As a child, I adored my mother. As a young woman I judged and criticized her life’s choices. But since she passed from this earth, I have longed to understand her. 

I was seven years old when I decided never to become my mother in any way. Even at a young age, I recognized the toxic relationship she had with my father. I grappled with the need to look up to her for protection and guidance but was always left disappointed. I knew, without a doubt, she loved me. I knew that from the way she smiled at me; the way her eyes met mine when I needed her to acknowledge me. It was as if I swam in her love. Her love was genuine. She took her role as mother seriously but her toxic relationship with my father turned her into someone I couldn’t count on as a female role model. So when my father beat her to unconciousness one night while she pleaded with me and my siblings to stay under the covers to stay safe, I also knew I will never become my mother. 

When I turned eight years old she disappeared. ‘She had to escape‘, is what I kept telling myself. I awoke one day, and she wasn’t there. Poof. Gone. Vanished. She’s gone. We were later told that Papa’s abuse didn’t stop at home; he had crippled her financially. Mama was the breadwinner as the owner of a pharmacy business, but she had allowed him access to her money. He squandered it through many failed business ventures until there was no more money to risk. Bankruptcy was the cancer that ended her financial independence. She therefore left her home and children to join her sister Maria, the first one to leave the Philippines and make America her new home. I believed that she had to make the painful decision of leaving her five babies to earn the mighty dollar in the land of opportunity—the USA. Her survival and ours depended on it. She had no choice. She had to escape. I had to continue surviving in my father’s regime. If I didn’t, I might be the next to disappear.’

It wasn’t until four years later, at twelve years old, when I was reunited with her in the USA. My siblings and I were snuck out in the middle of the night with the help of our uncle and nanny. From there, we took a secret trip to Manila where we were greeted by a petite, light-skinned woman, who I recognized as my mother. It wasn’t until then that I realized that four years of letters and phone calls couldn’t substitute for a physical mother by my side. She wasn’t there to show me how to become a woman when my menstruation cycle arrived at nine years old. She wasn’t present for any competitions, awards, or celebrations. She wasn’t there to protect her children from the wrath of my father and from the world. But that would change now. That’s what I told myself. 

I shook the past four years away and jumped into my new life to be the daughter that she needed. As the second oldest of five, I was expected to be responsible. Be the second mother. My mother seemed to be shrinking under the weight of being a poor single mother in a one and a half bedroom apartment in Newark, New Jersey. Food stamps helped feed us, along with the miscellaneous odd jobs she took on the weekends and her 9-5 as a lab technician. But it took its toll. 

Three years after our reunion she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, ravaging her physically and mentally. Within two months she succumbed to the disease’s unforgiving nature. Death was inevitable. I stood by her bedside making another promise to her and myself. I will be the mother now

I gained full custody and guardianship of my baby brothers, and at only 21 years old I bulldozed through life for the next 10 years, ultimately attaining financial success as an entrepreneur. But my inner child still yearned for a mother to be there for me. That launched me on a journey to understand who my mother was, in order to develop a healthy perspective of what a mother and child relationship could be. I did so through psychotherapy and coaching, including traditional talk therapy, mediumship sessions, and energetic intuitive practices. That’s when I finally accepted the reality: my mother was gone. She had done her job. She rescued us from our father. She had done the best she could with the resources she had. I am here–alive and well–to live the American dream from the sacrifices she had made. It doesn’t negate the unhealthy choices she made in love and marriage. But that was her journey. I didn’t have to repeat it. I decided to honor her memory and existence rather than criticize and judge her. This process revealed the gift of healthy boundaries. 

Today, as the mother to a sassy, stubborn, headstrong and impressionable five-year-old girl, the most important characteristic I provide as her parent is to be present. I do not project my past onto her, but I also don’t deflect my truth. My trauma was mine and not hers. My healing journey towards my mother showed me that as a parent, I do not know it all. I am humble enough to learn from my child, while setting safe and healthy boundaries. Society will judge her. Life will challenge her. But home is where she can feel safe, secure, and live without judgement. In hindsight, I thank my Mama Eva for allowing me to blossom into the mother I am today.

About the Author: Krista Nerestant is the author of Indestructible: The Hidden Gifts of Trauma