I am not friends with my mother. At best, our relationship could be described as toxic. I know my situation could be worse. I do not want to be insensitive to others. But still, I want to share my story and how it has impacted my journey through motherhood.
I want to give a voice to the sadness, the heartache of mothering without a mother.
A mother’s love is often described as unconditional. That has not been my experience. I paid a high price to try to earn my mother’s love. Of course, as a child, I didn’t know that. I just loved her, no matter her treatment of me. She was everything to me. I spent my childhood trying to be good enough. To be of value to her. I just wanted her to love me. These are the questions I repeatedly asked myself when I was young:
“What am I doing wrong?”
“Why am I not good enough?”
“Will she ever love me?”
Questions no child should ask. Questions that still haunt me when I am in her presence. This is why, though we live close, we do not see each other regularly.
I was 19 before I began to question my mother’s incapacity for love. Nineteen years old when I learned all my efforts had been in vain. “What is a narcissist?”—a simple Google search rocked my world and opened my eyes. I saw my mother in a new light.
Ten years have gone by, and I love her still, but it is a different love. A distant, cautious love.
She will always be my mother, but she will never be my friend. She will never be someone I can confide in or trust.
This has taken me many years to learn and accept. I have made the mistake of opening up to her, trusting her, a handful of times over the last 10 years. Each time, a tough reminder, that my mother is incapable of love.
My experience with my mother has had and continues to have a huge impact on the way I mother. It has shaped me in so many ways. It has made me hyper-aware of my love for my own children and my treatment of them. I struggle with guilt and anxiety that I might be failing my children the way my mother failed me.
But the part I struggle with most is mothering without a mother. Motherhood and no mother to share it with? It’s lonely. From the big, huge moments—getting married, giving birth, to the smaller but still exciting moments—first steps, first dance recital, first day of school, first lost tooth. Not a single one of those moments gets to be shared or enjoyed with the person I wish most of all to share and enjoy it with.
There is no love like a mother’s love, yes?
There is no love lost like a mother’s love lost.
Most days, I am fine with this. Truly, I have accepted it. I have grieved the mother I will never have. As I say often, “It is what it is.”
I try not to dwell on what I do not have. But there are days, difficult days, that the sadness of the situation overwhelms me. It can happen at random, those difficult days. It can also happen predictably, on Mother’s Day and her birthday.
On those days, when the sadness sets in, it crushes me. I mean, completely crushes me. I let myself feel every emotion like it is brand new. My heart breaks once again. My heart hopes and wishes for something different. Those days, the days when the sorrow knocks me off my feet, those are days filled with tears, so many tears.
I know there is no perfect mother-daughter relationship. But on those days I struggle, I can’t help but wonder what it’d be like.
A mom who calls or texts just to say hi. To see how you’re doing. How the grandkids are doing. I don’t know what that’s like. I’ll never know, and it hurts. It hurts to know my children will never know the unconditional love of a grandmother. That I must choose not to include my mother in my children’s future.
I have found when I am struggling with this, the best thing to do is talk about it. My husband is a good listener and encourages me to share how I am feeling. That is why I want to share my story. In hopes of helping others who have been through something similar.
I know my story is one other daughters can relate to. Though it is not talked about often . . . claiming your mother to be anything other than loving is scary. It is taboo. What will people think? Shouldn’t I just be grateful I had a mother who fed and clothed me?
I hope in sharing my experience, others will realize it’s OK to feel the sadness and to express it. It is necessary even, to grieve the mother you did not have or do not have. Not just once, but as often as you feel the need. When the sadness is intense, and the grief is almost unbearable, talk about it. Lean on someone you trust. Get professional help. It is absolutely worth it. You are worth it.
Dealing with toxic family members can be challenging and heartbreaking. We love the encouragement and advice found in When to Walk Away. Don’t have time to sit and read? You can listen here, on Audible.
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