Mother’s Day is a time when we remember and celebrate mom. However, for many people this day is rather difficult. For some it is a reminder of a broken dream of being a mother. For others it is bittersweet as they remember a loving mom who is no longer with them. But there is another group for whom the day triggers pain and resentment. Their mother is alive, but the relationship is broken or superficial at best. I call this group the motherless. They do not feel they have ever had a true nurturing mother. How do you survive another Mother’s Day emotionally without feeling like you are avoiding or hiding out? God is still sovereign in this messy world and can give us directions for the tough times.
Mothers are one half our attachment system. The impact of parents on our life is huge as God designed it to be. Now as an adult you are in a better position to evaluate what was missing in this half. Let’s focus on three types of negative mothering.
The absent mother
She is not there either physically or emotionally. She could have been gone for many reasons some of which may not be totally her fault. She could have been a single mom and was working a lot, struggling to survive. She could have been immature and selfish and more focused on men, partying or an addiction. She could have misplaced priorities and put her career or material things ahead of her children. Because of her upbringing she could have been emotionally detached and cold. She didn’t know or chose not to learn how to be loving, affirming and nurturing. She was uninvolved in your life. She didn’t come to school functions, your events, know your friends or give you much life direction.
The negative mother
She never said a positive or affirming word. She may feel she loved you, but you never believed it. No matter what you did it was never good enough. The bar was always moved just a little higher out of your reach. Her view was life is tough and competitive; if you want to survive and succeed, you better accept this reality and be tougher. She may have been hurt or betrayed by a man or another significant attachment figure in her life. She never rejoiced in anything good that you accomplished, but it was always, “You could have done better.” Or she may have played the “one up you” game. No matter what happened to you she did it better or had it worse. The conversations were and still are all about her and not your life.
The controlling mother
She is unwilling to let go. Often this mom is motivated by fear or perfectionism. She does not see you now as a capable adult but treats you as a child when around you. She constantly corrects or interjects her advice whether wanted or not. She may have been overly strict when growing up and especially in the teen years, focusing on your outward actions rather than your inner heart and her relationship with you. You constantly felt unheard and still do. If you try to talk with her about how you feel and the problems in your relationship, she becomes defensive and things get turned back on you and your lack of gratefulness. So you gave up even trying to talk. You felt mom expected you to do wrong and never trusted you.
Healing from the mother wound
You only have control over you not your mother, so try these steps this Mother’s Day.
Seek to understand
Look into your mother’s background and family of origin. We learn what we live with, and she may be passing on negative generational cycles. This is not an excuse nor does it negate your pain, but it does help in dealing with the situation. You may be able to accept she did as good as she could with what she had to work with.
Write a letter
Express everything you ever wanted to say to mom that she was never willing to hear from you. You aren’t going to give it to her, so it doesn’t matter if she is alive or not. But you need to process and let go of the hurt inside you.
Your mother may have never owned her part in your pain, asked for forgiveness or acknowledged in anyway a realization of how much she wounded you. Forgive anyway because Christ forgave you. This is for your benefit so you mother no longer controls you emotionally.
You lost something in life, a true mother. This is something you always wanted and will perhaps never get. Don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. Allow yourself to grieve the loss.
If your mother is still alive, you do not have to allow yourself to be constantly rewounded. You decide the boundaries as to how much time and contact together. You do this in a loving way. If she doesn’t respect them, you change them. Eventually mom will have to decide if she wants to have a relationship with you or perhaps her grandchildren. This may be the thing that gets her to finally talk about the relationship.
Dr. John D. Hawkins, Sr. and his son, John Jr. run Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach. They can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.