For most of my therapy clients, Mother’s Day is a major challenge. Here we are in the opulence of spring in all its feminine glory, drenched in hallmark pink, glossy marketing materials, and news stories celebrating mothers. I watched a clip of a 25 year old interviewing her (famous) mother and talking about how they text, email, and phone all day long. (I can hear your sound effects.)
Meanwhile, millions dealing with “the mother wound” are left sad, anxious, angry, and feeling, once more, left out.
I didn’t want to let the holiday go by without speaking to those of you whose relationship with your mother has left you confused, wondering what’s wrong with you and why you didn’t have that kind of mother, why speaking even twice a year is painful. Or maybe you are one who has worked relentlessly to make a connection, and no matter how vulnerable and honest you get about what doesn’t feel right between the two you, Mother can’t see it as more than a bad hair day you must be having.
If you are in this category, male or female, I want to say to you, I get it. I understand the heartbreak and confusion of your situation, understand how hard it is to be seen as an ungrateful adult child or to pretend a closeness that is not now and perhaps has never been there. Mother’s Day leaves you in checkmate. You are not alone.
I wrote about this two years ago at this holiday, highlighting then my great respect for those who were undermothered and yet have invested everything in becoming really good mothers.
It seems there is healing in providing for another what was missing in your life; yet often the child within still needs something. She or he still needs to be heard, needs to feel cared about, needs to understand why it’s so hard to remember feeling loved by Mother.
We need to square our experience of Mother with our or others’ image of her. It is hard to wrap your head around the sense that maybe it was Mother who was deficient, not something wrong with you. Many children have been blamed for any conflict or for Mother feeling unloved (now it’s all about her), especially by fathers who don’t want to see or take responsibility for the under-parenting that is going on and cling to a fantasy image of their wife as a “great mother.”
So for many reasons, the Mother Wound is often invisible. I get email from people in their sixties just now understanding why it always felt like something was missing. Something was missing!
I am glad that childhood emotional neglect is getting more attention. Since my book, The Emotionally Absent Mother came out in 2010, two others have come out with that same title, along with Susan Forward’s Mothers Who Can’t Love, Running On Empty, a book with lots of case description, or Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents. (The world is full of emotionally immature people and so of course it is full of emotionally immature parents!)
It’s harder to notice the good that was missing than bad that was there. Most of my clients experienced both neglect and some form of abuse (saying mean and demeaning things qualifies), and yet even with out-and-out abuse, it takes unusual courage to see through family myths and the lens of self-blame to see that parents failed in important ways. (See also my blog, They Did the Best They Could for a rousing discussion around blame.)
From my perspective as a therapist working with this issue extensively, we have to learn to look objectively, to see and name the failings that were there, work through our feelings about them, and only, then, in its own time–and not always–might we come to a place where we feel more acceptance of the mother who really didn’t have what it takes to be the Hallmark Mom that the cards are about.
If you haven’t gotten to that kind of truce (internally or externally) yet, don’t feel bad. There are many adults who for their own emotional well-being are better off with no or little contact with a toxic parent.
Wherever you are on the spectrum of healing, I want to say to you, You can be a good mother to yourself by holding your pain with compassion and accepting yourself exactly where you are.
All best to you.
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