Author: Margaret Fitzgerald
I wish that my Mother would have sought out therapy when I was a child. I know that this may have been somewhat unheard of in the 1970s. In recent years, we have learned that my Mother experiences post-traumatic stress disorder.
I have always been my Mother’s best friend. She has been chronically depressed throughout most of my life. She has confided in me in nearly every way for as long as I can remember. There have been obvious boundary violations on her part. I have had a difficult time forgiving her for not seeking help for her mental health problems until well after I became an adult.
I remember learning about adult problems before the age of five; it was overwhelming at best. I felt as if I needed to take care of my Mother. I look at pictures of her taken before my fifth birthday and the look of solace on her face was evident.
When I had serious medical problems of any kind, I would discount them because I believed that my Mother’s issues had to be so much worse. When I l learned as an adult how serious some of my health problems were as a teenager, I regret not speaking up.
My Mother expressed suicidal feelings when I was in my teens. I was completely at a loss, because I was keeping my own intermittent feelings of wanting to take my own life at bay. I was dating and was frustrated because I was the child and needed to be cared for.
My Mother trusted no one and taught me to be the same way. However, I was unable to keep all of my feelings to myself and often told trusted adults, which she inevitably found out about and I would get in trouble at home. I could not hold all of my emotions in. I was clinically depressed myself and was doing my best to keep my own issues to myself. I was told not to tell my feelings to doctors or guidance counselors. My stepfather said that all personal problems were to be discussed at the dinner table. I knew that was not safe, because my stepfather has a hot temper.
A guidance counselor spoke with my Mother and suggested that I see a therapist. She never set up an appointment because she was not convinced that the therapist would keep “our” business confidential. She felt that if I needed therapy that it would reflect badly on her.
I was a child. I did not need to be hearing all of her problems, from physical and mental abuse in childhood to financial problems. There was domestic violence and mental abuse in my home of origin as well, and coping with that along with the stressors of hearing about how my Mother got physically assaulted as a child was too much. She was abandoned at an orphanage by her birth Mother and I always felt as if my life stressors were unworthy compared to hers. By the time I received mental health care, I was a ticking bomb.
My Mother kept an impeccable house and she always seemed the most happy when she was cleaning. When I was a child, her cure for nearly every cleaning problem was to use Windex. To date, the smell of Windex makes me feel calm and happy, because I associate the smell of Windex with a happy mood.
As my Mother was so depressed and did not seek help, I missed out on much of my childhood. We stayed at home and she would not let my friends into the house until I was approximately ten, which other children thought was strange. There were never birthday parties with other children or playdates in the park. My Mother rarely mingled with other mothers. Living with a Mother with chronic depression was very isolating. I never became a Mother and feared that I would be a bad one because I did not have a model of what a Mother was supposed to be.
My Mother has apologized for being a bad mother. I did not prompt her to do this, and felt bad when she did so. I do not think that she intended to be a bad Mother. However, I wish that she would have not had so many trust issues and would have received help. This would have helped both of us. With therapy, maybe she would have gotten out of the abusive relationship with my stepfather much sooner. Maybe she would have realized that she did not have to put up with his behavior, which was chronically damaging to me.
If you are a Mother reading this, please do not feel ashamed to receive help. You cannot take care of your child’s mental health if you are not taking care of yours. It could mean the difference between your child having a happy childhood and growing into a well -rounded adult or not. If you are uncertain as to if you should attend therapy, then it might be a good idea to strongly consider it. Everyone needs an objective ear to listen to them.