I dread that moment when someone unexpectedly asks, “…and how is your mother?” I never have an easy answer at the ready. “Oh, umm she’s fine, thank you,” I usually say, with a quick change of the subject. If the asker is extended family and the subject will surely come up again, I might say “We aren’t in touch very much.” And if my intuition tells me that the person will not judge, I tell the truth: “We are estranged.”
There is no easy way to explain you don’t speak to your parent. Or parents. Or entire family. The inquiry comes up casually and often enough. It’s a normal question after all, under most circumstances. But we are not most families.
After a lifetime of trying to maintain ties with the people who formed my world for so many years, while also addressing the sexual and emotional abuse in our family, it became clear I would finally have to choose. My family or my emotional health. Their love or the truth. Them or me.
I chose me.
Every time I get the question, I hope the asker will not judge me. In fact if they know me at all, if they see me for who I am, they often give me at least some benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to see I am a loving, forgiving, family-oriented person. Given the choice, I would keep my family members in my life. But their rejection of my truth and my refusal to participate in old family dynamics leaves me with no healthy choice but to walk away.
Sometimes the person looks at me with disapproval when it becomes clear that I am estranged from my mother. It may be an old friend or relative of hers or one of the many who’ve enjoyed her fun-loving personality and interest in the plights of those around her. They don’t know my experience is different. They don’t understand I feel like I have two mothers: one who loves me deeply and one who can’t seem to tolerate my presence. They don’t realize her concern for other people’s feelings only underscores her rejection of mine. They can’t grasp the crescendo of betrayal I felt to my core before I finally chose to walk away.
It’s not seen as “normal” to be estranged from your parents. For those of us who are, we know that separation is a monumental and painful step, taken only when there is no other safe choice. Others may not get it, they may question our morals and judge us outright. But we know the truth. And since we have made the break from our families, we will always choose truth, sanity and freedom from abuse over the approval of those who don’t understand.