Growing up, I tried not to miss my mother.

When I fell in love with Jeremy in third grade, it was my older sister Jackie I confided in. She was the one who sat with me at the kitchen table and helped me with my homework. And when my father kicked me out when I was 16, Jackie gave up a scholarship to an out-of-town university so that she could get an apartment with me. She wanted to make sure that I graduated from high school.

But it wasn’t until I had my son last year that I needed my mother. After an emergency C-section, my son was born with barely a heartbeat and had to be resuscitated. Hours later he was rushed to NICU.

I remember sitting in the parents’ waiting room at the hospital with my husband and sobbing non-stop. I’d just seen my son’s tiny body hooked up to wires in the incubator.

I was in England, where my husband and I lived. Later, as I spoke to my sister from my hospital bed, all I wanted was my mom to be with me. She never came.

My mother left our family when I was 5 years old. Although my father was barely out of his teens, he stayed with the four of us. Whenever I saw a plane, I thought that my mother was on it, coming to get us. My father never told us that she’d left us for good. It was only later that I found that out.

I was 17 when I next saw my mother. My sister found out that she lived in Connecticut, so we decided to go see her. I couldn’t remember what she looked like, but I imagined that when I saw her she would hold me, all of the pain I’d felt all those years without her would disappear.

I thought that the memories of my father pushing me down the stairs and then trying to strangle me would fade away. Instead, I didn’t recall her face. She was standing with a woman and as I walked off the bus platform, I heard the lady say, “That’s your daughter? She looks white.” The woman was speaking in our native language, Luganda. My mother looked down and said nothing.

As young kids in East Africa, we were ridiculed for being mixed. People used to spit at us and throw stones at us and called us Mzungu. My mother’s brothers would say that when we grew up, we would clean their children’s homes and be their servants.

When my mother’s friend said white, she said it the way people used to say it to me as a child, before I was hit or spat at. My mother not saying anything felt worse than when my father punched me.

When my son was eight weeks old, my husband and I moved across the ocean to be closer to my sister and friends in Canada. Growing up in Kenya and Uganda, I knew that it took a village to raise a child. My mom didn’t come to visit me when I had my son. She told our relatives that she had.

I knew that ticket prices from the States to London were expensive and I hoped that once I moved closer to her in Toronto that she would come to visit. I couldn’t wait for her to meet my son. But she never came. She didn’t meet my son until he was 10 months old, when I went to visit my sister.

This past Christmas, my mother said she would come to Canada to spend time with my son. The day my sister was to drive with her from New England, she called me to tell me that our mother had a heart attack. I felt as though she was talking about someone we vaguely knew. I was worried, but I wasn’t sad or scared.

My sister, however, was very upset. She sounded disoriented. I told her not to come. I didn’t want her to leave our mother alone and I didn’t want her to drive.

Several hours later, we found out that although our mother had been to the hospital, she did not have a heart attack. She never ended up coming to Canada.


My mother has said she didn’t have a happy childhood. She never knew her own father and she had my older sister when she was 13. Perhaps she was never able to connect with us because even though we needed her, she didn’t need us.

I often wonder about what would have happened to my sisters and brother if our dad had also left. I imagine that we would have ended up on the streets begging for food.

My mother brags about our accomplishments even though she played no role in the people we are today. She still denies abandoning us and blames our father for her leaving. Now in her mid-50s, her priority is to secure her children’s loyalties so that she doesn’t end up alone.

I was terrified of becoming a mother because I thought that I would also leave my kids. It was easier to think that my mother had no control of what she did. My ego didn’t want to believe that she left because she wanted to.

People used to say to me that I would understand my mom more once I became a mother. Watching my son take his first step, I understand her less.


This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Nam Kiwanuka on XOJane! 

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  • Sue

    Devan is right, the author’s mother probably was dealing with some serious issues after becoming a mother at such a young age and having an unhappy childhood herself. I’m not saying this is an excuse however. Emotional problems can prevent a parent from being nurturing.

  • netta16

    Thank you so much for sharing. I can relate on some level. My mother left my siblings and I with my grandparents when I was around five. She became yet another victim of crack cocaine. I knew my father but he obviously didn’t want to know me so I didn’t see him much before he was murdered when I was 19. My grandparents did the best they could and I thank God for them. I never thought I would have children until I met my husband. I always thought I didn’t know what it was to be a parent since both of mine basically abandoned me. My mother has been clean over two years now and I have two lovely girls who are my life. They love their Nana to pieces and see her about once a month. I take what I can get and go with it. There are still some deep-seeded issues between my mother and I but I love her deeply. She’s alive and healthy and clearly grateful to be a grandmother of six. Yes, she left a hole in my life when she left. Yes, I understand the trauma behind why she became an addict in the first place. No, I don’t understand how she completely missed out on our lives, especially since I became a mother myself. But, is that going to prevent me from having her in my life and the lives of my daughters? Absolutely not. I’ve come to learn that family and time and life are all very precious. I would suggest undertaking the task of forgiveness. I forgave my mother a long time ago, (before she even became clean), and released that pain and it has allowed for so much in our relationship. You must know that if you never gain any type of relationship with your mother, you must forgive her in order for you to properly heal and move on to be the absolute best mom you can to that darling little boy.