It seems fitting that on today, Mother’s Day, I write a post about my mother. Mother’s Day is one of the many days throughout the year, meant to bring family together in celebration – even if that family spends most of the time on social media or squaring off in heated or silent family squabbles. Yes, yes, I acknowledge that some holidays were created by greeting card companies for the sole purpose of monetary gain. That doesn’t erase the fact that on these days, families regularly make pilgrimage to come together to honor, thank or celebrate the person(s) who mothered and fathered them.
While both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are painful for me, Mother’s Day is markedly the most painful. There is something almost sacred about the relationship between mothers and daughters. Mother’s Day is an annual reminder that my mother dishonored that bond, almost as soon as I was born. More importantly, the day is a constant reminder that I didn’t have the kind of mother I deserved. I deserved better.
I wasn’t the only child my mother failed. My older sister and I share both parents. We lived together less than a year before our dad petitioned the court for separation from our mother. The [actual] petition to the court, claims that our mother failed to fulfill her wifely duties, including sewing and keeping house. It goes on to say that neighbors told our dad that she was entertaining another man during the day, while he was away working. And when he confronted her, she said she wasn’t going to stop and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. When a divorce was finally granted – it was done so in his favor. Our mother got custody of me, our dad got custody of my sister, and they both had unstructured, shared cross-visitation. What I’ve read in these documents, provided entirely by my sister, is not the story I got when I was growing up.
When I was 6 our mother remarried. She and her new husband moved to Dallas, with me in tow. She told everyone in Dallas that she had one daughter, me. I corrected her the first few times I heard the error. But quickly learned that it’s ok to lie, if it benefits you and doesn’t hurt others. We saw each other less than ~6 times during our childhood school days. As a consequence, my sister and I never bonded. Hurt and resentment developed; my mother, her dad, our step-dad. The grass is always greener, isn’t it?
I was ~31 when I entered Trauma Therapy. As the Therapist and I walked through my life in a chronological fashion, I began to see events, but most importantly – people, more objectively. I didn’t know what a ‘normal’ family was. But I suspected mine didn’t qualify. I wasn’t wrong.
As a child, I spent thousands of hours observing my mother’s behavior. Trying to predict, trying to avoid, trying to stop the next eruption of hurtfulness. I did occasionally see glimpses of hope, usually in the form of special gifts or outings. But I quickly learned that these things came with strings. They solidified alliances and assured compliance. As I aged, my mother used IOUs as leverage and control over my life. They gave her the right to say and do anything to me and my children – without penalty.
There’s a difference between being a mother and mothering. My mother gave birth to me. My mother harmed me and put me in harm’s way. She either didn’t notice or she looked the other way. And when I tried to tell her, she wouldn’t acknowledge anything. She made no effort to put me first. To her, if she wasn’t the one being harmed, it didn’t happen or it shouldn’t be worried about. And if it wasn’t about her it wasn’t worth remembering.
What I never saw or felt was true warmth, unconditional love, and acceptance. I never felt like she had my back. Not even once. It’s not that she didn’t try. It just wasn’t in her. So my mother clearly didn’t mother. Her lack of mothering has had a major impact on my life and my emotional health. The same truth holds true for my sister. I’ve been officially diagnosed (3 times) with Complex-PTSD from Childhood Trauma. That trauma extended until the time I went NO CONTACT with my mother. I was 46 years old. It’s no secret where my issues come from. My sister is Bipolar. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for my sister to be repeatedly left behind by my mother, and then not mothered at all.
Oh wait, I can.
On Mother’s Day, I mourn the idea of the mother I deserved to have – but didn’t. I mourn for my mother, who will never truly experience what it’s like to be selfless for either of her daughters, her grand-daughters, and her great-grand-daughters. But I do not mourn her absence in my life. These last 8 years have given me the opportunity to truly define who I am as a person and as a woman. I celebrate and thank her for that. And I thank her for giving me life.
On Mother’s Day, I honor my mother-in-law. June was the closest thing to a mother I’ve ever had. She gave me a hard time about the difficult relationship I had with my mother. But 5 minutes after she actually met my mother, June pulled me aside and quietly said, “You poor thing. I’m so sorry about your mother. I’ll be your mother from now on”. And she truly was my mother from that day forward. She mothered me and my children. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, celebrate her love, and mourn her passing.
Happy Mother’s Day Dr. June Ross