I don’t normally write a blog for Saturday but this year I have decided to do just that. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and while I miss mine terribly (we lost her five years ago) there are many people out there who don’t share that same warm feeling.
Have you noticed the rising crescendo of greeting cards and obligatory sentiments that make up the “business” of Mother’s Day? You might want to know that while you are thrilled about it, the adult children of narcissistic mothers will be taking a deep breath, waiting for that second Sunday in May to turn into a glorious new Monday morning. They all know when they buy that card that declares “The Best Mom in the World,” it’s just another act of denial; in fact it is for many, complete crap. Not only do they struggle with the card purchase, many of those innocent men and women Mother’s Day triggers thoughts of their unloving and/or emotionally detached mothers. I have clients that talk about this special day that honors mothers, wondering how to handle it and what to do. My own gentle wife struggles with this issue herself.
Here is a newsflash for all of you that share this problem; it takes even more courage not to buy that card and opt out of Mother’s Day. Can you feel the burden? Really? We all know that good kids love their mothers, no matter what, and we all want to be good kids, right? Everything our culture holds to be true about mothering, that mother love is instinctive, involuntary, and absolute, and that all women have the capacity to empathize and nurture, shackles an unloved, or abused child’s spirit. Those images help to keep him or her floundering in self-doubt. Without help, it never goes away…ever. The myths of motherhood are so strong in our culture that, when the mother-child relationship fails, it’s usually the child who’s blamed, e.g., ungrateful child, daughter, or son. Ironically, these cultural views continue to lock an unloved or abused daughter or son in the place they’ve been imprisoned since childhood, knowing that something’s wrong, not being able to name it and, even worse, wondering who will ever love them if mother doesn’t. Imagine what that does to an intimate relationship as an adult. I know…you can’t.
The significance of a maternal relationship to a child’s sense of self has been clearly researched and explained, but the myths of motherhood prevent us from acknowledging how the lack of maternal empathy affects the child. It is their sense of self, not just during childhood but over the course of a lifetime that suffers. It is indeed the gift that keeps on giving. For these adult children, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of basic emotional needs unmet or love withheld. Or both.
Because mothering is a learned behavior in our species, recognizing that there’s a full spectrum of maternal behaviors, from fabulous to good, to good enough, to out-and-out toxic, might be the best way to celebrate Mother’s Day in the end. It is helpful to break the code of silence so there can be a point of connection for mothers and their children to heal. We must be able to discuss relational issues to recover and build a life. As impossible as it might be, it isn’t too much to ask.
Because the topic is unmentionable, it is ignored by the new media and untouched in all but the bravest of our families. Yet daughters and sons of narcissistic mothers are out there. Often they think they are alone in this quandary of inner conflicts, feeling they just flunked childhood and it’s all their fault. Nothing could be further from the truth!
How about we try and give a voice to the ones that want one. Let’s talk about it if they think it will help. As in other parts of life, being their authentic selves is a major part of healing for daughters and sons of narcissistic moms. Let them get to deal with and acknowledge those feelings that haunt them. Staying in denial and being good kids when Mother’s Day hurts is not necessarily healthy and sometimes it is downright damaging. Let’s support the ground-breaking efforts that many adult children of narcissistic parents in our nation and around the world are making by simply speaking up.
I propose that this Mother’s Day, all of us honor those mothers who have loved well and to the best of their abilities. Let is also honor the truths of the daughters and sons who have, or had, mothers who do or did not fit the flawless maternal standard. And let’s also support and praise those moms out there who are working in recovery and changing the terrible legacy of distorted love learned in those terribly narcissistic families.