I remember the day like it was yesterday and yet it’s been over 30 years ago. I was only 10 or 11 years old and I was feeling down. I would easily cry and often spent my time worrying about things that no child should ever have to worry about. Those years were tough ones for me. I wondered where God was when things were so terrible and questioned whether or not He would help us through the horrible events that were occurring within our family. I felt like I was in an unending nightmare and no one was going to ever save me. Sexual abuse had invaded our family and left most of us kids wondering how we were going to survive the repercussions of allowing it to come to light. Night terrors haunted my sleep and tears flooded my days.
I longed to draw close to my mother during this time and yet she kept her distance. She wasn’t an overly affectionate woman to begin with, but during this time it seemed she was even less so. It hurt to feel completely shut out.
Fed up with my despair, my mother took me aside one day and demanded that I tell her what was wrong. I started to cry. She asked again, “What is your problem?” Through my tears I quietly responded, “I don’t think you love me as much as you love everyone else.” Tears streaked down my cheeks and embarrassed, I brushed them away.
My mother took one look at me, removed my glasses, and then proceeded to slap me across the face over and over again saying, “I love you just as much as everyone else!” When she finished she told me to go to my room to sit on my bed so I could think about what I had just said. I sobbed and sobbed into my pillows. Her reaction was all the proof I would need that I was right… she didn’t love me as much as she loved everyone else.
My mother was always one to volunteer in our classrooms as room mom and she ran us everywhere for scouts or gymnastics or volleyball. From the outside she was very involved. From the inside things were different. Her heart was guarded and our true needs were often ignored; some of us more than others. As I got older I would see this time and time again. Still, she was my mom and I loved her. I wanted us to have a good relationship and so I worked at it tirelessly.
But then, when I was 30, something happened in our family that made me sever ties with her. She refused to stand up for what she knew was right and instead let me take the blame for something that was clearly not mine to take. My heart was broken and I knew I could not allow her to hurt me in this manner anymore. For several years I just stopped trying.
One day she called to say she had cancer. I’m sure you’re thinking at this point in the story I am about to say her cancer changed everything, but that’s not how it went. During her battle with cancer I did my best to check up on her, but because we lived 800 miles away, calling was all I could do and so I called often to check up on her. She would eventually be declared cancer-free. I hoped her brush with cancer would help her understand what was truly important. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Our relationship was civil, but strained.
I lost our sweet Joseph in March. I called to tell her he was gone and she showed no emotion. When I told her we planned to bury him on our land she questioned the legality of it but never once offered her condolences. In the months that followed she didn’t call to ask if I was doing ok. I was devastated. When she finally did call to wish our son a happy birthday I asked her what was going on. I told her how hurt I was that our loss didn’t matter to her. My heart poured out with every word I spoke. I couldn’t stop myself. Peppered with anguish and despair, I asked her some very hard questions. Most importantly I wanted to know why she had always treated me the way she did and why I was always pushed to the back burner.
That day I heard words I never thought I would hear… “You’re right, Michelle. I did. I am guilty of everything you are accusing me of. I had no choice though. The circumstances of our life just meant that I had to choose and I chose the others over you. It was necessary.” There was no apology, only recognition of the hurts she had heaped on my heart. Now I knew… it was necessary.
Despite the hurt, that day I decided to forgive her. I didn’t forgive her because she asked me to or because she had admitted she was wrong. She did neither of those things. I forgave her because I knew if I didn’t I would never begin to heal from the hurts she had caused me. I vowed to try again to have a relationship with her. That was June.
In November my mom called to tell me that her cancer was back and that it was bad. The doctors hoped they could give her 3-5 more years. I told my husband she would be gone in a matter of months. We lost William in December and a week and a half later my mother entered into hospice care. I went to be by her side and help take care of her. I spent as much time with her as I could but eventually I had to leave to take care of my own family. She died shortly after I left. She died surrounded by my other siblings and my step-father. My brother was the only one besides myself that was not there. I’ve often wondered if she waited until we left before she died. I’m not sure. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
I tell you this story because I learned a few valuable lessons throughout the years and I hope they will help you as well. Perhaps you dealing with a toxic relationship with your own mother and you just don’t know what to do about it. I’d like to offer you some advice…
- Love her even when she’s unlovable. Try to have a relationship with her. Be kind and respectful even if she is not. Talk to her to find out why she acts the way she does. There may be a story you don’t know that could help you understand her.
- Pray for her. There is true power in prayer. Ask God to open her heart to you. Ask God to bless her. Pray that she opens her heart to God.
- Give yourself permission to leave the relationship if it truly is toxic. Just because she is your mom doesn’t mean you should have to endure abuse, neglect, or hatefulness. We are taught not to challenge our parents as a sign of respect but we have to remember to respect ourselves too. If your relationship is toxic you can (and should!) cut ties without feeling guilty.
- Forgive her. Don’t wait for her to ask you for forgiveness, just grant it to her. You cannot heal if you are holding onto to hurts from the past. When your heart is full of hate, despair, or worry you have no room for God’s love. Empty your heart of those hurts and allow God’s love and forgiveness to heal you.
- Remember that God will provide you with other earthly mother figures that will help you through when you need it most. Really look at your life to see who those mother figures are. I promise they are there. Cherish them!
- Turn to our Holy Mother. As Christ hung suffering on the cross He gave us the gift of His mother. “Woman, behold your son!” and then to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” By giving His mother to John He also gave her to us. He knew we would need her. Turn to her in your time of need. She understands all that you are going through. She loves us and wants to help us. She longs to cradle you just as she did Christ as a baby. Run to her loving arms!
We don’t expect our mothers to betray us, but sometimes they do. Sometimes because of their own life circumstances they are unable to give us what we truly need to grow and they are unable to be the mothers we need them to be. We have to trust that God has a plan to use these struggles to help us become the people He knows we can be. Practice patience, love, and forgiveness. You will find that your heart will begin to heal from the hurts inflicted upon it. It will take time, but He will heal you.
Thank you, Father for the gift of our Holy Mother. Help me to cling to her when I am in need of consolation, love, and hope. She is not only the mother to Your Son but she is our mother as well.