“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself… You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…” ~Kahlil Gibran
Now that my daughters are in therapy trying to heal their relationship with me, I have more compassion than ever for my mom. I haven’t felt angry at her in years. But when I was a teen, I earnestly desired to kill her more than once.
I was in my forties when my mom died. Afterward, I had frequent dreams about her chasing me around, telling me I wasn’t good enough. The dreams lasted nightly for about six months and occurred for a few more years when I felt stressed. The last one I remember, she was chasing me under the covers of the bed, screaming my worst fears—that I was unlovable and unworthy—reinforcing my wounded child.
About twelve years after she died, I was able to come to a place of comfort with her. While in deep meditation I saw a vision of her spirit bathed with light and love. Freed from her mental and physical sufferings, I saw her as I had seen her when I was a child—my universe.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t see herself as I did in those days. I knew that she was beautiful. I remember thinking about it as a young child, and when she was dying. How often I’d searched her face, looking for her to see me.
Like my dad, I have prominent facial features. I wished I had her cute small nose and her pretty lips that always looked beautiful in her Berry Berry Avon lipstick. She had blue eyes, which I rarely saw straight on. She was uncomfortable with her looks. I don’t remember any direct eye contact with her unless she was angry, though I realized there must have been.
She was born with a crossed eye. Her story was that her parents were accused of having a sexually transmitted disease that caused it, which brought great shame. My mom was also dyslexic. Sometimes at school, she had to wear a dunce cap and stand in the corner or hall because she couldn’t spell. These challenges shaped her self-worth from a young age.
I loved looking at pictures of her in her twenties with long dark wavy hair, stylish glasses, and a beautiful smile.
When she died, I didn’t cry. I proclaimed that her reign of terror had ended, and I held on to my anger for twelve more years. That day in meditation, when I was able to break through the veil of outrage that kept me in my darkness, I saw her as a bright light in my life.
I had known for years that some of my healing depended on letting go of the story of my time with my mom—one of mental health issues, abuse, and unhappiness. I needed to take time to process our relationship and see her beyond her earthly life. When I was finally able to, I felt better than I expected.
Through my experience and my work with other women, I’ve learned that the mother wound—our unresolved anger at the flawed woman who birthed or raised us—is two or threefold.
Our first challenge is processing the actual events that happened as we were growing up.
The second is letting go of our reluctance to be fully responsible for our mental and physical health as adults.
And, if we have children, the third is not wounding ourselves—realizing that there was never a scenario where we could be the perfect parent we had hoped to be—no matter how self-sacrificing we were.
Processing Our Childhood
Our work as adults is to make a conscious effort to process the hurt, anger, and betrayal that we endured from the female authority figure that raised us (or the figure who was our primary caregiver).
Even if we resolve that our mother did her best, we are still left to sort through our shame over not feeling loveable or good enough, and the feeling that we missed out on the experience we should have had growing up. Processing and healing could mean seeing a therapist, journaling, or even stopping all contact with our mother.
I moved far away from my mom, which minimized my contact and gave me space to process. But I kept the past alive in my thoughts. Now when I look back, I see that holding on to my anger well into adulthood added to the years of feeling like I was missing out on a normal life. In the end, I was responsible for my own healing, and it didn’t happen overnight.
Now, at this place in my life journey, I see the hard parts of my life as the foundation for my life’s purpose, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
I’ve met enough people to know that even those who had the perfect parents—like we all wanted—also have challenges as adults. My work to heal has led me to a deep understanding of the human condition and fueled my passion to love and to help uplift the suffering of all.
How Our Commitment to Self-Care Helps Heal Our Mother Wound
We looked to our mother to provide emotional and physical nourishment. Her inability to do this (or do it consistently) created our feeling that we were wronged by our mother. Now, as adults, we need to let go of thinking our mother will take care of us and do our own nurturing work for ourselves. That might seem like a harsh statement, but it enables us to move on.
The second part of healing my mother wound was letting go of the part of me that doesn’t take care of myself. That little voice in my head that apathetically whispers, “I don’t care” about little things that would improve my health, help me sleep better, or feel successful.
That little voice doesn’t have as much power over me anymore. So instead of overeating in the evening, which would affect my ability to sleep well, I can override it—most days. I’m also able to notice that when I don’t take care of myself, I open myself up to being the wounded child again.
We didn’t have a choice when we were young, but now the choice is ours. We need to decide when and how we take up the torch.
When Our Mother Wound Becomes a Mothering Wound
My mother wound turned into a mothering wound when I didn’t live up to my hopes of being a perfect parent. Of course, I had intended to be the loving, nurturing, protecting mother, who produced adults without any challenges, but alas, I was not. How could this happen? I tried so hard.
I was able to find alternatives to the punitive, violent punishments, shaming, and blaming tactics that my mother used, but as a young parent, I was still challenged with low self-worth issues and an eating disorder.
Although some of the things that occurred during the three marriages and two divorces that my daughters and I experienced together were horrific, we were luckily able to process a lot of them in real time with therapy and tears.
Now, with their adult awareness, my daughters are processing their childhood, including my addictions, insecurities, and mistakes. It is almost torture to watch them do that, even though I know they must. And they are so busy with their lives now—as they should be. I miss them.
To weather this time of my life and continue to grow, I need to employ my practices of understanding, compassion, and detachment, and take deep care of myself. Continuing to love my daughters deeply, to be on call whenever they need me, and at the same time be detached from needing them, has called me to deeper depths of my character.
We all deserve to be treated respectfully and kindly. As daughters and mothers, we can role model compassion—empathy in action—and boundaries with our mother and our children. We can strive to create relationships that mutually nourish loving-kindness.
We can focus on healing our past and taking care of our future. We all need to communicate this clearly to our mothers, partners, and children. And, although we can’t walk away from our underage children, we can set boundaries that facilitate healthy relationships now.
We can be clear—our children don’t need their lives or their mother to be perfect. They need to know that they are loved, and they need to see us love ourselves. Holding on to this love for them and for ourselves when our children are troubled, distant, or even estranged is one of our biggest tests as parents. My heart goes out to any mother dealing with these challenges, especially if you are dealing with them alone.
I never stopped wanting my mom to be happy. She is now at peace, maybe even joyful. I strive to let myself be at peace. I let myself live in this place of deep tenderness for her—and now for me. I understand that my experience is universal. I needn’t feel alone.
I realized that this confident and peaceful version of me is the best I can do for my daughters as they heal their mother wounds and take care of themselves, as I am doing for myself.
To healing our mother wound is to remember that it is ultimately a spiritual journey. Not only are we trying to figure out the depths of our own purpose, but we are bound to the journeys of our kin.
As with all spiritual journeys, there will be rough passages that tear our heart open and ask us to become more. The journey of the mother is the journey of love. We need to remember, no matter what rough journey is behind us, we are the designers of the path ahead.
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