Mother’s Day from the Therapists’ Couch

Mother’s Day is complicated for an awful lot of people. This isn’t exactly surprising considering that mother issues tend to be equally complicated.

Mother’s Day brings all of that unresolved muck rushing to the forefront as the culture around us screams out demands that we treat our mothers and feel a

certain way about our motherhood, regardless of our actual experiences. There are a lot of things that get said in therapy that don’t get spoken in public for fear of beings shamed.

Because I believe in the healing power of truth, I am going to put some of those varying truths out here in public.

I want you to know that if you resonate with any of these truths, you are not alone.

Now is a time for gentleness and grace; not forced sentiment. Few things bring our mother issues to a head like standing in front of a rack of Mother’s Day cards, all ardently insisting that our mother’s are the best, the most wonderful, the most patient, the most enduring… etc., etc., etc. For some people, this just isn’t true.

  • Some people have wonderful, engaged, thoughtful mothers who have been with them through thick and thin. Many people do not.
  • Some people had wonderful, engaged, thoughtful mothers, but they have passed away, leaving a gaping hole that threatens to never heal.
  • Some people have good-enough mothers who, while making some pretty weighty errors, did their very best, and we can honor them for that.

    Many people have not had even that. Some mothers have been abusive, manipulative, exploitive or too self-concerned to actually mother their children. Some of those less-than-healthy mothers have left us, (whether physically or emotionally.) In their wake, they have left us with a swirl of conflicting, unresolved and sometimes seemingly unresolvable emotions.
  • Many people have a myriad of mothers in their lives who they are supposed to honor on this day: Mothers, Stepmothers, Godmothers, Grandmothers, Mothers in Law, mother figures… We chose some of these people, but not necessarily all of them. It’s dizzying, and each relationship has its own set of liabilities and benefits.
  • Some people’s mothers have disappeared, whether physically, emotionally, or intellectually through dementia, mental illness, addiction, abusive relationships or other cognitive disorders. We grieve for the mother we do not have, and for the hope that we ever will.
  • Some people have mothers who were not the mother that was wanted or needed, and now that mother is in need of care. Do we put it aside and give what we were not given? Do we lovingly arrange for others to care? Or do we just walk away and try not to feel like horrible people? It is neither simple nor easy, and there may not actually be a right or wrong choice.

Other people have been challenged by their own motherhood, or a lack thereof:

  • Some people have wanted more than anything to become mothers, but it hasn’t happened. We are infertile, or have suffered miscarriages.
  • Some have birthed children only to later lose them, whether through stillbirth or premature death.
  • Some have been caught in the whirlwind of the adoption process with their hopes raised and dashed many times over.
  • Some have lost the children they have raised to addiction, legal process, mental illness or cognitive impairment. We grieve both our children and our dreams for them. We sometimes also have to fend off the clucking tongues and judgement of those who are so sure that our children’s conditions are due to our mothers failures, as if we really needed outside voices colluding with the screaming chorus within.

The heartbreak these “Invisible Mothers”

feel on a daily basis is amplified on Mother’s Day, as if the whole culture is turning its cold shoulder, leaving them out of the one thing they have desired most.

The grief can feel unbearable. The thing that most people look for or at least hope for from their mothers is nurturing, gentleness, thoughtfulness and caring. These mothers would let us know that we have been seen, valued, and celebrated, with at least many of our needs anticipated. Celebrating mothers who did not

offer this, can be a sandpaper-on-the-soul experience. I want to encourage you today to know that your pain is seen.

The conflict and confusion you’re in is shared by many. Today may be the day for you to offer yourself your own gentleness, or to find a trusted other to offer it to you.

While you pain is nuanced in ways that are entirely unique to you, there are common threads that can sew you together with other people, if you can let them love you in that place. Let others hold your heart with you. I wish you peace and companionship.

You are not alone.