The Ties That Bind By Qiana Newsome
One of my earliest memories as a kid was questioning if I was adopted. I am not kidding. I was around four year’s old standing in our family room. I looked at my mother and saw a light skinned, 21-year-old woman and in my mind the most beautiful woman in the world. Next, there was my maternal grandmother, even lighter complexed than my mother. She was a plump, no nonsense woman always wearing housecoats and seemed to keep her hands on her hips. How did I belong to these women? A little brown skinned girl that didn’t feel cute or special or like I truly belonged to anyone. This memory stayed buried inside me for almost three decades until I believe it was time for me to examine the ties that bind.
I was born to teenage African American parents in the late 1970’s. My maternal grandparents raised me. And even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was surrounded by mental illness that still impacts my reality today. I lived in the house with my schizophrenic uncle who was 17 years old at the time and he did not consistently take his medication. I have yet to explore how the fear of him impacted my childhood when he became a manic. Next, my grandmother and my mother had a very co-dependent relationship that had an effect on our entire family, inside and outside of our household. When my mother decided to marry a man that lived in Memphis, TN, she convinced my grandmother into also moving to Tennessee with her. We were in a cycle of moving from Memphis to Chicago throughout this period. When my mother’s relationship ended, we all moved back to Chicago permanently. I knew growing up those moves had definitely impacted my life. But the biggest impact was the actual relationship between my mother and me. The tie that didn’t bind.
As I mentioned above, my mother was a teenager when she became pregnant with me. She was 16 years old and as she told me in the past, she got pregnant because she thought it would make my strict grandmother treat her like an adult. As you can imagine that plan backfired. My grandfather wanted her to have an abortion. Which is ironic because once I was born, I think there is no person on this planet who adored me more than my grandfather. He is the only person that I can honestly say I consistently felt love from as a child unfortunately, he was an undervalued human being in our household in my childhood memories. But back to my mother, I gathered from stories from my aunt, grandmother, and even my mother has told me, she suffered horribly from post-partum depression and never sought treatment.
From my perspective, it felt like she never bonded with me in a parental relationship. Once when I was seven years old in a mall in Memphis, she even told me that we felt more like sisters than mother and daughter. And maybe some of that responsibility belongs to my grandparents for taking over the parenting role for my parents. Maybe some of it is her mental illness. I am sure she suffers from something. However, I am not qualified to diagnose anyone with any medical condition. All I can speak to is my own experience. And my experience with my mother has been less than pleasurable. As a child, she made me feel dark, fat, and unattractive. She wasn’t around often but when she was, I didn’t feel good about myself. So, when I had that flash back of that memory in a science class in my 30’s, it totally made sense. Emotionally our ties never bonded even though I had craved for that bond all of my childhood.
When I became an adult more unfortunate events happened in my family surrounding my mother. At this time, I had grown up and was doing pretty okay. I was 21 years old, I had a career and I seemed to have beaten the odds of being born to teenage parents and falling into the same trap of being a teenage parent. But I had decided to stop having a relationship with my mother. I wasn’t in full knowledge yet of everything I mentioned above but I knew she was unhealthy to be around and I feared she would have continued to harm me verbally.
I wanted her drama out of my life. I went to therapy for years. I peeled back many layers of my relationship with my mother and myself. The insecure attachment I developed because of our relationship became obvious to me. I recognized the amount of mental illness not only with my mother and uncle but even maternal grandmother and the impact it had on my mother. I learned how blessed I was to have so many other be good examples of love for me like my grandfather, my aunts and so many of my friends’ parents who recognized the issues in my household and wrapped their arms around me. And even with that said, I had to make a decision. Can I have a healthy relationship with my mother from a distance? In my heart, the answer is no.
Initially a few family members and even friends told me I was wrong and encouraged me to still see my mother. They thought they could “fix” her. I was quoted scriptures about honoring thy mother and thy father and told blood is thicker than water. At first, I was angry. How dare they tell me to pursue a relationship with someone who hurt me? How dare they choose her over me? I was seeing the world once again tell me I wasn’t enough. I was hearing them say my pain doesn’t matter. It took me a few years to realize that’s not what they were saying or thinking at all. In the African American culture, a mother is everything. We hold her high on a pedestal and there are cases when that is totally appropriate. But we also do not advocate enough for our own or each other’s’ mental health care. I have a right to pursue a healthy life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If anyone impedes on those four areas, I can say no. If she was beating me physically with a lead pipe daily as 21-year-old woman, people would wonder why I am letting her do that to me. I feel the same about emotional and mental abuse. I feel that she can’t help what she does and that her problem is bigger than her. However, it’s still her problem and she has not and may never or can never rectify it. It’s a tie that did not bind. And it’s okay. I will continue to do my work on how the lack of binding has impacted my life. I do not place blame or have malice in my heart for my mother. But I will always champion a healthy life for all. God used my mother to teach me the lesson of gratitude for all of those in my life that is my loving and supportive village today. Those relationships are ties that bind