The Hidden Pain Behind Mother’s Day

I wrote this post a few years ago on my old blog, but I felt led to share it again.

This was written because I’ve met many other women who were raised in abusive homes struggle with Mother’s Day. There’s so many inspirational posts for new moms, great moms, those who’ve lost their moms, but not so many for those whose mom’s were harmful.

I submitted this post to a well known mom website who wouldn’t publish it because it didn’t fit with the cheerful vibe they wanted to present…. As a mom who has struggles in motherhood because of my lack of a mom that stung.

What about us, then?

Where are the encouraging posts to cheer us in despite our struggles working through trauma?

So I wrote what I couldn’t find. If you struggle with Mother’s Day because of an unsafe mom I hope this speaks to your heart.

Mother’s Day When Your Mom Wasn’t Safe

Around April, beginning of May, you start to see the mom posts. You know the ones – maybe your stomach sinks a bit when you read the titles…

The viral blogs about all the heroic, unseen tasks moms have taken on through the years, for those who can fondly celebrate their mothers.

People share the sweet photos of their moms gardening, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, smiles on graduation. It’s beautiful!

On the other side of that we see the bittersweet articles, the tender memories of those who’ve lost their mothers. We hurt for them as they share their photos in remembrance.

These friends share their favorite moments as they work through a holiday that won’t be celebrated quite the same ever again.

There’s another child who sees Mother’s Day approaching, however.

This one grew up with a mom they can’t, or don’t want to, celebrate on this holiday. Maybe they don’t even speak anymore.

I’ve noticed while there are many of us, there aren’t many blogs or support posts for those who endured abusive, unhealthy, negligent, toxic, manipulative, or addicted mothers on Mother’s Day.

Understandably, it’s a difficult topic to write on. There is a huge spectrum of people in different stages of healing from their trauma.

You seek support from friends or other family, but truthfully- they’ve not experienced it and cannot understand it at your level; and they don’t always know what to say.

They don’t know how hard this day is for you.

I have an amazing mother-in-law. Seriously! A phenomenal mother-in-love who is THE. BEST. NANA. to my girls and crazy loving towards me.

I am grateful for her every single day. And I am consistently reminded by people that while my mom isn’t in my life, I sure do have a great MIL!

Listen, I know! Trust me. I love her so stinking much.

But that’s incredibly invalidating and disheartening to hear – because its apples and oranges.

My mother in law has an awesome mother in law too! But she cannot replace her mother who lives states away, you know?

A square peg, while still a good sturdy peg, does not fit in a round hole. The round hole was made for a round peg that got broken.

I’m thankful for this family that I have through my husband… but they are who they are, and cannot quite replace that ache for what should have been.

I see my husband and his siblings and all the memories they share with their mom and my heart aches for all the memories and laughter I don’t get to have, because my memories aren’t pleasant.

My memories are screaming, threatening, name calling, emotional abuse and gaslighting; mine are my mom taking me on shopping sprees when she was in an up mood, because our house was hell when she was in a down mood.

Threatening to call the police on the family that took me in when she kicked me out. Speaking so cruelly to me that I struggled with horrific self harm and continue to fight anxiety.

Forbidding me to leave the house or have human contact, which drove me insane and led to three suicide attempts. Those are the memories that come to mind for me on Mother’s Day.

To all you who may be reading this with that strange knot in your chest on Mother’s Day. I see you.

You are not alone in that hard space, feeling sadness or envy for what you don’t have, and still feeling all the emotions towards that person who stole a healthy mom experience from you.

What a day, for the kids like us.

The ones who wept everyday, who wanted to die to be free, who were never enough, who hid, who served and gave more than we should, who lost our childhood.

What a day for women who’ve had to learn to mother their own children with no positive, healthy tools in their parenting tool belt, but plenty of fear of turning into her.

What a day for the father who wants to celebrate the mother of his own children and mourns the mother he should have had.

What a day for the people who chose not to have kids because their childhood was so traumatic.

What a day for those whose unhealthy mothers are still a part of their life, those who can’t buy a sentimental Hallmark card for the woman who hurt them, that must sit at dinner on Sunday and grit their teeth while honoring that person on “their” day

What a day for those who are still working towards their healing, plateaued in their healing, afraid of healing.

What a day for those who have moved on and found freedom and strive to do better than what was done to them.

What a day for the survivors.

Oh yes, I said it. You survived.

Its a word that makes some people pretty uncomfortable – it makes them reevaluate what unhealthy really is, what abuse really is, and its unfortunate impact.

I wasn’t beaten but my mind was beaten into submission with so much fear and hateful talk that I would rather end my life than try to leave… I’d say I survived. I know you did too.

You survived. You made it through what tried to break you, and you are on the other side!

You survived the negativity, the lies, the venom – you’re fighting back.

You survived the hitting, the punching, the slamming – they won’t touch you like that again. You are a whole human, even if you still sometimes feel like a bunch of shattered pieces.

I asked some friends to weigh in on Mother’s Day on the other side of a difficult childhood, and I’m sharing their quotes below.

“I choose not to celebrate, but when I did, when I felt forced to, I had the hardest time finding a card with a blank inside. I could never find it in me to profess all the fluffy feel goods that has been Hallmarked for this occasion.


The abuse I’ve been subjected to as a child did not stop at adulthood. Even though it was always denied. That changed on August 4th of last year. My relationship with her has always been on again off again. But on this day, she claimed to be remembering things. She then shared with me one of many memories that I’ve completely blacked out.


I really thought this was going to be a pivotal day in my life. I would imagine the ways the acknowledgment would change my life. How it would set me free.


It was a big deal and I know how much courage it took for her to admit to it.


I felt lighter.


I was so excited to share with a couple people who had the tiniest glimpse into my past.


I felt lighter until exactly two days later when the abuse continued.
I permanently broke those chains my own self and the weight of her lifelong mistreatment ended there.

So I see you. I hear you. I understand your pain and the confusion of such celebrated days for us children who were born to women who couldn’t mother.


I appreciate the glimpse of your family life now and if I can offer any suggestion, it is to celebrate the mother you’ve become despite the place you were raised.”

Staci

“There’s so much conditioned guilt and shame if you choose not to have a relationship with your mother because she is abusive.

Mother’s Day is hard for me. I LOVE being a mom to my kids and motherhood has been so healing for me in many ways, but I also long for that healthy mother/daughter relationship that I know I’ll never get. I feel a lot of grief on Mother’s Day. It’s always bothered me the lack of cards in the store for situations like this. There’s so much pressure to fake it and have relationships with people that are toxic for you, under the guise of “that’s your mother”, as if we should be grateful for years of abuse.”

Julie

“This is a wrestle point for me this year as well. One of my core beliefs/practices is honor. How can I honor someone who isn’t there? What does it look like to love well when you can not directly love that person? Here’s two things I landed on: 1) I will not let someone’s bad decision steal my joy of celebrating or being celebrated in motherhood. I’m a powerful person because I choose to keep my joy. Toxic relationships steal enough, don’t give it your power too! 2) There are multiple ways to be a mom to someone. Yes, there is a woman who you were “fearfully and wonderfully made” inside of, but there are friends, sisters, cousins, aunts, in-laws, church moms, breastfeeding moms, etc who have poured love, knowledge, wisdom, understanding into my life. It’s ok to have more than one mom. It’s also 100% ok to be in a space to grieve these things not coming from a birth mom. There aren’t words that can fix that reality, but there is healing. Be encouraged, you can celebrate this holiday and be in the tension of grief at the same time.”

Shannon

If you take away anything from this, let it be that last sentence…

Be encouraged, you can celebrate this holiday and be in the tension of grief at the same time.

Our sweet, well-meaning friends, we love them.

Their words may help or they may sting, but we can’t judge them for what they don’t know – that tension, the dichotomy, the salty and the sweet.

The joy and the pain of loss all rolled into your heart as you take on the day. The gratitude for what you have now and the grief for what you went through, and wish you had instead.

Take heart, dear friend reading this, you are not alone here. However you feel about the day, celebrating or not, your feelings are valid.

My advice this Mother’s Day?

  • Hold strong to whatever boundaries you have, and if you haven’t set boundaries it is absolutely time to guard and protect yourself.If your friends or loved ones invalidate you in anyway as you process your grief/anger/emotions on this day, don’t react – choose to respond. And maybe gently enlighten them so they can understand and be more empathetic in the future.
  • Be kind to yourself. Don’t run from the memories – face them, acknowledge them, feel them, then let them free. Process in a healthy way.
  • If you’ve chosen to cut off contact with your mom as your boundary, that is okay. If you feel the need to continue contact and work towards healing your relationship, that’s okay too. Wherever you are in your journey with the woman who raised or birthed you, I stand here with you in a quiet sea of men and women who’ve endured too.

There is community.

There is hope.

There is restoration.

There is wholeness.

There is a healing.

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