Monday, May 8, 2017

The Un-Mothered

I have a request: with Mother's Day approaching, can we just set aside the generalizations about mothers? I honour the care-giving that mothers do. I am a mother of two wonderful men. Becoming a mother probably saved my life- it was the first time I was actually fully IN my body and consciously connected to my life-preserving instincts. Without thought, I was surprised to find myself moving instinctively to protect my sons from my mother. I was shocked to realize how abusive my own childhood had been. There were no surprise memories- I had not forgotten anything. But suddenly I saw it for what it was and not the "normal" I had accepted as a child because there was simply no other option.

Every time I hear someone say something like, "Oh, to go back to those wonder years when we were all children and free to be who we wanted to be;" or "What a wonderful time- when our mothers took care of everything," I cringe.

The hard truth is that some of us spent our childhood terrified of and/or longing to please mothers who were unable to be caring or kind or present, and sometimes mothers who were violent and abusive. I am so glad this was not true for many- and I do love hearing people's good-mother stories. I just want us to remember that not everyone grew up that way.

So maybe we could just talk about our own experience being mothered and mothering in "I" statements, without claiming that it was what happened for "all of us." Yes, I feel a pang when I hear adults talk about mothers who were loving and supportive- but I am okay with that. I have accepted that, even after all the healing, I will still sometimes ache and grieve for something that never was.

A wonderful line by Adrienne Rich comes to mind: "There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors." Let's be that for each other- a place where there is room for acknowledging all of what has shaped us and still be known as whole.

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

Image from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming.


10 comments:

  1. Certain times of the year reopen wounds for me too. Thankfully as time passes I can see my growth and look at the experiences from new angles. Thank you for your lovely writings!

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    1. Thank you. Happily, at this point it is less of a wound opening than an old scar tinkling- bearable and useful for remembering that everyone has a different story, many of which are not covered by Hallmark :-)

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    2. Thank you for this post, Oriah. No, many of us didn't experience that idealised wonderful mother love and the Mothers Day hype is painful. The emptiness and longing I experienced has taught me, though, that loving myself is what I really need. Hallmark platitudes don't cover that path.

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    3. Thank you for sharing your gift. You put in words what my heart cries out. Bless you.

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  2. Thanks for this, Oriah. I've struggled for most of my life with the effects of my mother's emotional abuse. But some light was shone on it, and forgiveness became easier, when I took up family history as a hobby and talked to Mum about her background and upbringing. What came to light was a series of disastrous mother-daughter relationships going back at least 3 generations - my grandmother was unloving and indifferent to my mother, HER mother was, by all accounts, a very unpleasant woman - I wonder how just far back all the hurt and pain go? The chain is now broken, as I don't have kids - and am very glad of that. Knowing Mum's own hard story has made it easier to understand and forgive, and has helped me move on from seeing myself as defective and unlovable because of her rejection.

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    1. Anne, I am so glad you were able to find out this information about your family- certainly it helps to know what our parents have gone through in order to understand their behaviour, not take it personally, and forgive. My father had a brutal childhood, and some of his limitations (and abuse, mostly of my brother) were rooted in that past. It was harder with my mother until I realized she probably has an organically based brain problem- again, nothing to be taken personally. Of course, this understanding does not mean we should continue to take abuse, but with understanding we may be able to have more contact.

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  3. Thank you Oriah, for being "one of those among us..."(Adrienne Rich). One who is willing to sit with "the unnamed grief we all share" (Stephen Levine). When it comes to the grief of separation, though we do not all experience it with our Mothers, we do all experience it in some place in our lives, just by the fact that we are born into this world. It is part of being human. Thank you, Oriah, for inviting us deeper into our humanness; knowing from its depths our capacity to be humane arises.

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    1. Helen, love that you mentioned Stephen Levine- I posted this from his wife (widow) on FB yesterday: from Ondrea Levine- "On mother's day i am reminded of Stephen,since the mother is not a gender,but a attitude of loving kindness.Stephen was my mothering influence.He reparented me, as i did him and together, we healed our hearts."

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  4. Your experience is yours. That can't be denied. But mother's have a perception of it also. They do not see things as children but from the perspective of an adult.

    I have a daughter who hasn't spoken to me in years. My son tells me that she said that she never has to see me again. Over the years, I reach out to her to just say happy birthday, mMrry Christmas, send her a birthday gift... In my last communication, I complimented her on what she was doing and ho much it hurts for my daughter to shun me. Her response was if I come near her, she'll take out a protective order.

    She has such a grim, sadistic picture of me and it is robbing me of her and her of me. We have selective memory and what we focus on becomes our reality.

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    1. You are right, of course- we each have our own experience and then the understanding we create from that experience and everyone has some degree of selective memory. And we each have a responsibility to decide how to live the fullest, deepest, most merciful life we can. I hear how hurt you are by your daughter's refusal to see you- and as a mother I know it would break my heart not to see my sons and have them in my life. But we do not control other adults- and sometimes we have to love from afar. I love my mother- I always will- but I do not control what she does. It took a long time for me to accept both pieces of this- but when I did, I was able to come to some peace with what is, knowing, like all things, it might change in the future. I wish for you, that sense of peace- although I know it is more grace than choice when we are hurting.

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