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Mother’s Day: It Can Be Complicated

A young woman looking out the window

Mother’s Day is a holiday that holds a range of emotions, from nostalgia and grief, to love and happiness, reflecting the complexity of relationships between mothers and their children.

Each person’s story of their relationship with their mother, or their own experience of becoming a mother, has its ups and downs.

Motherhood, in theory and for many people, is portrayed as a beautiful and positive experience. From a biological standpoint, the bond between a mother and her child is deeply intimate. The connection begins long before birth, as every female is born with all the eggs she will ever have and therefore each individual starts as an egg in their mother’s womb while their mother is a fetus in her mother’s womb. The thread of motherhood runs deep. Evolutionarily speaking, a child’s life depends on their mother being invested in them, even before they’re born. However, motherhood extends beyond biology, and life is far too complex to narrow it down to evolution. Adoption and non-traditional family structures, as well as the influence of role models outside of the family, provides people with the opportunity to survive and thrive without their biological mother.

Some women have an innate ability to nurture and act as “mothers'' to people they love, whether having children or not. Some children are blessed with loving and supportive mothers who are positive role models and are able to navigate the art, science, and skill for healthy “mothering”.

Even the people who have the best experiences with their mother or a motherly figure encounter ups and downs.

Personally, my Motherhood Journey has been a very positive experience. I’ve been able to raise four beautiful boys who have become incredible men, and in the case of my oldest son, a wonderful father himself. This Mother’s Day, I’m looking forward to spending it with two of my sons, my daughter-in-law Ariella, my mother, and my grandson Silas. Ariella has planned everything and my two boys are executing a lovely day that will include tea sandwiches and other tasty treats. Though Henry and Zane are still away at school, they’ve already talked about the ways in which they’ll shower me with love from a distance. 

However, I am acutely aware that while some have a healthy relationship with their mother and/or children, others have a more complicated history.

Those who don’t know their mother, experienced a neglectful or abusive mother, or have lost their mother at some point in their lives, all struggle in their unique ways.  This blog is for those who are grappling with complicated relationships with their mothers. It is an attempt to help you be seen and heard, to know you’re not alone, and to validate your experiences, emotions, and the choices you may make. Discussing these issues is in no way meant to diminish the significance of mothers, but rather shed light on the reality that many individuals experience.

I want to delve into the emotional impact of experiencing long-standing bonds that were either unhealthy, distressing, or never established at all. For many, our relationships with our mothers can be fraught with painful memories, dysfunctional behavior, unresolved traumas, insecurity, abandonment, feeling like her love is conditional, and longing for a deeper connection.

Because of this reality, Mother’s Day can be laden with guilt, resentment, and the feeling of wanting to be close with her, but knowing she’s never been someone you’ve been able to get close with.

It can be particularly painful for those who have lost their mother without experiencing a positive relationship with her, leaving them with the loss of the hope that it could get better.

The complexities of mother-child relationships are wide-ranging and multifaceted, and these issues sometimes span generations, creating perpetual cycles of negative behavior that can be very difficult, but not impossible, to break.

An emotionally unhealed person doesn't automatically become healed when they become a mother.  Most mothers handle motherhood as the same person they were before, with their own painful past and unresolved traumas. No mother sets out to fail, saying, “I’m going to try my best to do a lousy job.’

When a mother isn’t able to provide care or support or give you what you need as a child or adult, those wounds can linger well into adulthood, until they are healed.

In my personal life, I have known many people and worked with clients who are in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s who lament and struggle with difficult emotions stemming from the ways in which they felt unloved or let down by their mothers.

For example, some children grow up feeling chronically criticized and unloved or rejected. These individuals can grow up with a constant feeling of being unsafe and a deep-rooted insecurity because they don’t trust others.

This can manifest as rigidity in relationships, such as keeping their guard up for protection, and they may find themselves struggling to form deep, meaningful connections. Sometimes, a person habitually self-sabotages relationships because they don’t feel worthy of love and they have the belief that they are not enough. It is common in these scenarios for a person to believe that they must end the relationship before the other person does, even if they don’t actually want to.

Similarly, individuals who are raised in overly strict households can end up becoming a parent who swings to the opposite side of the spectrum.

For instance, if food was highly controlled and there were strict rules about what the children could and couldn’t eat, they may lack discipline and lose control entirely over their child’s behaviors. Even though they are doing it for the right reasons, attempting to provide their children with a sense of freedom that they lacked, the extremes of the situation can lead to a lack of boundaries and self-discipline and cause harm in different ways.

Growing up in a household that’s chaotic or abusive can shape a person’s perception of relationships.

When individuals become accustomed to dysfunction, while they might not like it, they are comfortable in it and they know how to navigate similar environments. Consequently, if they start forming a healthy relationship with someone who is respectful and has boundaries, they may find the person uncomfortable or even boring, and may seek a more chaotic and familiar relationship.

Growing up being told that when you cry or get upset that you are “too sensitive,” can lead to a pattern of suppressing or burying your feelings. Often, the phrase “too sensitive” is used by parents to deflect responsibility for their own insensitivity or hurtful behavior, gaslighting others into questioning the validity of their own emotions.

While apologies from a parent may be genuine, they can also serve as a manipulation tactic to maintain control and keep you close, despite their behavior remaining unchanged. If you are experiencing this, remember that the only real apology is a change in behavior.

If your mother has acknowledged past shortcomings or is even able to admit that she used to be abusive, but continues the emotional abuse, it’s unlikely that she will change. Typically, because change is difficult and uncomfortable, people tend to repeat their negative and destructive behaviors until they themselves experience a major shift in perspective or decide that they want to change for themselves.

Empty apologies like these can create opposing feelings. On one hand, you’re thinking, “She is my mother, I should want to forgive or spend time with her. But on the other hand, her behavior has remained relatively the same, so why would I want to spend time with someone who doesn’t treat me well?”

While we can't control how other people choose to behave, we can work on our own self-awareness and healing.

If you're reading this blog, it's likely that you already have some awareness of how your childhood and relationship with your mother has shaped your current thought and behavior patterns. Gaining self-awareness is a powerful effort towards meaningful change, and I am proud of you for putting the work in. Awareness is the first step toward meaningful change, because you can't do something about something you're unaware of, and once you are aware, your behaviors begin to naturally and organically shift.

As you continue on in your Healing Journey, it’s important to recognize that your thoughts and feelings are valid, regardless of external judgment or pressure. 

If you want to reconnect with your mother and attempt to repair your relationship, then do the best you can. If you’re someone who has tried to repair the relationship in the past and is constantly let down, it is not your fault and you don’t have to keep trying. Relationships work both ways, and until the other person is ready to put their best foot forward to make a change, then the cycle of empty apologies and disappointment will likely continue. If you have a toxic relationship with your mother, and you don’t want to have a relationship with her, that is perfectly valid as well. 

Whether you choose to pursue a new start with your mother or distance yourself from the toxic relationship, prioritize yourself and your emotional well-being above all else. Protecting your peace is essential to not only your relationship with others, but your relationship with yourself as well, which is arguably the most important one you have. You deserve to be surrounded by love and positivity. Today, make self-love and self-care a priority without apology, and embrace the relationships that bring joy into your life. 

If you are seeking tools, techniques, and comprehensive support for improving relationships in your life, Coach Monique can help. Reach out today at and let’s Unlock Bold Change™ in your life and relationships- together. 


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