Hi, my name is Deborah, and I am an invisible mother.
(How many of you said “Hi, Deborah” in your head after reading that?!)
I should probably explain what exactly I mean by invisible. What I mean by this is the cloaking of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and situations to not worry or bother anyone. Growing up, my mother raised my siblings and me by herself. With five kids, there was enough trouble making, drama, and emotion to fill our house twice over. I didn’t grow up underprivileged; I had a pretty normal childhood for the most part. There was enough love and attention to go around, we always had what we needed and then some, and there was no abuse of any kind. When I was younger, I told my mom everything, even things that had no relevance to anything. As I got into my early teen years, I started really understanding what was going on around me, within my family and the community I lived in. There was a whole big picture that made everything I felt or thought seem insignificant in comparison.
That’s when I started using my invisibility cloak.
I started using it with small things, like my mom asking how my day was. I knew she was dealing with a lot with having to provide for us and her health at the time, so I would say “It was good.” My high school years from freshman to junior year were filled with bullying, stalkers, and a lot of confusion, but I didn’t tell her any of that. It hurt at first when I lied to her, but we would talk about happier topics and I’d see my mom happy. In my eyes, dealing with everything myself made it so there was less of a burden on her, so it was worth it.
Soon, I was using it. I’d put on the happy face for family and friends, then lie in my room at night and cry. All of the hurtful words said at school, the feelings of loneliness and depression, all hidden under my invisibility cloak. From time to time, I’d slip up and something would become visible. I’d get asked the dreaded question: “Why didn’t you say anything?!”
I never had a response. There was no real reason to not say anything, just that I didn’t want to. It wasn’t that I thought no one would understand, but that everyone had their own problems to deal with so why would I bother them with mine?
As all of us do, I grew into an adult. I got married and had children of my own, still carrying my cloak with me. Life took a turn for our family as my two sons were diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease. Our daughter, Montana, who was between the two, was perfectly healthy. We dealt with life on a day to day basis, trying to spread the love and attention as best we could. With our boys needing so much medical attention, the scales were never really balanced evenly. My husband and I were always open with Montana about what was going on, with discretion to her age, of course. I asked her the regular parenting questions like, “How was your day?”
It never crossed my mind that she, too, was making herself invisible.
One night as I tucked her into bed, I noticed there was something in her face that was off. This time when I asked how she was, she exploded into tears. Everything over that year, whether big or small, came flooding out of her.
I had lived this scene before, but now I was on the other end of it. After I finally got Montana to sleep, I curled up in my bed and wept. My mind went to my mom and all of the times I lied about my day. Did my mom hurt the same way when I didn’t say anything? I learned that night just how much I damaged not only myself but also those I cared about by keeping it all in. The cloak I wore didn’t protect anyone—it just silently built walls to keep the rest of the world out and the suffering in.
I swore that night to destroy that cloak, no matter how long it took.
Years have passed since then, and a lot has happened to our family. My sons passed and lots of changes have come to my daughter with growing up. Through it all, I’ve tried to stay consistent and ask Montana these questions. They’re like the typical ones we ask our kids with a slight twist: I answer them along with her. It’s not that I think she’ll be interested in my day, because it’s normally not that interesting. This holds me accountable to take off my cloak, just like I’m asking her to remove hers.
These questions are as followed, but not word for word usually:
1. What was the best part of your day?
I start with this one to help break any tension up that may exist. Plus, who doesn’t like to talk about something fun or interesting that happened to them? Sometimes, really thoughtful conversation comes from this. Usually though, it’s someone farting when everyone is quiet or a fun game she played with her friends. I try to listen and be attentive the best I can, no matter what condition I’m in. This can be tough when you’re super tired and trying to act interested in a make-believe plot about princesses and horses. No matter how big or small, I want my daughter to know that her voice counts and it’s not a burden to me.
2. What was something you didn’t like about today?
This one can be tough. The answer to this question has been something I’ve done or said, and that hurts. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I try not to close my mind from what my daughter is saying. Whether it’s what actually happened or not, that is what she feels or took away from the situation. This makes us have to be vulnerable, our thoughts and feelings visible. I’ll talk to her about where my mind was when it occurred, always using discretion to not influence her thoughts on the situation or person involved in any way. This gives us an opportunity to both take our cloaks off and share what we may have been hiding.
Along with these conversations, I’ve tried to be bolder and allow myself to become visible to those closest to me. I think that’s been one of the most difficult parts about keeping my promise, but I want Montana to see that she can go to others for help.
The people we love want to help us; all we do when we refuse to say anything is take that choice away from them.
I am in no way a perfect parent now, not even close in fact. This has taken me training myself to be an example to my child, and it’s been a very difficult journey for the both of us. These are not a guarantee that my daughter will never hide her feelings from me, just that she always knows I care about what’s on her mind and am here for her. It’s funny how it all worked out, I thought I was helping Montana to take her cloak off. Turns out, God’s plan was to use my beautiful daughter to teach me how to remove mine, not only with her but with others.
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