Four Steps to Forgiving a Mother Who Wasn’t There for You.
*This is not a conversation on grief for loss due to death. It is intended to help you navigate the murky waters of “if only” …please reach out to a grief therapist for qualified grief counselling.
Become fully conscious of your loss.
Many times (like me in the past), you can’t or won’t acknowledge the impact of your loss of being mothered and end up thinking it had something to do with you. You skirt around looking for reasons to justify her not being there for you.
She wasn’t capable of parenting (for… reason.)
I wasn’t enough for her to want to stay.
She had to leave because… (fill in the blank.)
These reasons, perhaps legitimate, won’t create the conscious acknowledgement that the impact of her not being there, had on your psyche.
Becoming aware means, in part, not making up stories about why she wasn’t there. The stories give you a way to escape having to deal with your loss and take you away from really seeing her. That gives you a softer landing but ends up covering your actual pain. Stay aware and know that this is about her, not you.
Allowing all emotions.
It may feel taboo for you to hold hostile feelings towards your mother. It’s almost as if you’re breaking some ancient ritual. But feelings are just that…feelings. The important thing is to notice that they exist because, at this moment, they may be your best resource to uncovering your path to forgiveness.
For a few moments, detach yourself from the idea that this is about you. Making it about you, like, I’m wrong for hating my mother, or creating excuses for her to soften the reality of her absence, all protect you from the ugly truth. For now, all you need to do is let your feelings escape so they can be caught.
It’s ok to allow these feelings to exist on the surface of your life. At least on the surface, they can be examined and likely found false. If they remain buried, they’ll just find another way to show up (outbursts, a sudden pang of sadness, feeling not good enough). That’s really damaging to your relationship with your partner, your work can suffer, and you end up feeling like a canoe being tossed around in rough waters.
Now that you have become conscious and allowed your emotions to just be, you need to accept and come to terms with your loss.
She won’t be there for your wedding, she won’t be there for the birth of your first child, nor will she be there when you need guidance, comfort and the kind of consolation that only a mother can give.
But what you need to accept the most is not so much that she wasn’t there, but that you still need her to be what she’s not. You feel the pain of Mother’s Day, the envy of your friends who have lunch with their mom, chattering away, sometimes arguing but always connecting through the maternal bond. You’ll feel the emptiness when you can’t share your life in a mother-daughter relationship. You’ll wish you had that.
It will get better if you can accept the hard truth that she’s not there for you. Acceptance means, in part, understanding that it has no reflection on you that she was not there.
Know that you are worth loving, you have love to offer and you can and will healthily move past this. You won’t need to bury your sadness because you understand why it’s there – it was her life choices, not yours.
The next time you are stopped by envy or yearning, with the work you have done, you can create wonderful opportunities for mothering from strong women while at the same time learn to mother yourself.
Now express what you’re feeling (through music, art, journaling or anything that takes you temporarily out of your rational mind).
Don’t try to figure it all out. It’s likely to feel overwhelming, and your mind will start to fight against it to protect what it thinks is best for you. But your mind will operate from a negative space until you train it otherwise. It’s sort of like a friend that is too abrasive when they try to help, and they just end up hurting you.
Use what you created or wrote as a starting point in accepting that this really happened. She did leave. She was emotionally unavailable. She was abusive. Mothers aren’t supposed to be like that, but yours was.
If you move through these steps as best as you can, it will get better. You’ll find women around you who become mothers to you. You’ll notice that her absence created a void, but you filled it with becoming the best mom you could be (even if it’s to a furbaby).
You’ll experience the joy of the type of love that can’t be broken because it’s real. You’ve done the work to heal and returned to yourself. It’s not lurking in the dark corners of family get-togethers, nor will it jump out at you when you hear a baby cry, and you cry in resonance to mourning your loss.
You’ll know that you are a great mom or advocate for moms because your own mother’s lack of presence is weaker than your perseverance to work through the pain and come out on the other side.
And then, as if by divine guidance, you’ll know that her not being there was never personal, it was never about you.
You’ll find your own way of forgiving her, and it won’t just be lip service. It will be long-lasting understanding that her behavior was guided by her experiences, not yours. Her personal choices, her inability to move beyond her own pain or past her fears, her upbringing, her marriage – none of it was about you.
She will grow or die a broken woman, like my mother, but your fate is not entwined with hers.
You can be courageous and do the work and reap the benefits that last a lifetime.
When your yearning for her comes up, as it likely will, you can allow yourself to re-visit the pain of abandonment for a while, and it can be honored as part of you. It doesn’t have to stay buried. Keeping it buried it what makes it hurt. Treat it like you would if it were someone you loved dearly, even if they are acting like jerks. You would see them for what they are, love them from a distance, but you don’t allow yourself to become enmeshed in their drama.
Then return to your secure, empowered warrior self, knowing that you were the one that broke that familial cycle.
March on, Wonder woman!
Whether you have children, plan to or choose not to, pat yourself on the back for a job well done because your work with this will impact generations of women, even if they are not blood related.