Our daughter is leaving home in just over a week. She’s moving interstate to go to university. There’s a good uni ten minutes down the road, but she wants to experience a different city, live in a different part of Australia, and who knows where she’ll go after that.
We wandered around the uni a couple of weeks’ ago and I couldn’t help but feel excited with her. I kept grabbing her arm, saying, ‘Look at that,’ and, ‘Did you see they’ve got this?’ I stopped the car in the middle of the road to take a photo of the sign—and embarrassed her as the cars banked up behind us.
We will miss her. I don’t like that there’ll be one less place at the dinner table each night. I’ll miss her chirpy voice each morning. I’ll miss her three pairs of bathers on the line. I’ll miss her scrawled notes on the bench telling me she’s gone for a run. I’ll miss seeing her familiar shape at her desk.
But her future is beckoning and this is what children do – they leave their parents. As they should.
For me, having my own children opened a lot of childhood wounds. I remember one day when I was a young mum trying to clean my daughter’s bottom after a particularly messy nappy. I lay her over my lap and she began to struggle, kicking her legs and crying as I wiped. Immediately, I was taken back to being a child across my mother’s knee, my bare bum in the air, struggling to get away as she whacked me. I started to cry and had to stop cleaning my daughter—I felt like I was abusing her.
The flashbacks were frequent when the children were younger: when my kids didn’t share, I remembered being called selfish; when they were naughty, I remembered being told I was bad; when they told a lie, I remembered being labeled a liar. From watching my children act like children and do the same things that I’d done, I saw that I wasn’t selfish or bad or a liar—I was just a normal child.
The childhood flashbacks are less frequent now, but our daughter leaving has stirred up different memories. And it’s not just memories that return, but the feelings of anxiety, hurt, anger, frustration, and powerlessness. And grief.
I started studying Medicine at the University of Tasmania in 1985. I had to leave home to live in Hobart, two hundred kilometres away. On the day I was leaving, my mother wanted to set off at ten o’clock. At eleven o’clock, having tossed my gear into my bags, I came out ready to go. She refused to drive me down. I hadn’t been ready at the designated time and I hadn’t packed my bags properly.
The thing was, I wasn’t ready to leave on time, nor had I packed my bags properly. She was right.
I apologised many times over. No, she still wasn’t taking me. I tried to talk, cajole, beg, do anything to get her to take me. But no, I was a disorganised, lazy bitch who needed to be taught a lesson. My father and my sister argued on my behalf, but No, she can’t get away with it. She has to learn to be responsible.
There was much yelling, screaming, and tears, until, as the sun began to set, I decided I’d hitch a ride down. I had to get to uni somehow — lessons were starting the next day. In the end, my father stepped in and said he’d take me. Weak, she told him, You’re weak as piss. Giving into her and letting her get away with it.
It was already dark when we left. I said goodbye to my mother but she stayed at the sink and didn’t speak. She didn’t kiss or hug me or wish me well. I cried all the way down.
In Hobart, Dad helped me unload. I made him a cup of coffee in the dining room, then he drove the two hours back. He tried to make me feel like a normal uni student, hugging me and wishing me luck as he left.
But I didn’t feel like everyone else. Everyone else had arrived in daylight and was unpacked and happy, sitting in each others’ rooms and playing music. I walked past them with my bags, head down to hide my puffy eyes.
I didn’t tell anyone because I was ashamed. Everyone else’s mother had sent them off with hugs and kisses and good wishes. I didn’t want people to know that mine hadn’t, and what that said about me. I was jealous that they were allowed to start their new lives happily, with their mothers’ blessings.
I put it behind me – I had to in order to start uni the next day. The only way I could cope was by forgetting about it, by going to bed and getting up and pretending I’d gone off to uni with good wishes just like everyone else. So that’s what I did.
It happened again when I went overseas in 1989. Again, I’d been irresponsible, selfish, lazy. My mother hit me the night before I left and gave me a black eye. My father dropped me off at the airport because my mother refused to. None of my family saw me off—no kisses, no hugs, no good wishes. Again, I covered my bruises – inside and out. It was my own fault—if I was better behaved, she wouldn’t do this. Again, I felt ashamed.
In 2000 I moved with my family to live in Western Australia. Before I left, I was a fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking bitch, repeated many times over in front of my stunned husband and daughter. No kisses, no hugs, no good luck wishes before we left.
I sat in the car afterwards and howled. But this time, I had a witness outside of the family. I had someone who could tell me, ‘No. You’ve done nothing wrong. All you’ve done is leave.’
I began to see the pattern.
Sometimes I feel sorry for myself for the childhood I had. (Like yesterday—yesterday was a self-pitying day.) My childhood can never be undone and made right. I will always have scars. But I have done the next best thing, and the only thing I could do to help right the wrongs: I have made it better for my own children. I made that my mantra: not to do to them what had been done to me.
Strangely enough, that in itself has been healing. Through mothering my children, I’ve been able to mother the child in me. The child who was told she was a bad, selfish liar, I’ve realised, wasn’t any of that. She was a normal child, one who became a hurt, lost, lonely, misunderstood child. I understand her now, and I love her.
Our daughter is gorgeous, as are all our children. She’s sensible and she makes good choices. She works hard and her future is bright. She deserves the opportunities opening for her.
As parents we’re meant to be preparing our children for the adult world, for independence. Isn’t that our job? The time has come to let go. My role as a mother is changing. I’m here for support and guidance when needed. And, of course, I’m here to give love. Much love. Love is always needed.
My daughter and I are preparing and packing. She’s excited to be starting the rest of her life and I will not take any of that away from her. Moving away from home is a milestone and I want her to have good memories of it, to be able to look back on it as a happy time in her life.
I’ll let her go with a smile, and I’ll kiss her and squeeze her tight as I wave her off. I will miss her but it is her life and it is her right to live it how she wishes.
It is time to let go.
Thank you for sharing Louise. We have talked about some of this, but I think that writing it down and acknowledging the way you can understand it, and how you have raised your children to have different experiences from you, not only helps you, but also gives us, your readers, some insight into how to look at our own demons and understand them. Thank you.
Sending you much healing, and love – and a very strong wish that your daughter’s journey through Uni does not have quite so much drama as some of our early years did!
Thanks T, for reading and commenting and understanding. Today probably wasn’t the best day to write, as I’m quite tired and teary. Anyway, that’s how it is today …
I don’t think our daughter’s journey will be nearly as fraught — her life thus far has been very different.
Best wishes. xx
Louise, this is heartbreaking, I never would have guessed that the popular, seemingly happy girl I knew from school was going through so much pain. Goes to show, we never know what goes on behind closed doors. Thank you for sharing. I really admire your strength in being able to do so.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Your words mean a lot, especially the bit about strength, because I do need it. It is hard to publish these bits of myself, even though I want to tell my story. I do worry what people might think of me. I tell these stories for me, because I need to. And because they are always so close. Not just my childhood stories but also the horrible teenage ones and my early twenties. There were some very dark times …
I remember a lunch we shared, you, me and Ali, and I remember some of this. What happened to you was wrong and inexcusable and you are the best mum you could have been to your kids, and that’s remarkable in itself, considering … lovely writing xxx
Thanks, Rashida. I have done my best as a mum — I’m not perfect, but I’ve tried really hard. I did have a saint for a grandmother and a kind father, so I wasn’t without good role models.
Hi Louise. As I type this message I have tears rolling down my face. I am so sorry you had to endure these experiences with your Mum. You certainly did a great job covering up. I never had any idea that your life consisted of such humiliating and soul destroying expriences. I am so glad to hear that you now believe in yourself and that you no longer harbour the self doubts that were fostered in you. I believe that you are an amazing person. You have done so much with your life. The wonderful smiles on your gorgeous children’s faces are testimont to what a great Mum you are. I know that your daughter will have great success. I hope that the next stage in her life is all she hopes it will be. Whilst it is a sad time for you and the rest of the family, you must be so proud of her. Never doubt yourself Louise. I feel privileged to have shared much of my childhood with you. You and your family hold a special place in my heart. Lots of love Denise.
Thanks, Denise. So nice to hear from you — we did share a significant chunk of our childhood, that’s true. You were a lovely family to share it with, all of you, including your Mum and Gran! Thanks for commenting, and yes, we are very proud of our daughter!
Your daughter is a lucky young woman to have such a caring and courageous mum. And a good writer, to boot! (to boot?) It’s a wrench when they fly the nest all right, but freedom to realise one’s potential is such a gift.
Thanks so much for your kind words, Iris. Yes, it will leave a gap when she’s gone. However, other mothers have survived, so I’m sure I will, too!
Several dear friends of mine have endured abused childhoods – and gone on, as you have, to make a different life for their own children. I admire you all. I believe there is no greater act than having the courage and love to stop the generational cycles of abuse. And no greater gift than the ability to write the truth about even the most dark and harrowing experiences. “That’s how the light gets in”.
Thanks for visiting and commenting, Liana. (Just checked out your website, too, by the way!) I love that line, ‘That’s how the light gets in’, and I’ve decided to love my cracks!
This a beautiful, but bittersweet post. Motherhood teaches us so much. I hope I can mother my children with patience and grace, like you.
On another note, you’ll just have to use that excess mothering energy on your ‘fifth baby’: your novel!
Thanks again, Kristen. Firstly, I don’t always mother with patience and grace — there’s been a bit of yelling in there, too! But I drew a few lines in the sand when they first arrived and haven’t crossed them. Except for swearing — I’ve crossed that one …
And yes, I’m looking forward to spending more time with Ida and the kids. Yes, I could call it my fifth ‘baby’ — unfortunately it’s not born yet and I’m a bloody long-time pregnant with this one!
I just had to read this one, especially given that I’m about to farewell my firstborn off to UNSW! Apart from the physical abuse, my story isn’t all that dissimilar. I used to suffer similar verbal “put downs” throughout my childhood, not only from my mother but also my maternal grandmother who spent a lot of time living either with us, or nearby, in order to help Mum through a very difficult time in her life (my father died when I was 13 after a long battle with multiple myeloma, followed 15 months later by my then 10 year old brother who had bone marrow cancer). I remember sitting on the couch when Matt had just turned 10 thinking, “My God. How the hell could I live if neither Ross nor Matt were here with me today, now???”. It gave me a totally different — and until then, very lacking — appreciation of the pain, poverty, hardship and struggle Mum endured. I was a bit of an “inconvenience” in her very busy, hurtful and stressful life and, with hindsight, I’m positive that Nana didn’t enjoy having to become a full-time babysitter when she had better things to do, like play lawn bowls .. and crochet … Still, here we are today, bidding farewell to our bright, brave, purposeful offspring as they head off into a whole new world! We must have done something right, no? I congratulate you, Louise, on having the courage to make that first step and head off to Uni. You worked to your potential and you were able to show your Mum, in no uncertain terms, that you’re “good enough” to do whatever the hell you wanted to. Medicine, no less!!! I didn’t do that and whilst I always say that its useless to have regrets, I sincerely regret being told that I’d amount to nothing and may as well just “get a job”…. and having done just that. I believe that our experiences, however negative, DO motivate us to be better people. Funny how both of our eldest are doing what few of their peers do and head interstate? Anyway, if it makes you feel any more “normal”, I have lived through exactly what you have. Visits to the Uni, sharing photos, feeling ecstatic and excited by the possibilities that lay ahead for Matt …. and now that its all happening in exactly one week’s time, I’m teary, anxious, stressed, sad — and happy at the same time!! I’m flying over with him Friday morning to see him settled in College and, man, I’m going to need king sized tissues when I say goodbye on the Sunday!! Thinking of you as a kindred spirit!! xxx
Karen, this is such a sad story. Your poor mother, to lose her husband closely followed by her son, and for you — losing your father and brother. Have you ever thought of writing your story down? It’s worth telling and you’ve written it so well here …
It’s great that your son is heading off — it does show courage. And that they’re prepared to step out of their comfort zones and experiment, but in a wise, controlled way. It will have so many benefits and they’ll experience so much more. I think we can feel very proud of them!
I’ll be thinking of you this weekend. I wouldn’t take tissues — Handee Ultra is more absorbent. Apparently it’s the most absorbent paper towel according to one daughter’s Year Nine Science experiment 😉
I’ll also add that the separation anxiety is all one-way here; my daughter just asked what time I fly home when we go over because there’s some function she wants to go to. Glad I’ll be missed! 😉
Hi Louise, I agree with all the wonderful heartfelt comments, mostly Iris’s though. I think your daughter is incredibly fortunate to have you as a Mother. For your girl to know that she can launch out into the world and have this amazing Mother, with all her love and guidance and strength behind her is fantastic. And that should anything go wrong, that her Mum will always be there. Whenever we were going through a rough time with our kids, when they were teens and later, I tried to put into action what a very wise person once told me – to forgive your children, and to forgive quickly, and to not rub it in or throw in their face at a later date. Burn mistakes. Forgive. Move on. So sad that your mother couldn’t just forgive and forget your very minor transgressions. No, sadly, she collected them, nursed them and then threw them back at you. Cruel. Stupid. Thank God you’ve had the good sense to do otherwise. And wishing your daughter all the best, and gosh, I so feel for you, Louise, as I know you are going to miss your girl terribly. Hang in there!
Oh Marlish, your words are fortifying. All the comments are fortifying and I need them. Thank you. xx
Hi Louise, you are a fantastic mother, my heart is tearing for you. I on the other hand have been very very selfish and both my girls are still in WA. As our generation (us as mothers) are more fortunate, having endured what was an ugly culture of motherhood in those days. We can only hope that those days are behind us but I fear not. I hear stories from my trainees that hurts your heart. But at least it’s not as common, or is it they are better at hiding the truth. Why were that generation so ignorant to what they were exposing their children to? How is it that we can make the changes yet they couldn’t? This is a question that I am constantly asking myself. Was it culture, education, exposure, a sign of the times? I feel once we understand that, a lot of our questions will be answered and that we may be able to move on. You and your family are beautiful and are fortunate to have you as their mother who can nurture guide and support them through life’s challenges in a non threatening, non violent manner. Unlike our parents. Rae xxx
Yes, we are a lot more aware as parents, but it’s still going on — there are still mothers around who are damaging their kids. Young kids definitely don’t speak about it. For lots of reasons: Firstly, they know no different — they think that’s how it’s meant to be. Secondly, they believe that it’s their fault. That they’re bad and deserve the punishment. If they tell anyone, they’re telling that person how bad they are, and that the person will have a lower opinion of them. Then there’s the fear of punishment for talking about these-things-that-must-not-be-mentioned.
I don’t know why our generation could make changes that the previous generation couldn’t. Maybe because we’re a lot more psychologically aware, and aware of the effects of our actions on our kids. I don’t know …
Maybe someone else has more ideas …
Dear Louise, such a courageous, honest post. This is my third attempt at a comment as I keep getting lost in my own stuff, and this post deserves more than that.
You’ve broken the cycle and your beautiful fledgeling is about to fly free. You both have much to be proud of. In spite of the horrors you experienced, you’ve raised a wonderful, independent young woman. A woman who knows she is loved, accepted and respected for who she is and the decisions she makes.
Brutal, abusive childhoods never leave us, but you’ve shown that yours will never define you. I feel so grateful for your long distance presence in my life. I will be thinking of you as you enter this new phase of motherhood.
Thanks, Tricia 🙂