Jennette McCurdy, whose memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died quickly became a bestseller when it was released last month, has spent a lot of time contemplating her complicated relationship with her late mother — how it affected her life and how it continues to do so.
As she talked about it on Wednesday's season opener of Red Table Talk on Facebook Watch, she teared up after a viewer asked if she had been able to forgive her mother, whom McCurdy explained in the book had abused and manipulated her throughout her life. Debra McCurdy died of breast cancer in Sept. 2013.
"I worked toward forgiveness for a really long time," McCurdy said, "and my therapist said to me one day, 'What if you don't have to work toward forgiveness?' And I wept, and I knew that that's what I needed to hear, because I had been trying to find a way to still honor my mom… I was still trying to live for her. I was still trying to find a way to make it all mean something. Because it had to, because it was her. And that was exactly what I needed to hear. It was hugely emotional, but my god did it help."
The former child star, who's best known for playing Sam Puckett on Nickelodeon's iCarly, from 2007 to 2012, and a spinoff, Sam and Cat, for two years afterward, is now 30. In her book and on RTT, she spoke about the way that her mother, who'd always wanted to be an actress herself, forced her into the profession, how she became her family's breadwinner and some of the other unhealthy aspects of their relationship, such as her mother having taught her an eating disorder when she was 11 and, at the same age, forcing her to shower with her 16-year-old brother. McCurdy also produced an email that she said her mother had written to her after her daughter ran away with an older man, in which she called Jennette a "slut" and "a floozy."
Still, the younger McCurdy said it took therapy to understand what she'd endured wasn't normal, although she'd felt in her gut for years. She explained that she was 23 or 24 when she had the realization.
"And then I saw this therapist, who was the first person who told me my mother was abusive. I quit that therapist immediately," she said. "Couldn't handle that information. Oh, no, no, no, no, I can't go anywhere near that. And then when I eventually went back to therapy, maybe a year later, after even hearing the words abuse and then just piecing things together, it felt like I was finally making contact with reality and not living in the necessary delusion of my childhood. And also, just because I was abused doesn't mean that I don't love her. That has been so difficult to grapple with."
It came about slowly.
"Everything I said was prefaced with a disclaimer of 'Well, this happened, but my mom meant nothing by this.' I couldn't just say the truth to my therapists," McCurdy said. "There was a disclaimer and protection and guards around every single thing that I said. And at one point, she said to me, you don't have to defend her every single time you bring her up, and that opened the floodgates. I recognized in that moment, 'Oh, wow. I'm doing a lot of mental gymnastics here to keep my mom where I wish I could keep her, and I know that if I want to be healthy, I'm gonna have to not have her be on that pedestal anymore, and it just happened."
Confronting that was "horrifying," she said.
She realized then that she could stop acting to try and please her mother. And yet, while she had never wanted to do it in the first place, it was wired into her identity. She'd done it since she was 6.
One positive thing that came out of her career: Miranda Cosgrove.
"I'm very grateful for that friendship. It did provide me a lot of comfort in those really challenging years," McCurdy said. "My relationship with Miranda was hugely healing to my concept of women."
McCurdy remembered that her mom taught her to be especially wary of other women.
"And I have three brothers who I love. And I felt this sort of trust toward boys that I didn’t feel toward girls, very young," McCurdy said. "And Miranda helped me to heal that relationship, but it is something that I still struggle with."
Questions from the Red Table Talk hosts — Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Norris — also included whether McCurdy plans to have children of her own, given all she's endured.
"I'm in a place where — so I'm 30 — I don't feel like I want kids," McCurdy answered. "I have two nieces that I adore and a third on the way. I'm really happy to be an aunt, and right now I don't feel that I want them."
Still, McCurdy said, she's "open" to changing her mind.