I dread Mothers Day, and the weeks leading up to it. Around the first of May, it begins. That uncomfortable feeling that swells up in me whenever I see some flowery advertisement featuring happily bonded mothers and daughters posed in their soft-focus, perfectly lit scenes of domestic life. But it’s so much more than the advertisements. The cultural expectation is heavy, that we’re all supposed to have mothers who love us.
The grief I feel around Mothers Day revolves around the basic fact that I don’t know and will never know what it’s like to be loved by my mother. I don’t know and will never know what it’s like to feel safe. I don’t know what it’s like to have a mother to confide in, or trust. I don’t know and will never know what it’s like to be nurtured, or counseled, or guided. For me, Mothers Day is a reminder that I grew up without those things, I transitioned into adulthood without those things, and I will go through the rest of my life without those things.
I’ve come to accept the fact that there are some things on this earth I will never have, and the circumstances I was born into are out of my control. I have children of my own, and I’m grateful know what it’s like to be a mother who loves her children. It means the world to me that I’m able to give my children what I never had: love, compassion, understanding, attention. My kids get excited about Mothers Day, and I do my best, for their sake, to smile and play along. But the truth is, stopping the cycle of abuse and loving my own children does not make the grief go away. In some ways, grief is amplified, because I am now even more keenly aware of what I never experienced as a child. Breaking cycles means that every victory in creating happy memories for my children is tinged with horrific memories of my own childhood.
As someone who is cut off from her entire family of origin due to narcissistic and psychological abuse, grief is an everyday part of my life. After years of therapy and strategies for living with complex trauma that is rooted in events that go all the way back to my earliest moments on earth, I’ve made peace with the circumstances of my life which do not resemble a “normal” situation. It’s not just unloved daughters who feel left out on Mothers Day. It’s women who have lost children of their own. It’s women who struggle with infertility. It’s women who have blended or other other types of complicated families. It’s women everywhere, who feel the weight of not measuring up to expectations.
There must be a better way, to hold each other to a different vision for our lives. There must be a way to honor good Mothers without creating pain for everyone else. There must be a way to free people from the obligation to take difficult and abusive mothers out to brunch, or to send them cards. I take some solace that, at least this year, due to the quarantine, I will not be asked to stand up in church so people can clap for my fertility. As a child of narcissistic parents, being put on a pedestal for a day makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. I don’t want to be adulated. I want a reciprocal relationship with my husband and children that is rooted in mutual love and trust.
Mother’s Day is a problem I don’t know how to solve. All I have are coping strategies, which mainly revolve around avoiding or downplaying the event. But moms are encouraged to do what they want for the day, right? All I really want on “my” day is time and space to grieve.