So God Made a Teacher Collection (Sale!) ➔

My mother is bipolar. Not as a punchline to a joke, but genuinely, medically diagnosed as bipolar. She has been my whole life though we didn’t always know that’s what was going on. I didn’t always know it was mental illness we were battling against, I just knew my mom was not like everyone else’s. 

When everyone else’s moms came to school with their hair done and their clothes pressed, mine stumbled through the halls in her pajamas. While my friends lived in the same house every time I visited, my mom couldn’t keep a job for more than a few weeks at a time, and we were always moving, usually by force. My friends’ moms picked them up from events, but mine was usually either sleeping or out somewhere.

Our youth group had a fun night one year all bundled up to deliver groceries to the impoverished families of the church . . . and I opened the door to see my friends pitying me as they handed me canned goods and shampoo. 

Now, as an adult, I can speak of her with grace. I can understand her mental illness wasn’t intended as anything personal toward me. I can understand she didn’t want or choose to struggle, and that she may very well have been aware of the stark contrast between herself and the other mothers. But when you’re in 7th or 11th grade, or when you’re grown and married and having your third child . . . it can sure feel like she didn’t care.

It sure can feel unfair.

I’ve said many times before that I was born a parent. My mom was incapable of making healthy decisions for herself, let alone two people, so I became very independent at a very early age. Part of me thought it was exciting to walk home alone, to learn how to cook myself dinner, to watch TV without any adult supervision. But part of me also grieved inside when she made choices that left me out, left me puzzled, left me frustrated, or put me in danger.

I raised myself, mostly, and sometimes had to step in and raise her, too. 

The older I got, the more pronounced her illness became. Lies and manipulation were added to the manic flights and depressed slumps. The police became involved . . . more than once. I grew more and more ashamed of her when her name started showing up in newspapers, living in a town that printed every arrest from the previous week. 

I wanted another mom, a normal mom. I wanted a mom who loved her child the way Matthew 7:9 said she did. I wanted a mom who showed up without showing out. I wanted a mom I could trust with my allowance, a mom whose words I could believe.

I wanted a mom who was not like the one I had. 

All these years and therapy sessions and prayers later, she’s still bipolar, and it still hurts. I don’t think it will ever not hurt.

I can’t watch Gilmore Girls without feeling the ache of what we might have had. I spent most of my pregnancy with my own daughter in an absolute panic over what kind of relationship we would have. I see friends and memes and Hallmark cards that all loudly and proudly declare that mothers and daughters are the best of friends, forever and always, and I feel the hot sting of tears ringing my eyes and pricking my nose every time. 

My mom isn’t my best friend. My mom is barely my mom.

I love her, and I know I owe much of who I am, in many ways, to who she is . . . and to who she isn’t.

I’ve accepted her illness and know she isn’t bipolar at me, but I also still feel the pain of when she’s bipolar around me. 

I’ll always feel the hole of what should have been, of the mom every little girl needs. I’ll always picture a glaringly empty photo album when I think back on the mother-daughter memories it seems everyone has but me. I love who she is, and I’ve found a way to love her beside me, but I also grieve the mom who never was.

Just as clearly as I picture my mom oversleeping when she was supposed to take me to school, I picture the hole left by the mother who woke me up on time. Just as clearly as I remember sitting on a curb, waiting, I see the ghost of the car that was waiting for me when I walked out. I remember my children’s births and see the outline of where she should have stood. I flip through the recipe book I’ve compiled from Pinterest, and I see the pages that should have been filled out in her handwriting, passing on traditions and memories as much as ingredients. 

I see her, the mother I wanted, and I long for her. Still. It’s true we never outgrow the need for our mothers, and it never stops aching that I’ll never have her. 

I don’t have the mother who I can call for parenting advice. I don’t have the mother who takes the grandkids for days. I have memories with my mom, but they include courtrooms and manic nights and lots and lots of pain. I thought when I grew up and became a mother myself, I would be free of it all. That she couldn’t hurt me anymore and I’d just shake off our past and be able to love her at arm’s length. Instead, the ache became a throb as I realized I was not just mad at the mom I had, I was grieving the mom I wanted. 

I will probably always mourn her, someone who never was. I’ve quit asking if I was deserving of her and have accepted I just got the short end of the stick.

I did deserve a healthy mother.

I did deserve an attentive mother.

I deserved boundaries, consistency, a home, food with the labels still on them.

I didn’t deserve to be interrogated by the police because of my mother’s choices.

I didn’t deserve the exposure to the things I witnessed and was a part of.

I didn’t deserve a mentally ill mother, but I got one.

I did deserve a well one, but the closest I’ll ever get to her is my grief. 

I love my mother, and I’ve learned to stop resenting her for not being who I wanted, who I needed. Instead of comparing her to who she should have been, like two versions of the same person, I’ve separated her from the mom I wanted. Now there are two moms in my memories, two separate people with very different impactsthe mom I had and the mom I wanted.

Instead of comparing my mother to who I needed her to be, I accept who she is and mourn the healthy mom who didn’t show up. This is how I can love my mother while also grieving her at the same time. This is how I keep resentment at bay and allow the mourning I need to experience. This is how I’ll forever see my childhoodwith the mom I had, and the mother I never got.

You may also like: 

It’s Hard Being a Mom When You Don’t Have Your Own Mother to Lean On

To the Mama With Toxic Parents, I See You

My Toxic Mother Made Me a Better Parent

Her View From Home

Millions of mothers connected by love, friendship, family and faith. Join our growing community. 1,000+ writers strong. We pay too!   Find more information on how you can become a writer on Her View From Home at

Grief Comes in Waves as Our Mother Nears the End of Her Life

In: Grief, Grown Children
Elderly woman holding young woman's hand

“I think we can all agree that this is not fair.” My sister, Kari, was referring to our elderly mother as she addressed my oldest daughter, Chelsea, and me. Chelsea was holding both of her grandmother’s hands with her own as my mother slept fitfully. My mother was terrified of being alone, and this was pretty much the only way she was able to rest. “There is pain that is physical and pain that is psychic,” she continued, “and one is not worse than the other.” Our mother was in mental pain, and we wanted it to stop. When my...

Keep Reading

A Mother/Daughter Bond Should Be Unbreakable, but Sometimes It Isn’t

In: Grown Children, Living
Frowning woman holding phone

It’s OK to grieve your absent parents while they’re still alive. I see so many articles or well-meaning posts from people who had beautiful relationships with their parents and are now grieving their loss. It’s amazing to read about such incredible parent-child relationships, but it also usually comes with guilt for me. “Call your mom, I wish I still could.” Yeah, me too, I want to say. I stare at my phone, my finger hovering over her name, and sigh. I let the screen go black instead. My birth mother is alive and well but I chose to end my...

Keep Reading

Your Son Won’t Care About Decorating His Dorm Room

In: Grown Children, Motherhood
College boy in dorm room

  ‘Tis the season for dorms for those of us whose children are in college. You may be designing, planning, and buying dorm essentials because the decorating has begun; physically or mentally, it’s happening. And here’s what I’ve learned: boys don’t care. That’s right, boys don’t care what their rooms look like. OK, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but trust me, it’s not that far off the mark. Last year, I remember scrolling through my newsfeeds admiring my friends’ daughters’ room pictures. Everything was color coordinated, and I mean EVERYTHING–even the Command hooks stringing up the fairy...

Keep Reading

We’re Learning to Be Just the Two of Us (And It’s Fun!)

In: Grown Children, Marriage, Motherhood
Couple cooking in kitchen

My husband and I have been married for 23 years and we have never spontaneously gone four hours away to anything, much less a concert.  When we got married, we both brought daughters into the marriage, and three years later, we had a son. We were a family of five. In our 23 years of marriage, it had never been just the two of us. There were always ballgames, concerts, school awards, etc that kept us busy and split between two places if not three. After the girls both left the house for college, we still had our son. While...

Keep Reading

Mothering a Little Boy Seems Like it Will Go On Forever—Until it Doesn’t

In: Grown Children, Motherhood
Mother with two grown sons

I walked with a determined gait through the airport doors after I hugged my adult son goodbye. My tenacious walk was designed to communicate to him that I still had a purpose in life apart from being his mother. It was the same walk I had adopted when I left him at the preschool gate some 23 years earlier, at his university campus, and more recently, after his wedding.  The same stoic, and yet if I’m brutally honest, somewhat fake walk.  I reached airport security and slung my carry-on bag onto the escalator in one swift motion in case he...

Keep Reading

Dear Mom, You Still Amaze Me

In: Grown Children, Motherhood
Mother and grown daughter, color photo

I don’t know how she did it. My mother excelled at motherhood. It was as if she attended a university renowned for its studies in being a mom, and she graduated at the top of her class.  Growing up, our family had homemade meals six days of the week (Friday was either pizza or sandwich night) and there was always a fresh vegetable. Nothing ever came out of a can or a box, including our drinks, which were iced tea from steeped tea bags and hand-squeezed lemonade with a few drops of blue food coloring because pink lemonade was so...

Keep Reading

Walking Mother Home

In: Grown Children
Elderly woman holds hands with daughter

I call my sister for another update on Mom. Last week had been my week to help out. Our mother lives in her own home in Battle Ground, Washington on the property she and my father bought together—their personal version of the American dream. My sister Kari and her son Dane live with her and provide most of her care since her stroke several months ago. My sister took intermittent FMLA (Family Medical Leave of Absence) and was able to decrease her work hours, but her leave is running out. My nephew took a reduction in hours from his job delivering...

Keep Reading

Where Is the Instruction Manual for Parenting Grown Children?

In: Grown Children, Motherhood, Teen
Two teen boys dressed in suits, color photo

You know what’s really hard? Parenting. You know what’s even harder? Parenting a child who isn’t a child anymore. My husband and I have leveled up.  High school graduation has been a major event in our house for the last two years. It’s an exciting time and a great chance to celebrate the accomplishments of each of our boys individually.  That being said, this level isn’t something you can mentally prepare for. It’s just so much. So much of everything. Exhausting. Gut-wrenching. Exciting. Confusing. Rewarding. Bittersweet.  My son graduated last year, and my bonus son graduated this year. I’m equally proud...

Keep Reading

A Painting from Heaven by Way of St. Louis

In: Grown Children, Living
Woman standing next to painting, color photo

The very first piece I ever wrote for Her View From Home was posted on the website June 14, 2018. It dealt with losing my mother little by little to the ravages of dementia and how happy we all were to have the bonus time with her—sharing her enjoyment with old movies, a purple sunset, her high school yearbooks, and all of the new friends she made in the memory ward of a wonderful senior living facility. We were so blessed to have her remember all of us as her other memories began to fade, and we spent as much time...

Keep Reading

Good Dads Make Great Grandpas

In: Grown Children, Living
Grandpa walking with two grandsons, color photo

This is not only written for my dad, but for all the dads out there who aren’t the typical, everyday dads. The hands-on dad, the dad who goes on bike rides, the dad who watches his grandbabies. The dad who creates a legacy whether he realizes it or not. The world needs more of you.  It’s not every day you get a dad who enters a diaper changing contest and comes in second place. Yes, that happened to my dad. He would take me up to the local mall to walk around and one of the stores was holding a...

Keep Reading

Get our FREE phone wallpaper to encourage you as the new school year begins

It's bittersweet for a mother to watch her child grow—but you both are ready to soar.