when your mom goes through your things without asking

Last night when I was chatting with my friend, she was talking about how random things you see during the day or things you may do can suddenly trigger a long-lost memory of something that you had seen, witnessed, or been a part of that you had just forgotten after all these years. That’s not to say that it never happened and that your mind was making it up, but rather that so many things have since happened that this memory just got de-prioritized by your brain.

She was talking about her schoolteacher mom and the lessons she was working on for her students, and out of nowhere, it made me remember the times when I was in high school, and my mom used to go through my school binder when I wasn’t there. I had all my subjects separated by dividers, and within each of those dividers, I had separated assignments being worked on, assignments completed and grade, notes, and tests. Every now and when I’d emerge from doing household chores, showering, or dressing, I’d catch her at my desk, going through my binder, page by page. The first time it happened, I obviously got really irritated.

“What are you doing?” I asked, in a slightly accusing tone.

“I’m looking at your schoolwork,” she would reply back smugly. “I’m your mother. I have a right to go through your things and see what you are doing in school. I support you and provide a roof over your head.”

It was so rude and disrespectful, but in my mother’s view, it’s impossible for a parent to be rude or disrespectful to one’s child; that can only go one way, meaning only the child can be disrespectful or rude to her parent. When she’d see any test or graded material that was less than a B, she’d interrogate me with empty questions, accuse me of talking too much on the phone and spending too much time with friends instead of studying and preparing for tests. When she’d see As or anything positive, she’d say absolutely nothing — no compliments, no words of congratulations, no “I’m proud of you.” I let it go because I was clearly powerless: what was I going to do — refuse to let her go through my things? She already had spies watching me at school, reporting back exaggerated falsehoods and would call my friends behind my back to confirm that I was, in fact, actually with them and not running off with deadbeat losers and boys. She didn’t realize that I knew all of this and that my friends actually told me.

In retrospect when I look back on this, I realize even more what a massive failure in parenting this was. Instead of going through the contents of my backpack or binder, she could easily have just asked me how school was going and ask specific questions about my subjects the way the average good parent actually would, the way I hear parents of today and 20 years ago having done. We could have had what many parents try to facilitate with their children, which is trust and open communication. She clearly didn’t want this. She wanted to feel powerful, to feel like she could do whatever she wanted and could control me. She said she “had no time” because she was busy working and putting a roof over my head. Oh really? But somehow, she made the time to go through all my things and ask people to snoop on me?

The best decision I ever made was to leave home, and stay away from home. She knew no one on the East Coast who could spy on me as a student, and she sure as hell would not know anyone who could follow me all over New York City as a working adult. It’s been refreshing, particularly in the last seven years, to force my mother to realize that she has absolutely no control over me, my life, or anything that happens to me. She cannot take credit for everything I’ve accomplished, because if she does, she should also take “credit” for my brother’s untimely death.

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