Mom and me

by Karen Phillips

My mom had me when she was 18. She and my dad had a depressing and short-lived marriage. It was for convenience, not for love. He was both physically and verbally abusive to her, so she left him two years later.

My mom imagined her second marriage would last forever, but that dream didn’t pan out. My stepfather traveled for work, and it got to the point where he was gone four days a week.

After a lot of financial and emotional stress, even I knew it was time for the two of them to part ways.

By age 15 I found myself grounded all the time — and not for normal teenage things like bad grades or partying or sneaking out or smoking pot, but because I didn’t finish all the laundry, or I forgot to take out the garbage, or I was tired of doing all the grocery shopping for the family.

There was a running joke with my friends at school that if I sneezed I would get grounded.

One night when I was in 10th grade, I broke down and told her I was tired of raising myself and I just wanted to have a normal life like a normal teenager.

“Get off the floor and stop being dramatic,” she said.

After that, I knew I was on my own. With my stepdad out of the picture, I started getting frustrated by the overabundance of Mom, so I began to rebel.

I was 16 the first time I got drunk. Most of my friends had been drinking for two years. My mom saw it as a flaw in me as a person.

When I threw a millennium New Year’s Eve party at my stepdad’s house, my mom grounded me from January to April.

When I was 18 I got my tongue pierced. I hid it from my mom for three months before she found out. When she did, it was out of my mouth in three minutes.

“Tongue rings are for giving blowjobs,” she cried. “What kind of person have you turned into, a slut? Where did I go wrong in raising you?

“You take that out right now or you’re not going to Michigan! I’ll keep you here at the community college where I can keep an eye on you.”

I had done research on piercings, and the tongue was one of the safest places to pierce because it’s a regenerative organ, so it can heal itself in a matter of days, there would be no permanent scar and the risk of infection was the lowest; plus it was the least noticeable (I have big front teeth so you couldn’t see it when I talked). My mom didn’t get a chance to hear any of that.

I grew up with a lot of restrictions: language restrictions, financial restrictions, family restrictions and freedom restrictions. The lack of freedom is what ultimately helped me turn out the way I did. The more walls placed around me, the more I wanted to break out.

My mom used negative reinforcement, threats and punishments as means of deterrence, and while in many cases they did just that, I also became more and more apathetic to her tactics. I don’t resent the fact that I wasn’t rich, and I don’t resent the fact that my mother and stepfather didn’t stay together; what I do resent is that my mother didn’t try to relate to me during my teenage years —she just told me what to do and how to do it.

My mother taught me the necessity of having an open mind and how essential a sense of freedom is in an adolescent’s life. There are many things I won’t do because I see the negative outcomes they have on self-esteem and interpersonal relationships.

My mother taught me how important it is to be heard — like someone is on your side, even through the tough times. I appreciate the value of individuality because there were so many times where I felt mine was stifled or repressed.

Perhaps my mom had difficulties with me because she was going through her second divorce. Perhaps she had difficulties with me because my American adolescence was a shock to her Dominican culture.

My mom and I became friends again when I went to college. The distance was a negative for her, but a positive for me. I needed the space to flourish and grow so that our relationship could as well.

I struggled to understand why my mother was so hard on me and why she didn’t think I was living up to her expectations, but I wasn’t on her side any more than she was on mine. I realize everything she did while raising me was in an effort to prevent me from making the same mistakes she made, and I guess she succeeded. I didn’t get pregnant at a young age, I’m not living through an abusive relationship, I’m independent, open-minded and financially stable. I think that’s all she ever wanted.