Becoming estranged from a parent is something many of us find difficult to fathom – but for journalist and author Meredith May, it was a devastating reality.
After her parents divorced when she was five, Meredith, of San Francisco, and her brother Matthew, then three, were uprooted in the dead of night and moved across the country to live with her grandparents in Big Sur, California.
Her mother sank into a deep depression, leaving her children to fend for themselves – with Meredith finding solace in helping her grandfather care for his honey bees which he kept in a converted WWII military bus in the garden.
Meredith told how she kept her mom a ‘secret’, never inviting friends over to the house and doing her best to spend as little time there as possible, which saw her confidence plummet and a ‘neediness’ instill itself which proved catastrophic in her adult life.
Having reached breaking point at the age of 40, suffering a panic attack as she realised she too was ‘angry and alone’ like her mother, Meredith sought the help of a therapist who urged her to ‘divorce’ her ‘toxic’ parent.
Here in an exclusive extract from her new book The Honey Bus, published in the UK today, Meredith reveals how ending their relationship finally set her free.
I never regretted divorcing my toxic mom. It was the first step to releasing the terrible secret trapped inside my ribcage, the one that made me gasp for air on the bathroom floor.
I had given myself permission to stop faking and start telling people that my mother and I were estranged. Being truthful invited others to tell me their toxic mom stories, which helped me feel less unlucky; less weird.
Our parents divorced when I was five and my brother Matthew was three, which sent Mom into a tailspin from which she never recovered.
She moved back into her childhood bedroom with Matthew and me and retreated to bed with her astrology books. While she sank into depression, our grandparents took care of us.
On the rare occasions when she did emerge, her mood was unpredictable.
We never knew which mother we were going to get – the exuberant one who whisked us from garage sale to garage sale, buying us second-hand trinkets and singing along to the Bee Gees on the radio; or the raging one who yanked me out of the bathtub by my hair for using too much hot water.
Placating her became our survival strategy.
Matthew and I didn’t dare skip Mother’s Day. For self-preservation purposes, we participated in the family delusion that we were Hallmark-worthy.
We would thumb through all the cards on the shelves, searching for that four-leaf clover – a card that will keep Mom happy, yet not force us to say something we don’t feel.
If only there had been a free pass for kids like Matthew and me on Mother’s Day. If we were a more honest society and admitted that some mothers are toxic, we could recognize that what their children need is not more roses and chocolate, but help getting through a cookie-cutter holiday.
I never saw or heard of mothers like mine. I always felt shameful handing my mother a card that felt dishonest, and worried that I must be rotten inside if I can’t find anything nice to say to my own mother.
There is an indelible Mommy Taboo in our culture that dictates we must always honor our mothers, no matter how much they may not honor us.
It’s so strong that I debated writing about card shopping with my brother and opening myself up to criticism, even after all the work I’ve done to resist the taboo. But here’s why I decided to take the risk: I obeyed the Mommy Taboo for most of my 49 years, and it almost ruined me.
My compliance began in girlhood, playing along when Granny would buy our birthday and Christmas presents, wrap them and then write Mom’s name on the cards.
The ruse continued as Granny stood-in at our parent-teacher conferences, cooked the family meals, signed us up for art classes and drove us to sporting events.
We were fortunate she took over, but whenever we complained about Mom’s absence, Granny corrected our thinking. Mom was ‘just the way she was’ and she needed ‘peace and quiet’ to get better.
I never invited any of my classmates to the house because I didn’t want to explain why Mom was behind a closed door. Instead I took the opposite approach and wormed my way into dinners and sleepovers at my friends’ homes.
Credits: Daily Mail