Someone important to me recently shared with me that he grew up without his mother. He shared that when he was 5, he lost his mother. He lost her to schizophrenia. His father had bailed when he was born he said. With grace, his grandparents stepped in. He and his brother were raised with their love and care.
Hearing this broke my heart and made me sad. It also made me think.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, I had a post in progress about motherhood, and particularly my experience with it both being a mother and my relationship growing up with my mother. My first line read “Mother’s Day is upon us and it’s time to honor and express gratitude for our mothers.” Then I heard this and realized that for many, Mother’s Day is a hard day to get through, reminding them of the loss of their mother.
I wrote a note to him with tears welling up in my eyes, that I wanted to reach into his chest and hold his heart. As a mother myself, I wanted to comfort him and fill that gap. Obviously, that’s not possible and I realize, even if I could, it wouldn’t work anyway. Mothers are in the center of our heart. I believe that the bond with our mothers is the single most powerful connection of all and that its nature underlies our feelings of security and safety and love. And so to have grown up without one or to have been abandoned by one for whatever reason, compromises and maybe even limits that person’s ability to ever feel secure and safe and truly loved. Maybe I’m just being dramatic in my ignorance. Either way, my heart bleeds.
I hurt for him and feel compassion for his mother at the same time. I can imagine her own heart break over not being with her children as they grew. I do believe that “the greatest masterpiece of God is the heart of a mother.” In this case, the masterpiece while in her heart, it was unseen by her children. She surely had a gaping hole and depending on her state of mind, immense guilt. I’m sure she did the best she could as I believe we all do.
As for my writing, I promptly deleted my post. Just having the words on the page made me sick. How could I be so out of touch, so wrapped up in my own experience? How could I just assume that because I grew up with a mother everybody did? And that because I have a mother still whom I cherish beyond words, that everyone does – that that’s what Mother’s Day represents? For him, Mother’s Day may represent grief, and resentment and hurt and anger and sadness and feeling lost. Perhaps it brings up emotional walls creating distance from his feelings about his mother and his experience growing up without her. Maybe Mother’s Day reminds him that he has a great deal of compassion for her and her struggle, and for those who suffer through mental illness, especially moms trying to care for their children. (Given his chosen profession as a therapist, I know he has compassion.) Maybe honoring other mothers, including his wife, gives him solace. And maybe it means that he has a greater capacity to appreciate the respect for the critical role of mothers in a child’s life.
I can’t help but think though that no matter how much positivity or acceptance placed around it, not having a mother leaves a gaping hole and that the positivity lives in the thoughts in their head, not in the feeling in their heart. I can’t help but wonder if my friend grew up with a missing piece, despite the love of his grandparents.
I apologize in advance if my sentiments are off-base. Not having lived through it, I’m just relying on my own experience and my intuition. I write as an outsider, as a mother, and with the good intention. But if my perception is misplaced or offensive even, please feel free to jump all over my shit and put me in my place in the comments section below.
I read an article where the author said what I feel captures a mother’s role perfectly: “Women are the gatekeepers of relationships and mothers unconsciously take the responsibility for the family’s harmony.” So where does that leave the motherless?
I know that people come to reconcile their painful relationship with their mother as adults. But this post isn’t for them. I write this to recognize those who grew up motherless and to honor the impact that absence means for them.
One way I can recognize them is to simply express my gratitude for my mother and to count my blessings for having her in my life. I reflect on all the times as an impudent child, I was irritated or pissed off at my mom (which was often). It makes me cringe. For the times that I complained about my mother, I am ashamed of myself. While I have never taken for granted the quality of our relationship as adults, growing up I did take for grated that she was there for me. Had I been aware then that not everyone has the opportunity to indulge themselves in complaints, perhaps I wouldn’t have been such thankless creep. I don’t know. Perhaps those interactions are just the natural progression and the look and feel of adolescence on the mother-child relationship. Either way, looking back, feel like shit about it.
I’m thankful for the opportunity my boys and I have: that we get to go through their show of emotion and resulting behavior together. I now see through new eyes. I more intensely feel the power of my role in their lives. Of course I have always been aware of that, it’s just that now, after hearing his story, my perspective has shifted. I am happy to provide a safe environment in which they can react and behave in any way towards me as their mom, be it positive or hurtful, and that I recognize that I am lucky enough to be able to guide them through it. It’s not just my duty, it’s my gift. As Rebecca Campbell points out, “I have a job that only I can do and I am rewarded in ways I can’t even imagine.” It’s a connection. It’s an essential relationship.
In this way, I’m a “force for good,” borrowing the words of the Dalai Lama, whose own experience with his mother, as he describes it, was profoundly good.
I also feel immense gratitude for the resources I have for my own treatment of my own mental illness and that despite it, I’m able to raise my kids because of effective treatment. Perhaps his mother didn’t have access to help, I don’t know, we didn’t get that far into it. Regardless, I’m being treated and am well and can nurture my children and be present for them.
I have donated to the Compassion Collective to help motherless children. I did so in honor of my mother – the donation has her name on it. I’m telling you this not to stroke my own ego, but to ask that you to consider doing the same. No donation is too small. It all goes in the same pot: to help those in need of the nurturing and love that is their right.
Thank you mom. I trust that you forgive my flaws and love me anyway. I love you always.
Your loving daughter