Today is a hard day. There are a few reasons and I’m sure I’m not the only one writing about this. Today is laced with shame and laden with dissonance more than any other holiday for me… and many others.
Last Mother’s Day, I had been in counseling for a few months and was starting to realize how much harder I struggled in my relationship with my mom than I had ever realized. Because of this, I decided that I would skip my church service on Mother’s Day and sit in a calm and quiet coffee shop, reading, writing, reflecting, journaling… trying to understand. I just couldn’t bear to be surrounded by families all dolled up and listen to a message talking about how absolutely amazing moms are. I just couldn’t anymore. And for the first time, I decided it was ok not to. It was healthy. It was my choice. And it definitely became a personal tradition.
Now, before moms out there get their panties in a wad, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t celebrate. By all means, if that’s where you are, it deserves to be celebrated.
But hear me out. I don’t have a good relationship with my mom… actually, I feel like I don’t have any real relationship with her, but I’ll touch more on that in a bit. In addition to not really having that loving relationship with my own mom, I’m also not a mom. I don’t have kids. And yet I do have kids—18, currently. I don’t have kids that are mine even though I would like to and honestly, I believe I would be a great mom. That can sting hard at times, especially when you make a living with kids (who accidentally call you mom) every day.
Or what if you’re adopted and deep down you know that for the rest of your life, you have a permanent connection to a woman you’ll never know? What if you’ve lost a child? What if you lost your mom when you were very young or never had a mom?
There are many other reasons, but the last one I’ll bring up for today is—well, I’ll just tell you one of the many stories. I was assessing the reading level of one of my students this week and our book was about a boy helping his mom at the grocery store. The student was already struggling with the book, but after reading, I asked them comprehension questions. “How do you think the boy feels in this story?” “Happy.” I wrote that down. It’s what all the students say because the kids is smiling at his mom on every page. As I was writing, this student laid sideways on the chair and kept talking, “It’s not fair.” “What’s not fair?” I asked. “My mom does drugs and I’m in foster care,” he said from, now, under the table. Literally. I knew these things already, but his factuality and awareness of his situation made my heart hurt. I wrote his response on our records sheet, highlighted it and called it done, abandoning the rest of the questions. I’d like to see an admin staff come at me for having an incomplete sheet. He’s one of three students that I’ve had in foster care just this year alone. Every year I’ve had at least one student who did not have a “traditional” family with a mom, usually more than one. The week leading up to Mother’s Day is a delicate one as we make cards and projects. I try to keep it open so that students are able to create something for another loved one or friend or even work on an entirely different activity if they want. Thank God school’s out by Father’s Day…
How weird is this holiday for people who don’t have or feel what we’re told we’re supposed to have or feel? It’s really, really hard and confusing. It’s like grating on our hearts. The lovey-dovey-mommy image is portrayed as the norm, and if you don’t have lovey-dovey feelings for your mom, you feel significant shame and severe internal wrestling. You wonder what’s wrong with you. You wonder why you’re bad.
And then one day, you have a counselor look you in the eye and ask you, “How did your mom hurt you?” “What?” “How did your mom hurt you?” “No, I said my dad was the alcoholic…” “I know, but what I’m asking is how your mom hurt you?” “…what?” She wrote it out and had me take a picture. I was literally speechless. She told me to think about it and… boy, did I think about it. Pages of memories or moments later, I realized that she had loosened the lid to a closed box that I didn’t even know existed.
She isn’t a horrible person by any means. And not everything was bad. That’s what makes it hard. It would be easier if things were black and white. Randomly I’ll have a possibly pleasant memory and ponder it. Like, the other day, I remembered a time when she made homemade donuts one morning and the memory brought a strange mixed feeling. It sounds nice, but for some reason, I felt tense and cringy. Why? What else happened that morning? Or there was always the library. She loved the library and took us there often, which worked out for me because I loved the library too, still do. One of my sisters did not feel the same way and often voiced her disinterest, but for me, I think I loved how much you could learn and explore at the library. My mom could get lost in a book. It was her escape from the world she lived in. As I look back now, I wonder how often I felt like she was disatisfied with life… like she just didn’t want to be there.
Actually, I knew she was dissatisfied with her life. Or at least I knew the times when she was. She voiced her grievances often with us. Most often about our dad. Sometimes other family members. Sometimes about other people. No matter what it was about, it wasn’t just something we heard, it was something I felt intensely. She could be scary. She scared me. I was scared of her. She could scream a terrifying scream when she was frustrated or angry. I don’t remember how frequently this happened, but I remember it. I can’t forget it. I can’t forget the fealing of fear and tension. I can’t forget wanting to stay in my room with the door closed not wanting to come out. Not knowing if it was safe to come out or if she was in a mood. I hated walking on eggshells. I hated living on eggshells. She had a lot of reasons not to like her life, but we were a part of that life. I was a part of that life. And I felt like she just didn’t want to be there. I can’t remember a moment when I felt like she took delight in me. I don’t feel like she ever enjoyed me. I truly don’t think she ever really knew who I was or wanted to know who I was.
She didn’t know my heart.
She was there because she had to be. I felt like a burden. She tried. I do believe she tried. She always cooked and put food on the table, did house work, and made sure we had our schooling through highschool… but I can’t remember every feeling anything from her or for her. Except for fear and confusion. There was a lot of that.
Why didn’t she want to be there? Why didn’t she value herself to do anything about it? Why didn’t she want to know who I was, the things I thought about and liked? The times I do remember feeling courageous enough to share a small part, to show her who I was or the kind of things I thought about, I felt dismissed or rejected. I was shut down. I felt like who I was was bad. So I bottled that up nice and tight and just kept going. Feeling wrong and bad.
The hardest part is that at 16, when people finally did know more about our dad after our mom finally decided to take us and leave him, they saw her as a strong, brave, and amazing woman. Her decision was hard and took guts, yes. But I still couldn’t see the great mom people told me I had. I didn’t see the hero. I didn’t feel loved. I struggled with that alone and wrestled with feeling like a bad daughter and a horrible person.
She had her own traumas from childhood and adulthood, I know that. She was hurting and needed healing. I don’t think she intentionally did any of it to hurt us. But she did. Harm was done and this pushed me away from the already practically nonexistent relationship we had. I didn’t feel loved by her. I didn’t feel protected by her. I didn’t feel like I could trust her. As kids, I don’t remember her initiating hugs or affection. Being around her still makes me very tense and anxious. It stresses me out and makes my body hurt. I hate the feeling I get when I’m around her. She feels like a stranger to me and honestly, I don’t even have a desire to have a close relationship with her. I don’t want to go through her problems anymore. I don’t want to feel like a problem anymore. She still doesn’t know my heart, and I don’t want to put it back out there again to have it attacked or wounded.
I sent her a Mother’s Day card. I’ll text her. I know she’s been through a lot this year and I hope that she has a good day, I really do. But I’m glad I’m far away.
Even after writing all of this, I still feel like crap. I still hate this feeling. I still feel confused. There’s still so much that I feel like I’ve blocked out and that frustrates me so much. I feel like I can’t remember much from growing up except for a few seemingly insignificant memories, which doesn’t add up with the very significant feelings I have about childhood. It doesn’t make sense. It’s still SO unclear. This is frustrating and confusing and it makes me want to cry. I hurt on this day. I feel alone on this day. I wrestle on this day
Today, I want to be away from all of the thorns that prick at my wounded heart. Today, I just want to heal and be whole. So today, I’m nestling in at a coffee shop far away. I’m dragging along my books, Bible, and notepads/journals.
…and waiting for God to meet this heart where it is, broken and bruised.
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