I want to try and put into words something that has been weighing heavily on me the last month or so, especially. I mean, to be honest, it’s always there isn’t it – the mother wound – but I guess at the minute I just feel acutely aware how big of a deal it really is, and how heavy a burden it is to carry, particularly when I need some support and care as I struggle under the almost crippling weight of my day-to-day life.
I’ve written about the mother wound in detail before, here, but that was a long while back and maybe this, today, will have a slightly different quality to it. I know I make mention of this issue a lot on the blog because it really is the foundation that my shaky house is built upon. Today, once again, I feel the need to give it full attention because parts of me feel like I am crumbling right now.
It’s weird. When I try and look at this…this…’stuff’… the words just don’t come, or certainly not in the articulate, polished way I would like them to. There’s so much pain and shame wrapped around it like barbed razor wire, and this wounding spans so much of my life too, so it’s hard to really to find the right words to explain something that feels like it’s part of me, part of my make up.
If I listen deep inside myself, looking for the words, there’s just the overwhelming howl of a massively distressed baby and the screams of other very young children… and maybe if I listen very, very carefully, there’s a little voice whimpering and whispering, ‘Mummy’ over and over again.
It’s actually heart breaking.
Sometimes I think I struggle to write about this because the experience of this… feeling of… annihilation started before there even were words available to describe it. At other times, I just think it’s impossible to find the vocabulary to capture just how massive the sense of being ‘motherless’ is.
There is so much loss attached to what I am experiencing at the moment. Of course, I do have a mum… it’s just I need/ed a different kind of mothering, a different relational experience, and so the continual reminders of what I ‘don’t have’, even now, as an adult, is like being plunged into a vat of vinegar and, unfortunately, I don’t have any skin.
I can’t say that feeling of loss I experience is the sense that I’m now missing something that I have formerly had – rather it’s the loss of something I wish I had have had – something I very badly needed- it’s the felt sense of there having been something ‘missing’ my whole life, something that is integral to a healthy functioning.
You, know, sometimes I think it feels as if there’s a vital organ missing inside me and I’m continually aware of the cavernous void left behind. I feel this ‘empty’ space acutely in my chest – a black dark hole that seems totally unfillable. It’s the space left where a mother’s love and care should have been. I’ve spoken before about how the edges of this place feel almost ulcerated. It’s angry and burning…it’s bloody painful. No. It’s worse than that. It’s pure agony.
If you met me in-person you’d never guess I suffered with any of this. You’d probably experience me as a high functioning, self-sufficient, independent person who is always busy and keeps things going for myself and my family. In my day-to-day life I am successful, popular, and funny (omg imposter syndrome just kicked in big time there!). I don’t really lean on anyone or ask for support even though I really need it sometimes. My friends are absolutely amazing but there’s just some things they can’t do for me – like take my kids for a weekend so I can get on with jobs. And lately, I guess this is where that lack of ‘mother’ has really shown itself and had the spotlight shone on it.
I’ve spoken about my childhood many times here. How my mum would go away during the week and come back at weekends and how the legacy of that plays out even now – especially in my therapy with Anita. I hate the time between sessions and our breaks feel unbearable. I can’t stand being ‘left’ or feeling like I’ve been ‘forgotten’ and I am terrified of change when we are reunited after a break largely because I was never sure what kind of mood my mum would be in when she came back.
Lately, I’ve had a strong sense that my mum is avoiding me – or rather stonewalling me. I haven’t actually seen her since August, and she only lives 20 miles from me! I get that she may not want to see me – for whatever reason- but I really struggle with how little she engages with my children. They are great kids and what’s really sad is that they really like to spend time with her and yet…what can I say to them? She’s not in touch. She doesn’t ask after them… or at least, she hasn’t in a good while.
I sent a photo of my daughter putting decorations on the tree the other week and it wasn’t even acknowledged. I saw the blue ticks appear on WhatsApp and I saw she was online…but there has been no response… and I have no idea why. Other family members have rushed in with ‘OMG she looks just like you did at her age’ or ‘what a lovely photo’…but nothing from mum.
I try not to feel upset by it. I have said many times how my mum and I have a relationship that has reached a kind of equilibrium. It is what it is. It’s not close but it worked well enough – ’til now. But I think doing this deep attachment and trauma work with Anita has kind of lifted a bit of the scab on this stuff. Where I had convinced myself that I was ok, and things had moved on into a place that was ‘good enough’, the truth is I feel hurt that my mum seems completely uninterested in me. But the real big sense of hurt comes from the feeling that she’s rejecting my kids and by extension it’s like my inner child is experiencing that pain of abandonment all over again seeing just how ‘unimportant’ they are to her.
Recently, I had a real hard smack in the face when I was speaking with Anita. Don’t you just love the unexpected landmines you can trigger in therapy?! We were just chatting near the end of session. It was winding down and coming out of the deeper stuff and into more day-to-day. I said how I had taken my kids to a fireworks display that week and she told me how she was taking her grandchildren (her son’s kids) to the big fireworks display with her daughter the next day. It felt like being on that awful gameshow ‘Bullseye’ where when the contestants failed to win the presenter would say, “look what you could have won!” A sucker punch as they stared at speedboats and his and hers matching shellsuits. I find myself staring at a kind of mothering I just can’t have.
In that moment as I was cuddled into her, I felt so many things. Jealousy was definitely one of them and then hot on its heels – grief. Anita, of course, is involved with her kids and grandkids – it’s as it should be, but it just threw my experience with my mum into even sharper relief. It wouldn’t even occur to her to take the kids to something like this, or offer to take them for me. When the kids were very little we went on a Christmas train one year, or sometimes we’d go to see Santa, but lately there’s been nothing and I don’t know why.
Sometimes I wonder if she’s somehow come across this blog because I can’t fathom any other reason for the radio silence. I tied myself in knots for weeks trying to work out ‘what I had done’ for things to be as they are now. I know that if she had found this writing she’d be hurt. Of course, it would be hard to read this stuff in black and white. I think anyone’s first reaction would be to feel wounded and the victim and then shut down. But the thing is, I’m not trying to blame her for my experience of her when I was growing up. Like any mother she did the best she could with the tools she had available – and as a young mum, they were few.
I don’t think for one minute she set out to be how it was. As a mum myself, I know how it is to be stressed, tired, and at the end of my tether, and hand on heart I know I do not always get it right. Far from it! I’m a sensitive person and perhaps other children would not have been as impacted as I was by her absence, or her wanting me out the way, or the fighting and violence I witnessed…or the difficult teenage years we had. But it has impacted me and I am trying to heal from it. It’s not easy healing from something when you can’t have a reparative experience with the person who you experienced the wounding with.
So I take myself off to therapy twice a week and rake over this attachment stuff – and it’s hard because as an adult who has done pretty well for myself and feels like I have a reasonable insight into what’s gone on, I still haven’t done enough work in the therapy room to escape the sense that I haven’t done enough to make my mum want to stay (and, yes, I know that is the voice of my inner child).
I used to make excuses as to why my mum wasn’t all that involved with me and my kids. She had a massively stressful high-powered job and so there simply wasn’t the time or energy for us. Then she retired, and it was still the same… but then COVID hit, and we were in a pandemic so therefore couldn’t spend time… but then the restrictions lifted and it’s more of the same. It feels so rejecting. I don’t know if it’s intentional. I don’t know if she genuinely doesn’t want us in her life or whether she is so busy with other things that we’re an afterthought.
Again, this is where the contrast with Anita really stings. Anita obviously works but she takes an afternoon off each week to collect her grandkids from school, takes them to swimming lessons, and then often has them overnight. K does similar things for her granddaughters. So many of my friend’s parents are active participants in their grandchildren’s lives, too. They’ve taken on regular childcare – not because of the financial savings for the family (although that was a factor when the kids were pre-school age) but because they actually want to spend time with their family. My kids have never spent a night at my mum’s, or been picked up from school…and my god, sometimes I could really use the help given I work after school every weeknight until late. Having someone collect the kids, feed them, and put them to bed would be amazing!
It’s not just that I could do with a bit of help now and again, though. I feel so sad for the relationship that they, too, aren’t getting. My mum’s parents were incredible with me growing up. Despite living hundreds of miles away they’d have me for holidays, write me letters and send me magazines and sweets in the post. There was no sense, ever, of being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and it’s continued through into my adult life. I ring my grandma every day to check in now she’s alone, following my grandad’s death last year, and I do that because we have built a relationship over my entire lifetime, and it is solid. It’s such a pity my kids won’t have that. I feel so sad, too, because my dad would have been such an amazing, involved grandparent. He loved kids. Although my mum makes not bones about the fact that she ‘doesn’t like children’.
I really need to get over this stuff, though, because whilst there’s this wish for something better all that happens is I get hurt over and over again. I need to realise that things are never going to change and move on from it. I’ve said in the past that I can’t expect people to be mind readers so if I keep stuff to myself and then don’t get what I need I shouldn’t really feel disappointed so this summer I did something a bit different. I let my mum see what some of the reality was for me – I don’t know what I expected but I know, deep down, I hoped for some tangible care and support.
In the summer my wife and I were going through a particularly tough time – tbh this whole year has been devastatingly hard for us. In January my wife got very ill with COVID, then lost her job, all the while trying to manage a serious health condition that could end her career. She found a new job (yay) but was immediately put under immense pressure with unrealistic working patterns and conditions which put her health at serious risk again and there were threats of ‘failing her probation period’.
We were both at our wits end. It felt like we were lurching from one disaster to the next. Stress exacerbates my wife’s condition and it was a vicious cycle. Financially, it was a really hard year, too, as after my wife lost her job in January we also had a period of time where she couldn’t work due to an operation that saw her out of action for almost a month. Then she was having to pick up agency work whilst she looked for a new position which pays nothing like enough and isn’t guaranteed hours. We were literally a couple of weeks away from not being able to pay the mortgage and bills.
The stress levels were making me ill. I couldn’t sleep, my anxiety was off the chart, I genuinely thought I would have a breakdown at times. And I certainly would have had it not been for Anita and K. No doubt about it. It’s been their love and care got me through this year – when really what I needed was my mum…or a mum that does being a mum.
Like I said, I never really share anything with my mum, I think she knows I am in therapy but we don’t talk about it! This summer she had asked me to collect her from a trip she’d been on. I’d cancelled work to enable me to do it – so lost two hours pay (which we really couldn’t afford), asked a friend to have my kids so I had space in the car to put her and her husband’s luggage, and then drove across the city and waited in a coach station steadily unravelling. My wife was away from home for work and had been driving hundreds of miles on top of working 14 hour shifts. She was suffering with her health and I felt completely exhausted. I’d been juggling my kids and work all week alone and by the time it reached Friday I just couldn’t cope anymore.
I was driving down the motorway with my mum and step-dad and I just let it all out. I was on the verge of tears but angry too. I was in a place of complete overwhelm. The dam burst. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I guess maybe I thought showing how stressed and anxious I was might maybe elicit some support from her side.
If anything, she’s distanced herself since then. She hasn’t asked about my wife’s health or job. Her health is massively deteriorating but thankfully she’s found another job. She hasn’t asked how I am. When my childhood friend died a couple of months ago she went to the funeral when I couldn’t. I just don’t understand it.
I feel like I am moaning- and I guess I am. I just really wonder what it takes for the little girl inside to finally give up hope of being seen and loved by a woman that seems incapable of seeing me and accepting me for who I really am. I would literally walk over hot coals for my kids. Having just seen her friend’s daughter die of cancer you’d think she might see the parallels – I was the one of us that survived the cancer but the roles could so easily be reversed. Wouldn’t you want to invest in a relationship with your child?
It’s Christmas time. It’s a difficult time of year for me. Mind you, when isn’t eh?!
As my kids rehearse for performances (streamed online this year via zoom) it reminds me of the years standing on stage and staring out into the audience and seeing the faces of my friends’ mothers but not my own. I feel silly, as a grown-up woman still being upset by these ‘small’ things but I really wish my mum had have been there more when I was a kid…I wish that her physical and emotional absence hadn’t have left this gaping great hole inside. I feel like it’s going to be my life’s work getting over this.
Like I say, I am so lucky to have a couple of amazing therapists in my life. But they’re not my mother. I can’t call them at 10pm and ask them to come over because I need them, and things feel overwhelming. I ought to be able to do that with my mum – but I can’t – because she doesn’t know how to be that type of mum.
I have to mother myself.
And my god I am trying but sometimes we just need to be held by someone else.
(And yes, Anita is on holiday – ANOTHER break in the therapy – so it’s hardly surprising timing that this has come up so forcefully now!)