When Mother’s Day hurts: 5 empowering ways to be the loving mother you never had

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candace foldenby Candace Folden

Mother’s Day is here. It’s a day devoted to celebrating the beautiful love and unbreakable bond between a mother and her child. For many people, their experience of a mother is one of nurturing, love, support and tender care. They look forward to this time of year to honor their mother and her contribution to their life. But there are many other people who didn’t have a fulfilling maternal relationship.

People who had physically or emotionally distant mothers, judgmental and harshly critical mothers, or emotionally withdrawn, shut-down mothers. Mothers who ignored or withheld love in some form. Mothers who manipulated or put them in the parent role too young. Narcissistic mothers. Engulfing or boundary-less mothers. Over-controlling mothers. Mothers who have passed on but left damage in their wake.

For these people, Mother’s Day can be a confusing, painful, guilt-laden day filled with grief, anger, sadness, disappointment, betrayal and a deep sense of loss. If you’re one of those people, this article is for you. It does not replace a mother’s love, but it will show you how to start giving that love to yourself.  Here are five ways to do that:

  1. Acknowledge the loss

If you were to ask most of my clients about their relationships with their mothers, they are in varying states of readiness to see the truth. Some people initially say their mothers were wonderful, while others know their interactions have always been empty and unfulfilling. No matter where they are in this process, eventually they start to see a realistic picture of who their mother actually was to them.

And it’s painful. Profoundly painful.

There is a tremendous sense of loss and grief as they come to accept that the mother they had and the mother they needed are two entirely different people. They have to say goodbye to the mom they longed for in order to embrace the truth of the mother they have. As agonizing as this process is, it’s absolutely necessary before they, and you, can start to make changes.

  1. Examine what you didn’t get that you needed and deserved

Once you’ve seen your relationship with your mother for what it is, you start to get a sense of the tangible and intangible things you really needed to thrive. Maybe you lacked guidance and needed help with making decisions like where to go to college, or how to choose friends. Perhaps you got the message somehow that your thoughts and opinions didn’t matter, so you needed validation.

I had a client recently tell me so poignantly that all she wanted from her mother was her time and her attention. It’s the one thing she never got. Ask yourself, What did I need from my mother that I did not receive? Just notice the answers without judgment.

  1. Start to give yourself the things you didn’t get

Never shown how to balance and checkbook and manage your money? Grab a friend who’s great at that and ask them to show you. Lacking in nurturing? Nurture yourself.

Draw yourself a hot bubble bath, fix yourself a steaming mug of tea, wrap yourself up in a thick robe, fluff up your pillows and tuck yourself into bed.

If you were ignored, start paying attention to yourself. If you were smothered and engulfed, imagine yourself as a separate person with your own unique thoughts, opinions, beliefs, ideas and experiences. If you had to be the other parent, give yourself permission to play and let loose. You get the idea. Practice. Experiment. It will feel strange at first. Persist.

  1. Detach to the extent possible

Do something right now. Get a picture of yourself at a younger age. It doesn’t matter what the age. You will know. Look into that child’s eyes. See the innocence and beauty.  Feel the heart that wants to connect. See the soul that wants to belong.

Those feelings and impulses and drives are healthy and normal. You were not wrong to have them. You just happened to have a mother who couldn’t meet them. And that wasn’t about you.

As a child, you had to make it about you to survive. You had no choice. But you have a choice now. Allow yourself to think about what kind of relationship you’d like to have with your mother. Figure out how much time (if any) would you like to spend with her. Where would you like to spend that time? Who else would you like to be there? Give yourself permission to allow the answers that come up.

  1. Commit to your own healing

I say this to all my clients: You may not have gotten what you needed growing up, and that wasn’t your fault. But it is your responsibility to start healing the wounds you incurred because of that.

This isn’t an article about blaming your mother, or vilifying her. The truth is, she did the best she could with the tools and resources she had. And so have you. If my words tug at your heart, that’s your signal that it’s time for you to learn a different way of living. Accept the invitation, my friend.

Candace Folden is a licensed therapist and women’s empowerment coach. She’s the proud owner of Solstice Counseling and Consulting PLLC