Mother’s Day, a day created for the expression of love, reverence and recognition for mothers more than 100 years ago in the United States, isn’t always an occasion for joy and togetherness. If you’re like me or the other 1 in 10 mothers who are estranged from at least one adult child, then this holiday may have become increasingly difficult over the years.
Long gone are the Mother’s Days that once prompted my children to bring me breakfast in bed hours before my alarm went off. Plates of watery scrambled eggs, cold and doughy pancakes, with a garnish of sliced banana, and coffee thick with grounds and tablespoons of sugar, the homemade cards and the violets planted in Styrofoam drinking cups are a thing of the past.
As a mother, I was often reassured that parenting my six small children — all under the age of 9 — would get easier as they got older.
The “Best Mom” magnet from my middle daughter, whom I barely talk to, is a distant memory.
Mother’s Day celebrations in the media create the expectation of adult children, sometimes coming from afar, bearing gifts of cards, flowers and chocolates. There are reunions, mothers embracing their children. There are phone calls and expressions of gratitude. But what happens when Mother’s Day hurts? When it’s met with silence? When apologies for past mistakes just aren’t enough? What does healing look like?
As a mother, I was often reassured that parenting my six small children — all under the age of 9 — would get easier as they got older. I looked forward to when the chaos of it all would lessen. I thought that the mother-child connections would survive the sometimes tumultuous teenage years, and when the kids became adults, all would be well once again. Now, years later, not all my relationships with my children are healthy. A few of them are completely silent. The unanswered phone calls are painful. My texts are often left unread or rarely responded to.
I wish I could blame the distance for these turmoil-laden relationships. My children now live all over the United States; at one point they were literally spread from coast to coast. Unfortunately, there are other factors at play. While I loved my children, I am not without blame. I wish I could say I’d always been a good mother, but I wasn’t. I loved my children from a place of my own brokenness. I was an angry mother who’d been raised by an angry mother. I had my first child at 18, long before I had the necessary knowledge or maturity to be a mother. There is unprocessed hurt and resentment that only time, willingness, transparent conversation and therapy will heal.
In my own healing process, I know now that the rage that I experienced when my children were young was driven by intense anxiety and panic.
When my children’s recognition of me on Mother’s Day slowed, or in some cases stopped altogether, I was angry. My feelings were hurt. I railed against their social media posts in praise of their fathers and their stepparents. I retreated into my depression when there were no cards in the mailbox or when the phone didn’t ring the second Sunday in May. I felt entitled to that. I was their mother. Now, I have a greater understanding that it’s more complicated than that.
For years, I struggled to buy a card for my own mother on Mother’s Day. “Everything I am, you’ve helped me to be.” Every pastel-colored card I picked up in the pharmacy said that or some version of it. That’s not the kind of relationship my mother and I had. It was complex. It was loud. We hurt each other. And I always swore I’d do better. I wouldn’t yell at my children. Some days I was successful; some days I failed. I made poor choices that robbed my children of roots and stability, like remarrying an emotionally and physically abusive man.
After that relationship ended, I got married again. We moved multiple times, and several of those moves caused my children to have to switch schools. In my own healing process, I know now that the rage that I experienced when my children were young was driven by intense anxiety and panic. My anger was grief. As I become more self-aware, I know that they’re processing the complications of their relationship with me — in the same way I’ve spent years doing with my mother. Now, I also know, as their mother, I’m not entitled to recognition or reverence, and maybe not even a phone call, not until they’re ready to make that move.
My relationship with my own mother is still tense at times, but we’ve moved beyond the wounds of the past. We are both different now. With age and maturity, I realized that my mother also parented me through the lens of her own traumas, her own brokenness. Once I arrived at that place of acceptance of my mother and her failures, the space I knew I needed to provide for my children unfolded before me.
Over the last several years, I’ve had conversations with each child to accept responsibility for my actions and behaviors that hurt them and cheated them out of the kind of security every kid deserves at home. I have apologized. Occasionally, tempers flare, old wounds are reopened, and then we retreat. It’s not straightforward. It’s painful. I still sometimes fail. Sometimes, apologies aren’t the cure all that we want them to be, saying I’m sorry doesn’t erase the past. But this is healing. It’s acknowledgment. It’s acceptance. It’s grace.