How to Receive Mothering While Freeing Your Mother

While some cultures have longstanding traditions to celebrate their mothers, ours didn’t begin until about 1911 when all the states adopted Mother’s Day. It was the culmination of a campaign begun in 1905 by Anna Jarvis in honor of her late mother, Anne Reeves Jarvis, who had worked for peace and tended to wounded soldiers from both sides during the Civil War.

In 1914, Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day a national holiday, and within a decade companies were capitalizing on it with cards, chocolate, and bouquets. Jarvis didn’t like it. She was so opposed to the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she organized boycotts against it and was once arrested for disturbing the peace when she freaked out about people selling white carnations – her mother’s favorite flower – for the holiday. When she discovered that a restaurant was selling a “Mother’s Day Salad,” she ordered one and dumped it on the floor. Jarvis felt that no mother would prefer a gift over a visit or heartfelt letter. (However, had she known about massages and skin care at The Dragontree, she would have undoubtedly been in support of getting these services for your mom.)    😉

In honor of Jarvis and the original spirit of the holiday I’d like to talk about mothers and what they mean to us. I’m lucky to have a good relationship with my mom, but I know it’s complicated for many people. Mothers almost never have any training in mothering. There aren’t any prerequisites for bearing children. You don’t need to have healed your psychological wounds. You don’t need to understand kids, nutrition, scheduling, or housekeeping. You don’t have to be sober, you don’t need self-esteem, you don’t need to be in a safe relationship, and don’t need communication skills. If your mother had most of these managed, perhaps you’re luckier than you think.

I was talking with a patient last week about her strained relationship with her mother and she said something to the effect of, “I know I should just stop expecting her to be different than she is, because she’s not going to change.” I’ve heard this statement a lot about parents, and I think it’s worth exploring.

It’s so common to want your mom to be different – to be supportive, to listen to you, to accept your choices, to love you unconditionally. Is this unreasonable? Of course not. These are the qualities of the archetypal Mother and they’re what everyone wants.

(Aside: If your mama embodies these qualities, take a moment for gratitude. Also, even if your mother is no longer living, you may still struggle with the history of your relationship, and healing is still possible.)

As for whether the person who gave birth to you is capable of embodying these qualities, that’s another story. She’s a human with her own weaknesses, wounds, and baggage. Maybe she never had these qualities modeled by her own mother. Maybe she’s too wrapped up in her own inner turmoil to be able to extend this kind of presence to her children. If your mother has failed to embody these qualities, you have two main options. Option one is blame and resentment. Option two is to see her and forgive her.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait. This is about getting my mother to be a better mother to me and it sounds like you’re directing me to help her.

True. While we grow up thinking of the parent-child relationship as a mostly one-way street, it’s not. I believe it’s possible that you and your mom were brought together because of the potential for you to help her. And that can occur through your choosing to hold space for whomever she really is.

You’ll have to let go, at least momentarily, of any beliefs about who she should be and how your relationship should be. Open the space in your consciousness to allow for this whole woman. If you feel resistance in your body, welcome the sensation and let it pass through you. Breathe deeply. Keep your heart open. Hold her in your awareness without judgement. Forgive her – for everything. When you feel a sense of peace or resolution, I suggest you journal about it.

What if she was absolutely rotten to you? Well, I’m not suggesting you must be in an active relationship with her, nor that you even have to like her. What I want for you and your mother (and everyone) is freedom. The freedom to be however you are, and the freedom for her to be however she is. This doesn’t mean you can’t communicate requests that she treat you differently, but it does mean that she gets to decide if and how she honors those requests.

You’ll have an easier time allowing greater freedom into this relationship when you broaden your concept of what mothering means and where it comes from. While your mother gave you a body and fed you for many years, she may or may not have consciously guided you through the transition out of needing her, and this is important. If she didn’t help you in this regard, forgive her. She may not have known to do this; she may not have known how; and she may have felt incapable of supporting you to become less dependent on her because it felt like losing you. But that’s what the healthy mothering arc looks like – a transition from direct mothering to indirect mothering, and from dependence on her to independence and the ability to recognize your own needs and find ways to get them met.

I was only slightly kidding about Dragontree massages at the beginning of this article. Receiving compassionate touch is one of the many ways we connect with that mothered feeling of being held, understood, and nurtured. Some other ways include:

  • Feeding ourselves well or allowing ourselves to be fed
  • Connecting with the earth, feeling the soil and the rhythm of the planet
  • Bathing ourselves lovingly (or, again, allowing ourselves to be bathed)
  • Being listened to by a good friend and accepting their care
  • Singing – to ourselves and others – and being sung to

I have a homework assignment for you. Try one of these (or another way in which you are nourished in this same way) this week and really focus on receiving it. When you know the ways in which you register motherly love and you let yourself receive it, you’ll notice that there’s less pressure on your biological mother to provide this for you. More freedom for you, more freedom for her.

Be well,


13 thoughts on “How to Receive Mothering While Freeing Your Mother

  1. This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for writing it, Peter. I appreciate it as a daughter and as a mother.
    Blessings, Robin

    1. Thanks, Robin. And you’re welcome.

    2. Thank you, Robin. And you’re welcome.

  2. Thanks so much for talking about this as sooooo many people deal with difficult feelings around not having happy maternal relationships. One thing I would add; when you mentioned that your mother gets to decide whether or not she will honor your requests to be treated differently and how, I think it’s important to note that YOU also get to decide what your boundaries are and if or how you want to continue to be in that relationship. While people may not ever be exactly who we wish they were, I’d encourage aiming for a goal of some semblance of healthier communication and mutual respect. Thanks again!

    1. You’re welcome, Pamela. And I agree – you both get to decide. And you both have the power to change the nature of the relationship.
      Be well.

  3. Well said, I would add one thing….people who were adopted, who may not have ever met their birth mother or had someone who was not their biological mother care for them. Mothers come in many forms biological or otherwise!

    1. Thanks, Param. Good point. Namaste

  4. Beautiful! Because my mother was cold and distant all of my life (not judging; that is how she is and that is okay by me) I was never actually able to receive mothering or support from anybody. It was a skill I lacked because I had no teacher. I believe that receiving nurturing is a skill that we can all learn. We can be nurtured at any age. And the more we allow ourselves to receive unhindered support (with no strings attached) the more we are able to freely give it to others. And speaking as a mother who began learning to BE nurtured AFTER having children, and learning how to be a nurturer from the ground up, I can confidently say the reverse is possible. That by giving out more supportive nurturing to others (no strings attached, and not in a codependent way) the more naturally you can start to receive nurturing support from others. And it never needs to be from your mother. It can be from anyone you love who loves and supports you, no strings attached. It is a skill we can learn at any age. And when we realize it, we are definitely going to be free.

    1. Yes! Thanks for sharing your experience, Caitlin.

  5. love this, thank you peter

    1. You’re so welcome!

  6. I loved when you stated “it’s possible that you and your mom were brought together because of the potential for YOU to help HER.” That feels empowering, that it’s not all one-way love. Thank you.

  7. You’re welcome, Deb. I’m glad you see that as an empowering perspective.
    Be well.

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