This was originally published as part of the Vine & Fig “Pray Tell” project.
She sounds quite chipper once she makes it to the telephone. ‘Hey dear!’ it sounds. ‘Happy Mother’s Day’, I go. A few years ago, when I decided that I was going to transition into low contact mode with my mother, I couldn’t have imagined that Mother’s Day was going to be like this.
As many countries celebrate moms today, we remember that, on Mother’s Day last year, we saw my stepfather leave for the hospital, never to return again. The anniversary of his death is next week. Given the trajectory of my life, celebrating my mother’s parenting abilities seems ridiculous, but given the calendar, keeping a distance between us on this very day seems cruel.
As the daughter of my mother, I am two individuals. I am at once the person she wants to see, the one who overcame childhood troubles to arrive in adulthood a loving and supportive daughter. Also, though, I am the adult who just graduated from over two decades of therapy, someone who is active in those corners of Reddit where people go to discuss parental emotional abuse. My attachment to both of my parents is so disturbed that close contact is not really possible.
I remind myself vaguely of my expat friends, the gay ones who came to Amsterdam to escape their queerphobic countries. When they talk on the phone with their parents, they have to ignore so many parts of their personality that they become other people. They don’t really have a choice.
And I do, at least, this much I’m told by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
After all, a good Catholic is someone who honors their father and mother. Sometimes, after working myself into a frenzy thinking about this, I research Catholic teachings on the healthy and God-loving child-parent relationship. My clobber passages are not the ones about queerness. They are those verses that tell me that children who don’t provide for their parents are worse than unbelievers. That it pleases HaShem when I obey my mother in everything. I don’t experience any spiritual rewards of peace and prosperity when I honor my parents the way the Bible (or society) teaches me. I experience the opposite.
‘Jews have the same teachings, you know’ my favorite person will say. ‘Really?!’ ‘Yes, you… stole our book, remember?’ it will follow, jokingly but only because there’s truth in most jokes. Two things are true, she says. ‘One: biological parents aren’t the only ones doing the parenting. Take Grandma Dora, for example. You always tell me how safe and welcome you felt in her home. Now that is a parent.’ ‘And two?’, I’ll ask, hopeful. ‘Two: it’s up to you to decide what constitutes honoring your parents. Either you can decide, or you can be miserable.’