I’ve hinted at some of the challenges I’ve had with my mother in other posts. This is such a tricky subject at this point in my life. For one, I’ve spent so many years processing, addressing, and healing from the damage caused. Then the other thing is, my mother and I are (all things considered) in a pretty good place so, I really don’t ever want it to seem as if I am intending to dishonor her. I’ve found myself wondering if it’s really necessary to rehash it all. But what I keep coming up with is…Yes!
The difficulties I had with my mother are not only the reason I am who I am, but they also continue to reveal themselves as the root of my persisting triggers and relational challenges. In essence, I kinda have to “go here” in order for other things that I will say to make sense and also because, I know I am not the only one as an adult still trying to overcome a parent wound. Given the fact that I do still struggle with many aspects of the damage done, it tends to be a cathartic experience for me to talk about it. I’m always able to gain just a little more resolve and healing.
Ok, landing the plane already (as my girlfriend says)… When I was a wee kid, my mother was absolutely amazing! She was so incredibly attentive and nurturing. We had home cooked meals at least five days a week, maybe even six. She was heavily involved in PTA and all of our extra-curricular activities, and we had no doubt she had our backs. People still joke about the time my mom almost beat my swim coach (R.I.P Woody) down because he thought he was going to eject me from the swim meet. In the words of Kevin Hart, “He wasn’t ready!” Big Rosa doesn’t play about her kids!
Then something shifted. I started getting older and desired more independence. Nothing unusual in adolescence. But I don’t think mom could handle it. This was also coupled with the fact that she always felt I preferred other people to her (still an issue to this day). She told me recently that as early as two years old I would gravitate to others to comfort and entertain them. She said it made her jealous. I don’t have children, but I guess I can understand how that would’ve impacted her negatively. So as I got older, her resentment continued to grow. In her eyes, not only did I seek to gain independence from her, but I was also choosing to spend all of my time with others as opposed to being with her. She’d say some really hurtful things about me and my friends. Things that still hurt me to this day when I think about them.
The truth is, I didn’t spend all of my time with others. I did enjoy hanging with my friends and their families, but I also really enjoyed spending time with my mom. She was fun and spontaneous! Nonetheless, the tone for our relationship had been set. And it wasn’t good. I started to see a completely different person than the woman I grew up adoring. This person was mean, hardened, prideful, deceitful, and manipulative. I was so confused! For awhile there, I would try to win her over again, but these attempts were either futile or short-lived. And at the point in which I gave up… she’d lost my trust. Up until a couple of years ago I made it a point not to let my mom know anything about my life. I was essentially punishing her for hurting me so badly. I felt she didn’t deserve to know.
I tell people all the time, be very careful when you encounter someone with unresolved mommy issues. Those can be some of the most dangerous people to come across. And I know this because I was (maybe even still) one of them. I truly believe, the relationship with our mothers is supposed to be our most important relationship (on earth). I mean, we were at one point physically connected to them- surviving via an umbilical cord which was literally our lifeline. When that dynamic is compromised, it really messes with a person. I’ve seen it so many times over.
My mom’s pattern of withdrawing attention and affection and the abusive words she spoke destroyed me. I mean really destroyed me. My friends know the extent to which this rotted me on the inside for years. How could I believe anything good about myself when my own mother didn’t think I was worthy of kind treatment?
To say this was hard would be an understatement. The emotional damage this caused nearly ruined my life. I’ll even venture to say this was far more challenging to deal with than being raped. See, he didn’t know me. As wrong as what he did was–mentally it was easier to accept because there was no attachment. Whereas, with my mother there was a deep attachment especially given the fact that we were once really close.
My mom was the main reason I left Philly. I always think about that when people ask me, “What made you move to Atlanta?” The truth: I wanted to be as far away from her as possible. I thought this would magically make things better. I attempted to move on with my life all the while ignoring the wound in my heart that kept bleeding. I was dealing with this, the trauma from sexual abuse, and the loss of my father concurrently. I tried to ignore it all. But when I finally decided to deal with my “stuff.” It was my mother wound that had cut me the deepest.
“Time alone did not and could not heal my wounds”
I didn’t realize how many layers of hurt there were. Just when I thought I’d moved beyond something huge, something else would surface that I’d forgotten all about. And there I was, back in that dark place. I told my counselor at one point, “I decided I’m not going to forgive my mom!” She looked at me lovingly, and softly said, “Ok.” I went back and forth on this because I really struggled with feeling like, if I forgave her, that meant I was dismissing what she’d done. And not for a single moment was I going to do that.
It took years and attacking it from so many different angles to get to a healthy place with regard to what I endured emotionally. Then I realized that even though I’d made great strides in forgiving the past I was being re-injured because my mother hadn’t changed. At that point I did something incredibly bold. I wrote my mom a letter with the following components:
- Acknowledged the wonderful job she did with us when we were young
- Expressed know how much I love her
- Shared specific examples of things she did or said that were abusive along with how those things made me feel
- Established a boundary- stating I would no longer allow her to abuse me
- Gave her the choice to do things differently or accept that I would no longer subject myself to it, even if that meant removing her from my life.
I had absolutely no engagement with my mom for a year after sending that letter. I had no idea how she received it or if we’d ever speak again. She called once after some months but I didn’t answer. For some reason, I wasn’t led to.
Let me also mention that during this time I went through a grieving process. I cried for a month straight. I was in so much pain and didn’t expect that at all. I believe I was grieving the possibility of never speaking to her again and the loss of any opportunity of us having the beautiful relationship I always dreamed of. Anyway, she called again right at a year and I answered. This time it felt right.
Our conversation was tough but it was honest. For the first time ever I had established an emotional boundary with my mother, and I was empowered to participate in that conversation as a healthy human being. This meant I was able to empathically listen to her as well as express myself logically and rationally. This call did not end on a kumbaya note but I did make a point to say “I love you, Mom” before we both agreed to hang-up. I feel very strongly uttering those words to her in that moment caused a significant shift in my heart and in the dynamic between us. It took a few more very challenging conversations to get to a point where I felt confident in my ability to engage. And what this looked like was, me being flexible enough to readjust my expectations and enforce healthy emotional boundaries.
My mom offered me something she hasn’t really offered to my siblings which was an acknowledgement and an apology for the hurtful things she said and did (she has since retracted these sentiments- unfortunately, this didn’t come as a surprise). Understand…I NEVER thought I would hear anything even remotely close to an apology coming from my mother’s mouth. Remember I referenced her being prideful above. I was astounded! I cried ginormous tears of joy when we got off the phone. I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear her utter those words. What a redemptive moment!
Look, my mom is still and will never be perfect and the same is true for our relationship. But it’s a far cry from anywhere I ever thought we’d be. I’m thankful, truly thankful! The relationship still takes a lot of work for me though. I still experience moments of disappointment and hurt. And sometimes I need to pull back because something she’s said or done has been trigger for me. The difference now is, I’m not distancing or avoiding to run away from the problem. I’m consciously taking a step back to assess and process my feelings in order to then re-engage as a healthy and whole person. The desire of my heart is to be able to engage with my mother fully, freely, and lovingly. All while I still continue to pursue healing for the things I continue to struggle with.
In short (ha ha! aint nothing short about this post), if you have a mother wound, make sure you are adequately addressing it. Acknowledge it, seek counsel (commit to sticking with it for the long haul), and figure out what emotional boundaries you need to set. You owe it to yourself and all the other people you are in relationships with to be free from this burden.