Where Were You? What I Want To Say To My Emotionally Unavailable Mom

by Gaiana Capilla

Despite what others prefer to believe, all women can be mothers.

But not all mothers can be maternal. At least, that’s what I’ve learned from living with you all these years.

I guess that’s the same as saying you weren’t hardwired to love me. But I certainly was born to love you and need you. I didn’t know this when I was younger, although I wish I did. I wish I understood.

You, in all that you are and all that you are not, gave me life. Yet, I could not recall a single moment where you held me closely or lovingly. I had no memories of you offering me the solace of your touch, the warmth of your embrace or the brightness of your smile.

Sure, you kept me well-fed, bathed and clothed. Other than that, what else was there, mama?

All I remember is you were emotionally distant, perpetually detached. You never profoundly realized how much I needed to be held, comforted and heard. You left me hungry and desperate for love, approval and validation. All of this, I sought from others.

Good thing papa (bless him) was around to make up for what you couldn’t give. I can never thank him enough. But, alas, his love can only go so far. I needed you, too.

Look at me, mama. I need a little fixing.

A few others have tried, but have failed miserably. They all gave up eventually.

Who would even dare waste their youth on someone as hopelessly broken as I am, right? At least, that’s what you taught me to believe. You denigrate me every chance you get.

I keep trying to figure you out. Watching movies and reading books about mothers and daughters who share a strong emotional bond always filled me to the brim with the painful awareness of a deep loss, and the pustulating horror that I was alone in this anguish.

This was my own personal brand of hell.

Was it your underprivileged childhood? Your equally disconnected mother? Or was it because you had me when you were still so young?

What was going through your head when you first held me? Were you disappointed that your life plans were put on hold, and eventually forgotten, because you gave birth to such a needy, greedy baby?

“Greedy. That’s practically your middle name,” you said. Remember?

Am I the cause of all your frustrations? Do you look at me and see all the things you couldn't have, all the things that are wrong in your world?

When I was in high school, I remember you said you wanted us to have a more open relationship, something you never had with your mother.

I believed you, you know. I craved that, too.

Although, now that I’ve thought about it, it made no sense. It’s quite difficult to reconcile the idea of you wanting to befriend me, with you being unspeakably critical of me one day, impossibly apathetic the next and then, completely out of the blue, disconcertingly affectionate toward me.

In retrospect, I am now suddenly aware that the overbearingly fussy mom act frequently happened in front of an audience.

Behind closed doors, you never asked me what I was thinking or how I was feeling. I grew up believing my opinions and emotions were largely irrelevant to you.

You dismissed me and my achievements at every turn. There was, and is, no winning with you. I was never smart enough for you, mama. Apparently, not studying but still making it on the honor’s list was a feat you’ve seen before. You were certainly not impressed that I was never the class valedictorian.

I was never pretty enough for you, either. Whenever I told you about the boy I liked in school who also liked me back, you always put on that patronizing grin of yours, all the while telling me he was probably just being nice. The worst part is, for the longest time, I believed you.

I still believe you, sometimes.

Mama, for years, you’ve convinced me I am unworthy of unconditional love and affection, for being unapologetically me.

My relationships, both romantic and platonic, have been a constant roller coaster ride. One moment, my head is spinning from the high of all their love and support, and the next minute, I am spiraling into depression, because I feel like I can’t trust them to stick around.

Because who would want to stay with a person who is beyond reparation, right?

I know all emotions are fleeting, and it always seems like euphoria is less welcome than misery when I’m around you. I have a boyfriend who adores me, but I am constantly horrible to him. I don’t even know why, considering the amount of fondness I have for that man.

Maybe it’s self-sabotage? Perhaps. What I do know for sure is I don’t deserve such a kind, loving soul.

Or do I?

Do you even realize how crippling it is to constantly wait for the other shoe to drop? I have friends who have been there for me all these years and I, for the life of me, don’t trust them enough to not judge me whenever I open up about my problems and this sadness you’ve inflicted.

That is why I suffer in silence.

Career-wise, I am unable to move forward, stuck in a frustrating heap of mediocrity. Perhaps it’s the constant procrastination which, I must admit, is my own doing. Or it's possibly the incessant self-doubt, which is a product of adopting your view of me all this time.

I am hesitant to try something new, as I am fearful of the possibility of failure. In your eyes, I certainly am one.

I feel an obsidian emptiness in my heart and my soul. And you are the one who caused it.

I detest what you’ve done to me, but even I know I can’t hate you forever. I can’t keep living my life like this, mama.

But who do I turn to?

I reckon this terrible affliction is mine, and mine alone. I have to stop blaming you now.

I have to emancipate myself from all the guilt that well-meaning people direct toward me, for having such strong, contradictory feelings for you. They are oblivious to what it’s like to writhe under your disapproving gaze, after all.

I must be free of you somehow. Only then can I begin to heal. Only then can I be free.