This article is for all those who, by their own choice, are estranged from their mothers. I just want you to know that I understand, there’s no shame in your choice, and I’m with you.
Confession: I don’t have a happy relationship with my mother.
In fact, by my own doing, it’s been years since we spoke. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Christmas, my own daughter’s milestones… they all pass, her god-knows-where in the world and me insulated in my little bubble with the family of my own creation.
The family of my creation, (my husband and my daughter), is where I give my energy. It’s not that I don’t love and miss my mother, I do. But I’ve come to realize that I miss an idealized memory of my mother, not the woman she actually is.
The woman I am now knows too much to maintain a sham relationship. I have a daughter now. It matters more than ever that I stop making excuses for toxic behaviours. I can understand and empathize with my mother’s trauma and still take distance from her in order to protect myself and my family.
I am comfortable with my choice to be estranged from my mother but that doesn’t take away the sting. Once, my daughter had friends coming over who needed gluten-free snacks so I made a special batch of French macarons. I felt happy and warm inside as I lovingly piped buttercream. It felt really good in my body and heart to show care for my daughter by caring for her friends’ needs. It was a simple moment of lightness that dreams of motherhood are made of, and I thought to myself happily, “I’m a good mom!”
Suddenly a dagger of thought came at me: “Too bad you’re such a shitty daughter.”
I was taken aback. Sometimes, the pain of loss comes on suddenly and out of nowhere, like a rogue wave. Sometimes it comes as anger, shame and resentment. Sometimes it comes as tears. Sometimes I just feel lost like an orphan or a stray dog.
It’s disturbing to notice how deeply entrenched the concepts of “mother” and “daughter” are in my own psyche. Perhaps I’m over-sensitive, but feel-good narratives seem reinforced all around me. (Apple pie, anyone? Or a French macaron?)
Mothers are supposed to be steadfast and nurturing or, at the very least, present.
Daughters are supposed to be loyal and loving or, at the very least, tolerant.
So what does it say about me that I can’t make peace with my mother?
Well, first off, I have to ask – what does “make peace with my mother” even mean?
If it means that I just let bygones be bygones and start from where we are today, then there is still no peace to be had because the continued secrets, lies, and poor communication convoluted by addiction and depression render that impossible.
If it means forgive, I can do that. I don’t find it difficult to pray for her, to bless her, to wish her well, to hold her lovingly in my thoughts and acknowledge her pain.
If it means renew the relationship to restore connection between my mother and my daughter in spite of the problems previously stated, um no. Not for now, anyway.
Instead of “making peace” with my mother (*cough* “enabling”), I choose to sit in the dark place of sorrow, grief and shittiness until I find my way back to my own inner peace.
I really do feel that the security and protection of distance is the best thing for me and my family. I may change my mind later, but for now I accept and honour my decision not to have a relationship with my mother. It’s difficult for everyone but there’s no easy solution.
Problems have solutions. But predicaments are problems with no solution.
Faced with a predicament, all we can do is respond.
Quite often, the best response is simply to allow ourselves to feel. it. all.
What’s called for in times of dark dilemma is care of the soul. This means to put our trauma into a spiritual context:
I’m not broken just because I feel despair.
I’m not damaged even though I can’t connect find connection with my family.
I’m not a spiritual failure for withdrawing from my mother.
I am human and being a human is hard.
But it gets easier when I realize that my mother is in charge of her own soul and I am in charge of mine.
If I enable my mother then I am denying her the chance to know her soul more intimately, painful as that may be. I can’t walk her path for her.
It’s in the acceptance of my feelings that I find a measure of transcendence. When I honour my pain by witnessing it, I comfort and restore my soul.
In the pain of absence and loss, I sometimes even find richness, meaning and dignity as I accomplish the task of exploring the depth of my grief. As I hold myself apart from my mother, I regenerate a greater capacity for being good to those I love and hold near.
When I accept the dark gift of estrangement, I allow a different kind of simplicity to take residence in my life.
This feels peaceful to me.
The restoration of one’s soul takes a craftsman’s eye, hand and heart. It’s reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Awakening Slaves; it requires an ability to see the more subtle beauty hinted at under the form. And there is beauty, even in this pain.
Freeing spirit from form is a constant struggle between our desires and our obligations. Finding peace in taking care of our soul in spite of social expectations is never going to stop being hard. Addressing intergenerational trauma in the current family dynamic is tough, lonely work.
There are no solutions to be found here. Only predicament.
Only slow progress to reveal what’s true.
Only the best response we can muster all things considered.
Only acceptance that there is no cure for what ails us.
Only an invitation to tend with care to the places where we hurt.