Mother’s Day was originally created in the 1850s by Ann Reeves Jarvis. She wanted to bring special attention to issues around sanitation in cities, in effort to decrease infant mortality. After the Civil War, she campaigned to expand the day as a call for action for mothers to take a more active political role to end war and bring about peace. In 1908, after the death of her own mother, she shifted focus. She wanted to honor the type of mother who put her children’s needs before her own.
I haven’t celebrated Mother’s Day in years. For me, it’s just another Sunday. But there was a time when Mother’s Day was a source of major anxiety and trepidation. Before I got a restraining order against my mother and went “no-contact” with her, during the weeks leading up to the holiday, I’d spend hours at Hallmark, Papyrus, Target or other places that sold cards trying to find the perfect card. The perfect card for me was the one that didn’t say too much. I couldn’t buy a blank card because it would say too little and there were would be hell to pay from my mother. Yet the overly sentimental cards did not speak a truth that I lived. I didn’t want to feed her delusion of the good mother. I’d open and close cards, put them back. My hands would shake and I’d panic.
- “I love you mom.” I didn’t love her and never did.
- “To a lovely mom on Mother’s day.” To me she was ugly in every way imaginable.
- “To a special mom.” Yes, she was special but not in a good way.
- “Your smile brightens each day just as the morning rays shines on the hills and it’s with doubt that this gives us the courage to face the new day with joy.” – Her only pleasure was my pain and she did not instill courage. Her goal was to instill fear and subordination.
- “As many as the stars on the sky, so do I have as much regards to the woman who brought me to this world, happy mother’s day!” – She continually reminded me that since she brought me into the world she could do anything she wanted to me include take me out of it. I was in her words, “Her child.” This is what she yelled at the police when I called the cops on her for stalking me.
Part of the angst about giving a Mother’s Day card to my mother was that I knew I didn’t love her. I was always clear about that, even as a child. But I also felt as if something was incredibly wrong with me because I didn’t. When I began to finally feel the anger and rage about the abuse I experienced, I realized that I in fact hated her because she hurt me. She was so mentally and morally deficient, there was no room for love to even grow.
When my mother would abuse me, her hand raised swinging and I would beg her stop, she’d scream at me eyes glassy and animal like with saliva spewing from her mouth, “Don’t you know I love you!” As an adult her brand of terrorism filtered into my life in the form of calls to my employers when I did not comply and financial sabotage. Our relationship was more like a batterer to a significant other than a mother to a child. Anything that took attention away from her, even if it was a job needed to destroyed. So, I’m very clear that my mother did not love me. I was a thing, a possession.
They don’t sell the type of Mother’s Day card that I wanted to give her.
- “Thanks momma for the PTSD. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
- “Mom, you showed me how mothers should not be.”
- “Momma, your terrorism, abuse, have taught me so much. Because of you I have mastered the art of disassociation.”
On the first Mother’s Day after I got the restraining order against her, I felt free. For years afterward, I would call my friends, male and female, who had represented mothering for me and wish them a happy Mother’s Day. But even this felt forced and contrived but I did it because I felt like I should do something because you’re suppose to, right?
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A lot of the survivor literature talks about learning to reparent yourself. To me parenting is a bad word. The abuse I experienced even killed the fantasy of the good mommy or good daddy. Growing up in the 1970’s, my daydreams were more of the Oliver Twist and Annie variety without the rich benefactor coming to my rescue. To me parents and parental figures were bad news. I fantasized about being in an orphanage with kids who would be my de facto siblings. I dreamed of being left alone to study, leaving the orphanage for college and then getting married. There were no children. I didn’t want to spread my mother’s bad seed.
Even though I’ve witnessed moments of good parenting and can appreciate them, they still remain elusive and outside of me. The other day I was at work and my boss came running into the office and told me to peak out of the window. There was an older gentleman in a dress shirt and tie on the roof of one of the adjacent buildings trying to fly a kite. At first he wasn’t successful as there wasn’t much wind, but I watched in anticipation. Another co-worker came back in just as the man got the kite in the air and we all clapped and laughed even though he clearly couldn’t hear us. The second co-worker said, “He must be practicing for his kids or his grandkids.” I looked at him and said, “That’s what parents do?” He said, “Yes, we have to look like we know what we’re doing.”
I also had a dear friend, Norma, who passed away a number of years of ago who met my mother prior to me getting the restraining order. She had one conversation with her and knew exactly what she was. I lived with her and her husband when I first moved to Florida just as their daughter was entering college. They were a close family and whenever their daughter would call, Norma would get on one phone and her husband, Amorallah, would get on the other to speak to her. They were so excited, they would be nearly giddy after speaking with her. After one conversation, I was speaking to Norma and she was teary. I asked her what was wrong. She said, “You know. Sometimes I miss my little girl. But I’m so proud of the woman that she is going to be.”
In my world, my mother did everything to suppress my being. She did it so well, that I learned to suppress myself in ways that may take me years to uncover. In my world, parents did not go out of their way to impress or look good for the children. In my world, mothers did not take joy in their adult child’s independence.
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I no longer feel bad because she did not love me. My work, my battle is to deal with the daily ramifications of the abuse that manifest in complex PTSD, constant body pain from fibromyalgia, the grief of lost time and opportunities, and suicidal ideation that comes about when I am subjected to long-term stress and triggers. This a 365 days a year, 24/7 endeavor. My long term process of recovery is a collaborative effort between myself, my psychologist who specializes in Somatic Experiencing, my psychiatrist and my child abuse survivor’s support group.
So, I have no advice for navigating Mother’s Day. Again for me it’s just another Sunday. I no longer feel bad for not loving my mother. As they say when it comes to Mother’s Day, “You do you!”
If you need to grieve, grieve. If you need to rage, do so in a safe way. If you want to call those people in your life who have mothered you, do that. Remember, Jarvis created the day to honor mothers who put their children’s needs before their own. Jarvis wanted to honor mothers who were good parents.
Note, the holiday is called Mother’s Day not Mothers’ Day. Within that context, honor those who deserve to be honored and leave the rest behind.
[Feature Image: A photograph of a person’s face looking upward at a tree. They have straight black hair. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/diophoto/7082694959/]