JOHANNESBURG, SA – To start, I want my readers to understand this : You can love someone from a distance and you can never force love. In a world filled with so much discord you would expect to find refuse, comfort and protection from the one who gave birth to you… Unfortunately it has not been the case for me! Most of my life my mother has been absent. I’m Christelle Malewu Sternbaum and this is my story.
Mother-Daughter Relationship Dynamics
My mother left me in Kinshasa, DRC in search of a better life and came to South Africa. I’m told I was about 2 or 3 years old, too young to recall. I grew up between my late grandmother (may her precious soul rest in eternal peace) and my aunt.
Growing up, my aunt told everyone that she gave birth to me when she had troubles in her marriage. Hence, I was made to believe that I was a product of her infidelity. I did not know that my aunt was not my biological mother.
I always felt like an unwanted product, that Colored thing that was never supposed to exist. They told me how I was a dirty secret, that was to be hidden from sight. I was never allowed to greet visitors when they came. They even made me repeat grades at school, even with passing marks.
Run Away Child!
When I was about 9 years old it became unbearable, so I run away and went back to my grandmother. I dressed myself with 3-4 outfits and waited for my aunty and cousins to go out, than I snuck out. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to reach my grandmother’s place, because I was not even sure of the way to take to get there.
In spite of the above I started walking and I began asking people on how to get there (I would give them my grandmother’s address), after about 3 hours, I arrived. And I explained everything that was going on and pleaded her not to take me back there, knowing how her daughter behaved and the real truth she let me stay.
4 hours later my aunty showed up, she was not pleased to see me. My grandmother then asked me to go outside the house as she needed to speak to her, so they went in her room. But I waited for them to close the door and went to hear what they were talking about.
This is the moment I found out that the person I thought was my mother was in fact my aunty and that my mother was in South Africa. I heard that my father passed away about 2 years prior. That my paternal family wanted me to go stay with them, but my mother refused to let me go. Suddenly everything made sense with regards to my aunt’s attitude towards me. I felt betrayed and even more unwanted, I was the black sheep. It made me dislike my African culture (specifically the Congolese culture).
Two years after that incident I learned that I was finally coming to stay with my mother in Johannesburg, together with my and three cousins. My mother was married with two sons. I was so excited! I thought to myself, I will finally have a proper family with my mom, brothers and a dad.
My fairytale and excitement was short lived though, when we arrived, I did not even recognized my mother and was unwelcome. Her husband’s family did not like me for the simple fact that I was not black.
My mother made sure that I knew that I was the cause of all her life’s misfortunes, that I was never going to be as good as my younger brothers. She even went as far as comparing a grade 10 marks to that of a grade 2!
I was not allowed to sit in the lounge, especially when my step dad was around.
Every 3 or 4 months she would find a reason to kick me out, because I did not have anywhere to go I would find myself sleeping in the parking lot. At times I would ask friends parents to stay and every time my mother would come saying sorry. I would go back, because I would tell myself; “she is my mother after all, I’m sure she is really sorry”.
But the cycle repeated itself over and over again. I was an outsider in my own mother’s house. I tried building that mother-daughter relationship with her, but it always turned sour. Each time was worse than before.
The Ripple Effect of Unrequited Love from a Mother
This affected me negatively because it led me to tolerate an abusive relationship for 3 years. Because I knew and so did he, that it wouldn’t be any better if I went back to my mother! The only difference was that I was not sexually abused in my mother’s house.
With everything that was going on, I always found comfort and refuge with my grandmother. She was that pillar of strength that I knew deep inside of me. I could always run to her for emotional and spiritual support. She taught me what it meant to serve God and others, she showed me unconditional love.
So I was very numb and broken when God decided to call her home to rest in eternity. I felt my very soul being ripped apart. But find comfort in knowing that she is at peace where she is.
Right now I have an estranged relationship with my mother. I do not hate her, in fact I love her very much. But I realized that I must protect my heart and faith. I pray for her, but I keep my distance, and I hold no more resentments towards her. Especially after I found out my true identity, who my father really was and how much of him I carry.
Out of the ashes
Currently I’m working as an administrative manager, building my own company Na Yesu Elongo on the side as well. My business deals with image consulting services such as: personal shopping, closet organizing, make-up, hair, tailoring, designer clothes (made by me).
I’m also involved in various charity organizations (including my church). We are currently working on building orphanages in Africa with my friends from overseas.
Even though everything was set up against me, today I’m proud to say that: I’m a qualified ancillary nurse, business administrator and computer software tech.
I have an amazing intelligent daughter with a voice of an angel and a heart of gold! I am blessed with people who genuinely care about my wellbeing, not with words but their actions.
As a born again Christian who believes in rupture I believe these questions helped me forgive my mother and aunty :
- Is this anger and resentment worth missing rupture for?
- Is this hurt and fear worth my eternity?
And every time the answer came back a no, hence I decided that it was better to let it go.