Aren't You my Mother?

A loss of intimacy between parent and child

by Eboni Statham; illustration by Sophie Javna

"You’re a slut.”

I never thought I would hear those words come out of my mother’s mouth. She is a devout Christian woman and I am, in her eyes, a sweet young girl who has gone astray by giving in to worldly temptations.

They say the bond between a mother and a daughter is the purest form of love. As a young child, my mother was everything. Like any good mom, she breastfed me with the utmost care. She offered me a sense of security, nourishment and health. Some of my fondest memories include her letting me prance around the room in her high heels with my face plastered in makeup so that I could emulate her. She would even let me go to work with her some days after I got out of school. She worked at a middle school then. I felt so cool hanging around so many older kids and being able to eat unlimited yummy snacks from the cafeteria. Then one day, this unwavering bond between us seemed to shatter.

Last August, only two weeks before I was off to start the next chapter of my life 1000 miles away from home, my mother walked up to me with eyes full of distrust and anger. “Why do you have a charge on your bank account to Planned Parenthood?” Uh-oh. Her question knocked the air right out of my lungs. Struggling to breathe, I instantly went into panic mode. The words seemed to spill out of my mouth as I explained how I do not believe in abstinence, that I wanted to practice safe sex and that I was questioning my religion. 

They say “the truth will set you free,” but what they fail to mention is that the truth does not always lead to a happy ending. In this case, the truth ignited a monster that scared me more than anything I had seen in my nightmares. When my mother called me a slut, said she was disappointed in me, forbid me from leaving the house, forced me to go to church twice a week and demanded I wash my bed sheets because I filled the house with sin, I began to wonder if I would have been better off lying to her. 

This anger and hurt exploded in me, causing my entire body to erupt as she looked at me with disgust. She informed me at that moment that she would no longer pay for my college tuition because it wasn’t right in God’s eyes. With not even a tear in her own eyes, she left me crying and broken. I knew then that our relationship would never be the same.

Lifeless and motionless in my room, I continuously replayed the series of screams and awful things she had said in my mind. Weeks passed and the awkward car rides and silent dinners ensued. I just wanted the panic attacks to end and hugs to be exchanged, but there is a point in time when you wake up and somehow gain the energy to face reality. Could I really blame my mom for not accepting my liberal ideology of sex-positivity and openness to other religions? 

I have come to realize that this traumatic incident was not as random as it first seemed. It was the culmination of years of communication issues, silence and insecurities on both of our parts. We spent years having surface-level conversations. Everything was fine as long as I did not mention anything controversial. Forget the topic of sexuality or how I was confused about something the preacher said at church. I always had a “problem” of asking way too many questions. One day when I was in middle school, I asked my mother why she believed in God. She responded by saying “knowledge is the enemy and will get you in trouble.” Upon reflection, I realize this evasion of reality created false intimacy. Our relationship was based on false truths and a journey of never-ending eggshells. My mother still doesn’t know many things about me and sometimes I wonder if I really know her either.

Regardless of the way things turned out, I can only grab on to the glimpse of hope that lies ahead. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain myself and what I stand for, but my honest actions will scream much louder than repeating my opinions that no one wanted to hear. It’s been about a year now. I think that I’m mostly doing all right. I may not be best friends with my mom, but I’ve realized that it’s completely OK because I now know myself better. Even though I was cut off and challenged to my core, I realized my own personal strength. Having to pay for my own tuition has taught me about finances and forced me to be resourceful when it comes to scholarships. I can now major in whatever I want without worrying if my mother thinks it is “practical” or not. I have become more confident in who I am. I speak up for myself, something I struggled with constantly while growing up. Now I’m developing a deeper trust in my own beliefs. I can honestly say, for one of the first times in my life, that I am taking control instead of letting life just happen to me.

Although my mom still does not completely understand me, she cannot deny that she is proud of the things I have accomplished so far in college. So maybe I don’t meet her standards of the perfect Christian virgin daughter. I meet my own standards of being comfortable and happy in my own skin. It gets a little tiring pretending to be someone I’m not and having a relationship based on lies and disrespect. I can only hope that one day she will accept me for who I am and who I will become because, ultimately, intimacy can’t be faked.