Deciding Not to Have My Mother in My Daughter’s Life
BY TARA-MICHELLE ZINIUK
Photo © angie.mahlke / Twenty20
May 23, 2018
A few months back I took a planned day off everything. I let work know I was unavailable; I arranged to have my daughter picked up from school; I let the people I text most know I may be M.I.A. In all honesty, I had no idea how I’d spend that day, but I wanted it open.
The occasion was my mother’s birthday, and a substantial one at that. My mother and I don’t currently speak — my decision — and it’s been years since we have in a meaningful way. I wasn’t sure how her birthday would affect me. I freed up my schedule in case I'd want to reach out to her or have time to myself to be upset. I had also realized that I may want to block it out entirely and take a self-care day to offset the lack of care my mother showed through most of my life.
I let my mother know that she’d only have a relationship with my future child if she was sober.
My mother is a narcotic drug user. She’d deny it, but growing up, I was left to care for myself, my younger brothers and, to some extent, her. My mother’s drug and alcohol use, and subsequent mental and physical health problems, have wavered in severity over the years. Her parenting and way of interacting with me has been often negative. She stopped having what I considered “good days” the day her father died. Following his funeral, with most of my relatives in the same room, I announced I was going to start trying to get pregnant.
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I let my mother know that she’d only have a relationship with my future child if she was sober. It was a reasonable amount of warning but futile, given her decades of use. And I wasn’t sure how I’d stick to my word, I’d severed ties with her so many times before. But this was different. If I was to become a parent, protecting my kid would be my responsibility. My daughter is now in second grade. In the very early days, infancy through preschool, my mother met her a handful of times. Always supervised, never terribly substantial. Never comfortable for anyone present.
And as much as these moments were difficult, my daughter is now in second grade and I still stand by my decision.
Things came to a head six weeks into my daughter’s life. My grandmother came to Toronto from Montreal and I had scheduled to have a baby naming ceremony at a local synagogue. I made it crystal clear that my mother wasn’t invited, but as the day grew closer, my grandmother started pushing. She said she would be responsible for my mother, and that she was doing well now. But I was firm in my decision, because I could remember the many events she’d disrupted in my childhood — the many important events through our youth to which she would arrive intoxicated and take up space in humiliating and inexcusable ways.
I didn’t know if this would re-occur, but I didn’t want to find out. My daughter was going to start her life without the possibility of history repeating itself, which is exactly how I wanted to start my life as a new parent.
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Since then I have attended two family functions — my grandmother’s 90th birthday and a Passover Seder. Neither went well. These events proved that so long as my mother was invited to family functions, someone would leave upset. We are simply unable to coexist in a peaceful way.
By making the decision to not have my mother in my daughter’s life, I was losing other relatives in the process. It has been hard. Grandparents’ Day in her kindergarten year was a big deal, and filling out a family tree and asking my mother’s name did hurt my heart a bit.
And as much as these moments were difficult, I still stand by my decision.
If I could offer her a safe, trustworthy grandparent — even in small doses, even occasionally — I would. In the same way that I would prefer to have a mother in my life, I wish I could give her that. It’s an ongoing struggle not to blame myself for this gap in my kid’s life, one that merits the occasional day all the way off.