Here’s what unloved daughters have to say: “Worse than Christmas,” “I’m going to hole up and close the blinds,” “I know seeing her will be awful but I can’t handle the guilt,”“I hate the woman who invented this damn fake holiday.”
Yes, the second Sunday in May fast approaches and the question is: Are you ready? It’s not simply that the day is stressful because you’re still in contact with your nasty, manipulative, or hypercritical mother, and you know you’ll feel worn out and diminished after you see her. That’s not the hardest part. The really hard part is feeling, once again, excluded from that Magic Circle of mothers who love their daughters and daughters who love them to the moon and back. That Circle is closed to you and you feel, once again, like the Odd Girl out, your nose pressed up against the glass looking in with envy. Of course, the culture insists that every mother and daughter are part of that circle, and that makes it worse. It feels like a stab when your co-worker gushes that she’s looking forward to feting her Mom. It’s what one reader called “the sloppy sentimentality that becomes an eternal reproach for the unloved daughter.” It’s those Mother-Daughter pairs having lunch, laughing, sipping wine, going shopping together just for fun. Not you. Not your mother. Not me. Not my mother.
The truth is that one of those pairs might be me and my daughter. It is deeply ironic but sometimes I realize that my young self would have been so jealous—puce with envy or even angry—if she’d seen us together. My own mother glanced at my handmade cards and threw them out with the wrapping paper. She returned every gift I bought her for something better, something nicer. Not me. Not my mother.
What to do to get through
Following is a game plan, adapted and drawn from my latest book, Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life; depending on whether you are still in contact, have low contact, or no contact at all, you will find some more useful than others. Treat the list as a smorgasbord.
- Recognize that you are not to blame
All unloved daughters grow up thinking that it’s their fault that their mothers don’t love them. They may have been told that explicitly— “If you weren’t so difficult, I wouldn’t have to be hard on you” or “Why aren’t you more like your sister? You drive me crazy.”—or they may simply deduce it on their own. It’s a default stance—self-criticism—for almost everyone. Counterintuitively, blaming yourself feeds the hope that you can get Mom to love you; if you can fix yourself, then you can be like everyone else. Blaming yourself is easier than facing the sorry truth. But the reality is that your mother’s not loving you is about her, not you. Really.
- Own your story
Unloved daughters—especially those who have been gaslighted, have been told repeatedly that they’re making things up, or are just overly sensitive—tend to mistrust their perceptions. This can continue long into adulthood, especially if you are still trying to get your mother to love you and may be part of what this holiday triggers in you. Owning the truth of what happened is an important step to dealing with Mother’s Day but also key to healing. This is especially important for a daughter whose siblings deny the truth of her experience.
- Don’t second-guess yourself
Your own need for maternal support may suddenly re-surface, re-awakened by all the images and ads, as well as that feeling of exclusion; you may find yourself wondering whether you could have exaggerated your experiences or perhaps find yourself focusing on “explaining” your mother’s behavior. (“She doesn’t mean to be cruel; she doesn’t know any better.” “Her own mother was mean so maybe she can’t help herself.” “Perhaps I am being too sensitive.”) Again, these are default positions. Work on trusting your own thoughts and perceptions
- Define your goals and expectations
If you are seeing your mother, you need to set goals for yourself. Your goal might be not to rise to the bait and stay calm and civil. Or it might be steering the conversation away from areas that have been tinderboxes in the past. If you have gone no contact, set a goal of managing your emotions and exploring your thoughts. Make plans to do something fun and validating.
- Set boundaries if you’re seeing her
Your mother doesn’t have the right to demean or diminish you, not even on Mother’s Day, nor does anyone else. Be clear about what you will and won’t tolerate, and think about how you will handle the situation ahead of time. This doesn’t mean that you have to be rude or make a scene but you are an adult and it’s perfectly okay to decide that you must be treated respectfully.
- Be kind to yourself
Unloved daughters have trouble feeling self-compassion, in part because of that default setting of self-blame, but this is a perfect time to really start working on it. Work on being as kind to yourself as you would be if another woman told you her story of her own narcissistic, controlling, unreliable, or combative mother. Remember that you did nothing that evoked your mother’s treatment. Children need love and support to thrive; supplying food, clothing, and shelter without love and attention, describes an orphanage, not a mother.
- Mourn the mother you deserved
This is a key point in my book, Daughter Detox, and an important part of healing. Recognizing that you were deserving of love and attention is a foundation of recovering and reclaiming your life, and part of letting go of denial includes visualizing the mother you should have had.
- Recognize what she missed out on
This is an exercise for you since your own mother is very unlikely to believe that she’s missed out on anything. When I asked readers on my Facebook page to do this exercise, they realized that thinking about what their mothers missed—instead of focusing on what they missed by not having loving mothers—gave them a new perspective on themselves. They were also able to see not only their own good qualities but the richness of their own lives.
- Mother yourself
Yes, your own inner voice can supplant that endless tape loop that tells you are somehow lacking, deficient, not good enough, and everything else that you heard in childhood or still hear from your own mother. Being able to nurture our best qualities and to reassure ourselves when we fail or make a mistake is part of healing too.
Remember that the day after Mother’s Day is Monday and you can do this. If you would like a special PDF packet filled with exercises and strategies, a supplement to The Daughter Detox Guided Journal and Workbook, please email me at [email protected]
Photograph by Gorian H. Copyright free. Pixabay.com