…or at least the mom you deserved.
I used to not mind this day at all. When I was still in contact with my mother I’d send a card or letter that I had beautifully written about how thankful I was for her. I was writing those words to the mother I wanted, deserved, yearned for but that mother didn’t actually exist. I realized later it was another way to protect my heart and my psyche. Another way to tell myself, “it’s just fine”.
It wasn’t just fine, though. The problem came when I went no-contact and had some space to actually see clearly. I still have a hard time saying I mourn the mother I “deserved” because that would mean I’m worthy of more than I had. Even after years of therapy, the echoes of my childhood still creep in when I’m feeling more vulnerable (like this very moment as I write). “You are so dramatic.” “You are a liar.” “You treat everyone around you like [crap].” “I don’t know what to do with you anymore.” “I only say these things because I love you and I don’t want you to hear them from someone else first.” “You hurt everyone around you.” “You don’t have to feel other people’s feelings. You’re taking that on yourself.” “Don’t tell anyone.” The echoes of the silence are sometimes worse, honestly. The behaviors and nothingness that told me there wasn’t anything I did that deserved praise or recognition. Nothing was ever good enough. I yearned for acknowledgment from my mother. Even after I was married and had started photographing families, I’d send her the photos so she could look through them. I tried desperately to gain her approval. “That’s nice.” “Those are good.” It never worked.
Mother’s Day is hard. I am so grateful that I have many friends and family that have healthy, intact relationships with their moms. I’d wish nothing less for them. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s not a twinge of pain when I hear them talking about their Mother’s Day plans or see them posting pictures of the celebrations. It’s not that I want that with my mother, I’ve long come to realize that will never happen. It’s that I did deserve that. We all do. The heartache comes from our innate desire to be loved and accepted by our families, even when it causes more pain that joy. We want to hold on to that family system, the people with whom we share memories, because we know what happens in this scenario. Our brains crave stability and the known, even if it hurts us. It is not easy on the heart or the head to bust out of a system, no matter how harmful. When we step out into wilderness that is unknown to us, we lose the ability to predict what happens next, to see outside of what previously surrounded us. We have to realize over and over, in every new situation, that how things were is not how things should have been and it is terrifying.
Then we face days like Mother’s Day. A day we celebrate mothers and grandmothers and aunties and friends who have taken on mother roles in our lives. For those of us that don’t have those people, however, it is a reminder of what we are missing and maybe never had. For some of us, it’s a tight-rope walk of emotions. It’s clinging tightly to the amazing relationships we have with our children, the nurturing relationships they have with other women in their lives like grandmas, aunties, and our family friends that are so much more than the definition of friends allows for. It’s the thankfulness I have for these women who love on, listen to, and encourage my children in such incredible ways. It’s the gratitude for being able to do the same with their kiddos. Yet, as we cling with all our might to all that is amazing, we are having to let go of all that was not. We have to let go of the words that were so deeply ingrained on our hearts, we have to let go of the idea that it could have been different, and in some cases that it will ever be different. We celebrate that we are not our mothers and yet worry that we are not enough because we didn’t have an example of what mothering is. We are fiercely intentional so that we do not repeat the sins of our parents, and yet we second guess ourselves for fear that we are doing it all wrong. We do not fully believe those that tell us we are great mothers, that they look up to us, that they take notes from watching us parent. For me, at least, I cannot fully believe it because I know where I came from. Surely, someone who has come from that chaos cannot be worthy of those accolades.
This Mother’s Day, reach out to a momma that may not be experiencing the kind of Mother’s Day she deserves. Last year, my pastor said one sentence about knowing this day isn’t celebratory for everyone and it left me in a puddle. The acknowledgement meant more than he could know. Take a minute and think of your friends or co-workers or neighbors and find someone to support in a small way. Maybe her mother has passed away, maybe she has a rough relationship with her mother. Maybe she has no relationship at all. Maybe she is single and doesn’t have anyone helping her little one make a card or gift. Give her support or even just some kind words. Tell her what she means to you. Tell her the goodness you see in her as a mother. Help her little one make a gift or card, or just leave a flower on her doorstep. If you are close, acknowledge her strength for doing it without an example. If you are blessed enough to be in a position to empower another momma or woman today, go out and do that. Let’s try to make sure no mom in our lives go unacknowledged this year.
Note: I have been protective of my story. It comes easily to share my childhood history. That story is just facts, sequential and has an end (of sorts). The story of the aftermath has been harder to share outside of my little tribe. This story breaks open my heart to reveal the struggles and ache of what it’s like to be a woman, a parent, a human in the fallout of family trauma. This story will never have an ending. There is so much joy, happiness, and freedom here, though, too. My story is a testament to God making all things beautiful and I want to share that. I know I am not alone in this journey and that there are other women walking with me who feel alone and like no one understands. The encouragement of my friends and family to keep speaking have given me the strength to take this first little step. I don’t know what it will continue to look like, but in this moment, I know this is what I’m being called to do.