Mother’s Day is a time of the year when many people celebrate warm memories of mom with flowers, cards, chocolate, hugs, and laughter, but it is also a day that awakens pain for many of us; whether it is because of loss, infertility, or trauma.
It makes me smile when I see messages that acknowledge that, as mothers, we experience a vast range of emotions on this beautiful -though highly commercial- holiday dedicated to what my daughter called “ the most noteworthy profession” in her Mother’s Day Present to me. It is so reassuring that though we have different feelings, or mixed feelings, we can support one another in the journey.
Sometimes the ads, the greeting cards, and the social media posts can feel overwhelming and magnify negative emotions. And it is a deliberate choice to be positive, to ignore the constant -unsolicited- reminders of what you didn’t have, and perhaps, never will.
I know it would be unfair of me to say I remember everything about my childhood, but it is sad that I don’t recall one single happy memory with my mother. Not one. All I remember is pain, judgment, rage, rejection, embarrassment, shame, belittling, unpredictability, screaming, hitting, dysfunction, excessive control, isolation, put downs, bullying, patronizing, and violence.
I don’t remember “You’re beautiful,” “I love you‘s” or “I’m proud of you‘s;” only hurtful words, mocking, comparisons where I fell short, or silence that loudly informed me what a disappointment I was.
I won’t bore you with the gory details. To be honest, I’m also sparing myself because on vulnerable days those memories bring me to tears.
In fairness, my mother was an admirable woman in many ways. She taught me priceless lessons and modeled some of the best values I still hold and teach my kids. Through the years, she’s mellowed out, and I’ve learned to understand her more, though I’m sure there’s so much I don’t know and don’t get.
To a point, I can see why she wasn’t able to control herself, and understand she didn’t have evil or malicious intent, like I thought back then. And I feel peace that the mother I knew is long gone, that she has come a long way, and has changed for the best.
Through the years, and my own life experiences, I have forgiven her and learned to accept that she did the best she could. We all do what we can with what we have and with what we know.
Mothers are human beings that make lots of mistakes and I should know. Birthing a child does not make you perfect, and it takes more than biology to be a mother.
moth·er /verb / bring up (a child) with care and affection.
Much of my childhood I thought my mother hated me and I wanted to hate her back. I did a good job of pretending that I did. But I really didn’t. I was angry because I yearned for her attention and affection and believed she purposely withheld it from me. I wanted her to mother me and I deeply knew she wouldn’t. She couldn’t, really.
I tried everything.
I was the perfect A+ student. That didn’t work. But I enjoyed the praise from my teachers and peers.
I did plenty of chores. But I wasn’t any good at them – or at least that’s what I was told.
I said hurtful things back to her. That was fuel to the fire.
I bullied my brother and sister. That is just sad and my heart sinks thinking about it.
I “fearlessly” defied her and tried to hit her back. Eventually she stopped hitting me.
And I continued to be depressed and upset. I felt like an outcast, a burden, a bother, a nuisance, a pest, an insignificant waste of space, like a human target, … like garbage. I didn’t know how to deal with all the brokenness I felt inside.
I wanted to become successful, to prove “I did make it” as a revenge.
I was frequently envious of my friends who had a close mother-daughter relationships.
I blamed myself for my parents’ divorce and I was heartbroken that my dad was gone.
I feared everything she said about me was true… that something was wrong with me, that I was worthless, unlovable, and could never do anything right.
I had sick fantasies of her begging me to forgive her, admitting she was wrong about me all along.
It’s healing to write all of this because I feel I’ve been somehow guilted into silence for too long – mostly by me. Today, I choose to heal and find an outlet for what’s left, because “hurting people, hurt people,” and I refuse to perpetuate this plague.
It’s been a hard journey because even through the healing, forgiveness, and efforts to forget, it can be hard to deal with the motherless child within when you experience invalidation. When you’re expected to keep silent and profess admiration, gratitude, like a good daughter should.
“grow up and get over it”
“you should feel grateful”
“stop talking about it already”
I know my story will probably not sit well with some, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay to stop the censorship, speak my truth, and break the unhealthy cycle. Because healing people heal people.
This is difficult, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it, but it’s time to be brave and outspoken, even if my memory, perception, and sanity are refuted with defensiveness. No more being afraid, protecting someone else’s story in spite of my own!
As much as I’d like it to be true that the abuse didn’t happen, it did. And it was not okay. I don’t want my past to weigh me down, yet it is healthy for me to acknowledge all of the trauma I’ve lived through. After so many years of being an unheard and misunderstood punching bag, I know it’s time for me to speak up. I’m done downplaying and concealing the emotional damage.
Keeping quiet because of fear is just like lying to everyone about my bruises, scratches, and stitches. It only makes me feel powerless and ashamed – like somehow I’m agreeing to the lie that it was my fault or that I deserve it. No more!
This is not a blame-fest or an “I-don’t-like-my-mom” declaration. I love her and accept her, whether she owns up to her actions or not, whether she approves or acknowledges me or not, and even when it feels I’ll fail no matter what I do, that I’m delusional, ungrateful, a terrible daughter, a heartbreak, and a disappointment.
It’s a manifesto to myself and to you, that no one’s thoughts or beliefs need define me. I can only control my own life and my motherhood experience. I can praise myself, love myself, and mother myself. And so can you, whenever you need it.
Forgiveness is not easy, and it is not an event. It is a process. And mine required me to estrange myself from her as a teenager to become free of all the bitterness, anguish, and suffering that was poisoning me. I had to give myself permission to cry, grieve, be sad, and angry. To not be ungenuine because I was “supposed to.”
Today, it means honoring and respecting her, while setting much needed boundaries, and applying necessary self-preservation tactics whenever smearing, gaslighting, and
scapegoating may arise.
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could’ve been any different. But it doesn’t mean inviting the past into your present or future.” ~ Oprah
Forgiving has meant giving up on the approval, apologies, and authentic expressions of motherly love I was unconsciously obsessed with, and letting go of the expectations of what I imagined the ideal mother-daughter relationship to be.
I’ve made peace with my past and forged meaning. It’s made me into the considerably strong and resilient woman I am today, and for that, I am grateful – even when it’s not so obvious! It takes a lot of work and awareness to move on and heal. It takes great faith.
And as for Mother’s Day, it can be hard at first, but then it’s filled with joy because of the mother I can be. I love celebrating the amazing moms I’ve met and admire through the years, seeing their relationships with their daughters as a model for the connection I now enjoy with my own. Focus on the sweet and not on the bitter.
Psychiatrists say that good mothering is critical to healthy development. The good news is that we don’t need to be mothered by one specific person to feel loved, heard, and understood, “because she was the one who was supposed to take care of me.” You can find mother figures everywhere and you can even mother yourself!
I celebrate Mother’s Day, because I celebrate motherhood. Being a mother is not about giving birth, it’s about giving maternal love. Motherly love is essential, eternal, and ever-powerful.
I am grateful about opposition because it allows us to take any negative and turn it into a positive. You need not let anything hold power over you!
If you are struggling today because of your rough upbringing, know you are not alone, and you are outstanding for blossoming in dead soil, for raising yourself. You are more than enough and you deserve love, attention, and affection. You can find peace and empowerment in raising your own children differently. It is possible to take charge of your life, get past the resentment, put things in perspective, not dwell on the negative, and heal. I am taking steps toward progress… are you?
Is this your story, or the story of someone you know? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below and share it with the moms in your life!