What do you do when you dread ‘Mothers’ Day’ coming around each year?
When those words cause your insides to shrivel because all they do is remind you of the Mothers’ Days of your childhood, when you hid in your bedroom, while your mother stood at the kitchen sink ranting about what a ‘lov-er-ly’ Mothers’ Day she was having cooking and cleaning for her selfish bastard kids.
When Mothers’ Day ended with your parents yelling at each other and a plate being smashed or a knife being thrown.
When your ‘Mother’s Day’ card sat forlornly on the kitchen bench surrounded by the rowing and plate smashing.
When the day just reminds you of being told that thanking your mother one day a year wasn’t enough, your present wasn’t good enough—another bloody set of salt and pepper shakers she didn’t need or that she would have liked to have chosen her own kettle.
When you spent the day feeling guilty because you were the cause of your mother’s anger and you should have thanked her more, should have bought her a better present.
When nineteen years’ ago, after the birth of your first child, you told your husband that you didn’t want to celebrate Mothers’ Day. You told him what Mothers’ Days were like for you as a child, and how you didn’t want to inflict that upon your children.
Because you saw nothing good about the day at all.
Besides which, you told your husband, you chose to become a mother, your children didn’t ask to be born. It’s your privilege and you should be thanking your children, not the other way around.
No fuss. No presents, you said. But of course you loved the Mothers’ Day cards and precious works of art that came home from school over the years.
But you never wanted to be thanked for a job that brought you so much joy.
And as the years went by, you just grieved privately and on your own. You pretended the day didn’t exist. You tried to act as if it was a normal Sunday in May, just like any other Sunday. You avoided it and the hype as much as you could, and when it passed, you could come out again, once it was all over.
But now it’s hard to avoid—all the photos of mothers on social media, together with their families and happy. It hurts because you’d love to have a mother, a nice mother, to be able to share the day with. But you don’t.
And all Mothers’ Day does is remind you of what you never had.
Then your lovely husband and gorgeous kids decide to do something nice for you for Mothers’ Day, so they set the table with a tablecloth and nice crockery and cook a lunch.
But you don’t know because you’re upstairs, grieving privately.
And your son comes up and says, ‘Lunch’s ready.’
And you say, ‘I’ve already eaten’, because you have because you didn’t know about the surprise lunch.
And you walk downstairs and you see the table and the cloth and the cooked meal and you just want to shrivel up on the floor then and there. So you start shaking your head and saying, ‘No, No. We don’t celebrate Mothers’ Day.’
And everyone at the table turns towards you, and you see the crestfallen looks on their faces, and the pain in their eyes, and you know you’re hurting them.
But all you want to do is run upstairs and just curl up in a corner and cry.
And your family gets angry at you, for being so ungrateful, and says, ‘Can’t you just sit and enjoy it?’
And they don’t understand why you’re reacting so strangely. You don’t even understand why you’re reacting the way you are. All you know is a giant pit is opening up and you’re falling into it, in front of your family.
And you’re hurting them as you fall, and you know you are, but you can’t stop, although you want to because you know you’re being selfish.
You want so much to be able to sit there at the table with them and enjoy the meal and talk and be happy.
But you can’t, because all you can think about is this is the hardest day of the year and it’s all too much.
And you get really upset. And your family gets really upset. Because they just wanted to do something nice for you and you’re ruining it all.
And you know you are, but you can’t stop yourself.
And all you want to say is, ‘Can’t you see what this is doing to me?’
But you can’t explain to them all that you’re feeling because you don’t really know yourself, and you certainly can’t put it into words.
All you know is that you just want to get out and away, by yourself.
So you do. And once upstairs and alone again, you’re back in a very dark place and you can’t pull yourself out.
Because, you’ve been reminded all over again of everything you missed out on.
Every now and then, I feel stronger, and sometimes I even start to think I’m recovered—that my cracks have healed, that I’m solid again, normal. But then something like this happens and I realise I’m not.
It was such a beautiful thing my family did for me—and I ruined it.
I hurt four of the people I love the most in the world. I’ve said I’m sorry and I’ll try to make it up to them, somehow, I don’t know how. Maybe by celebrating on another day.
I come across as a strong person—I’m good at hiding my fragility. But I have many invisible scars, and my skin is eggshell thin in some parts and it doesn’t take much for it all to break open again.
I’ve worked hard psychologically, but I’m not healed yet. Some days are better than others, but inadvertent triggers crop up all the time and I can’t always predict or prepare myself for everything that might happen. Sometimes, I think I need to live in a sheltered workshop, not in the real world.
At least I’m aware of it—I know it’s me, these are my issues, and I know the causes. I don’t know if I’ll ever fix myself so it won’t happen again, but I’m working on it—looking after myself as much as I can, avoiding known precipitants, trying to be kind to myself, taking it easy on a bad day, apologising when I hurt my family like I did yesterday.
Importantly, I’m learning to forgive myself and accept that I’m not perfect, but at least I’m trying.
Louise, having previously read your posts on ‘Why I Chose to be Motherless’, you were in my thoughts yesterday. Once again, you have shown immense courage in sharing this latest post with us.
Thanks, Melinda. It helps to write about it—helps me find my way through the complicated maze that it is.
And I am sure that in doing so, you will inadvertently help others who are trying to find their way through the maze, too.
That would be nice! At least writing about it lets others know they’re not the only ones who might be feeling that way. x
I see the pain you carry; I send you love and strength and hope you find your way back to the rest of yourself quickly. We in the world see your words, hear your story, see you. You’re lovely.
I can feel your love and it feels amazing! Thank you. xx
Very moving post, thanks, Louise. (From another who finds the day difficult, but for different reasons.)
Thanks so much, Elizabeth. There’s a lot of us out there who find the day difficult, for many different reasons. Damn Hallmark for starting it!
Adding my love and loving thoughts xx
Thank you, gorgeous lady. x
My dear Louise, I get it, I so get it. And I want to say you didn’t do anything wrong. If you were having chemo and found you were so ill that you couldn’t face either your family or the food they’d prepared for you – would anyone be to blame? – no. I’m hoping when your family read your brave, amazing words, they’ll understand. You are an amazing woman, a woman who has survived so much, and we must all deal with our life’s traumas in the way that is right for us. There is no right or wrong, there is just doing the best you can with the pain when it breaks through. That is what you did yesterday.
Holding you in my heart
I like the chemo analogy, Tricia—a kind of mental vomit, triggered by bad memories. You’re right, too, about being kind to yourself when the pain breaks through. I realise I’m making Mothers’ Day almost as bad for my kids as it was for me by not acknowledging it and then doing what I did yesterday. It’s my hope that I can one day enjoy it. I’ve still got a bit of work to do!
Beautifully put, Tricia.
Such a painful day for you and hoping in time the pain lessens so that the children you love so dearly can appreciate you in the way they want to x
Me, too. Thanks, Caroline. x
Aww, Louise. Just want to give you a hug. I’m sad that a day many of us celebrate brings you pain.
Triggers are funny things. They like to pop in for a visit when you least expect. It’s just that to everyone else, it’s like you have an imaginary toxic friend popping by!
Triggers are little buggers—you never know when they’re going to pop up, as you say, and they do take you by surprise. Unfortunately, you tend to go into survival-mode when they do spring upon you like that, rather than ‘think clearly’ mode. And yes, to anyone watching on, it’s quite bizarre because one minute you’re okay, and the next—whoa!
I’m glad I wrote this and published it. As usual when I write, it makes me examine what happened and gives me clarity, but publishing it has meant the village, ie, the Internet, has stepped in to support and help. I can’t believe I was so stupid to think I could outlast Mothers’ Day each year—it was kindling waiting for a match. Now I’m forewarned and forearmed and we’re already making plans on how to make it nicer and easier in the future. Stay tuned for Mothers’ Day 2016!
Oh dear Louise, how very sad for you all. It’s often hard to imagine something when you haven’t experienced it yourself, but that’s where writers come in, isn’t it. They (you) share experiences and feelings (through fiction or non-fiction) to help us understand how others experience the world. You’ve done a wonderful job here of doing just that. But, I’m so sorry you’ve had to experience it to share it. xxx
Thanks, Sue. I’m pleased if I’ve been able to give people a glimpse of what something like this feels like, because I felt really stupid as it was happening. It’s so hard to control your behaviour when feeling as I did. I wanted to be grateful and gracious, and normal, but I couldn’t. The thing is, writing about it helps—it forces you to analyse what you did, what happened and why, and you can do something about it then. Which I will. I have a feeling Mothers’ Day 2016 will be completely different …
I bet it will too! It’s mystifying sometimes how the emotions take over and no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise, that they’re not appropriate in this situation, you actually cannot change them – not on the spot anyhow. With work and time we can I think …
Oh, Mothers’ Day will be very different next year. I’m going to reclaim it, as Rae suggested, and make it my own. Anyone else who finds Mothers’ Day hard is free to join. I think it will have its own hashtag: #MD2016! Bring it on!
Good for you … ambush it before it ambushes you I say.
Sounds good—a Mothers’ Day ambush! I’ll hijack it and turn it on its head. #MD2016 here I come!
One day Louise, one day, why don’t you celebrate in a different way, make your own tradition, re name the day, you rule the day not the day rule you. Wrapping you in a hug xxxx
Rae, this is exactly why I love the internet—it’s like the modern-day village. You have just stepped in and given me some wise advice and loving support. A new Mothers’ Day tradition starts next year—seems so simple now. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago. Thank you. xx
The things that happen when we are young are so hard to shift and often need reevaluating again and again from evolving perspectives. It is very understandable why you would baulk at the reminder. But I love Rae’s suggestion to create a new tradition with your own family and bring the joy of celebrating the loving and very different mother (from yours) that you are with your kids. Maybe a belated test run before next year? Have a lovely time whatever you decide to handle it.
Oops that was supposed to be however in the last line, not whatever!
Yes, I’ve decided to start a new trend and change the face of Mothers’ Day in this family in the future. Bring it on! #MD2016
Enjoy your new traditions, Louise! The best kind – the ones you create out of love not from obligation. Xxx
We will. Thanks, Jacquie. xx
This sounds like a wonderful idea and I wish you well with it. I feel sure your family will be ‘on board’.
After Ken and Rod died, my new tradition was to spend each Mothers’ Day alone, creating a book spine/found poem that best expressed the day for me. This year I was unwell and didn’t have the energy to explore the hundreds of books I have to find the 3 titles that would create a poem that was right for me. But when I’m well enough, I shall create my Mother’s Day 2015 piece.
The one thing I’ve discovered, the thing that is right for me, is that it’s not ‘the day’ that’s important rather, it’s how I celebrate the present of my mothering. I can acknowledge the past while knowing it’s the present that is most important. This may sound strange coming from a childless mother, but I’ll always be a mother, nothing will change that. And the most important thing for me to remember is I am not not, never was, the cruel woman who was my mother.
And Louise, thank you from the bottom of my heart for knowing the rightness of whishing me a happy Mother’s Day.
You are such a special woman and I feel affection and a deep respect for you.
You still *are* a mother, Tricia, in the same way I still have a sister. I should imagine Mothers’ Day is hardest of all for those whose children are no longer with them.
I remember your poem from last year—it’s a lovely tradition and I look forward to seeing this year’s when you’re up to it.
My dear Louise, pain, particularly mental pain, is so uncomfortable and so unable to be expressed. You are an amazing woman who survived a horrific childhood. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs in life and would you really want to? There is good in everything that happens to a person, from the worst to the best. Your experiences gave you the ability to raise four brilliant children who are talented and emotionally stable. Without your past, they might have turned out very differently. Do not feel guilty for who you are. Show them how sorry you are by your love for them. None of us are perfect and we all have lapses. The past is done. Don’t let it rent space in your head. I so admire you for your accomplishments and love you for the person you are. Let the past go. You have a beautiful future.
I’m so grateful to you and to all my cyber-friends who have extended nothing but love and support, Betty. Thank you. You’ve no idea how much it helps, and the future is looking bright again. 🙂 #MD2016
Thanks so much for sharing being childless by choice I had insulated myself from the Mother’s Day reflection guess what it’s taken untill today to read and wow cracks I never knew I had but then to see your drama is to be liberated from it thank you for sharing so honestly it helps so much xx
Thanks for commenting, Tracy, and I’m so glad if it’s helped you feel liberated. If I achieve nothing else in sharing these stories, except for people to know that someone else has felt the same, then that makes me feel happy.
A very raw and honest read, Louise – thank you for being brave enough to share it with us. I hope writing about your feelings is giving you some form of solace. So often the scars we carry are not visible to the world. I like your idea of creating your own Mother’s Day – making something new out of the ashes of the old – good luck! xx
Thank you, Helen. Raw and honest this post is! What happened opened my eyes to how I’d been feeling for so long, and that I’d been trying to stop myself from feeling it. It is onwards and upwards, now! Thanks for commenting. x
You’re very welcome 🙂 Glad to hear that things are looking up for you xx
Thank you Louise for your plain courage in telling it how it was for you on Mothers’ Day. A chance for new healing, pain and shame were there,waiting to be triggered…..please be very gentle with yourself.
No more abuse and criticism to yourself, no more judgements. And you are blessed to have children, and they are blessed to have you.
Ps My Mothers Day felt mostly crappy this year, for different reasons, glad it’s come and gone!
Oh dear, Helen, I’m sorry to hear about your Mothers’ Day. It says so much when so many of the the people the day is designed for actually hate it! I guess there’s solace in knowing you’re not alone …
Thank you for your kind words about my post. I’m slowly, slowly learning that I’m not as bad as I was led to believe—I’m actually quite nice!
Ah, Louise, this piece broke my heart. I read it days ago, but my son was ill so I had no chance of commenting on time. I’ve read your new piece today, and I still feel moved to comment on this one. I’ve survived a childhood you describe in your post even though it looked somewhat different from the outside, I recognise that dread you describe so well. Just wanted to say thank you for your courage to write about this pain so openly. It’s raw, it’s hurting and it’s beautiful. I had so much more to say, but commenting days after is not as effective. Still I thought better say ‘thank you’ later than never 🙂
Thanks for your comments, Gulara—you are very kind!
Yes, Mothers’ Day this year caused a switch to turn on! And only good things have come from it.
The responses to this and other posts I’ve written about my childhood have been overwhelming. While you recognise that you don’t know what goes on in people’s families, many people’s childhoods were not what they looked like from the outside.
PS. I hope your son is much better! x
It’s amazing, isn’t it. Sometimes, our biggest shadow holds our biggest gifts to the world. I remember writing about my vision of a happy life to one of my spiritual teachers. It looked tidy and nice, the way I imagine many people’s lives are. His response was “Try to APPRECIATE the scale of who you are and don’t try fitting yourself into tidy boxes meant for folks with charmed lives. You’re not them and they’re not you!” So, I am learning from you and from my own explorations to finally accept things as they were. Doesn’t mean condoning them. Just saying how it was without exaggerating or diminishing the impact of those events. It’s amazing how people resonate with those stories…
P.S. Thank you for asking after my son. He is much better. x
Yes, you can turn a shadow around, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to replace the bad with good. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but now, as a writer, I can put the bad that’s happened into words, honestly and without shame. I love it when by writing my story, I articulate for others what happened to them, and they write and thank me—it’s a wonderful feeling.
Abusive childhoods are not fair—no child deserves it, and it makes the rest of your life harder. It’s hard to build your own sense of worth and not do to your children what was done to you. It’s hard, but I believe it can be done!
Absolutely, Louise, I live this truth (in the last paragraph) every day with my two children. I feel I am re-parenting myself in this process as well. I too love it when there is synchronicity in what we write and how it resonates with other people. I find when I write from heart it’s almost always the case.
Keep writing! I can’t get enough of it. xx
Thanks Gulara. I understand exactly what you mean. Through my kids I saw what I was like as a child–I saw my kids do the bad things I’d done and I saw that didn’t make them bad people. I was able to re-mother myself through mothering them.
And yes, synchronicity is the word and it happens when the writing is honest, doesn’t it!
Take care in those early parenting years–they bring up a lot from the past. xx
What a brave and beautiful post Louise.
Thank you, Kooky! I just re-read it, too, and have been reminded of how far I’ve come since Mothers’ Day. This event was the precipitant of change, and I’m ready to write about that on my blog soon.
Such a privileged look into something so personal. That was a palpable read; thank you. It reveals how many of us have tender spots just beneath the surface, and how if we don’t acknowledge them, they can hurt others, too. I found this quite healing. I can see it also was for you. M
Thank you for your comment! Yes, we can have ‘triggers’, or ‘tender spots’ as you so aptly call them, just beneath the surface and we’re sometimes not even aware that we have them. Until this incident occurred, I hadn’t realised that I was avoiding Mothers’ Day because of the memories it stirred. For nineteen years! Ten months have since passed, and so much (good) has happened in that time that I can read this more dispassionately and I wouldn’t berate myself so much anymore. It prompted me to seek help to address the trauma of my childhood, which has been a good thing. It’s funny how these things just sneak up on you and catch you unawares. Thanks again for commenting. x