Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,
I want to seek some advice regarding a personal issue that has been causing some stress to me for almost a year now. For the longest time, I have accepted the fact that I’m all alone, so I thought I was now ready to move on with my life and create new meaning out of my existence as an independent person.
That was until the ghost of the past started to reveal itself, telling me that I cannot really do away with it. I spent my childhood years with my relatives from my father’s side. I have never met my biological mother, while I grew up distant from my father, who was completely absent in my life. Growing up in such an unconventional setup with no one actually doing the parenting for me, I worked hard to prove something for myself. I believe that my efforts quite paid off.
One day, my biological mother started reaching out. For some reason, she found a way to locate me on social media. Now, I learned that she has married another man and has several other children. A part of me wants to give her a chance because I never had the opportunity to experience the care of a direct family member. But at the same time, I know that there are things, including bad memories and trauma on my part, that remain unaddressed up to now, and that her absence as a mother had a lot to do with it.
I’m also afraid that if I start building a bridge with her and her family, they might try to push the limits of the relationship to the point of becoming increasingly dependent on me. We all know that Filipino culture values family ties. That is one thing I don’t want to happen since I’m totally fine with being independent in a foreign country because I was never reliant on anyone myself.
Right now I still haven’t replied to her messages. It brings back a lot of traumatic memories and I don’t want to respond to her when emotions are still high because I might say things that will only further ruin the communication lines. At the same time, a part of me is thinking, what if I give her a chance?
Hopefully you can help me sort out my thoughts and provide a more objective insight. Thank you.
Thank you for your email.
Rediscovering a parent can be a boon or a bane, as you are clearly aware, and therefore it is best to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. In your view, Maria, the worst case is that your mother is just using the fact that she gave birth to you to get you to support her and her other family despite her total absence from your life to date, and the best case is that you gain the mother you never had and everybody lives happily ever after.
Of course there are many possible alternative outcomes which fall between these two extremes.
You obviously are open to some sort of tentative relationship with her, since otherwise you would not be conflicted, so having an action plan would be a good start. Map out the steps you think are necessary to achieve your aim.
For example, it would be wise to establish from the very beginning that she actually is your birth mother and not an internet impostor. Then try to build up an initial modicum of trust between you, bearing in mind that trust is established by slow and careful self-revelation by both parties, almost like a dance. You open up a little, she opens up a little, you both reassess, and if you are happy with the direction you are going, you then repeat the process.
It is important to determine your own expectations from the beginning, making sure that they are well grounded in reality, especially since you have bad memories to exorcize. Remember she will probably have expectations herself and there is no guarantee that the two sets will be compatible.
Also consider, as the process evolves, what your red lines or boundaries are and what you are prepared to compromise over. A critical component of your dialogue will be openness and honesty, on both sides. If these are lacking, the outcome is less likely to be positive. If it seems that a red line issue will arise, address the problem rather than skirt it so that there is a greater chance that it can be resolved.
Finally, remember to have an exit route at hand at all times so that you can always withdraw from the dialogue if need be.
Best of luck,
Thank you very much for your letter. From the letter you write and the kind of person you come across as, I feel you must definitely communicate with her at least once. Otherwise, and again this is because this is the kind of person you come across as, you might constantly ask yourself: “What if?”
I say this because all your life the circumstances surrounding your birth and upbringing were just handed to you as a matter of course, as if this was the way “normal” children really lived. You had no choice in the matter – the lack of stability because your father and mother were both completely absent, the actuality that you had no one (not even a caregiver who loved you) to give you guidance and support as you were growing up, and finally, the reality that you had no one who celebrated with you when things went right, and just as importantly, no one to commiserate with you when things went wrong.
Now, for the first time, you have that choice: the possibility that you might actually have someone (a blood relative at that!) to become close to.
Admittedly, the chances are higher that it will go all wrong: that she is not the mother you hoped for – even fantasized about, (i.e., she was physically or legally threatened if she tried to see you, rather than she was just “too busy” to make you a priority.) Yes, it would be safer not to see her at all, and yet…you have not come this far by running away from paper (or real) tigers.
Someone once said, “Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.” In addition, if you lose, OR win, we will be here. You can write us again, either to commiserate or celebrate with you. Believe me, this is not a promise we often make.
Wishing you every success,
Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to firstname.lastname@example.org.