If you’re like me you probably have a manila file folder where you keep that one ultra-complete and detail-filled work resume. Maybe you applied for a government job and it required not only your jobs and titles, but your many home addresses, too.
Complete records of our comings and goings in life are hard to come by and if something happened to that record, piecing it back together would be a real chore. It has value as a personal document and that’s why I keep it in a safe place, where I can retrieve or refer to it when I need to. You probably have something like that too.
So, why wouldn’t you want to have a similar record of your mother’s life?
As a retired newspaper reporter, I value timelines. They turn confusing stories into understandable narratives. They illuminate twists and turns. And I feel strongly that any topic in which you are interested can be illuminated with a simple timeline.
Creating Family Timelines
When I began working on Toxic Mom Toolkit, the first thing I did was create individual timelines for each of my mothers: my awful birth mother, my horrible adopted mother and my wonderful stepmother. Then I merged them to create my mother history.
The adult children of toxic mothers can learn a lot from family timelines. They help us fill in the holes of our family history and pathologies. If your maternal line has a distinct pattern of crazy women giving birth to sane women, wouldn’t you want to know into which generation you fall? Also, very often, toxic maternal behaviors are handed down like good silverware, starting with the great-grandmother who abandoned a daughter with her mother, who abandoned her daughter, and so on, and so on, right up to you.
Themes may emerge. It is not uncommon for maternal lines to have a history of calling their daughters liars, especially on the topic of sexual abuse. With the paternal line, a habit of skipping out after the baby comes can often be tracked back for multiple generations.
Understanding why your mother behaves the way she does starts with an understanding of what happened to her in a step-by-step chronological order – in other words, with a timeline.
How to start?
First, pull your own legal documents and look at them like you’ve never seen them before. Review your own birth certificate and look at everything like Sherlock Holmes would. Who was the doctor? What city and county sealed the document? Look for the tiny boxes, where the mother indicates the order of her children. Where there children before you of which you were unaware, growing up? What are your mother’s parent’s legal names? Where did they live? What was the address that they took you home to? If you don’t have your own birth certificate, get it.
Public documents, which include birth certificates and marriage and divorce records, are a good place to continue your research. If you live near your mother, or where she grew up, you can go down to the Office of the Registrar in the city or county government center and request these documents for a low fee. They will include and confirm the name of her parents, if she had been married or had children previously and may refer you to divorce decrees, lawsuits, or family obituaries. You have a right to this material. If anyone asks, the simplest answer to why you need it is: family history.
Once you have confirmed your mother’s birthdate and birth city, you can move forward at your own pace, collecting information that may reveal unknown siblings (or siblings put up for adoption before you were born), and the identities of extended family.
Most people are born; go to grammar school, high school, a trade school or college. Follow that line. You can go to the high school and look at the yearbook for your mother’s class year. I don’t care how old she is, the school keeps them in the library.
A pregnancy lasts 39 weeks. Look at the marriage license and compare it to your own birth certificate. There is no shame in a quick marriage based on the blessing of a baby, but was this a pattern with your mother? Did she marry only to divorce quickly thereafter? Without judgment, you deserve to know the facts.
In general, most young women marry before 30; generally, they have jobs, careers, and may change marital partners along the way. By their 50’s, they are losing elder relatives and may benefit from wills or trusts (all public documents).
If your mother was born or lives in another country, you may be able to request documents, or you may need to talk to old friends of hers or elder relatives. You may never want to miss a family funeral again!
Creating a timeline overrides all the secrets your toxic mother had assumed she could enforce. And it’s an important part of taking ownership of your life story. It’s an important part of your own healing.