There is no love like a mother’s love. But what about when this love no longer plays a role in your life? What if this love is something you are grieving? And what if this love is something that never actually existed for you?
After witnessing years of alcohol abuse and enduring the emotional abuse that followed, I was estranged from my mother at the age of 12. We were reunited again in my early twenties, right around the time I met my now husband. With my husband, I was experiencing solid, loyal love from another human which jolted me to seek the biological love of my birth mother. Due to what I now know is defined as Mother Hunger, I reached out to her. My desire for connection, approval and love blindsided me to the reality that I was initiating contact with someone who had abandoned me for twelve years. In the high of the early days of my relationship with my husband, I felt invincible. Beautiful. Strong. Worthy. “Maybe now,” I thought, “maybe now she will be ready to love me.”
My mother and I were reconnected again for five years. Those five years were a gift to the young girl that I was. The girl that held out hope for the mother she knew she deserved to have. In the five years I had with my mother, there were good times. We did things I always imagined mothers and daughters would do together. We went to farmers markets and spent time on the phone before noticing it had been hours.
There were also times within those five years that brought me back to childhood again. Days, weeks, and sometimes months would pass and I wouldn’t hear from her. My mind would race off and I felt I was being abandoned all over again. At twenty seven years old, I felt the adolescent girl inside me still crying out for my mother’s nurturance, protection, and guidance. I also felt guilty for becoming a healthy version of myself without her. I felt guilty for thriving despite her lack of guidance. There I was, in my late twenties, and I had never felt more caught up in a relationship with someone who was lying, gaslighting, and emotionally abusing me.
While I’m saving the specific details of what happened for my memoir, last May, the weekend before Mother’s Day, it became clear that cutting off contact with my mother was the healthiest, safest way for me to continue living. Today marks the one year anniversary of my decision. It has been one year since I learned the most important truth of my life: I can offer myself what my birth mother cannot. I deserve to offer myself what my birth mother could not. I am worthy of nurturance, protection and guidance.
Through my lens as a therapist, working with adolescents and teens, I witness many young girls struggling to understand their relationships with their mothers. Whether a mother is present in your life or not, feeling disconnected from your mother can be excruciating. It is something that is not talked about enough and many girls grow up to be strong women despite the cavity this pain causes inside. Our society glamorizes motherhood and mother-daughter relationships. This can make some daughters and motherless woman feel invisible and unseen.
While there's no love like a mother’s love, it is important to recognize that sometimes the absence of this love is an enormous source of pain. The greatest gift my mother ever gave me was her absence: the opportunity to become the mother of my own heart. This Mother’s Day, I invite you to recognize and nurture the motherly love that exists inside of you.
Reflections to consider:
If you are grieving a mother you have lost to death, allow yourself to be sad. Honor the ways your mother held you in her life. Share funny stories; talk about her! What we don’t speak about, we store in our bodies. A mother’s love is something to celebrate and it's allowed to exist outside of you. Reflect on how you can continue living your mother’s love both internally and externally. How are you allowing yourself to keep her with you?
For those of you with complicated relationships to your mother, I encourage you to validate yourself more often. How you feel is not wrong. Allow yourself to explore your childhood. Growing up, did you ever feel obligated to take care of mom? How did this role impact you as a child? How is it still currently impacting you as an adult woman? How can you amplify your own voice?
I talk a lot in my personal life and professional work about building an inner mother. What does this mean, exactly? Secure motherhood involves nurturing, protecting and guiding. Wow are you offering these things in your life, to yourself and others? Are there feelings you tend to avoid or downplay?
If any part of your relationship with your mother hurts, grief work is essential. You owe it to yourself. Grieving can be immensely validating. Growing up without a mother or in a toxic relationship with your mother can begin to feel normal. In order to meet your own needs moving forward, it is essential to grieve what you were not given as a child.
If there is a girl in your life who lacks a mother, or is in a complicated relationship with one, don't be afraid to ask her what she needs. Please, notice her. How can you show up to offer her the nurturing and protective guidance that is needed for her development into a healthy woman?
Please don't hesitate to reach out for support:
Suggested Readings:Discovering the Inner Mother by Bethany Webster
Mother Hunger: How Adult Daughters Can Understand and Heal from Lost Nurturance, Protection, and Guidance, by Kelly McDaniel
Wild, by Cheryl Strayd
Somebody’s Daughter, by Ashley C. Ford
How To Do The Work, by Dr. Nicole LePera
Motherless Mothers, by Hope Edelman
The Wise Family is a Northern Virginia-based counseling and assessment practice with over 30 years of training and experience in the field of child and adolescent development. Through individual and group counseling, strategic psychoeducation with families, and educational assessment, The Wise Family works to encourage the growth of emotional intelligence, flexibility, resilience and family connection in order to ensure success both at home and in life. Learn more at thewisefamily.com