Before I launch into this post, I just want to say that I love my mum and, despite her probably contributing to my mental health issues in some ways, I truly think she’s done the very best she could have, given the sum of her life experiences, to raise my siblings and I. She’s been through so much in her life – coming from an abusive family, being lied to for around 2 decades by the one person she thought she could trust, and having to try and raise 4 kids mostly on her own – yet she’s still such a nice person. I honestly don’t know how she’s coped with it all as well as she has, especially without any therapy (that I’m aware of) – I think I probably would’ve fallen apart if all of that had happened to me. I don’t want to vilify my mum in any way, and I know if she somehow stumbled across this post, she’d probably feel really bad about it all and like a terrible mother. She’s not. I suppose all parents make mistakes.
My mum was quite overprotective of me when I was younger, and at times I feel she still is even now. I’d say that she was overprotective with all four of us but especially so with me, probably because I was her first child, and because I was so shy. Because my mum did so much for me, including social interaction, I never really gained the confidence to do certain things by myself. Of course, I don’t for a second doubt that it was done out of love, but when someone else is always covering for you and not letting you do things by yourself, you kind of get the message that you’re not capable of doing those things. I remember once when I was about 10, my best friend at the time wanted to go somewhere about a mile from where we both lived, with me. My mum wouldn’t let me, saying that I wasn’t “street smart”, and I felt like saying “Well no wonder, if you give me so little freedom!”
When my mum was in her late teens, she was walking back from a night out with friends but was on her own. Two men pulled up beside her in a car, and tried to get her into their car, when a third man stepped in and offered to get her a taxi. She wasn’t sure if she could trust any of them but thought that the third man seemed the safer bet. Thankfully, she made the right choice and is still here today along with her four children. It must have been a terrifying experience, and I think it did make her very wary of strangers for a long time and probably even now. I remember her really emphasising “stranger danger” to me when I was a child, and that may be a factor in my social anxiety. I was a naturally quite fearful child anyway, and I seemed to just latch onto anything that other people emphasised was dangerous and then become excessively, unreasonably anxious about it (I plan to cover this later in a post titled ‘My Childhood Neuroses’). I think that experience of almost being abducted and having goodness knows what happen to her also made my mum very fearful of me travelling by myself. She (in addition to my dad and his partner) was very against me travelling to Namibia and South Africa by myself, and all three of them tried to talk me out of it, just as my mum had successfully talked me out of travelling around Scotland with just my dog for company previously. But in the end, I am very glad that I did it. Travelling to another continent all by myself was one of the best things I ever did for my confidence in myself/ my ability to be independent, and neither of my parents could believe that I’d done it. But that feeling of confidence didn’t last very long after I got home again. I can’t be sure but I think part of the reason was my mum treating me like a child again as soon as I got home. I don’t even think she realises she’s doing it and again, I’m sure she’s doing it purely out of love, but it does make me feel a bit incompetent at times. The good news is that my confidence may increase when I finally move out of my mum’s house.
Something I’ve always found immensely irritating (and very odd as I’ve gotten older) is my mum’s disregard for my privacy throughout my life. She read my diaries (without my permission) so often when I was 8-12 years old – despite one of those diaries having a lock – that at 13, I’d finally had enough. I took the letters of the alphabet and randomly scrambled them into a code so that each “code” letter corresponded to a letter of the alphabet, and wrote my diary in this code, with code-names for any person I mentioned in there. I hid the diary in a drawer and wrote the letter code and code-names on two separate sheets of paper, and hid them in the dust covers of two different books belonging to me on the bookshelf in the bedroom that my middle sister and I shared at the time. One day I returned from school to find that she’d found the diary and the letter code, and had decoded part of my diary. I think she had been vacuuming our room/ giving it a quick tidy, and can only assume that either the code sheet fell out of the dust cover when she picked it up, or she spent ages searching for it. I can see no reason as to why she would do this. I was never in any kind of trouble at school, never drank/ smoked/ took drugs and clearly didn’t have a boyfriend. Even if she suspected those things, she could always have y’know…had a conversation with me. The least innocent things I ever wrote in any of those diaries were which boys I fancied at primary school, and how much I hated my dad when I was 13 for the way he spoke to/ treated me. There was nothing shocking in them, it’s just that probably all teenagers have things that they don’t want to share with their parents. I just wanted a place I could express my thoughts and feelings without either of my parents prying. I think my mum may have read my middle sister’s diary at some point too. The only way I could ever see this as justified would be if a parent had real concerns about their child’s welfare, though even then, surely it would make more sense just to talk to your kid about your concerns? Neither of us were bad kids, and my mum certainly wasn’t reading it out of concern for my mental health because she was in denial about that for ages.
After the above event, I stopped keeping diaries until I was 16, when the psychiatrist I was seeing at CAMHS asked me to keep one. As far as I know, my mum has never read the diaries I kept between the age of 16 and 18, but that’s probably because I bought a lock box and always kept them hidden in there when I wasn’t writing in the diaries, and I hid the keys REALLY well. Even now, at the age of 25, those diaries are still kept in a lock box. So I can 100% confirm that invading your child’s privacy just makes them very secretive. I should also point out that despite my mum constantly invading my privacy, I still managed to self-injure and hide some razor blades in the room I shared with both of my sisters at the time (albeit with the stealth level of an MI5 agent) and no one ever found those blades. Constantly invading your child’s privacy will not necessarily keep them safer, it’ll just make them sneakier and less trusting of you.
Another thing that I find very odd and infuriating is that unless my boyfriend is staying over (which he doesn’t do that often because normally I stay over at his flat), my mum hardly ever knocks before entering my room. This year alone, she’s walked in on me several times while I was getting dressed, and has just barged in unannounced countless other times. You would think that after one or two occasions of walking in on your adult child half naked, you’d learn to knock, but apparently not. I could kind of understand her not knocking when I shared a room with both of my younger sisters (when I was 15-23), even when the other two were out, but it seems quite strange to me that she’s still doing this now, when I’m 25 and have my own bedroom. I’ve asked her politely to please knock before entering my room several times now but she still doesn’t the vast majority of the time. Obviously, I always knock before entering her room/ my sisters’ room/ my brother’s room, so again, I can’t understand why she doesn’t show the same level of respect for my privacy. Of course it’s her house, I totally get that, but if it was the other way around and she was staying in my house, I wouldn’t DREAM of not knocking before entering her room. In fairness, my dog sleeps in my room and she’s constantly letting him in/ out of my room, but even still…it wouldn’t be difficult to knock first, and from what I can see, she shows my two sisters the same lack of respect for privacy. I’m so close to the end of my tether with this that if she does it again, I might just tell her that I’ll start barging into her room any time I feel like it. That or I’ll just start sitting around naked in my room – one of the two. Again, it seems that I will have virtually no privacy until I’m finally able to move out. On the other hand, I hope to move out within the next year, so if I can just bite my tongue and put up with it for a bit longer, it’ll all be over with soon.
Both of my parents also disrespect my boundaries in other ways. For example, I have told them both on more than one occasion that my dog is not to be hit and that I feel very strongly about this. Yet both of my parents have hit him on more than one occasion. I understand that they were both brought up with corporal punishment and that it’s perhaps just an automatic reaction for them, but that’s really no excuse, especially after I have told them not to. It makes me really worry that if I ever have children, one or both of them may end up losing their temper and hitting my children. It would be pretty sad state of affairs if I could not trust my parents to be alone with their grandchildren.
My mum was also very much in denial about my mental health issues for such a long time, although she is much more understanding now. After I had been diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressants at 15, she’d often just say things like “Smile!” or “Cheer Up”. If it had been that simple, I wouldn’t have needed the Prozac! When she eventually found out from my psychiatric nurse that I had been self-harming, my mum said that she thought I might have been, ever since the time I very quickly pulled up the sleeves of my dressing gown when she walked into my room. This had been probably about a year and a half before the CPN made her aware I was self-injuring, yet she never said anything to me about it back then. I know I certainly wouldn’t be the perfect parent, but now, as an adult, I cannot for the life of me comprehend why she never said or did anything about this. If I suspected that my teenage child was self-harming (particularly if they were already being treated for depression), I would make sure they knew that they could come to me with anything, and tell me anything. I would tell them that I know things have been very tough for them lately, and ask how they are coping, and ask them how school/ life in general is going. I’d listen to them without interrupting and I’d let them know that their feelings are valid. To be fair to my mum, probably a large part of why I was never able to let her know about the self-harming myself is that every time I tried to talk to my parents about my mental health issues – at least, while my dad still lived with us – my dad would constantly interrupt me and say that I had no idea how easy I had things compared to how adult life is. And to be fair to my dad, he was going through his own share of issues at the time. But that still doesn’t excuse his behaviour. If I were a parent, even if I was going through a mental health crisis at the time, my child’s welfare would still be of the upmost importance. I’d either listen to what they had to say without interrupting them or belittling their problems, or I would let them know that it wasn’t a good time, but that I cared very much that they felt they had something important they needed to share with me, and I’d arrange to speak with them another time. There were also a few occasions when I tried to let my mum know just how serious my depression was, with very subtle hints at me being suicidal, but she’d just end up getting angry at me, shouting at me, and making me feel even worse. Again, this is probably partly my fault for not being more direct with her, and I know that she was going through a lot of stress at the time, but if your kid is clearly trying to tell you about something serious, maybe hear them out?
The denial thing is probably the worst thing with my mum. There are so many issues throughout my life where she’s just buried her head in the sand or refused to address it directly. I think I said in a previous post, but I have been wondering whether to try and bring up the way my dad treated me when I was younger (including some incidents that were probably abusive) with her again, but the last time I tried that, about a year ago, she said that it couldn’t have been as bad as I say it was. I’ve also realised that on every single occasion my dad did/ said something potentially abusive to me, it was always when my mum was at work or elsewhere, so she wouldn’t have had any evidence of what happened other than what my dad told her. And it’s quite possible that his version of events was very different from my version of events. It’s possible that in my dad’s version of events, his actions/ words were minimised, and any wrongdoing on my part was maximised. I used to think my mum was just as accepting of the way my dad treated me as he was, and while that still may be the case, I’ve just recently realised that in many cases, I have absolutely no idea what he told my mum. So in her version of events, things really may not have been that bad. So it’s no wonder I was often told that I was “too sensitive” growing up, or that my mum and stepdad both apparently think I’m greatly exaggerating things.
I still don’t know if I will end up talking to either of my parents about how my dad was with me when I was younger. I feel sick to my stomach whenever I think about it because I know I’m risking my whole family hating me/ rejecting me. I’ve decided that whatever happens, I won’t bring it up before I’m finished everything for my master’s, because I’m stressed enough about that and about trying to get a job afterwards as it is. I’ve been wondering if it would be better to just wait until I’ve moved out before trying to bring it up with either of my parents. I suppose in the best case scenario, I’d get an explanation of why my dad did what he did, (though in my opinion, nothing really justifies it) and an apology at last – an admission that it wasn’t all my fault. Even if I did manage to speak to my dad about it, I’m not sure I’d get either of those things. I don’t want to just keep pretending that it didn’t happen and that it doesn’t still affect me now for the rest of my life, but I have absolutely no idea how to resolve this without my family (or at the very least, my dad) hating me.