I haven't seen my baby brother since my mum abandoned me

I wrote a letter to my mum eight years ago, when I was 20.

I poured my heart onto blue lined paper, sharing my hurt over the last five years and begging her for change. To start treating me the same as my siblings. To look past my stepdad’s negative opinion of me and go back to the relationship we had before she got together with him.

My parents divorced when I was 15. As the eldest child, I was slap bang in the middle of their conflict. My parents would constantly say horrible things about each other to me. They asked me to pass on messages as they refused to communicate, even through text.

My younger sister and I were ferried between their houses every few days, and while my dad and I remained on good terms, the relationship between me and my mum was strained and we argued a lot.

At one of the most vulnerable times in my life, I was being bullied at school and receiving horrible anonymous messages online, trying to come to terms with how my parents who never argued suddenly hated each other.

When I needed my mum to just be a mum, I was called selfish because I apparently didn’t want her to be happy.

My step-dad, John*, came into the picture only a few months after the divorce, and he moved in less than a year after it happened. Mum and John had actually dated at school, so their rekindling romance was sweet at first. He was quiet but helpful, offering lifts and even took me to my Year 11 prom – we seemed to get on well.

I found out my mum was pregnant when I was 16 and in college; I was so excited. I’d always wanted a little brother and it felt like a rare positive thing after my parent’s painful divorce. 

I felt like my family was rebuilding and growing for the better.

When Charlie* was born, I’d spend all my spare time with him – I changed nappies, helped with feeding and nap times. I cherished the time when he was small and would sleep on my chest. It felt like a new sort of love I’d never felt before. 

I believe a big reason why my relationship with my mum broke down was due to John. Around a year into their relationship, he took a dislike to me; the exact reasons why are still a mystery. He isolated my mum away from me and stopped talking to me altogether, despite living in the same house. 

I was kicked out just before my 18th birthday because my mum didn’t want ‘negative energy’ around Charlie. I moved in with my dad full time. I was shaken and couldn’t understand what was going on. 

The only reason I persevered with my mum was because of Charlie. I couldn’t stand the idea of not seeing him. I wasn’t allowed in their house, so I tried to make plans that would work around them.

I’d text my mum weekly, suggesting soft plays, restaurants, shops — but I was always offered the same suggestions: the local park or café for about an hour. 

She was often hostile with her replies, telling me ‘maybe’ and not confirming or just cancelling on the morning of the plan. 

The only reason I persevered with my mum was because of Charlie. I couldn’t stand the idea of not seeing him

Still, some of my happiest days during that time were the trips to the park or Costa just to spend an hour with Charlie. Anything to make sure he wouldn’t forget who I was.

Mum was there too, half-interested in my life and mostly critical of any negativity I might suggest – including when I told her I was feeling depressed during a stint of unemployment.

‘You’re not depressed. There’s children with cancer, they have actual reasons to be depressed.’

Despite my best efforts, one day out of the blue, my mum said I was no longer allowed to see Charlie. She texted me to say ‘we needed to work on our relationship’. I was confused and crushed. I wasn’t sure what I could have changed, but I told her I would do better, be better.

I carried on seeing her every week or so in the same cafés, making sure I’d reach out often over text to ensure she was seeing the effort I was making, with the hopes I’d win her over and be allowed to see my brother again. 

I tried to be the perfect daughter, but it was never going to be enough. My final words to her were written on those blue lined sheets of notebook paper, which were meant to show her how much I wanted to be a part of her and Charlie’s life.

I wrote that letter while sitting in my first year halls at university. I was at breaking point. It was after Christmas break where I’d made repeated attempts to see my mum and brother, and was told they weren’t coming to visit me because John said so. It was the first Christmas since I was born that I hadn’t seen my mum. 

In the letter, I asked her to understand how difficult it was for me, experiencing my parents’ divorce and my mum getting married to someone who didn’t like me within two years.

I asked her to stop holding my little brother over my head as a bizarre punishment without knowing what the crime was. I said that I would love to have a normal mother-daughter relationship with her, but that in the current state of things, I couldn’t have any relationship with her.

A few weeks after I sent the letter, I heard from my sister that my mum had read it but offered no reply. It was the only response I needed to make the decision to cut contact for good.

My sister still has a relationship with our mum, and lived with her until she was kicked out when she finished college. Again, my dad took her full time, no questions asked. 

Degrees of Separation

This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.

Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.

If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email [email protected] and/or [email protected]

I can’t say I was happy about the decision to cut my mum out of my life – I cried a lot and mourned the loss of a significant relationship with a parent, but my own will to protect myself from more heartache helped me come to terms that I’d made the right decision. 

But while I had made peace with no longer talking to my mum, I was left with guilt and the hurt that it meant I was cutting off my little brother as well. 
I haven’t seen my brother in six years. The last time I saw him, he was five years old. 

I innocently thought that this new family my mum was building after the divorce was going to include me and my brother, together.

To protect my mental health and my heart I had to close the door on a relationship with my mum, one that I might never open again. 

I didn’t bother blocking her number or on social media – she never texted or called first and she’s never reached out. 

But I do have hope that one day I’ll reconnect with my brother. I often daydream that maybe I’ll spot him on social media, or maybe he’ll see me, we’ll reach out and get chatting.

I don’t know whether that’ll be in five years, 10 years or more but I hope deep down, he’ll want to find out why he hasn’t seen his oldest sister in all this time. 

Maybe we’ll meet up in that same Costa and get to know each other all over again.

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