I’m not sure why I haven’t written about this before. Perhaps I was afraid it would somehow get back to my mother. But I doubt she will ever read this. I sent her a link to a blog article I wrote once. She opened it on her iPhone but couldn’t figure out how to scroll down so she never read the whole thing. It’s comical, but a little sad, too.
Mother’s Day has been a difficult holiday for over a decade. It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents home at 19 that I began to wake up to the abusive nature of my relationship with my mother. It wasn’t until I had friends look at me and say, “You need to get out.” that I realized what I was enduring wasn’t normal.
I don’t remember the first time she said it. I know I was young, maybe 5 or 6 years old. My strong-willed personality was beginning to show. I was bossing my little sister often and speaking up for myself more than any “gentle, quiet spirited” Christian little girl should. The first time I remember her saying it was after I was released from children’s church. I navigated the mingling post-church adults until I spotted my mothers floral skirt. I skipped up to her-perhaps too eagerly-and wrapped my arms around her legs. She was clearly put-off by my interruption and apologetically indicated to the family she was talking to… “and this is Rebekah, all of my worst qualities glorified!” They laughed together, and I tried to hide behind her skirt.
It wasn’t intended to be a slight, I don’t think. It was meant to poke fun at the idea that god gives you children like yourself, to show you what you need to work on. But over the years it became the mantra she held over my life, introducing me in that way to friends and strangers alike. My father even adopted the phrase, often reminding me when I “misbehaved” that I was just like my mother and the devils greatest tool against us was each other. I was to always remember that I was the child and therefore my opinions and defenses were irrelevant. Total submission and obedience was required. These were the boundaries of our relationship. Anything less was rebellion, bordering on witchcraft. I was to remember that in biblical times, I would be stoned for defending myself to my parent. It was only the mercy of God that afforded me a safe place under their roof.
I moved out at 19 and took my 18 year old sister with me. I worked full-time to support us while she worked part-time and attended college. We stayed close by our parents and maintained a relationship as best we could. Things seemed to improve with a little proximity. But mothers day? It became a painful obligation.
I knew the consequences would be severe if I didn’t give some acknowledgement of the holiday. We’d already set the precedent of giving gifts and cards, sharing lunch, going to church together, and various and sundry small celebrations. If we’d suddenly ceased because we realized the relationship was abusive, it only would’ve become moreso with my long-suffering father caught in the crossfire.
I vividly remember standing in the greeting card aisle of a drugstore, reading card after card and putting each one back after skimming just a few lines of admiration and generalized happy reflection. My heart felt like it was breaking and bleeding all over the polished linoleum. None of the heartfelt sentiments applied to me or my mother. Gradually, I would wander toward the comical section of cards or the discount ones that didn’t say much. Since that day in CVS, selecting a Mothers Day card has always been an intensely painful experience.
This year there was no time or emotional energy for a card. Instead, I sent a text before work and made a phone call after work, both of which have gone unanswered. And while in some ways it’s a relief not to have to talk to her, it also twists the knife just a little bit. Especially when I scroll through social media today.
I’m known as the mom-friend, the “mother hen” among my friends. I’m the one who will ask you over and cook you dinner, or show up when you’re having a bad day with little sources of comfort. I will massage you, encourage you to take care of yourself, drink water, get lots of rest, help you see a Dr. if you need one. I didn’t get this way by accident. I was raised by my older sisters until I was 8 years old, but then I had to raise myself.
So today I am thankful for all the friends who remind me that I am not the worst parts of my mother. I am thankful that they hold for me a different mirror. And this is for the daughters. For those who feel motherless, who have had to raise themselves, teach themselves how to navigate the world, how to show empathy and compassion to others when the opposite was demonstrated for them. Here’s to you, warrior women. Your heart will mend. But today, it’s okay if it breaks a little. Hold yourself closely. You are worthy of mother-love.