(by Erika Szalma)
“I don’t like talking about my childhood. Come to think of it, I didn’t really have a childhood. I was six months old, when my father left us – says Anikó (28). He had planned to leave earlier but my mother threatened to kill herself, so he came back. She always had someone to support her financially; she was incapable of providing for herself. She had thought that by giving him a child, he could be tied to her, but that didn’t happen. My father had the flat registered to my name as child support, then he waived his visitation rights not long afterwards, because my mother kept making the situation impossible, she had chastised him behind his back and prohibited our meetings. My mother then started a new relationship with my stepfather who is nine years younger than her, they still live together. When I was a little girl, it was my grandmother who constantly babysat me while my mother was having the time of her life with her new boyfriend. My aunt once told me that I only had baby food or occasionally a cocoa roll or a chocolate bar up until I went to kindergarten. My mother never cooked and it’s still true today.
I thought that what I had at home was normal
I was eight when their first child, my little sister was born. Her crib was put in my room, so I couldn’t sleep at nights from her. On some occasions my mother would have me put her to sleep. Then, after eighteen months, my brother was born. From then on I spent my summer breaks babysitting my siblings. My friends would call me out to play, but I could never go. I was changing diapers, I was cleaning, I was doing the ironing. If there was a spot left on the tile, my mother would make me wash it again, if there was a crease on a piece of clothing, she’d have me iron it again. But back then when I was in elementary school, I still had no idea that what was going on in my family was anything but normal. It was all natural for me. During all this time, my mother would go out a lot or just stay at home reading or surfing on the net. My stepfather, who had been pretty cool with me at the beginning, never believed me if I dared to complain to him. From the moment his own biological children were born, our relationship changed entirely, he neglected and ignored me. He never saw what went on during the day, even when a neighbor moved away because of all the screaming. My mother wanted to sleep so we had to keep quiet. If the little ones woke her up, she would scream at us. The neighbor later apologized to me: she regretted not calling child protection services.
I was beaten a lot, with a wooden spoon. I remember crying so hard when I received a behavior notice from my homeroom teacher for a mischief because I knew I’d get such a beating at home. I begged the teacher but she wouldn’t budge.
The beating usually happened the same way: we had to kneel down, naked, in the living room, then the wooden spoon would smack on our behinds. If I said it didn’t hurt, I’d get another one. Once, my mother hit my little brother so hard that his chin split open. She then threatened us not to dare tell my stepfather. We had to lie that he fell over with his toy scooter.
I didn’t let her beat me anymore
I was fourteen when I first escaped to my grandmother’s. I loved and trusted her. Of course I had to move back home again, because my mother threatened her as well: if she didn’t send me home, she’d never see her grandchildren again. My mother held her grip on my grandmother too, with these tricky games and the emotional blackmail. Then not long afterwards I stayed on vacation at my paternal grandmother’s, at Lake Balaton. That’s where I first met my father after all those years, who I then visited every two weeks. When I was sixteen, I escaped again, this time to my father, but my mother came after me and dragged me back home. I knew then, I felt it that something was really off with us. The parents of my friends behaved differently somehow. They welcomed me, they were kind to me. So I started to stand up for myself, moreover, I started to fight back. I got to a point where I didn’t let my mother beat me anymore. I remember her pushing me to the floor, but then I resisted. She tauntingly laughed at me and threatened me by saying that if I am such a big girl now, I shouldn’t count on her giving me money, I should just handle it myself.
I had to work to have some normal clothes. At first I went fruit picking, my mother snitched my first pay. Later on I opened a bank account in my friend’s name so my mother wouldn’t be able to access my money. I took jobs in a ladder factory, a CD factory and worked all through the summer. I was up at dawn, and my mother would go ballistic on me making noise, because she couldn’t sleep. I know now that she was jealous of me because she had never had a proper salary of her own.
She sometimes tried MLM selling Avon products, but her enthusiasm never lasted too long. She told her friends that I must be selling drugs, that’s how I have money. She couldn’t bear the thought of me buying my own clothes. She humiliated me at every chance she had. When my period started she didn’t give me tampons. She tormented me by closing the medicine box when I was having cramps. She told me it was not normal to take all that medicine and that I must be an addict.
She recorded my brother throwing a tantrum
She failed to teach me anything about being a woman, she downright laughed at me shaving my legs. She made fun of me when she found out I was taking contraceptive pills. She called her friends to whine about this. She belittled me all the time and always found something in us that she could diss. She told me that my dress made me look fat, my ass seemed huge in it, and of course not in a helpful manner, rather tauntingly. My sister’s feet were size 43, she was harassed for this. Poor girl, no wonder she hardly ever dared to even look at a boy. And all the while, when she talked to strangers, all she did was brag about our successes. How her family was so perfect, how everything was lovely and great. And at the same time she kept on belittling and never acknowledging us. There was always someone she could nag.
“How are you holding that fork? Are you retarded?! You gained weight again? You look like a cow! You’re such a moron, that’s why you don’t have any friends.” She recorded my brother while he was having a tantrum, then showed the video around and guffawed at it. She constantly made me and my siblings fight among ourselves. We could never talk to each other like normal families did; we had to keep quiet all the time. I was sixteen when my grandma took me on a vacation. By the time I arrived home, my mother had moved my eight-year-old sister into my room. Whose bedtime was at eight. So from then on it was my bedtime too. I lay in bed quietly just to avoid the fuss.
You can tell that something is off with all three of us. But maybe mostly with my brother. He’s 18 and has no friends. He’s very withdrawn, he rarely speaks, we sometimes send a message or two to each other via messenger. He’s the one I feel most sorry for. No wonder we’re broken, we never received any love:
our parents never hugged us and we never heard them tell us they love us.
And even today I feel weird whenever I’m hugged. I didn’t get used to it as a child. The trouble is I am also afraid of any kind of commitment. It’s been almost ten years since I don’t live with my mother any more, and I could just leave the past behind, start out new, but I still have a lot to work on myself to reach this. My past has great effect on me, my future. I don’t want to commit myself because I’m afraid of being hurt again, afraid that an intimate relationship would only be harmful. I don’t want to have children. I saw it, I lived it. I know what a burden, how hard it is having children. I looked after two when I was a young teenager. My childhood was taken away from me. And you know, most people give me weird looks when I tell them that I don’t keep in touch with my mother. I can see that they feel, some even tell me that a relationship takes two people and there must be something wrong with me. Most people cannot believe that there is such a thing as a mother not loving her children. There were several times when I wasn’t taken seriously when I started talking about these things. That’s exactly why I posted it on Facebook, because these things do happen, and this problem should be dealt with. Because there is such a thing, as your mother not loving you.
And it is not about you. I’m not fretting over it anymore, but it took me several years. I didn’t see a way out even when I was twenty three. Now I know that I need to attend therapy, and I need to work a lot in order to let go of my fears.
It’s true that from the age of 18 I only talked to my mother every few months, so that she wouldn’t mess with my siblings or her mother; six months ago however, I cut all ties with her, blocked her on my phone and Facebook. I never want to see or hear her again. The last straw was when she ordered me in an e-mail to pay the common costs of the apartment they live in, because it’s my property. I can’t throw her out of my own flat, because she has life tenancy rights to it. I will not pay, and I wouldn’t even do so if they were starving, but I know that they have money, since I received a family photo for Christmas from my stepfather where they were all smiling in the pool of a wellness hotel. So there is a chance that I will have to go to court against my mother, but I will not pay, that’s for sure. For someone who never had a good word for me or gave as much as a penny since I was 16? I remember back when I was already living in Budapest, and I was attending my previous college where I was studying to become a social worker, I called her to ask for some money for medicine because my tonsils became inflamed all the time. She ditched me by saying she has bigger problems than that and nobody was helping her either. Then she started complaining as she always had. That’s what she’s best at. And her problems are always the biggest. She can’t even hear what you’re saying. Whenever you try to tell her your opinion or explain a hurtful situation, she just pretends that she doesn’t even know what you’re talking about, as if you were stupid. When I had my surgery, because eventually my tonsils had to be removed, it was my friend who stayed at my side. My family didn’t even visit me.
In the end my relationship with my father didn’t last either. Our regular meetings ended because despite his promise to take me somewhere on my eighteenth birthday, he didn’t even bother to call. I sat by the phone all day waiting. When I told him the next time we spoke how much he hurt me, he just downplayed it by saying he had forgotten. No apologies, no regrets. I went to see him eight years later when I wasn’t angry at him anymore. But I could never truly forgive him. Nor could I ever forgive my mother, I’m certain. I can’t think of any justification for all the suffering she caused me, my siblings or her mother. With whom my relationship is still good, by the way. Despite my mother often making her situation difficult too.
When I traveled to Australia last year, my mother asked me to write my will, because she wouldn’t want to share my apartment with my father in case anything happened to me. She also voiced numerous times that she wouldn’t mind if granny died, because then she’d inherit her apartment as well.
You know, when I was eighteen and moved to my grandma, I had nightmares every night about living with my mother again. And I can’t say that I don’t feel a pang in my stomach whenever I visit her and see the city sign, the city where my mother lives.
My past has made me incredibly strong though. The fact that I couldn’t count on anyone but myself as a child has made me a tough woman. One who can survive tough situations, if needed.
I don’t feel anxious about things that make other people depressed. It’s true that I paid a heavy price for this, and I agree that it’s a little bizarre, but somehow I owe my strength to my mother. I know that if I survived her, I can survive anything. I have recently started studying psychology; the subject of personality disorders is my main interest, so I would like to help others. Young people for example, to help them recognize when they are in similar situations. I would like to, and I’ll do all I can to help suffering children find some kind of refuge. If only all the adults around them, in school and in social services wouldn’t close their eyes on their problems, if only the system had the means to help those afflicted. Until then, I still have a lot of self-awareness work, therapy and learning to do.”
(Translation: Dóra Horváth)