By Esther Mann, LCSW
My daughter Tzippy got married two years ago. I was so thrilled when she met a wonderful young man from a nice, “normal” family. I have to admit that my family has never been particularly normal. Besides the fact that I stayed married to a terrible man for many years until I got the courage to divorce him, I have my own issues.
I’ve suffered from depression on and off for most of my life. I’m often on medication and in and out of therapy. I know that my children have all been through a lot, between my issues and having an abusive father. They’ve had it rough. I know they suffered a lot as a result.
But I know in my heart that I’ve always loved my children as much as any mother could possibly love their children and always did my best for them. I tried to keep my depression from them and put a smile on my face. There were times when things were so bad that I was unable to fake it. But generally I tried to be the best I could be with them.
I’ve always worked hard to be able to provide for their basic needs and also extras here and there. If I had only enough money for one new pair of shoes, and even if I was walking around with a hole on the bottom of my shoe, I would still get shoes for one of my children. They came first and I think they knew that.
My life is still not easy and I still struggle on many levels. But when one of my children finds happiness, nothing makes me happier. So when Tzippy met this sweet young man, I was filled with joy. They decided right off the bat to move to Baltimore after the wedding. I would have preferred that they stay in New York, because with my busy work schedule I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to see them as often as I would have liked. But I put my own needs aside so that they could do what worked for them.
About a year ago, I learned that Tzippy was pregnant. I was so excited for her and couldn’t wait to be a grandmother. Through all of the chaos I’ve lived through, it seemed that finally some normal stuff was coming my way.
Six months ago, I stopped hearing from Tzippy. She also stopped taking my calls. I tried e-mailing, texting, and leaving messages for her, but never heard back. Finally, I received an e-mail from her husband telling me that Tzippy has decided to cut me out of her life and that I should stop calling and stop trying to get in touch with her in any way. I was flabbergasted. There was no explanation whatsoever. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and couldn’t understand how this could be so.
I thought that maybe Tzippy was angry at me for some unknown reason and that she would get over it at some point and call me to explain what had happened. This has not happened. I have not heard from Tzippy or her husband since. I have not seen my grandchild. I am completely brokenhearted and don’t know what to do.
I thought that I had a good relationship with Tzippy and that we got along well. This incident blindsided me, but worse, is killing me. I miss her terribly, miss my grandchild whom I haven’t even met, and have no idea what happened.
As you can imagine, I’ve been terribly depressed over this situation. More so than usual. I continue to work, because I don’t have a choice. Some days it takes every last ounce of willpower to get myself out of bed in the morning and off to work.
Can you tell me what could have possibly happened? I don’t even have a clue. How could I reach out to her if she’s changed her phone number to an unlisted number?
I’ve had such a hard life and been through so much already. But this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I just don’t know what to do and how to live with this terrible blow. I know you can’t fix it but wonder if you can explain to me what could have happened.
What a terrible thing for a mother to go through. You sound as though you love your children with all of your heart and soul and did the best you were able to do for them, despite the many horrific challenges life dealt you.
Sometimes, doing our very best is still not good enough for some people. I know nothing about Tzippy or what prompted this dramatic cutoff. I can only speculate, which is neither here nor there. I will present a scenario that may be the case but certainly only a possible sequence of events that may have taken place.
So here goes. A sensitive child by the name of Tzippy is born into a challenged family. She is being raised by an abusive father and a mother who suffers from depression. Though the mother is loving, caring, and absolutely devoted to her children, even doing the best she can is still not enough to make Tzippy feel safe and happy. Eventually her parents divorce, creating new challenges for her. Though on some level she probably felt relieved that the abuser is no longer living in her home, she has to deal with a long list of new problems that the divorce creates. Feeling different from her friends. Perhaps having to spend time alone with her father, who makes her feel uncomfortable is part of her new normal. Worrying about her mother being able to make ends meet. Life is not easy. Every way Tzippy turns is scary and unpredictable.
One day, Tzippy’s mazel changes and she meets a wonderful young man who isn’t caught up with the details of her dysfunctional family. Rather, he sees a diamond worth pursuing. They get engaged, marry, and begin a beautiful, loving life together. Tzippy, perhaps for the first time in her life, experiences peace and joy. She is able to see what a healthy life can look like. She is thrilled beyond belief that she has been given a second chance for happiness.
Sometime thereafter, Tzippy gets pregnant. A wonderful discovery. However, the idea of being a mother and bringing a child into the world brings up a myriad of emotions that were possibly kept at bay for many years. Emotions having to do with a mother’s role in keeping a child safe and happy. Emotions dealing with the responsibility of raising a child in a happy, secure home. Emotions dealing with keeping her child securely away from any sort of threat, even if that threat is imagined or far-fetched.
Memories of Tzippy’s childhood come flooding back to her. The idea of her child experiencing anything even remotely similar to what she experienced as a child is more than she can bear. Her pregnancy become filled with anxiety. A time that should be happy takes on a dark side. Tzippy decides to bolt. To cut off. To run as far away as possible from anything that feels threatening to her child. From any sort of reminder.
This is a story. I have no way of knowing for sure whether this is Tzippy’s story or not. My guess is that, considering the timing of her total withdrawal from you and the anticipation of the arrival of her soon-to-be-born child, there could be some truth in all or some of this tale.
A mother’s need to protect her child, as you well know from your own history, is fierce. Sometimes mothers are willing to sacrifice themselves and others in their attempt to protect their children from possible harm. Let me be clear that I am not saying that you would bring any harm to this child. On the contrary, you sound like a kind woman who would probably be a terrific grandmother. However, Tzippy’s thinking may be faulty at this time in her life. You represented her painful past, and the birth of her child represented a hopeful future. This is not reality, but our minds are capable of creating thoughts that can feel real, despite the opposite being true.
For now, I’m not so sure that there is an absolute solution I can offer you. If you know the name of a rabbi that your son-in-law and daughter are connected with, you may want to get in touch with him and have him try to be a go-between. Or maybe there is some other influential individual that you feel close to, whom your daughter also respects, who would be willing to get involved. A stretch: Could you possibly get the name of a therapist in Baltimore and figure out how to arrange to have a session with your daughter in her office? I know getting there would require a big sacrifice on your part. The fact that they live so far away makes the whole situation so much harder. But I’m sure you want to know that you’ve tried everything possible.
In the meantime, continue to send your daughter birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, and anniversary cards. Stay connected on that level, even if it’s not reciprocated. Let her know that you miss her and welcome her back into your life whenever she feels ready.
Stay hopeful. Things change. Attitudes change. Your daughter has a lot of work to do on herself and hopefully will work through whatever it is that has been causing this separation between the two of you, so that you will one day soon be welcome back into her life with open arms.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.