A sighting of the Child Who Left for No Good Reason

The centerpiece of the estranged parents’ movement is the Child Who Left for No Good Reason. Most of their own stories, and almost all of their stories of other people’s suffering, feature this mysterious, shadowy creature–a figure who, Bigfoot-like, is often spoken of and occasionally seen when someone is alone and cameraless, but almost never caught on film. Asking members of estranged parents’ forums to point to living, breathing specimens is a lost cause. The members call the entire Millennial generation narcissistic and addicted to social media, but they never seem to know the blog address or Facebook page of an actual Child Who Left for No Good Reason.

So it’s exciting when a parent has a sighting in the wild, and brings back a URL where the beast can be found.

Today’s sighting of a Child Who Left for No Good Reason is described thus:

So, she rants on about how there really wasn’t anything she could truly put a finger on; she just felt more LIBERATED and FULFILLED (or some such bs) without her MOTHER… That until she cut her out of her life, she wasn’t realizing her full potential; that since she had, her career (blogging, really???) had flourished, she had “travelled the World” and taken courses. I guess having a mom is prohibitive to all of these things…

The main poster didn’t remember the URL, but another member found this article, and the main poster affirmed that it was correct: I Ghosted My Own Mother, a blog post by Elisabeth Lighty on ScaryMommy. Go read it–it’s short.

So, she rants on about how there really wasn’t anything she could truly put a finger on;

What Lighty actually says is,

As a little girl, I felt anxious and confused most of the time. I didn’t understand that the way I felt wasn’t normal, and I figured it was my fault.

Years later, after lots of therapy and expanded self-awareness, I connected these feelings to my relationship with my mother. Thus began my attempt to negotiate what had always been a relationship fraught with tension and unease, a relationship I thought was supposed to be easy.

[….]

I realized that I was emotionally exhausted. My guard was always up, and even though things seemed “better” from the outside, I was once again trapped in a constant state of hypervigilance, the one I knew so well from childhood.

First, no ranting. Second, Lighty clearly knows what the problem is, but she’s decided not to make it the focus of the article. You can argue that she should say more to justify herself, and I think the article would be stronger if she had said more; but she also describes the anxiety, the confusion, and the hypervigilance that being around her mother inspired in her. Whatever was going on, it was bad.

she just felt more LIBERATED and FULFILLED (or some such bs) without her MOTHER… That until she cut her out of her life, she wasn’t realizing her full potential; that since she had, her career (blogging, really???) had flourished, she had “travelled the World” and taken courses.

Up until the last two paragraphs, Lighty says barely a word about feeling better. She talks about how hard it was, how she wrestled with guilt and grief, how she felt that something was wrong with her and worked hard to reach a place where she could reconcile with her mother, how she had to lie to herself to maintain the reconciliation. Then, at the very end:

In the last year, my self-esteem has skyrocketed. I went into business with my best friend. I’m writing again. Without my mother in my life, I feel lighter and free to be who I really am. I feel like there is enough room in the world for all that I bring to it—big emotions, fierce loyalty, deep empathy, strong business sense and even some sparks of creativity.

Since ghosting my mother, I’m free to truly be me.

The disconnect between the estranged parent’s characterization and the words of the blog post are so extreme that I have a hard time believing it’s the right post. No traveling the world, no taking courses. None of the spacy, psychobabble mindset implied by “LIBERATED and FULFILLED” and “realizing her full potential.”

By the way, her flourishing career? Not blogging. She runs a doula agency. It’s in the “About the Writer” box at the bottom of the article.

I guess having a mom is prohibitive to all of these things…

Yes, that’s exactly what she was complaining about. Having a mother.

This is tangential to the estranged parent’s interpretation of the article, but critics are in fine form in the comment section. One weighs in with a string of cliches straight out of every estranged parents’ forum:

What goes around comes around . Never forget karma. You ghosting your mother is teaching your kids to do the same thing to you. Kids need grandparents and you are teaching them by your own example how to estrange from you one day. When that day comes; and trust me it will, you will have yourself to blame. Love, care, forgiveness, and compassion are the hallmarks of a mature person. Have you ever thought of dual counseling with you and your mom? You need it.

Another shows grace, tact, and a remarkable ability to maintain her composure while spinning a logical argument that empathizes with both mother and child:

Wow – you self-righteous bitch… just who PAID for that English degree, and the home over your pointed head while you were getting it??? Put the gas in your car and fed you??? you and those like you are a REAL piece of work; go on, travel the world, whatever, and when you are in your 60s, I hope to fuck YOUR kids find some innocuous thing wrong with YOU (too fat, gone too often, work too much, out of $) and dump you like the garbage you are. it WILL happen. Let the world take a spin. I am SO SURE your so-called “friends” will be the first in line to donate a kidney, spoon feed you if you were quadriplegic, or stop a speeding bullet for YOU, you ungrateful bitch. Just wait… Your generation is SO fucking spineless and self-absorbed, you will NEVER see it coming. Parents make mistakes – EVERYONE does; kind human beings accept one another and love them anyway. Unless your mom beat you senseless daily, lit your goddamn hair on fire and fed you garbage scraps, you were not “ABUSED”; perhaps DISCIPLINED, which is different (and not allowed today). Anyway – Karma be knockin’ at your door soon enuf – and when you DO need her, I hope your mom spits in your fucking smug face. Oh – have a narcissistic day!

Charming.

The member who found this specimen of the Child Who Left for No Good Reason goes through some stunning contortions on her way from Lighty’s essay to her own post about the essay. She neatly erases everything Lighty said about the problems she had with her mother, and substitutes a fantasy that Lighty couldn’t put her finger on the issues. She skips Lighty’s descriptions of how she suffered when she was in contact with her mother, and–strangely, for a member of a forum where members speculate about whether their children feel guilt or loss during estrangement–ignores everything Lighty says about how she suffered during her first estrangement.

(Or maybe it’s not so strange.)

In place of the lightness and freedom Lighty felt, the member reads self-indulgent psychobabble. And in place of Lighty’s conclusion that the world has opened up to her now that she’s free of her mother’s toxicity, the member reads that Lighty thought having a mother at all was holding her back.

Along with these minimizations is a pattern of mistakes that can only be called poor reading comprehension. The member misremembers Lighty as traveling the world and taking courses. She assumes that because Lighty’s article is on a blog, she’s a professional blogger, and misses the section where it’s established that Lighty runs a doula agency. She also misses the clues within the text–Lighty says she started a business, and in a separate sentence says she started writing again, so the member conflates the two. Another conflation: Lighty says, “my self-esteem has skyrocketed. I went into business with my best friend.” The member associates “skyrocketed” with “went into business,” and writes, “her career […] had flourished”.

To quote from Bob Altemeyer’s study on authoritarian personalities:

They could not remember some pieces of evidence, they invented evidence that did not exist, and they steadily made erroneous inferences from the material that everyone could agree on.

The reading comprehension doesn’t stop with the original member. Another forum member says, “Here is what this person said in another article,” then quotes an article by a writer named Jen Kim. A third member says, “I checked out scary mommy’s blog. What a self-absorbed ass. Her parenting skills are asinine and she seems to spend more time worrying about her body then her relationships.” Even when articles are laid out in standard newspaper style, with the author’s name at the top, the members don’t notice that Elisabeth Lightly isn’t Jen Kim, or that ScaryMommy is a community with hundreds of authors. This isn’t a minor slipup–“Oh ho ho, those elders and their silly ideas about the Internet!” It’s part of a pattern of jumping to conclusions based on the slightest data, and an incuriosity so deep that it doesn’t occur to the members that they might need to look farther.

I continue to hold out hope that a Child Who Left for No Good Reason will be found.

I also hold out hope of a Nessie sighting.

If I find either, I’ll let you know.

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