An Abusive Son: A Mother's Story

A mother can take only so much abuse from her son—and then she can take a whole lot more. Jaquelyn Mitchard tells how she finally found the courage to shut the door on the love of her life. And open it again

by Jacquelyn Mitchard
mother and son black and white image
Rob and Jackie Mitchard in their yard, 1997. Remembers Jackie: “It was the first time he was taller than I.”
Photograph: All Rights Reserved

According to Rob, the turning point was the day that his aimless loser of a roommate skipped out, leaving Rob with unpaid bills and impossible obligations, forcing him to sleep on people’s floors. For months, he kept going. Finally, he had to assess what was left. With a dead-end job and, now, nowhere to live, he saw just how it felt to be held to account for someone else’s failures. Even his siblings had no interest in seeing him. To make his way back, Rob had to admit that, essentially, he had an addiction, a dependency on anger. Blaming other people was familiar, and so much easier than taking responsibility. He set out to change. The first hurdle was swallowing his pride and retracing the road back to our house, having discovered that home was more than a place.

In life, it’s almost impossible, or at least damnably hard, to permanently break an addiction—to drugs, food, cigarettes or booze. It’s hard to believe that Rob actually did. But so far the change in him is durable. He still has to fight the impulse to retreat into the familiar sneer. He still has a short fuse. Now, though, his anger lasts a day instead of a month. He’s alienated so many people, he does not want to risk losing more. He calls his -brothers—even helping Marty, at college in Indiana, with math long--distance. He doesn’t forget the younger kids’ birthdays or achievements. Saving bits from his grocery money, he gave his sister Mia a microscope and dozens of slides he’d made himself.

Almost each day, Rob sends me a funny link or a bit of trenchant political commentary. Now he signs his notes “Love” and pops up on my chat line to challenge me to a “lyric-off” (something at which we both excel). The last time, we vied to repeat the words to “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid, and he won. “Why shouldn’t I know it?” Rob teased me. “I’ve got eight younger siblings. You know how cool it is to tell people that?” Siblings? Cool? Sometimes I can scarcely believe what I’m hearing. For years, Rob didn’t say the things young kids say to their moms, but he says them now. For example, he says that when he’s a successful video game designer, he’ll make me rich.

In fact, I already am: People say that they consider Rob one of the most delightful young men they’ve ever met. And he is.

For more than two decades, since he learned to read at three, I never had the chance to brag about my boy—only to make dry jokes to cover my alarm and shame. It is as if a clenched muscle in my breast has finally relaxed. Perhaps it is my heart.

A note about the author: Jacquelyn Mitchard's 11th novel, Second Nature: A Love Story, will be out this fall.

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First Published April 4, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


kb smith04.20.2011

I read this story thinking it was something i can relate to, and sadly it is. My mother was much like you, and unfortunately, i was like your son, possibly worse. I used drugs, sometimes stealin g my parents meds. We fought, at one point i broke my mothers wrist, I deserved to be hated and yet I never was. I think the worst I did was to steal their savings account money. She banned me from their property, took out a tro, and came just short of haveing me arrested. Once the state stepped in and admitted me to rehab and psych, i was diagnosed bipolar, and once properly medicated, staying clean from other drugs, andtherapy, we are close again.

Kathy Smith04.11.2011

When I read this story I had to look at the author because it's so much like my story. My husband divorced me when my two children were 4 and 6 1/2. I had to move them from Texas to Michigan to get help from my parents. I never received child support and left Texas with the clothes on our backs. My former husband wasn't in my children's lives and my son resented it. He blamed me for the divorce. Like Rob, my son Rory was constantly in trouble and belligerent. He wasn't allowed to attend his 8th grade graduation and quit school at the beginning of his senior year. He terrorized me and my daughter but I felt so guilty because of the divorce. And like Rob's Mom he was my blond hair, blue eyed first born and I'd had trouble conceiving so he was my miracle. At the age of 18 he was diagnosed with schzio affective disorder and it broke my heart. Unlike Rob, my son has used drugs to self medicate and I finally had to say enough and told him to stay out of my life until he could be clean. I worry about him night and day but know that this is best for all of us.

Cheryl Stauffer04.11.2011

to me, the best thing about this article is how the mom is taking responsibility for her role in creating the son's personality. That's pretty rare these days- admitting that you played a part in why he is (was)what he is (was). In many essays like this that are written by the parent there is a very puzzled tone- almost bewilderment- about how a kid got to be that way.
To me, your citing several examples of wrong choices you made (and who hasn't made wrong choices as a parent??) gives you a *ton* of credibility. I'm very glad things are going well now...

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