Mental Mothers

Midway through Chanel Bonfire, author Wendy Lawless’ mother quips, “My doctor thinks that it’s because of you girls that I drink.”  Book cover for Chanel Bonfire: A Memoir by Wendy LawlessSubstitute take pills, sleep all day, have nervous headaches or other physical ailments, or rage for “drink,” and it sounds just like my mother, right down to the fictionalized doctor. When you get to the part where Lawless talks about how as a young adult she found herself seemingly devoid of any feeling, you’ll know how it feels to be the child of a mentally ill parent whose illness rules the lives of her family, making everything and everyone else unimportant.  I am always grateful to read another inspirational survivor’s story, especially one told with a liberal dose of humor and the lightness of having gotten  a successful, healthy distance from the past.  Lawless’s mother, unlike my own, figured out how to manipulate men with her beauty and charm and took full advantage, living a life of luxury and moving house on whim from New York to London to Paris to Boston, reinventing herself and falling back on the generosity of her second husband who was the closest thing to a protector that Lawless and her sister had.  The sisters witness dizzying mood swings, disastrously bad decisions, and shamefully manipulative lies including the most hurtful, that their father was remarrying and didn’t want them in his life any more.  They endure outrageous flirtations including advances toward their own boyfriends.  Getting herself into college and making a break while still trying to protect her sister is an impossible task for Lawless and results in her sister’s middle of the night appearance at her dorm room door after her mother made several unsuccessful attempts to set the girl on fire.  Like  similar stories, Lawless portrays the difficulty and anguish in choosing to live one’s own life despite the demands of an ill, abusive parent.  I read this story in a single sitting, enthralled by its outrageousness and fascinated by how Lawless would carry through.

For more memoirs by authors who grew up with mentally ill mothers read

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Daughter of the Queen of Sheba by Jacki Lyden

Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

With or Without You by Dominica Ruta

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges

The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp

Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck

and, of course, Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford

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