How are you and your mother related? You feel like you are nothing alike. As a child you never felt close, never felt like you fit in the family or were wanted. You spent your adolescence angry with her, rebelling against her and fighting with her. As an adult you quickly moved out of the house, made your own way, living by your own rules and your own standards. You’ve told yourself you don’t need her. Your friends are your family. You’re 25 now and don’t need a mother anymore.
But then sometimes you talk to your mother on the phone, and at the end, you wish she said, “I love you,” instead of just goodbye.
Back home on holidays, you wish she was proud of you, wish that she bragged about you to the relatives and her friends. No, your brother is the successful golden child. Your sister is the cute one everyone loves. You seem to be the child your mother didn’t want. As you walk in her front door, she looks you up and down, judging you with her steely gaze, as you secretly long for her to look in your eyes and smile. When you exchange the obligatory hug, you secretly wish she held you longer. You watch the way she talks to your siblings. Why doesn’t she talk to you that way? Why doesn’t she want you? What is so wrong with you that your mother doesn’t want you?
Blinking away tears, you make an awkward joke in an attempt to disguise your feelings. You can’t let anyone see how you are aching inside.
There’s more to this story. You’re wounded. You have been hurt deeply and in those dark moments, you longed for a mother who would comfort you, take care of you, and affirm you. But when you were hurt, she wasn’t there. You were all alone, struggling, while your mother was far away.
Maybe she is the one that hurt you. Maybe she wounded you through a barrage of critical words or through her absence, through abandoning you in times you needed her.
Maybe she was cold and distant. Maybe she was overwhelming, critical, abusive. Whatever the case, she hurt you. She was supposed to be the one to care for you, and she hurt you.
Sometimes it makes you so angry. It’s not fair! Aren’t mothers supposed to love and accept their children? You are never good enough for her. You have never felt wanted. It feels like there is a hole in your heart that you can’t ever quite fill.
You find yourself looking for mothers in other places – a neighbor, a relative, a lover, a friend. They help fill the hole somewhat, but they’re never enough. No matter how many people you find to fill that hole, and no matter how independent you become, the hole is still there.
Frustrated by your mother’s absence or hypercritical eye, you examine yourself in the mirror to decide whether you are acceptable. You work very hard to accomplish things in your life. You work hard to be independent, attractive, and fascinating. You look in the mirror and are proud of the strong, confident, thriving woman you are.
You keep busy, since the busier you are, the less time you have to feel.
But then something triggers a memory. As you walk home through the pouring rain, completely drenched, you see a mother holding an umbrella over her daughter’s head. Somehow the sight triggers you and you start crying, your tears mingling with the rain drops.
You cry for the mother you wish you had. You cry for the mother you have, who doesn’t seem to want you.
You wish you had a mother to hold an umbrella over your head, in the days that life is hard and you feel broken.
Suddenly you’re embarrassed that people on the street may have noticed your tears. You tighten your mouth and run home through the rain. Back in your apartment, you change into dry clothes and play sad songs on repeat. You keep telling yourself that you’re ok, you’re strong, but your heart aches for the mother you always wanted but never had.
The forbidden questions snake into your brain, “Why doesn’t my mother love me? Why doesn’t she want me? What is so terrible about me?” These questions may never be answered.
Having an absent mother is no reflection on your worth. You are immensely valuable.
The wound may never quite go away, but over time you will learn how to be your own mother, to live with grace and strength while still being authentic to yourself. You’re not a child anymore. Now you are a strong, independent woman. Sometimes you still ache for the mother you didn’t have, but then you take a deep breath and find strength in yourself. And if you ever become a mother, you will know how to love your child. In the way, you always wanted to be loved.