The apple falls far from the tree

November 5, 2019

Choosing to end your relationship with your mom is a decision no child should ever have to make. Because when you choose to be motherless, you know life won’t be easy. But for some, it’s a matter of survival.

Cutting ties with your mother means you have to fight the instinct to cry in her arms when things go wrong. You don’t get to say to the person you’re falling in love with, “I can’t wait for you to meet my mom.” The echoing space she’s not filling leaves you replaying the few moments she seemed like she might be a good person. But you learned the hard way, too many times, that she’s not. You have to feel guilty even though you didn’t ask for any of it.

It’s one of the deepest levels of heartbreak. So what makes a person have no other choice but to self-inflict it?

Carmela is a 24-year-old girl in the Philippines who told her mom she never wanted to see her again. Her reason is simple, and logical.

“Because I’m not for sale.”

Carmela grew up in her mother’s house. She says she never referred to it as her house, because it never felt like that. Her father left them when she was young, and his face had faded in her memory.

“Hurting me was her hobby,” she says. “I couldn’t go a day without a push down the stairs, a hit over the head with the heel of a shoe, or a punch in the stomach.”

Carmela was groomed to believe that every mother does the same to their children. But when she got old enough to notice that wasn’t the case, her resentment grew.

Carmela says it was at her elementary school graduation that she realized her mom wasn’t just abusive, but also devious. When she got off the graduation stage, her mother ran into her arms and showed her affection for the very first time. But underneath her graduation gown were fresh bruises her mom gave her the night before. She put on a show for the other parents so convincing it warranted a stage of her own.

“All I wanted was to have family that valued me,” she says. “I didn’t want to believe that this was the person who shared my blood.”

But maybe Carmela was more like her father. She needed to know that he cared about her. And a few weeks after her graduation, her mother sat her down and said her dad wanted to reunite with her in the city. This was her chance to feel real love for the first time.

With more excitement than she thought was possible, Carmela went on her mom’s email to find their flight tickets to see him. But all she could find was one correspondence about their trip, and the man on the other end wasn’t her father. He was, in her words, a clear pedophile. A child trafficker.

The woman who ruined her childhood was now planning to sell her and ruin the rest of her life.

Carmela didn’t say a word. She went to her teachers, told them what she saw, and they reached out to Plan. Plan runs an anti-trafficking program called PROTECT in Carmela’s community which saves children from a stolen childhood.

The day Carmela was supposed to be lost forever was the day she was rescued.

But how do you come back from something like that? Carmela’s solution was graduating school, becoming the secretariat of her region’s Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, and finding her true family.

“I’m spending my life helping those living in hell see there is a way out,” she says. “The survivors I meet and the people who are by my side fighting trafficking — that’s my family.”

The function of family is to make you feel loved. So when your bloodline crosses its arms, you find friends who will always open theirs to embrace you. You make your own family. No shared genes required.


Kerri Whelan is a Plan writer and the editor of Your Holiday Gifts of Hope. With a background in digital storytelling, she’s written on topics ranging from birth-spacing in Kenya, to the threats climate change pose to poverty alleviation.