I am 33 years old, and I’ve just started to grieve the mother I never had.
Several years ago, as I began to tell my story for the first time in counseling, my counselor asked me how it felt not to have a mother. I had no answer. I just shrugged my shoulders with a bewildered look on my face. I had never thought of it that way before. Growing up, I had a mother who was physically present. She gave birth to me, and I lived in a house with her until I was 16 years old. And I hated her. The focus of my emotional healing had been to let go of the hatred I still harbored for her. I felt relief in the freedom from the stronghold she’d had over me. But, it never even crossed my mind to grieve the loss of what I deserved- a mother who loved and cared for me, protected me, guided me into this big, scary world. I had never felt the loss of something I’d never known.
Perhaps I’m experiencing this now because I am a mother myself. As I go through new things with Avery as she grows, I understand more about what it is a mother brings to her child, and I’m seeing clearly for the first time what I missed. It is more than changing diapers and putting dinner on the table and driving carpool. Those are the basics, but it’s not those things that shape a child’s heart. And it’s not only a child who needs a mother. I am in my thirties, and I feel the loss now more than ever. Most days, I can handle my life. I can be everything that my kids and my husband and my work and my church and my friends need me to be. And then once in a while I have those times (like I did last week) where it all feels like too much. I need it to be just a little bit easier. I need someone older and wiser to say to me that it’s all going to be okay, because sometimes it doesn’t feel okay.
But when those hard times sneak up on me, there is no one to call. There is no one who asks, “How are you REALLY doing?” There is no one who knows by the sound of my voice that things are not okay, and that I just need someone to cry with. There is no one who can offer me the reassurance I need when the ground I’m standing on feels so unsteady. There is no one older and wiser who loves me just because, when I have nothing to give in return.
Most relationships in our lives are built on reciprocity and responsibility: you give me something and I’ll give you something in return. If you want to maintain a friendship, you have to be sure that you put in the work- call a few times a month, make time to spend together. It feels like work to maintain it. But there is something that happens to a person when the success of all of their relationships are dependent on doing all of the right things. They don’t feel loved for just who they are.
Without parents who love me just for who I am, I am untethered. Other people can be blown about in the breeze, but they are anchored somewhere. Eventually, if the winds blow hard enough, they’ll feel the tug of an anchor somewhere in the distance and they’ll be reminded that they have a safety net. They have someone to catch them if they fall and it gives them the courage to keep going, to keep facing the harsh winds of this world. But me, I’m whipped in the wind and there’s nobody there to catch me. There is no tether to hold me when things get rough.
I see love sort of like a waterfall- the more you’re given, the more trickles down. My waterfall flows out of me to my husband and my kids and my friends. When you come from a family filled with love, your waterfall gets filled up and it overflows down to the next in line. But when you are always at the top of the waterfall, when there isn’t anyone pouring into your reservoir, sometimes it goes dry because you just can’t manufacture it all by yourself all of the time. Your pouring out all of the time, but there isn’t a bigger, wiser someone who sees that you need someone pouring into you, too.
I sat in a room a few days ago with several other women. It was mostly older women from my church whom I didn’t know, but it became an intimate setting very quickly. We went around the room and told a little bit of our stories. And then, we were asked a question- to name a person who has been influential in shaping our lives. As I sat and thought about what I might say when my turn came around, I felt myself getting angry. And I had to stop and ask myself why I was angry. Was it because I didn’t have anyone who had shaped my life, who had made an impact on me? That wasn’t it. I could name several women who had made a mark on my life and who had changed the trajectory of my journey. But I realized that it was because none of those women who had influenced my life had stuck around. They played a very specific part, and then moved on. It was never enough.
I had to own up to the fact that it wasn’t those women from my past that I was angry with. I was angry that I didn’t have a mother who had been there throughout my whole life. I was angry that I was looking around at these women and wondering, would any of them give me what I need? I was angry that I knew they would most likely fail me, as each of their predecessors had done in my eyes. No matter how hard I’ve tried to fix it, I have a hole in my heart that has never been filled.
There’s a mother-shaped wound in me, still gaping and bleeding, and I’m afraid it can never be fixed.