The van der Sloot Syndrome: When Moms Go Cold

Filed under: In The News


It's been a tough week for Joran van der Sloot -- and not because he seems to have officially come out as a serial killer. No, I'm referring to the fact that his biggest ally the last time he got into a sticky situation with a girl has essentially disowned him in front of an international audience.

As the latest surreal van der Sloot saga unfolded on the news, I was intrigued to see that his mother, Anita, was oddly MIA. Day one passed, followed by two, and then three. After what seemed like weeks, she finally made a statement and it wasn't terribly mother-like: "I will not visit him in his cell. I cannot embrace him."

This is a snub I know all too well -- except that I'm not a serial killer. Although you wouldn't know it based on the relationship (or lack thereof) that I've had with my mother for the past 32 years.

Depending on whom you ask, mine was a typical divorce-generation childhood. By my fifth birthday, Mom and Dad were officially no longer a married couple, and I ended up spending the majority of my upbringing with my grandparents, while being shuttled to this parent or that one on alternating weekends.

When I did see my mother -- which averaged about once a month -- it was typically an exercise in mental anguish because she'd always invent new ways to make me feel guilty about the situation she'd created. If I didn't tell her that I loved her more than my grandmother, who was incidentally raising me, then I was ungrateful. If I dared to say that I loved my father, she'd give me the silent treatment for the remainder of the weekend. A few years back, I stumbled across a box of diaries I'd kept in grade school and practically every entry alludes to the crux of our non-bond: Why does my mother not want me?

In all honesty, I was a good kid, considering the circumstances: a church-going, straight-A student who volunteered at an assisted-living facility after school. The closest I came to pulling a van der Sloot? The summer before I left for college, I received a summons for trespassing on the grounds of an abandoned castle with some friends. That was also around the time my mother basically cut me off entirely, only showing up to ruin whatever major life event she could -- the last one being five years ago, when she threw a fit at my wedding, leaving my bridesmaids utterly speechless.

We've spoken a handful of times since then and only because it was Christmas or because my father died, which she informed me was "a good thing." After that gem of a statement, she wanted to know if I was thinking about giving my dad's beloved Harley to her and my stepfather because they'd both always wanted a motorcycle.

I've obviously had years to deconstruct the situation, and I have two things to say on the matter. The first observation is a realization I had around my 16th birthday, when my dad bought me a car and my mother whined out loud that no one ever bought her one. My mother and I were like sibling rivals. This only intensified as I achieved this goal or received that reward for a job well done. At my graduation party, she stormed out of the room because people were not praising the fact that she, herself, was graduating from nursing school. (Yes, I've often noted the irony of her chosen profession.)

But, to this day, the anecdote most of my friends can't believe is when she announced she was getting married a month after me, and then called me at work to announce she had tried on my gown.

"Would you mind if I got something similar?" she asked. Needless to say, I graciously postponed my wedding, and then agreed to be her maid of honor in order to spend months being berated for all the things I was doing wrong.

In retrospect, I can live with a little competition, but it's the unwarranted alienation that has always hurt the most. As she's cycled in and out of my life over the years, I've come to the painful conclusion that it's a blessing I'm an only child. When my mother once suspected she might be pregnant, I remember thinking it was the worst news I'd ever heard. The thought of another person going through what I'd experienced was unbearable.

I know there are professionals who'll disagree and argue this point with me -- and you're entitled to your opinion -- but my mother is one of those people who was never meant to be a mom. It's harsh, but it's true. She may have had the physical means, but she never possessed what's most important: The mom gene that makes some women nurturing, selfless when it's needed, and just happy to be mothers.

I like to think that I didn't inherit this dysfunctional DNA. My husband assures me that I'm different, especially when we have repeat conversations about when and if we'll have a kid. I know there's no such thing as the perfect mother. I'm practical, not delusional. But the mother-daughter bond is such an integral one, and when you've spent your entire life trying to grab on to a woman who only wants to kick you to the curb, it's hard to be rational.

In the weeks after my father died, I went through a phase of wanting to repair things with my mother, to find some way to cling to her for emotional support. It's only natural, I suppose. I'll wager it lasted about three weeks. I'd call her, and she'd eventually get around to calling me back, leaving a completely evil-spirited voice mail. Then I'd play the messages for my husband, asking what kind of person could do such a thing. My mother, that's who.

One night, as I stared at a bouquet of flowers I'd received as a condolence from my friend's mother -- a woman who called me weekly and sent cards just because -- it occurred to me how futile the charade was for both of us. Maybe her unwarranted alienation was a good thing -- and perhaps that's what Anita van der Sloot has realized herself. That, sometimes, repeat transgressions are so great and unconscionable that you just need to let go.

Jo Parente is the ParentDish nom de plume, a pen name, used by our editorial team when we want to spill our dirty little secrets but still keep our dignity, and families, intact.

Related: Mom Gets Jail Time for Berating Ex-Husband to Kids

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.