I haven't spoken to my cruel mother for 10 years

It has taken Charlotte Richards* many years to come to terms with her mother's cruelty. Posed by model. (Getty Images)
It has taken Charlotte Richards* many years to come to terms with her mother's cruelty. Posed by model. (Getty Images)

Charlotte Richards*, 53, is a business strategist. She lives in Yorkshire* and has a 23-year-old son from a previous relationship. She has been estranged from her mother for 10 years but despite being neglected since childhood, she still loves her mum. Here is her harrowing story...

“As Mother’s Day rolls round again this weekend, I will treat it like any other Sunday. I will take my dog out for a walk on the beach. I might jokingly nudge my son into posting something about how much he loves me on Facebook. One thing I won’t be doing is sending a gift, flowers or card to my own mum.

Mother’s Day, like Christmas Day and birthdays are particularly hard when you have no mum. As pastel-coloured gifts and flowers fill the shops every March, I can’t help but envy friends who splash out on their mum, taking them on shopping trips or spa days. When restaurants and retailers ask if I want to ‘opt out’ of Mother’s Day marketing emails, I enthusiastically press ‘yes’ – another way to avoid the constant reminder of my loss.

Except my mother isn’t dead. She lives a few miles away from me and at the age of 83 shows no sign of slowing down. She regularly sees my son when he’s visiting from his home in Derby and they have a loving and close relationship, something I have never experienced with her.

Read more: How to cope if Mother's Day is difficult for you

Grandmother with grandson at home
Her mum was a doting grandmother, much to Charlotte Richards*' astonishment. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

Avoiding my mother

For the last 10 years my mother and I have been completely estranged. We have seen each other on a handful of occasions – at family events – and studiously avoided each other but for the most part, she is not in my life nor am I in hers.

People ask if there was one particular moment where we stormed out of each other’s lives forever. But there wasn’t. It has simply been a gradual erosion of what little relationship we had in the first place. Now, I’ve reached a place where I feel much better without her in my life and I’m sure she feels the same way.

Our relationship was never exactly close. I grew up in Manchester, the only daughter of two publicans and I describe myself as being like Sharon Watts in EastEnders. Like Den and Angie, my parents very much enjoyed being the centre of attention. They were glamorous, like film stars, and when they walked into a room people would stop and pay attention.

Secrets and lies

But behind closed doors, things were volatile and both were having affairs. We lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from area to area with the pubs. By the age of 11, I’d attended 13 different schools.

My overriding feeling is that I was never good enough for my mum and I was always an inconvenience. She used to dress me in ridiculous clothes like floral dresses that made me look like a pair of curtains.

Dad – who had been in the military – would argue with her about it, asking why she never dressed me well. But she seemed to take perverse pleasure in me looking that way – as if she never wanted me to take any limelight away from her.

It’s taken years of therapy for me to realise that she is a complete narcissist, a woman who took three hours every morning to do her hair and make-up. Yet there was never any food in the house and often social services would become involved because I was being neglected.

Read more: The five stages of grief: How to cope with loss

Girl on bed looking sad. (Getty Images)
By the age of 11, she had been to 13 different schools. Posed by model. (Getty Images)

A shock discovery

She was never a motherly kind of woman and personally, I don’t think she ever wanted children. In fact, to my surprise, when I was around eight, I discovered that she’d actually had a son with another man eight years before she’d had me. But she’d abandoned him with his father.

When I was born, I was yet another inconvenience. So, I learned to keep my head down and not expect too much in the way of love or affection.

Even as a youngster, I knew we didn’t have a normal mother-daughter relationship. I saw how loving the mothers of my school friends could be and they would often take me under their wings, feeding me and making me feel special. It felt nice to be cared for. My grandparents – my mother’s parents – were also very good to me so I wasn’t without love completely, just no maternal affection at all.

My parents divorced when I was around eight and I barely saw my father until my late teens and he died a few years later. To her credit, my mother did work hard to pay the bills – not only in a pub but also in a factory job – but she still didn’t care about me on a personal level. She was more interested in flitting from boyfriend to boyfriend, until she married my stepfather when I was around 14.

Woman bartender pouring drinks (Getty Images)
Charlotte Richards' mum worked in a bar and other jobs to support her family. Posed by model. (Getty Images)

Abusive stepfather

I hated my stepfather. He was angry and abusive and by the age of 16, I moved out. Mum had told me that she was choosing him over my happiness (although she divorced him later). I slept on a boyfriend’s sofa for a while before getting a bedsit and didn’t speak to my mother for many years afterwards.

In fact, it was in 1996 that I next set eyes on her, rather unexpectedly. I’d been rushed into hospital with an ovarian cyst and when I came round, the nurse said my mother was here to visit me. I didn’t believe her but sure enough, there was my mother.

I asked her why she was there and she said my grandmother – her mum – had told her to come. I have no idea why. Perhaps she thought I was going to die. But she was clearly not comfortable being there and resented coming to visit.

Read more: Relationship red flags quiz launched by legal experts: Warning signs your partner could become toxic

Man with headache looking stressed (Getty Images)
Charlotte Richards left home at 16 and recalls her stepdad being 'angry and abusive'. Posed by model. (Getty Images)

We didn’t speak again until I had my son in 1999 when she came back into my life again. To my total surprise, she became a doting grandmother to my son. She would even look after him while I went to London to work during the week and I would watch her be so loving towards him and wonder why she could never be like that with her own children?

Terrorist attack

For two years we got on fairly well but in 2001 I was involved in a bombing by the IRA in London and had to leave work because of the stress. I moved back in with mum. It was strange being in the same house as a woman I had barely spoken to for many years but we tolerated each other’s presence.

I would sometimes wonder what happened to her in her own childhood that made her that way. She grew up in the 40s and 50s. My grandfather fought in the war and was presumed dead on a couple of occasions. My grandmother was left alone to bring up three children on her own so I’m sure it was stressful.

But whatever the reasons, my mother has never stopped being critical or cruel towards me. I remember once, at one of the points we were talking again, she introduced me to new friends as: ‘This is Charlotte, the daughter who doesn’t want to talk to me’.

She would constantly belittle me and although I tried to make her like me, it never worked. I constantly felt like I’d done something wrong. Our relationship deteriorated again once I’d moved out when my son was little and we barely spoke. The last time I heard her voice was when I called my uncle last October and I heard her in the background.

Woman looking sad
Charlotte Richards* has had therapy to her come to terms with the way her mother treated her. Posed by model. (Getty Images)

Mother's Day sadness

Last summer I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. I’m clear now and thankfully, I didn’t need chemotherapy afterwards so it was all over very quickly and I’m very lucky. But not once did she call or even text to find out how I was. I know she knew about it – she had found out through someone at church apparently – but she never bothered to get in touch.

It would be a lie to say I’m heartbroken. It’s taken me a very long time – and years of therapy – to realise that it’s nothing I’ve done wrong. For my childhood and much of my adult life I believed that I had done something to upset her and wanted to make her approve of me and love me. But that’s never going to happen.

The strange thing is, I still love her. I feel sad that on this Mother’s Day she will miss out on presents, a card, perhaps a lunch out. She must be very lonely. The mother-daughter bond can be so special and she could have had that relationship if she’d wanted. But clearly, she didn’t. And I’m now in a place where I can say, that’s absolutely fine by me."

*Name and location has been changed to protect identities.

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