When You Don’t Want to Hear, “Happy Mother’s Day!”
Updated: May 10, 2021
Dr. Sherry Gaba, LSCW, authored an article on Psychology Today discussing the mother wound. In short, the mother wound is the loss or lack of mothering a child experiences in their adolescent years. A loss or lack of mothering can range from mothers who physically abandoned their children, struggled with mental illnesses, or were drug addicts or alcoholics.Though these are the most acknowledged conditions, there are some less extreme qualifying characteristics; such as the mother being emotionally distant; overly critical or verbally abusive; a lack of praise or affirmation that is unattached to achievement; inconsistency; and a disregard, sometimes disdain for the child's growing need for privacy, independence, and respect for their maturing individuality.
All of the above conditions contribute equally to the self esteem of the child and help create the standard from which the adult child functions in various relationships. Without intentional reflection the now adult can struggle with low self worth & esteem, perfectionism, codependency, receiving critical feedback, and deep feelings of anger and resentment not only toward the mother, but also toward herself and other women who carry similar traits, or they can be envious of women who have pleasant relationships with their mother.
This is important to discuss because we know the story of a negligent or fatherless household, but avoid acknowledging the detrimental effects of incomplete mothering.
My mother is the epitome of what we know as the strong black woman. Intelligent beyond belief, stern, a hard worker, dominant in personality and temperament and a no- nonsense type of ghal. She believes in putting in the necessary work to get the results you want, does not accept excuses, and has high expectations that oftentimes can feel like pressure.
My mom believed in my dance dreams and would tell my sister and I that we could be and do anything we wanted if we put in the necessary work to attain it. She sacrificed so that I could be involved in extracurricular activities, and expressed her approval after every honor roll award, acceptance letter, speech, and performance. This woman provided for me when my back was against the wall, and came through for me even when I knew it was difficult for her to provide for herself. I love and appreciate my mother and I have done my best to show and express this to her on countless occasions.
This excerpt is not intended to vilify my mother or any other mother who fell short of their child’s expectations and needs. Rather it is my intention to explore both sides of a story we rarely talk about in an effort not to appear ungrateful, hypercritical, or insensitive to our mother’s personal journey or acknowledgement of her best efforts. It is my belief that when we don’t talk about or acknowledge the cycles that break down our relationships, we inadvertently perpetuate the very behaviors we work so hard to get away from, heal, and unlearn. Please do not see this as a tearing down, but rather a thorough inspection to analyze the proper repairs that need to be completed. But there will be those of you who are intent on misunderstanding-this is not for you.
My mother was born in a small town in Arkansas, as the youngest of 4 children (with about 7 years between herself and the next youngest). Her mother, (my grandmother), was a stay at home mom up to a little after my mom was born, she worked at a factory until retirement. Her father, (my grandad), worked for an electric company and was also a pastor. My mom describes her parents' marriage as “perfect” until it wasn’t. In her words, “they went from holding hands while walking to the mailbox, to every word turning into an argument.” I can attest to this, as I watched my grandparents live under the same roof, yet sleep in different rooms and never utter a word to each other, even up until my granddad’s passing in April of 2019. They were married 45 years.
My mom, living as an only child in the house, felt ignored and invisible in her family. Her older brother (10 years older) was still around, so she hung out with him and his friends. She recalled times where she became the default designated driver when he got too intoxicated to make it home, she was 14. My mom got pregnant at the age of 13 and had my sister at 14 years old. Her pregnancy went unnoticed from her parents for months before a school teacher confronted my mom after saying she had a dream that she was pregnant. My mom then had me at 17 years old and decided to move to Dallas, with her older sister (my aunt) in hopes to flee from the mindset, lack of opportunities, and traps that come standard with small, country living.
Now, as an adult who works with 13-14 year old students, it’s hard to imagine any of my students taking care of a child full time. Not only do they lack the resources, but the emotional intelligence, world view, and life experience necessary to raise a healthy, well rounded child. I commend my mother for the commitment she made to grow up fast and do her best to make sure we pursued meaningful experiences. My mom had to work a lot to make ends meet, and rarely asked for or accepted help, even from those who were proven trusted sources. I empathize with my mother’s lack of ability to give a love she never received. I appreciate the resilience and initiative she demonstrated in overcoming the example she had as a child, in order to give my sister and I the life we were privy to. I also understand the stress that comes with having dependents with no one to depend on.
My mom never confirmed this, but I think she believed that she had to prove her capacity to rise above adversity to herself and other people who may have doubted what she’d become. Getting pregnant young and unwed was still very taboo, frowned upon, and looked at as a death sentence to future success. My mom was tough and asserted her independence at times when it was needed to break down or ask for help. She had high expectations as we became the material reflection of how good she was doing as a mom and a woman.
This naturally creates a dynamic where love is performance based and feels like it is rooted in perfection and taken away when the standard is not met. The home feels tense to the child because you don’t know what will tick the mom off that day, and if your concerns or simple request will be met with acceptance or frustration and dismissal. When mistakes are made, the punishment and criticism feels personal instead of being an admonishment of the actual behavior. The emotional disconnect grows larger as the children get older because the mother tries to keep playing by the same rules she was able to get away with when the children needed her for everything. The turf is now leveled. To the mother of the adult child, enforcing boundaries is viewed as disrespect; initiating a conversation of accountability is met with disdain; and apologies would mean death to pride, ego, and an admittance of wrong doing, so a distant relationship becomes the unspoken settled arrangement.
No woman is perfect or gets everything right while raising a child. A woman is a woman first and a mother second, trying to make sense of her own life, while holding the responsibility to cultivate a life that depends solely on her. Women who are dedicated to growing and healing know this and accept this as truth. We extend grace to our mothers who we deeply love and appreciate as we try to make sense of our growing lives. Just like our mom’s story, we are not exempt from having to work through the conflicting feelings we have toward the woman who raised us despite her best efforts.
Some women go their whole lives unable to cut the proverbial umbilical cord that ties their identity and worth to a mother who never carried the capacity to nurture who she was becoming. They submit and subject themselves to the mistreatment while enabling bad behavior and their mother’s refusal to grow. Others decide that the offenses committed are too great to be forgiven, so they rest in the bed of anger, resentment, and bitterness holding on to the hope that one day she will change. Then there exist the resilient few that are choosing to alchemize their pain into purpose. To accept their mother for who she is and forgive her for what she didn’t have the tools to create. They have made it their business to choose another way to respond and exist as a woman in relationship with another. Though this is not without a cost. Sometimes the price is disconnection for protection; creating distance even for a season; or removing privileges and access cards that were once on auto renew.
To the Supporter(s) of a Woman in Mother Wound Healing
If the metaphors above are too ambiguous to understand, I’ll put it plainly. Just because a woman is committed to healing and growing doesn’t mean her journey will be any less messy or marred with what appears contradictory on the surface. Treat this day, (Mother’s Day), as we do Hanukkah or Christmas, not assuming everyone celebrates or finds joy in it the same way as you do. Leave room for the women who have lost their mother on the physical plain before they were able to reconcile hurt; the women who never met or were abandoned by their mom; and the women who have an estranged relationship with their mother. Try not to judge or insert your perspective on the woman who doesn’t feel inspired about seeing or calling her mother on this day because she may be finally breaking free from needing her mom to change, to see and respect her, or approve of who she is becoming. This woman is working diligently to process the pain of many years, while also dealing with the conflicting feelings of guilt, shame, and obligation that plagues her on a day like this that are brought on from the duality of her lack of enthusiasm toward reaching out to the mother she both empathizes with, forgives, and understands.
Instead of asking, “Have you talked to your mom?” “Are you going to visit her today?” or blindly telling her to tell her mom, “Happy Mother’s Day!” for you; try asking “How are you doing on this day?” “Is this a holiday you celebrate or feel good about?” “I know you have been having difficulties with your mother, is it something you want to talk about today?” Allow her the space, (however long it takes), to come back around to the relationship she wants to create. Don’t assume that just because she is committed to healing, time has passed, or just because “that’s her mom,” that she’s ready to engage this day with enthusiasm or zeal.
To the Woman in Mother Wound Healing
It takes time and it is a process that does not have a time stamp or blueprint. You are not wrong and should not be ashamed or guilt ridden if you do not feel compelled to reach out to your mother on this day. Even if you know you have forgiven and accepted her, understand that in the same way it is a process to rebuild trust and confidence in a friend or partner that betrays you, the process of feeling like you want to engage your mother again will not come overnight. Sometimes seasons of disconnection (no contact) are necessary. Loving your mother who refuses to change with a long spoon, (meaning talk when necessary), is at times the best practice. While other times leaning back and requiring a reciprocal act of investment is critical.
You owe it to yourself to prioritize your healing, so understand that the environment matters! Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with other family members or friends with opinions or who operate with ignorant curiosity. Stating, “I really don’t want to talk about that.” “I would prefer the next time we speak you don’t bring her up.” “Thank you for asking, but when I’m ready to talk about her, I’ll come to you.”
We have to learn to stop letting other people, spiritual/relationship gurus, or society pressures rush our process, or put us in a position that takes us out of alignment with our own inner compass. Listen to wise counsel, experience, and advice, but then ask God for the wisdom and discernment that is specific to your journey. If you have a hard time knowing which direction to go, observe how you feel about the action you are considering taking. If you are taking action out of obligation, shoulds, or suppose to, don’t do it! If you are feeling guilty, ashamed, or conflicted, pause all action until you get clear. If you know you are still angry, resentful, or bitter, that is all the more reason not to fake the funk-deal with those emotions on your own or with a licensed professional. Above all, know that if you are really doing the work to heal, you are doing a good thing no matter how it looks at this current moment. God knows what you want, sees your commitment to breaking generational patterns, and cosigns what you are intending to create for your family's future. It will come full circle when the season is ripe, so let it go and do you.
I affirm that you have the understanding to discern your next right step, the wisdom to apply it, and the immediate obedience to do it without delay. Ase’. Ase’. Ase’.
Peace. Love. & Soul Glow Grease.
#WonderingWhitley #DANCEForYou #LetTheWorkSpeakForItself #TheArtOfBecoming #Legacy #Boundaries #SelfLove #Healing #Expectations #Standards #Lifestyle #SelfAwareness #InnerBeauty #Accountability #SelfAwareness #SelfMastery #YourDietIsMoreThanWhatYouEat #WealthMindset