Mother’s day is a bittersweet day for me, like many others. For some, this day is bittersweet because they have lost their mothers, lost their children, choose not to be mothers, desire being a mother more than anything, or any number of other bittersweet scenarios.
I, too, have lost my mother but not to death. I lost her to estrangement. Parental estrangement is one of those things that isn’t spoken of or acknowledged much, though it is quite significantly more common than many people realize. It tends to be a topic that makes people uncomfortable or judgmental…whether it is
I’ve been estranged from my mother for ten years. Honestly, I could say I lost her decades before the actual estrangement. If I dig even further into that truth, I could say she was always lost to me. There was always distance, avoidance, resentment, weaponized words, destructive criticism, rage, and rejection as far back as I can remember…which is about age two..
Because of my long-standing painful, disconnected mother relationship, I had long decided against becoming a mother myself. I could be motherLY, but I vowed at age 7 that I would never become a mother to a child so that I could end the generational curse I identified early on, also known as my family’s intergenerational pattern of abuse and dysfunction I witnessed through both observed and lived experience.
I am a mother now. In truth, I was a mother and nurturer long before a child came into my care, to pets, friends, and even strangers from time to time. I also held the role of parenting a parent as a very young child. I thought that avoiding motherhood was best for everyone involved, but what I learned is that cutting off the roots of who you are impairs your personal growth. It was a choice I made when I wasn’t aware of other options.
As it turns out, facing the very thing I feared the most was exactly how I would enable myself to actually unweave the threads of this generational curse from the very fiber of my being. Becoming a mother provided me with ample opportunities to break the chains of my familial, modeled, and conditioned patterns of parenting…especially those associated with the mother-daughter relationship.
Being a mother to my child was extraordinarily triggering in the beginning, as I was afraid of the mother-child relationship. I was afraid I would not be strong enough to overcome the pattern. I was afraid I would become what I desired to abolish most of all in our familial pattern of mother-daughter relationships: status quo. Over time, it has become less triggering and, while it is not without internal and external challenges, I have developed improved coping skills and insight that has shown itself as patience beyond what I once believed I had the capacity for.
The fear I felt could have dismantled every effort I made to end the cycle of dysfunction, and at times it nearly did during the first few years. I glimpsed the gap between myself and my mother’s behavior from time to time, but it wasn’t until the estrangement put physical distance between my mother and I that I was able to see the full depth of how different my mothering was from my mothers mothering.
The estrangement with my mother officially began ten years ago this year. Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, I experience a mixed bag of feelings witnessing social media posts about the special relationships between mothers and daughters and the grief associated with loving mothers gone too soon. These posts are triggering for me because my whole life growing up in an abusive relationship with my own mother, every person met me with “…but she’s your mother” when I expressed my pain, concerns for my safety, and requests for intervention. My pain was shamed, judged, and dismissed because of toxic colonial capitalist culture about mothers, unrealistic family loyalty values, and the toxic idea of ‘the perfect’ family.
Estrangement between parents and adult children is considerably more common than most people realize. We cannot change or heal what we do not acknowledge or speak of, so as long as we keep operating under the ruse of ‘perfect family’ we will continue to undermine mental health, child welfare, and families themselves.
I do not begrudge anyone who celebrates their mother on Mother’s Day or any other day of the year. I try to focus on celebrating breaking the cycle of motherhood in my family on Mother’s Day, by being the kind of mother to my child that I needed when I was a child myself.
Because our human body’s hold our stories, I experience the triggers of Mother’s Day in my physical body as much as I experience the emotions and related thoughts.
I feel the triggers of this day as contradicting emotions of love, joy, rejection, abandonment, and insecurity. I feel the triggers of this day in my body as physical sensations like pain, aches, stiffness, and being ‘on edge’. I feel the triggers of this day in my mental patterns when my mind wanders into the darkest, most painful memories of my somewhat recent and far-reaching distant past and the voice of that accompanies those memories (my mother’s voice, I’ve come to realize, not my own…even though it *sounds like* me) and reminds me I wasn’t ‘good enough’ to have or keep my mother’s love…
I know that voice is not the truth/my truth now, but I didn’t always know that.
I am not feeling the triggers of this day as hard in my relationships now as much as I once did, though the affects still linger in the background a bit. The difference is that I’ve had that space away from my mother to heal and learn new ways to navigate the shadows of my past that are still cast into my present.
I find that it helps me deal with my own feelings to focus on those who are often not seen on Mother’s Day. Everyone deserves to be seen. Mothers who lost a child/children, children with strained/estranged relationships with their mothers, mothers of strained/estranged relationships with their children, those who yearn to be mothers, those who choose NOT to be mothers, fathers who held the space for both fathering and mothering, single mothers, dog and cat (other other pet) moms, those who never had a mother, foster moms, non-biological moms (and dads who are nurturers), those who are just nurturing spirits, and so many others I may not have listed but who deserve to be seen.
I know I will never stop loving my mother, though I have stopped hoping for her to love and nurture me the way I needed. I will likely continue to maintain the boundary of loving her from a safe distance. I have chosen instead to focus on showing up in motherhood in integrity with the needs of both my child and my inner child. I am not certain if I will ever feel anything other than conflicted, bittersweet feelings about Mother’s Day…but I do know that I will continue to speak about all the ways people, like me, are triggered by this holiday.
My mother’s choice to exit our relationship was excruciatingly painful to endure. It was also the kindest, most nurturing thing she has ever done for me…she gave me space to heal my wounds and step fully into motherhood without the looming shadow of intergenerational trauma. I have no doubt that the choice she made continues to affect her on Mother’s Day, and possibly other days, as well. I will continue to love my mother and wish her well from the distance she created for us.
Whatever feelings arise for you on this, or other holidays, know that you aren’t alone in how you feel and that your feelings are valid. Your pain and/or your feelings do not have to define you, your worth, your truth, or anything else. You embody value and worth exactly the way you are in this and every moment, for no other reason than being YOU…and this is true even if someone told you or made you feel otherwise.
Mothering is nurturing. Mothering doesn’t require a certain gender or age, and it certainly isn’t limited or bound by anything other than the way YOU define it.
It is helpful for those who grieve on Mother’s Day for any number of reasons to simply be acknowledged. I hope that sharing my story helps you feel acknowledged and held in a space of safety/love if you feel triggered or invisible on Mother’s Day. I hope it broadens our individual and collective awareness and opens doors to continued open, honest communication about redefining family culture for the purpose of inclusivity, healing, equity, and growth.