The shadow of Mother’s Day
For many people, Mother’s Day is full of joy. People go to the shops to select the best thoughtful gift representing their love for their mother.Mothers may also rejoice in celebrating and receiving love from their children. This is the ideal story. A wonderful story. The one we love to hear about.
But unfortunately, Mother’s Day is not such an ideal story for everybody. For some, it is not a joyous event filled with love. It is a time of stress, anxiety, and even anger. When a day such as Mother’s Day approaches, I notice how the conversations with my clients change. Some of them ask for support in preparing themselves for the day.
The uncomfortable truth is that there are mothers who are not loving and caring enough, and some hurt their children, unintentionally or intentionally. A number of mothers made many parenting mistakes when their children were young and have since realised the impact of their mistakes and apologised to their now adult children. This can be healing for their adult children, and a new, better relationship between the two may emerge. But some mothers are just as unloving in later life as they were when their children were young.
The pervasive narratives we often hear: ‘you only have one mother,’ ‘you’ve got to make it work, she’s your mother after all,’ ‘I’m sure she does love you’ aren’t helpful because they encourage people to dismiss the pain that their mothers inflicted on them in the past or even currently, and they potentially encourage people to keep exposing themselves to the toxicity of their unloving mothers.
Pressure to ‘be kind’
When people feel ‘unable’ to love their mothers, they blame themselves. “I must be such a monster for not loving my mother,” they say.
An unloving mother is perceived as such an abomination to a society that nobody wants to acknowledge them (surely they don’t exist). An adult child who doesn’t love their mother is considered taboo and monstrous (what a horrible, ungrateful person). These judgmental ideas leave the adult children of unloving mothers more hurt when they feel the pressure to ‘be kind’ on days such as Mother’s Day.
Indeed, very few things are more painful than experiencing the absence of love and care from our mothers. It is easier not to face it. It is easier to buy the Mother’s Day card and ‘be nice’ on the day. It is easy to make excuses like ‘she had a bad childhood herself, after all.’
Even with all the excuses that we might want to lay on top of the pain, the pain does remain, and sometimes it turns into poor mental health and disrupted relationships in adult life if we keep ignoring it.
Of course, unloving mothers are not monsters either. They have major struggles, people with their own broken hearts. But validating their struggles should not trump their impact on their children. It is painful to face the horrid truth that some mothers are incapable of loving their children as they should. It is awful to see people choosing to be parents and not understanding the enormous responsibility in shaping another human being’s life.
But it is even more harmful to minimise or dismiss the stories of the adult children who grew up with such mothers. If we don’t acknowledge our broken heart, we can’t begin to heal it.
Often, people can heal from disrupted attachments with other loving relationships, friendships, or romantic partners. We can get hurt the most in a damaging relationship with a parent, but we can also heal.
For the people who consistently get hurt by their mother’s attitudes, behaviours or words, and there are no signs of improvement, it is okay to decide to minimise exposure to their mother. People who realise that their mothers won’t change might decide to find what we call a ‘family of choice.’ Whatever you choose to do, keep fully aware of your decisions. Are you making a decision based on your protection? Or on the hope to your mother will become a better one?
- Silva Neves is a psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist.