STEPHANIE was just six years old, and her brother 19 months when their mother walked out on them—and her marriage. “She left us with our next door neighbour as she often did when she had to go out after work, but this time, she never returned,” she recalled. “I’m not really sure what precipitated her decision, though the marriage had dearly been in trouble. Her leaving was a very humiliating experience—I was too young to cope with the neighbours’ pitying looks, and some nasty comments….
“My dad went to pieces…and he couldn’t cope with two kids and a full- time job; so he took us to his parents who were everything good parents should be. I know my dad will always be there for us, but because of mum leaving…we didn’t spend so much time together. I have some e-mail contact with my mother’s half sister here in Nigeria, so I do hear a bit of what she’s up to. I know she’s in Ghana, her native country, and I apparently have a half-sister whom she’d dumped at her mother’s. Though I’m curious about my half-sister; I have no desire to meet her.
“I have a faint memory of my Mum, and when I see photographs of us together when I was a baby, it is very odd because I don’t feel any emotional connection to her. While it is easy to assume that I must be desperate to learn why Mum walked out on two small children, nothing could be further from the truth. I have no desire for any contact with her or any interest in finding out why she abandoned us. She means nothing to me.”
According to a clinical psychologist, Linda Blair, there are particular implications if the mother-daughter bond is broken too early.”The mother-daughter relationship is the hardest and most complicated relationship there is because your mother is your role model and care-giver,” she said. “Most importantly, she is the person a woman has to break away from to become an adult herself. Men may go on to be mothered by wives and girlfriends, but women have to learn to mother themselves.
When a girl loses her mother too young, she often has to grow up too fast and take up responsibility for herself too soon. The result is while she may be very capable and fiercely independent, she can also be full of anxieties and find it difficult to adapt to new situations.” Aminat had just entered secondary school when her mother walked out on the family to live with her lover. Almost 30 years later, she still bears the scars of her mother’s decision to leave her family for another man. “An abandonment that shaped my life,” she said. “I grew up with no confidence. If you think your own mother doesn’t love you, why should anyone else like you?
And even at the age of 11, I knew this wasn’t something most mothers did. Mums are supposed to put their children first, but with me and my two brothers, there was no mother fighting to have access. She was more than happy to leave us with our father. There were other children at school who had divorced parents, but they all lived with their mums, so I always felt the odd one out.
While many fathers walk out on their families, it is still unusual for a mother to leave a marriage without wanting custody of her children, let alone to have little or no contact with them. Even in this age of high divorce rates, it’s seen by many as going against nature. After Mum left, even though her own mother, our grandmother, was wonderful and Dad did his best, he was having to work hard to provide for us. I had to look after myself. I was the one who made sure my uniform was ironed and my books ready for the next day—all the things a mum would normally do. Nobody ever sat us down to explain what was going on. As a result, I thought that my parents had split up because we were too much to handle.
“My mother was never maternal, but there had been good times before she left. She always made a fuss on our birthdays and Christmases were wonderful. She would make a special effort to find exactly the toys we asked for. In spite of maintaining some contact with her, there was still a huge sense of rejection. We were supposed to spend the last weekend of the month with her, but she always made it clear we got in the way of her new life. She even made Dad give her money to buy us food when we were with her. I remember the day I had my first period and rang her. Her reaction was that it was no big deal. I had hoped that she would make a fuss of me as my friends’ mothers did of their daughters, but she didn’t.
‘To this day, I haven’t got to the bottom of why our Mum didn’t want much to do with us. I don’t see that much of her now. I feel it’s too late for her to be my mother and there’s no point in delving into it further. She seems to have blocked out what she did. She’ll talk about events in my life as if she had been there when she couldn’t have been. Having children of my own, I just can’t understand how any mum could leave, especially when her kids are so young and need her so much. It’s incomprehensible to me.
“Some have suggested she might have depression or couldn’t cope because she was young when she married, but every question brings up more questions. There were close relatives around if she needed emotional support, and she could have fought for access to her children, but she didn’t.
“What happened to me made me determined to be the best mother I can, and though I’m a bit over-protective of my children, I’m proud of the way I turned out.”