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AIBU to have read my mother's letters?(21 Posts)
I am an only child, raised by my mum who was a single parent from early on. I have long known that she suffered depression when I was growing up, without receiving much treatment as far as I know. Now, in her 70s, she is a very loving person and we generally have a good relationship but I find her difficult at times. She is still prone to low mood and irritability, but I know I have made things worse at times by snapping at her and sometimes arguing with her, which she finds impossible.
I would love to talk more about my childhood with her, in part because I think her anxiety and depression affected me profoundly, but she would interpret this as criticism and find it very difficult, so I have never really tried. She is not someone who talks about her feelings easily. In recent years I have found our relationship more strained and this may in part because I have complex feelings about her incapacity to acknowledge that her depression might have affected me growing up. Any attempts on my part to think about this with her have upset her very badly.
So, a few days ago I was staying at her house and came across a pile of old letters she had written to a friend, spanning the period from my birth to age about 20. I didn't dig them out - I knew she had them because she had mentioned them, and they were in an open box on the floor of a bedroom. I picked one up out of curiosity and read through maybe 25 or 30 of them at random.
I was struck by how very low she seemed and often anxious. She is obviously opening her heart to this friend and generally they are depressed in tone. What really struck me though - selfishly - is that there is almost nothing positive about me in them. From birth to adulthood, I am mentioned almost exclusively as a source of stress or worry - whether it's financial, or worry about my behaviour, or that we are not getting on well. Not just worried about me, but usually finding me difficult, feeling happy when I go away for a bit, etc. I feel desperately sad about this. I had always believed that I was a big source of joy in her life! Now I'm not so sure. I also feel very sad for her that she felt so bad, and sad for the child I was who grew up with a depressed mum and has in consequence always felt guilty and responsible for her (mum's) emotions. In adulthood, I know they are not my responsibility but I want to protect her - and have an honest relationship with her if I can.
I feel I can't talk to her about this because it would be so difficult and upsetting for her (and me). So I am stuck feeling sad and angry and not able to do much about it.
So, AIBU? I know this is not AIBU, can't take anything too brutal! Obviously I should never have read them but I feel so sad about it and angry at her that she didn't write nice things about me! Childish I know... Tell me I'm being a selfish idiot, which I know is true I guess.
Sorry for the essay. (name changed btw.)
Goodness, you were BVVVU to read her letters on two accounts. Firstly because of the gross invasion of privacy but secondly because it has left you with an impression of her - and your relationship - which isn't necessarily merited. And although this isn't fair on you, it really isn't fair on her.
The letters are merely what syour mother needed to tell her friend at those particular moments in time. I know myself I never write in my diary when I'm feeling cheerful, but for someone else to read it and then make judgements on my life and my general state of mind would be grossly unfair - as well as a betrayal. I'm guessing your mother wrote to her friend when she needed support. Surely every mother has that right, especially one prone to depression. Of course you were a source of joy for her, but what child isn't also extremely hard work / stressful sometimes? Let's face it, your still causing grief... Seriously though, don't feel sad, just go and do something extra nice for for your mum. And stop bloody reading her letters!!
I have complex feelings about her incapacity to acknowledge that her depression might have affected me growing up
Perhaps it's too painful. As a parent it's difficult when you know your actions/behaviour might affect your child negatively. It can be too much to bare.
If anyone judged me simply by my MN posts (which provides the release for me that those letters did for your mum) then I'd be judged a nutcase and my family pitied. It's not the whole story and lacks the context of the good things.
I can understand this is a very emotive subject for you and the hurt you feel is plain to see. However, you seem to have lost your perspective.
I know the usual MN advice is for counseling, but I really think you'd benefit from talking things through. Go on google for Italk and refer yourself. It may take time for them to come back to you but I truly believe it'd be worth it if you can't fund it privately.
I bet your mum's letters were a way of offloading her worries, and I'm sure you did bring her a lot of joy anda reason keep going.
Fwiw, in your situation I would have done the same. It's a way of trying to know someone, but it's not accurate.
I have depression, I have 2 dds, if you read my texts they are full of concerns and even complaints about my girls. But I love them to distraction. Depression just manifests as constant negativity often.
I feel for you op, but your mum's depression is her issue - not her fault but her issue, in no way is this strained relationship down to you.
I've always believed that if you snoop and find out something you didn't want to know, your 'punishment' is that you'll need to keep in to yourself.
I know you weren't looking for the letters, but you could have just shut the box and walk away.
No, you really can't talk to her about it, there's no way any good communication will result. But you can and should talk to a counselor about how the letters have made you feel.
Thanks for your responses and kindness everyone. I am going to look into counselling. And buy her some flowers. Also want to say, she was a great mum despite the depression, I just need to find a way if reconnecting with her.
Totally agree with violetlights and Joysmum. I used to use letter writing and diary writing to offload. Rereading my diaries would have made anyone want to weep, so much self-pity, but then there were six-month and year-long gaps.
Your poor mother struggling with depression all those years.
If she wrote the letters to her friend, but you found them in a box, that suggests that she didn't actually send them.
Could she have just used them as a vent for her worries, fears and frustrations?
I think some of you are being harsh on the OP. OP you could try and talk to your Mum and tell her how you feel, you don't have to bring up the letters. If your Mum doesn't open up then like you say maybe try Counselling, you need someone to talk to that's for sure, everyone does, I think.
Maybe the letters were sent back by the friend, people keep these things and when having a clear out they give them back because maybe they think they'll be of use and don't want to throw them away. Do you know them at all?
Yes it was a shame your Mum had depression all those years but lets not forget how big an effect it can have on a child, my Mum took an overdose a couple of times and the fear and upset is terrible.
I have a lovely friend who adores her son. But rarely a positive word is said about him on Facebook because she only posts when she is worried about something and wants support from her friends.
You know you shouldn't have read them. I'm sure you were a source of joy but being a parent can be very, very hard work and everyone offloads sometimes.
People that keep diaries and write their feelings down, well great but these things will be left when you pop your glogs and they will be read, so keep that in mind, the truth hurts and maybe needs to be heard, sometimes it helps you to understand your own life but then again?
Could someone tell me what BVVVU means?
I don't think it's that unreasonable.
What I do think is that the situation is sad all round. Your mum has not been available to you emotionally and that is not your fault, but it has affected your life.
why do you want to speak about the past? its gone - you cant change it. you cant change what she done and you cant change how it affected you.
By speaking about it to her you will just bring up bad memories and she will feel worse being reminded about how worried and anxious she was at the time.
not everyone feels the need to go over things - if you feel the need speak to someone about it but I would leave your mum out of it, if she wanted to speak about it she would.
Thank you everyone. I should have explained, the letters were given back to my mum recently by her friend.
I really appreciate everyone's advice and kindness. It's difficult because my mum would be heartbroken at the idea that my childhood was affected by her illness - and completely resistant to the idea. Which I understand, but I remember the anxiety of worrying about her, and feeling it was my job to make her happy. Now when I look back at some things I experienced during early childhood - chronic night terrors, hair-pulling until I had bald patches, refusing to eat etc - I think their must have been links to how I was feeling emotionally.
I am trying to hang on to the fact that I know my mum loves and loved me, and that these letters must have been a source of release to her as PP have said. I just can't imagine writing letters over 20 yrs and not saying even one wholeheartedly nice thing about m own DC - even though they are hard word at times. But I am lucky not to be suffering a mental illness and my top priority now has got to be to look after my mum.
I tend to write about things that are worrying me in relation to the children, especially online. I don't think it would be very representative of how I feel at all and if they found them, which I have worried about on MN, then I would be very upset because in reality, it is 90% happiness with 10% worry, but worrying about your children is a big part of being a parent.
It sounds like your mother did the best she could under the circumstances. And she can't acknowledge that her depression had an impact on you (although it obviously did) because it's too painful for her to admit.
Your mother can get help if and when she wants it. I think that it would be a very good idea for you to find someone to talk to about this. You say your top priority is looking after your Mum - but to do this, you should look after yourself first. And remember that your mother is not a child.
After my mum died I found her diaries. I knew I could never show them to my sister... Some of the things she wrote about her as a teenager were truly awful, whereas it was full of glowing praise for me. The thing is, she was the older, more rebellious sister while I was the younger, compliant people pleaser. And I know my my mum loved her, and was fiercely proud of her and all her achievements. She just used the diary to vent and neither of us were supposed to ever see it.
Have you already told your Mum you read her letters? How would you feel if she had read your private correspondence?
You can't unsee it now though and many other people may have given in to the temptation to read it.
I think you need to discuss this with someone outside the situation. Your Mum may feel mortified at her privacy being invaded.
I wouldn't raise any of this with your Mum until you have had time to process it and talk to someone else about it.
I agree with HP too. Your Mum wrote these letters when she was depressed and worried. There were probably other times when she felt more positive. I'm sure her depression did impact on your childhood. How do you think talking to her about it now would help? Would an acknowledgement of this from her help you to feel better?
Maybe just a early form of Mumsnet....she just used to to offload and to externalise her inner worries as a way of coping. She didn't need to share the good bits as she was using her friend as therapy in the most part. Don't take it to heart x
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