As Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded that not everyone has had a motherly experience worth celebrating.
For some, their current relationships and histories with their mothers are toxic, negatively impacting their emotional and mental health. Despite our mothers being alive and well, the grief of estrangement can feel just as intense as if she had passed away. We may notice feelings of worry, fear, and irritability and not know where the feelings come from or why.
In short, “mommy issues” are a real thing.
Society portrays the bond between mother and child as innate, unconditional, and loving. Yet, we rarely consider how a mother’s trauma, emotional deficits, and unresolved issues can impact her parenting and, as a result, her children’s development throughout life. Mothers would have a profound and lasting effect on children’s identity formation, even if they were absent parents.
In the Black collective, we are raised to blindly obey our parents even in the face of blatant harm and unhealthy dynamics. Calling out an issue and even implementing boundaries is often labeled as disrespect instead of normal, healthy, and appropriate behavior for an adult. Children into adulthood are guilted into feeling responsible for their mother’s well-being, emotions, and care. We are to hold their sacrifices and, in reverence, reconcile the damage. I have had the unfortunate experience of watching adults struggle to emotionally differentiate from their parents, being able to see themselves apart from their role as the child. Mothers are the vessel through which we enter this life. We come through them, yet we hold the ability to create our individual life experiences.
For a woman, the mother is often our introduction to womanhood. She is the standard by which our brown eyes and shapely hips measure and model our growth. But how do we measure ourselves when our mother is detached, uncaring, unaffectionate, and critical? How do you find yourself when your nurturer is jealous or in secret competition with you? She significantly impacts our self-esteem and coping abilities. She may even be why you don’t “get along” with women or have difficulty trusting your romantic relationships. Perhaps she was guarded, hardened by her own traumatic experiences, not having healed. So now you wear her hand-me-down hurts like the armor of protection, unknowingly barricading yourself from the connection you seek with others.
Feeling indebted to your mother
You didn’t ask to be here, yet there seems to be an indebtedness that comes with toxic mothering. The expectation is for children to repay their mother for parenting and providing for them. Unfortunately, this sometimes occurs when the mother is a single parent. While it is healthy to be grateful for your parents’ love, care, and support, even honoring your parents’ contributions is healthy. However, feeling that appreciation requires financial reward or obligation can cause strain and resentment.
Breach of boundaries by your mother
Simply put, healthy boundaries create a line that separates what belongs to you from what belongs to others. Whether emotional, physical, financial, or intellectual, boundaries allow you to give within appropriate limitations. For example, suppose your mother feels entitled to your home/belongings, dismisses your obligation and responsibilities in favor of you meeting theirs, or minimizes your emotions. In that case, this could indicate the need to create boundaries.
Jealous or competitive mother
Mother-daughter rivalries aren’t uncommon. Instead of being supported and applauded, mothers who are jealous of their daughters will often minimize or dismiss their accomplishments, sabotage, or respond passively. She may even compare herself to you and find happiness in your difficult moments. It’s OK to create distance and love from a space that allows you to remain emotionally safe and aligned with your morals.
My hope for you is that you can see yourself as a unique, individualized expression of your higher power’s majesty and not a reflection of your mother’s pain. You can recognize the beauty in your strengths and weaknesses and become more open to vulnerability in all parts of you. You can welcome those parts of you with open arms and allow them a seat at your table. I hope that your experience with the children in your life is softness, unconditional love, and patience. On this Mother’s Day, I invite you to be gentle and compassionate with yourself, see your mother for who she is, and experience more freedom and abundant love. The little girl in you deserves it.
About the author
Ce Anderson M.S., L.P.C. is a licensed psychotherapist, mental health advocate, and speaker dedicated to educating and empowering others in the areas of domestic violence, sexual assault, mental health, wellness, and more! A sought-after expert on wellness, domestic violence, sexual assault recovery, and setting healthy boundaries, she has been seen and heard on the likes of NPR and NBC. Ce engages your workforce via speaking engagements, training, workshop facilitation, and motivational mentoring. A clinician who is also a survivor, Ce empowers others from a place of authenticity, bringing awareness and healing to those touched by sexual and domestic violence.
Her book, Love TAPS: Red Flags of An Abuser and How to Get Out, is available on Amazon.