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You need motherly love

You need motherly love


While some cultures have long standing 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. 

That’s probably highly subjective. I’d bet there are many mothers out there who would love to spend a couple hours at The Dragontree for Mother’s Day. 😁 As for whether she’d want you to accompany her, that’s also subjective. 

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 need to be sober, you don’t need good self-esteem, you don’t need to be in a safe relationship, and don’t need communication skills. If your mother had some of these and managed, perhaps you’re luckier than you realize.

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 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 parents. Maybe she’s too wrapped up in her 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 judgment. 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? I’m not suggesting you should be in an active relationship with her, or that you have to trust her, or that you have to be vulnerable with her, or even that you 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 a request that she treats 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 as the primary source of mothering, 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 your independence and the ability to recognize your own needs and find ways to get them met.

I was only partly kidding about a massage at the Dragontree 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 a similar quality) 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,

Dr. Peter Borten

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