As women, our relationships with our mothers will be among the most important of our lifetimes. Good or bad, getting to know your mother, and who she is as a woman, will offer tremendous insight into who you are. The relationship starts in the womb and never ends. My love for my children, which I learned through observing my mother’s love for me, will continue for generations to come.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my relationship with my mom. As a therapist and an instructor, I learned early on the importance of dissecting, understanding, and feeling the emotions that come from looking at such significant relationships. My mother and I have been through life together and I have learned much along the way. For the most part, there are general phases in the evolution of the mother-daughter relationship. Each is complicated, holding much truth to learn and grow from.
Phase one- Mom the superhero. She can do all, be all, and is seemingly perfect while doing so. No matter what your relationship is like, good or bad, there have been times when she was and is a superhero. My mother left a very privileged life in India, casting off her role as a stay at home mom with domestic help, to working full time by day and attending paralegal school by night. She cooked every evening and cleaned each weekend, trying to manage all of our (my two siblings, myself, and my father) temperaments and life events. She gave us the most comfortable life she could so we wouldn’t ever feel sad about leaving our home and lifestyle in India. It wasn’t until long after this phase that I finally realized the magnitude of the sacrifices she made for our family.
Individuation is imperative for young women. It usually begins during the angst of our teenage years, continuing until we isolate our own identities, outside of our mothers. It’s often turbulent and rife with resentment. We aren’t eager to own our similarities during this phase.
Simultaneous to individuation, we experience the inevitable moment of realization that our moms are flawed. I recall feeling crushed the first time I comprehended that my mom was human and thus imperfect. I was older, yet still unable to process the feelings that came with the harshness of that reality. I then did what I think a lot of us are guilty of- laid blame. It’s easy to judge during this stage because it offers a sense of control. I was trying to find a balance between knowing that my mom is amazing and imperfect, at once. Eventually, I realized that we share many of the same issues. At some point during this stage, we may realize that our mothers are often right, especially when it comes to judging other people’s characters. We learn very quickly that she knows what she is talking about, yet we need to experience this in our own time and our own way so that we can have first-hand knowledge to pass down to the next generation. Who in turn will ignore all of our wisdom, too? This phase is confusing, to say the least, but the phase that follows, for some of us, brings a lot of clarity.
Most of us eventually have our own children. Talk about realizing very quickly how valuable Mom is! I remember the first night home from the hospital after having my son, sitting in a rocking chair, feeding him for the third time that evening. My thoughts were not on this tiny little miracle in front of me, or the lack of sleep, but instead with my mother, appreciating everything she had to go through with all of us. The years of not really getting it came together, the sacrifices she made were realized through my own. Finally, I understood why she had to be a superhero and why she was imperfect while trying.
There is a final phase, one that I am terrified to dwell on; the loss of my mother, my first love. I am still very blessed to have her here with me and hope that you are too. For those who have experienced that loss, all of my love to you. I can only imagine the devastation that comes with losing the one person (assuming you had a healthy relationship) you know will always put your well being first.
Whether your mom is with you or you meet elsewhere one day, it is never too late to learn more about her, and in doing so, yourself. No matter where your relationship is at this time, I encourage you to explore, dissect, understand, and feel all of the emotions that come from such a valuable dynamic.
Every mother has moments of breaking down or doubting herself, experiencing darkness and pulling through for her children. Her coping with vulnerabilities may not have been perfect, but she tried and still tries. You can learn so much about who you are through her. How do you cope with darkness? What are your vulnerabilities? How do you handle them? Do you consider vulnerability to be an imperfection? If you are truly honest with yourself you will find parallels, maybe even your reflection in the mirror of your own mother. Learning, accepting, and working through these parallels and reflections will offer empowerment and healing, making you a better version of yourself. Another catalyst for healing is forgiveness.
As flawed beings, our mothers will continue to make mistakes. Now, as a mother myself, the ease of parenting mistakes is ever so real. I am imperfect, and I hope my children grant me the forgiveness, grace, and understanding that I am learning to give my own mother. I encourage you to work toward forgiveness for your mother. How can we forgive ourselves if we cannot forgive those whom we are a part of? Forgiveness doesn’t have to mean forgetting, just letting go of the pain that may haunt your mind, body, and soul; no matter how small or how big the pain feels, releasing it offers healing. When we heal ourselves, we invariably heal future generations.
Those feelings of being unappreciated and overlooked are known intimately by your mother. I am guilty of doing this to my Mom even now. I try to take the time to thank her for all of the sacrifices she has made- past, present, and future. It’s easy to take for granted that she will always be there, forgetting to extend our constant love, appreciation, and kindness. There is another great lesson here for us as well- to be proud of everything we go through as mamas. We need to raise our heads high and say, “Yes! We did that, and that, and that, and that!” We often make ourselves invisible, putting our heads down and pushing through. We love our families, put forth so much effort, and would die for them. Even when we feel that we are doing everything wrong, we have to remind ourselves of that perseverance and unconditional love. So much is right. So, raise your glasses mamas and toast your mom and yourself, celebrating one another, the good, the bad, and everything in-between.
P.S. Mom, my love for you will transcend time, space, and everything else in-between. Thank you for teaching me, for being the best role model and superhero a girl could wish for