One of the more difficult emotional pains difficult to deal with is rejection from one’s mother. As much as we may all want to cling to the belief that all mothers are like June Cleaver in the old Leave it to Beaver television show, the unfortunate truth is that not everyone had the fortune of having a wonderful, loving mother. I was one of those children.
For years I did just about everything I could think of to demonstrate how worthy I was of love and acceptance from my mother. Admittedly, there were moments of recognition, yet mostly followed with more rejection. I felt I had handled it pretty well until one year—one day—the most vulnerable holiday of all—Mother’s Day.
When I was in my 40’s, having been married and having become a mother myself, raising two wonderful children, I dressed for church one Sunday morning as my husband and I prepared to attend Mother’s Day services. Like always, when we arrived at church we sat in the front- in the second row. As the minister began his sermon that morning he spoke of the wonderful virtues of mothers and as he continued, I began to weaken and crumble inside.
As much as I wanted to deny it, I knew none of the virtues he spoke of were symbolic of my mother—the mother who had all but abandoned me. And as the minister carried on I grew weaker inside. For some reason, on this particular Sunday his words deeply touched me and suddenly all the years I had denied myself of the pain, it all came rushing to the surface.
Embarrassed that I could not hold my heartbreak back I struggled to wipe away the tears rolling down my face. Suddenly the minister had ended and we all stood for the final song, and then began to leave the church. I felt paralyzed, unable to move. Instead I sat there, trembling and quietly sobbing as my husband patiently held my hand and waited for everyone to leave. Then quietly we left the church and drove the silent drive home.
Days later I called that minister and made an appointment to see him. When I did I confessed to him my Mother’s Day experience and explained my difficult childhood. He seemed shocked at first, saying things, like “I looked so normal”, “so happy”, and “so successful”. I looked to the outside word like I’d had a wonderful childhood, thus I must have had two wonderful parents, especially a mother who loved, supported and adored me.
The truth was I was born to a mother who was never suited to being a mother. A mother who decided her own life was more important than sacrificing her dreams and desires to raise the child to which had given birth. So as an infant, I was left with my grandparents to raise me—a blessing in retrospect, yet one that took years to realize
From time to time my mother would visit me. I was much too young during those early years to know if it was out of love or out of guilt. Then later she married a man who was not my father and moved miles away to New York City.
During my teenage years we had an interesting relationship, as I remained with grandma after grandpa died, but would spend my summers in New York with my mother and step-dad, then return to grandma’s for the school year. In many ways it was more like visiting a relative than spending time with family. But for me, it became the norm.
Once I married and had children of my own mother became even more estranged, but when I had that meeting with my minister he helped to put my unique situation into perspective. He explained to me what he called “The Mother Concept.”
The minister pointed out that it is the concept of motherhood and all that it stands for that we honor on that special day that is Mother’s Day. The nurturing, the unconditional love, the belief and caring that depict mother love. We derive these from many sources beyond birth ties; friends, relatives, teachers, a neighbor who truly cares. These individuals are there if we look for them.
I had focused so much on what I didn’t have that I had ignored the wonderful mother love that came from so many others. When I began to change my thinking, I realized how much I really mattered and how very special I must have been to all those people who had reached out to care so much. Looking back, I realized that my most vivid “Mother Concepts” had tremendous impact on the fine adult I had become; a strong, loving, intelligent and caring woman who I believed most mothers would be proud to call their “daughter.”
I came to realize that regardless of my abandonment issues, there have always been positive women who have cared about me in motherly ways. Women who fed me emotionally and nurtured me in ways that truly demonstrated mother love. And, I have come to accept that there are reasons why my own mother could not be there for me in the many ways I needed her. For that I have forgiven her. Yet in her place were sent some very special women to be my Mother Concepts.
Of course there was my grandmother who raised me as her own, nurtured me, protected me and gave me a sense of belonging from the very day I was born. There was Mr. Wilson, my Girl Scout leader who treated me as her own and instilled in me the belief that I could do anything I set my mind to if I just believed enough in myself. I believed so much that I sold more Girl Scout cookies than anyone else in my town and became the Girl Scout cookie queen.
There was the elegant doctor’s wife for whom I babysat. She taught me all the finer aspects of etiquette, classic style and cared enough about my education to pull books from their private library about subjects I was studying and share them with me. And there was our family friend Noni, a professional woman who inspired the business thirst in me. Rather than being a teacher or nurse, most popular to my generation of girls, I wanted to grown up to be just like Noni—a businesswoman. And I did.
I’m sure there were others, but these are the women I remember most. And in the process, the amazing thing was that because of their efforts I was even able to look past all the negatives of my own mother and value the positives like her love of music and her sense of fashion. When all combined, I was blessed with some wonderful Mother Concepts. Together they have given me a whole new way to think about Mother’s Day.
Hopefully by sharing this, if you have ever felt that you did not have the mother described on the Hallmark card, this will give you a whole new way to think about Mother’s Day and you, like me, will see how truly blessed we have been.