughter is now engaged to be married, and I am looking forward to becoming an awesome grandmother too in the next few years.

My sincere hope is that the hurt, abuse, and damage all stop with me - I don't want to pass them on to my children, or my children's children - which I suspect may have been the case with my own mother. I don't want to let the past rule our future!

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