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My parents life was a charade. Mum hated every minute of it

When her sober, upright mom died, Chris Youle read her journals and was shocked by the torment they contained

I was always aware of their existence; the journals. I grew up believing that all mothers wrote them and maintain them in locked cupboards. They were mentioned with an air of mystery and intrigue, but never truly bothered me. Until now.

My mother and father were respectable churchgoers, highly intelligent, well-read and deep-thinking people. They seemed to be kind to other people. They were always going to meetings. They were serious and always right. They cared about religion, politics, education, philosophy, the third world. They cared.

So why did I end up with no memories of being cared for from my childhood? Why was I in therapy for most of their last decade, struggling with resentment at having to care for them, and feeling that nothing I did was good enough?

There was clearly a great deal to untangle but, after years of hard work and soul searching, I felt able to stop therapy and” leave home as an adult “. My mothers were in their 90 s by then, and further deteriorate. Father finally succumbed, aged 95, and Mother, a year later, at 96.

That was when I opened the periodicals. What a baptism of flame! The shelves of benign notebooks that had sat so innocently in their closet, had been hiding monstrous exclaims of agony from the mother I had thought was just cold, quiet, inaccessible and ineffectual. What leaped out at me was a raging torrent of detest, confusion, rancor, unhappiness, indignation. She was a woman in mental torment.

I knew she was tired a lot of the time. I knew she argued with my father behind closed doors. This erupted occasionally in front of me, as when she threw the Christmas tree my father had been out to buy on to the fire, because it was too small. Our season of joyfulness and gala went up in a dramatic crackle. There were endless, fierce, low-toned discussions that went on long into the night through the wall between our bedrooms. But I only believed this was how life was.

‘ Why did I have no memories of being cared for ?’ … Chris Youle with her mom

It was home. It was all right. I played two-ball against the wall. I poked earwigs out of holes in the garden. I was scared of the air-raid shelter, but climbing on to its roof was fun. I had friends in the street. I was wholly unaware that my mother hated it. She loathed the smog that built me cough. She hated the soot that landed on the washing on the line. She detested the rows of factory chimneys that we used to count from the top of the local mound. She detested the petty people. Worst, she truly seemed to loathe my father and resent me. I wouldn’t have known any of this without her journals. She poured her soul on to their pages. They were her only friend and confidante.

It was harrowing reading these raw truths. I was knocked sideways and furious. My entire childhood had been one big pretence. Secrets had lain behind closed doors. Anger had undermined relationships. Resentment must have distorted communications. Unhappiness was hidden away, gagged and hollering mutely. I had been a nuisance, an annoyance, an intrusion into her space and, at best, a curiosity. How dare she?

Re-reading the journals still leaves me desolate. How isolated and desperate she was, grappling with a serious clash between feelings and duties, between emotions and reason. She had no one to tell except her periodicals. She wrote them, in neat spidery script, for about 70 years. They are heart-wrenching. I want to reach back with my 60 extra years of wisdom and comfort her, reassure her that she is not alone, offer her the warmth and love that she hadn’t the capacity to offer me then.

But fury stems my sadness. I want her back so that I can call at her, beat her to a pulp, accuse her of hatred, hypocrisy and emotional neglect. I want to expose her. She had not loved my father at all. He was the focus of astonishingly vitriolic words and sentiments. I found the periodicals almost impossible to read in places.

I want him back, too, to say how terrible it must have been for him, and to give him some of the love she had never been able to give. He succumbed a very unhappy human. I am now beginning to glimpse the origins of the deep distress he must have shouldered throughout his entire married life. His work as a research chemist must have sustained him until he retired. After that, it is no surprise to me now that he descended into decades of low-level depression and became quite an unpleasant person.

What the journals have done is confirm that it was not all my fault and that I am OK.

I can’t help thinking how much less traumatic it could have been had my mother been open and honest, and not lived a charade. Children are not stupid. They pick things up, but how can they be expected to make sense of such manipulative aberrations of reality? They need explanations.

It is incredible that it took me until my 60 s to see that, from the day I was born, I was supposed to compensate for their extreme unhappiness and fit into the mould they had designed for me. The more I struggled and made it obvious that the mould merely didn’t fit me, the more unhappy they became and the more inadequate and unloved I felt. They fuck you up, your mum and daddy. But I’m sure they didn’t mean to.

I am left wondering why she wrote the periodicals at all. She must, at some level, have wanted me to see them, but not until she had died. She must have been trying to protect me from her unhappiness by keeping it between the cover-ups of those notebooks, or so she believed. She was of a generation that had survived the war and determined it difficult to complain about comparatively trivial things like an unhappy marriage. How awfully sad it was that she felt unable to live a more authentic life.

Perhaps that’s her message … be honest and authentic. I had the advantage of Spare Rib magazine, early feminism and women’s support groups to help me to articulate my feelings during my difficult years of motherhood. My children’s generation have social media through which to express their feelings and discuss their doubts, anxieties and discontents. So perhaps things have moved on.

I suspect my tale will echo with many readers. I hope that things have indeed moved on and we no longer feel the need for secrets and lies within relationships.

Read more: https :// lifeandstyle/ 2017/ dec/ 23/ mother-journals-parents-life-charade-torment

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