I know that Mother’s Day is difficult for many—more people I know than not. That’s not surprising given my line of work (psychotherapist), and particularly the fact that the majority of my clients come to me after reading my book, The Emotionally Absent Mother.
It’s difficult when being under-mothered weighs heavy on your heart. Usually there is a river of tears to be shed, and a fear that they will go on forever. (They won’t if we work diligently at our healing, but it sure as heck feels like they will.) Often we defend against this pain and, at least at first, we defend the only mother we had.
If you are unsure if you were undermothered, start with my blog about neglect.
Mothering Comes In Many Forms
I was pleased to log on this morning and find CNN is honoring the world’s “other mothers.” “Women who have provided care, guidance and support for children who are not biologically their own. From stepmothers who made incredible sacrifices to teachers who sought to inspire beyond the classroom.” Let me fill out the list with some others: mothers of friends, grandmothers, aunts, older siblings, coaches. Sometimes a father has to take on the role of mother too, with a few succeeding.
The need for mothering, when not adequately met, persists into adulthood, where therapists and partners and friends come in to play. And of course one of the most generous and healing things we can do is learn to mother ourselves.
Mothering Without Children
I find that a disproportionate number of the women who never had children come from a background where they did not feel well-mothered. Often they are afraid of repeating that; sometimes they simply don’t relate to mothering or are too busy mothering themselves or someone other than a biological child.
Many of those who pick up stray cats or otherwise tend to take people under their wing are undermothered adults who, out of empathy, take on the role of protecting and nurturing castaways and “broken birds.” Often they go into the helping professions. This is mothering, too.
Mothers Who Birth Themselves
I have enormous respect for the mothers I know who came from very difficult backgrounds, sometimes severely abused by their mothers, who give it their all to become a different kind of mother to their children.
It takes so much repatterning! You must break free from the conditioning that was impressed in the soft clay of your being as a child. So when your child is willful or overly dependent (as children are), the first thing that arises from your conditioning is a response that is impatient, critical, angry. It would be so easy to blurt out what your mother would have said.
The transformed mothers I know have all educated themselves; they read books, they seek advice, they notice what kindness and patience look like. And they model after that rather than their own history.
Critical from my perspective is that these transformed mothers not only learn the right responses but have done their own healing work. They are not acting out of the wound. They have found their way into their own hearts and developed a nurturing voice inside.
So this Mother’s Day, I pay special tribute to these Transformed Mothers, doing so much better than the generation before them. Who, often, however significant their weaknesses, did somewhat better than the generation before them.
We’re still very young in learning the art of parenting. The stories I hear from one and two generations ago show how shallow the idea of parenting was then. As if penning a child in a fenced backyard was good enough. Growing a healthy human being is incredibly more complex than a pumpkin patch.
Let’s use this holiday to honor mothering itself. It’s probably the hardest and most important job on the planet.
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