If I ever were to write a book, I think I would title it something like "Mothering Without a Mother." Not because I am an expert, not because I find it easy to raise my children without my mother in my life, but because I think if I had a book like this, it would have at least made the last few years easier. At least it would have made it more comforting to know that I'm not the only one mothering without a mother in my life.
If you're reading this and you have a mother in your life, please don't stop reading. Please use this as an encouragement to call her and thank her. Please do not take another day, another action, for granted. Find a friend who isn't as fortunate as you and come along beside her. If you're estranged, pray about what it is to bring a peace that passes all understanding to your relationship.
For those of you who are reading and are in the same boat as me, for whatever reason, this is not a pity-party post. It's an honest look at our raw emotions and a reminder that we are more than conquerors through Christ-Jesus. He is all we need. And He works all things together for our good.
But there's this ache. Today as I rocked my sick babies (yes, they are still sick!), tried to help my oldest with a new fraction lesson, and watched my 4-year-old dance along to Christmas music, I nearly had a breakdown. This does not happen often. I grieved not having my mother in my life. There's no one to help rock the babies, to be proud of her flesh and blood grandkids, to laugh alongside me at their hilarities. Yes, there are women in my life who have a relationship with me and my kids. But they are not my mom. Yes, this sounds awful, almost ungrateful. I assure you, I don't live here in this ache. But it's real, it comes and it goes, and I seem to go through a real grieving process each time it revisits.
First, there's denial and isolation. Yes, this morning, I felt the absence of a mom. A mom who I could call on a hard day for a chat, some help, or just to say "this is tough." I could dwell in stage 1 most of the time, thinking I don't really need that someone, I have God. This is true. But there is a place in a woman's life for a mom. Mine lost custody of me when I was 13, a really bad time as you might imagine. I went through my first year of high school, my first crush, my first break-up, my successes, my failures, my strengths, and my weaknesses, all without my mom. That was fine. I learned how to cope. Then I went to college. I had a whole new set of firsts. Then I fell in love, planned a wedding, and walked down the aisle, all without her with me. There were new hurts to process, new coping mechanisms to develop, but in the end, I did well. She could have been a useful voice through law school. She could have been a friend during our time dealing with infertility. She could have been the one I called after I had babies asking questions like Is this normal? What was I like when I was a baby? How did you ever stop gazing at me? But that was the problem. I didn't have a gazing mom. So, as I moved through life, I lived in denial. I convinced myself that I didn't really want my non-gazing mom. I am better off by myself. And this morning, I repeated this subconscious mantra over and over again. The more I repeated it, the louder I had to get.
Then the anger set in. How could someone give up their daughter like that? I looked into my daughter's eyes without complete confusion. I am pretty confident that nothing on this earth can separate my heart from my children's. It wasn't just that. I was angry I was alone. There was no one I could call today that could have an empathetic ear. No one to say "I remember when you were little when you were sick." Sure, there have been people who have been Godly role models in my life in different seasons, but I don't have that constant, faithful, mothering voice in my life. I don't have the history with someone who watched me mature and grow through high school, college, marriage, and now motherhood. And why not? What's wrong with me? Cue Stage 3 of Grief: Bargaining.
When we feel helpless in a situation like this, we try to mentally gain control. I have always been an unloveable person. That is why it was so hard for her to love me. My daughter is loveable, therefore it is easier for me to love her. Maybe if I had been more compliant when I was younger, she wouldn't have given up on me. Hogwash, right? Yet, these self-defeating thoughts creep in at just the right time of weakness to create a paranoid, confused mind.
Then comes depression. It's like a deep, overwhelming sadness. It's the realization that something we've pictured in our heads will never come to be. It's not just all the books, movies, and tv shows that created this idealistic picture of an unachievable perfect family unit in my head. I have moved through life witnessing many different families with their own traditions, their rituals, their inside jokes, senses of humor, their own culture, ultimately, their love. And I get jealous for that love. Yes, all families have issues. Yes, there are always problems. Yes, I am aware that even some of you who have a mother or a daughter do not have a great relationship. I get it. My sadness doesn't come from the lack of an ideal maternal relationship, but from the fact that I don't have the option of a relationship at all. I was rejected. I was forgotten. Dwelling on that for more than about a minute sends me to low, scary places. My husband lost his mother when he was a teenager. There are moments when he lets himself get to the point when he feels like he was robbed of the relationship as well. She never watched him get married and become the husband and father that he has become. And she would have been so proud. We can let ourselves get really low if we wanted to. We all can. About almost anything. We can allow lies speak louder than truth in our lives.
Finally, comes acceptance. Acceptance isn't a solution to the initial problem. Acceptance isn't happiness. Acceptance isn't a state of perpetual depression. Acceptance is a place where honesty meets perspective. The only way to truly explain this stage to me is that this is truly when I experience God's grace. It is trusting in something I cannot see. It is knowing that one day the deepest pains of my heart will no longer throb. It is knowing that the arms I seek to wrap around me will one day hold me tight. It is knowing that in the mean time, there are going to be days like this when it's hard, when it feels unfair, and when I wish I could close my eyes and make it all go away. But it is knowing that tomorrow might be different...better. And if not then, then the next, or the next.
My husband and I both experienced the loss of our mothers. We often share the pains of our hearts, and the ways our lives were changed because of our losses. There are differences. He doesn't feel rejected. I don't feel the deep sadness without the anger that goes along with it. But there are a lot of similarities. We both feel an absence. We both still feel the sting of the pain. We both feel times of loneliness. We both have a need to cling to the hope that is set before us.
I write this today to say simply this: a mother has an amazing bond with her child, no matter what. She is forever connected to us from the moment we are created. When life circumstances interrupt this relationship, for whatever reason, there is an inevitable wound. Like any wound, it will heal, but it will always be sensitive, susceptible to future injury. It will be visible to anyone who wants to look at our ugly scars. It is a constant mark of past pain. We can cover it up, cover over it, hide it, but it will never disappear. It is a part of who we are. It is our weakness.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9
So here I am...boldly declaring, even boasting about my weaknesses. I want His power to rest upon me, especially tonight as I face exhaustion and continue to meet the needs of my own children. I may not have had a mother to model motherhood for me, but I have the perfect teacher, the perfect leader, the perfect shepherd. I have one who knows me more intimately than anyone else and who continues to care for my heart more than any mother ever could.
Hug your mom. Tell her you love her. If you live far away, skype, face time, whatever. As a mom, you know how much of an investment she made in you.
Those of you like me, stand strong. Boast in your weaknesses. His power will be made perfect in your weakness. Don't be ashamed of your wounds. Don't be afraid to grieve. Just don't stop short of the last step! God is good, and He has not caused anything to happen in our lives that would not work good for those of us who love Him. He is working good...real, true, pure good. Good that cannot be covered, cannot be hidden, cannot be ignored. Good that is lasting, obvious, and life-giving. That is our hope. That is His plan.
P.S. I love and deeply appreciate the women in my life that are my stand-in moms. I never for one second want you to think that I appreciate you any less. My life would not look the same without your investment. My step-mom has been an incredible influence in my life, my sister has been a huge influence, and one special lady who mentored me through my early married and mothering days has been a true friend. Thank you to all of you for your love, time, and presence in my family's lives!