As a single parent, I’ve mostly handled things by myself. It’s only in the last month or so that I’ve done things like ask a friend for a lift to collect S from school, or ask a friend (the same friend) to take her to school for me in the morning. I mostly plod along by myself, not accepting help where it’s offered and definitely not asking for it. With my impending surgery, I will need to rely on several people for help and if I’m honest it’s probably this more than the operation itself that bothers me. Why is that?
I’ve had reason to think about this a lot lately, and the conclusion I’ve come to is one you may find odd. I know the few people to whom I have spoken about it find it completely alien…
When I was about 13, a friend said to me:
I wish I was like you. Not personality wise; I mean… your mum just doesn’t care, does she?
Even then I remember thinking no, but I kind of wish she did.
I am aware that this idea has the potential to become a pity party and a bit drama-queen-ish, so I won’t list here the thousands (millions by this point in my life) of examples. The most recent is this.
I was given an appointment to go to the hospital and see a surgeon about my hernia. I left a voicemail asking my mother if she would look after S for me for a couple of hours so that I could go, and she screened my calls for the rest of the week until I left her another voicemail saying that she didn’t need to worry about babysitting; a friend was helping me out. She returned that call within an hour.
After my appointment I was reeling at the thought of having surgery “within six weeks” and called my mother, who has had numerous operations, and has even had the very procedure I am due to have. I told her about having the op within six weeks and her response was “so soon! I’ve been waiting seventeen weeks for my operation! Mind you, mine is a very complicated one; they need three surgeons so they have to make sure they can all be in the same place at the same time, and if there’s an emergency…”
That was it; that was my mother talking to me about an operation I was to have, about which I was clearly terrified. I told her I wasn’t sure yet what I would do about S and getting her to and from school each day and she told me “Social Services will help you with that.”
Now, you might think that perhaps she was just having an off day – but this is just how things are with my mother. She doesn’t seem to have that normal motherly instinct where you want to look after your child – at least, not where I am concerned. She doesn’t see me in that way and to be honest I sometimes question whether she ever did.
I studied for and took my GCSE exams with zero input from her – in fact, at one point during my study leave I was left babysitting my younger sister who had chicken pox, when I should have been revising for a history exam. I decided on where I would do A Levels while my mother was on holiday; I took myself to and from college every day and worked two jobs without her ever asking whether I would be home for tea, or leaving my dinner in the oven. Several times I stayed out all night and she didn’t even notice. When my A Level results came and I went to university, it was all down to me: UCAS forms; panicked phone calls on the day because I didn’t get the grades I needed; arranging accommodation because there was no space in halls for me; moving my things. These were all things I did on my own. It didn’t even occur to me to ask her for help by that point; I knew it would not be forthcoming.
They say that when a mother has more than one child, each child experiences a different mother. I have five siblings and the four that talk to her do seem to have an actual relationship with my mother. They hug her and kiss her goodbye and go for days out together. I honestly cannot remember a time when my mother has hugged me, kissed me, offered support or told me she was proud of me. And believe me, it’s something I’ve tried to think of.
What I can remember is that when I was 23 my father had a heart attack and suffered brain damage. He was in a bad way, but he was in a good hospital and making progress towards recovery. One day on the phone my mother told me she really thought he should have died because he would hate for anyone to see him without his false teeth. It didn’t even occur to her that this might be something better shared with a friend than her daughter. When he did die a few months later she didn’t even hug me or offer any comfort. I vividly remember being at his funeral and sobbing uncontrollably while I had to stand outside the crematorium in some weird sord of line-up while people I didn’t recognise told me what a great bloke my dad was. My mother was nowhere to be seen and it was down to my dad’s girlfriend to try and comfort me while she was in pieces herself.
You might ask what this has to do with my being independent and feeling very uncomfortable asking for help.
All of my friends whose mother is alive, go to her for help, support and friendship. Their mothers cared for them when they had their babies; they help out all the time with childcare, moral support, help, advice. There are lots of grandmothers in the playground at school pick up but S’s is never one of them.
I think without consciously realising it, I’ve always felt that if I don’t deserve help and support from my own mother, what business do I have in asking for it from others?
I never, ever ask for help because I don’t want to put people out. Any time my mother has helped me with something, it has been made abundantly clear just what a massive favour she is doing me.
The day we moved house last year, she brought her car along to move one load of our things and complained about having to put the back seats down. I think she only came because my sister called her on the morning and told her we really needed her help. A friend drove from Shaftesbury and spent the entire day not only moving things but helping to organise at the other end and never once acted like this was not a normal Saturday activity. Another friend, who I’d actually not seen since school (thank you Facebook) did the same. Another not only helped on the day, she lent me money for a deposit and visited several times in the weeks after the move to help me take rubbish to the tip. I could not have moved house without these people – and my sister, who worked like a demon to make sure everything was moved.
My mother did not visit our home again until Christmas day a month later, when she stayed for two hours. The next time she visited after that was S’s birthday, four months later – when she stayed for one hour. She lives three blocks from us.
On my birthday in June she arrived unannounced while we were eating lunch to drop off a bunch of flowers and a card containing some cash. S had chicken pox and I’d not left the house in days; I was not having a good birthday. It didn’t matter though.
I can write all of this here safe in the knowledge that she will never read it. She doesn’t read my blog; she doesn’t follow my social media. If I’m on TV, she tells her friends. Then I’m her daughter. The rest of the time I am at best an afterthought.
I am not sharing this in order to garner sympathy; I don’t enjoy having people sorry for me and would much rather have your respect. I share this for two reasons: firstly, by way of explanation as to why I really do find it hard to ask for help. Secondly, I share this because I have felt since I was very young, that I was not loved – or at least, not as loved as my siblings. I thought I was just being a typical self-pitying depressive until I heard someone talking about her own experience on a podcast, and I realised I was not alone. So perhaps by sharing this, I can help someone else to realise they are not alone either.
I find it very hard to ask for help; if I do ask, it’s usually a Facebook status asking for volunteers, rather than asking individuals to help – I don’t like to put pressure on people to feel they have to. Even when someone does offer to help, I wait for them to make the offer two or three times before I take them up on it – I want to make sure they really meant it!
I’ve had a lifetime of feeling like I’m asking too much of the one person for whom nothing should be too much. It’s hard not to carry that feeling over into relationships with others, so that I daren’t ask a friend to have S for a couple of hours in case I ruin the whole friendship with my unreasonable demands.