themighty logo

Why It's So Hard to Talk About Abusive Mothers

The taboo of speaking out against The Mother is messing us up. The Uncles and Fathers get the worst rap  –  for good reason, sadly, according to the numbers  — but there are Mothers out there doing harm, too. We just don’t allow ourselves to talk about it.

The infallible icon of The Mother is a big one to address much less topple. We are socialized with language surrounding Mother Countries and tell tales of superpowers of the all-seeing maternal eye, one that can see you sneaking into a darkened house after curfew or knowing you’ve grabbed that extra cookie despite being across the house with her back turned. She’s who we’re told to mind, who to intrinsically trust according to science and with whom we’re supposed to have the deepest bond. She’s where we come from. She is home.

Sometimes, though, these expectations  — I can’t bring myself to call them values when they’re nothing more than tools of heteropatriarchy oppression  —  fall flat in the face of who some of our mothers actually are as people.

The disparity between what we’re told our mothers are to us and who our mothers may actually be is an abyss that can look deeply back into us, engulfing our hearts and minds with a simple idea that we are ungrateful, whining monsters who don’t love our mothers properly. That we are terrible people who can’t cope with the lie we’re supposed to live without question. That we should always choose going along and getting along.

Sound familiar?

Be nice. Be a good girl/boy. Play fair. Be seen and not heard. You are not represented here but you’re polite enough. You know your mother loves you.

What if she doesn’t?

What if she can’t?

When I went into intensive therapy to at last come to terms with the most insidious abuser of my history, I felt so much shame regarding the events I was about to disclose. True, I had been trained expertly to keep family secrets, but no one seemed surprised when I had unpacked the actions of male familial figures — it felt like the therapists took it in stride with an assumption that was its own ugliness to process in the course of healing.

However, when faced with calling out The Mother, something within me resisted. It resisted hard. It put on the brakes for years until my mental state could not hold the secrets any longer; the truth will out and it most often wills itself out into the body via chronic pain and illness that tends to be life-altering.

I had to call my mother out in order to move on and I felt like the most despicable human who ever lived for doing so. There are plenty of articles filled with studies and results in regards to the topic of abuse and neglect between mothers and their children (there are plenty of books now regarding the effects upon children of alcoholic, narcissistic and so on mothers); this read is about the time of all the feels when your sainted Mother is held up before your disbelieving eyes —  by her community, by her church, by the rest of the family, by society  —  as one who could never do you harm.

It just isn’t true sometimes. We have to say it.

There are too many stereotypes surrounding motherhood, specifically single motherhood, that hold nothing but ill intent for The Mothers to which they adhere. They must “have it all,” be “strong” and on  —  it’s really a recipe for disaster anyway you serve it; no one can compete with the ideals of motherhood that we’ve created to personify The Mother archetype, not that they should have to.

People living their lives aren’t meant to be competing with an idol any more than one person’s experience is greater than another person’s. People hustle, especially womxn, and wouldn’t that be made easier without adding an impossible bar set so high up in the ether that no one would ever touch it? To erase that consistent message of failure that inundates Our Mothers? It doesn’t create the problems between mothers and their children but it can’t ever help, either.

Perhaps it is this system of alleged hero-worship  —  where we can sing the songs of love of country through the scope of The Mother at the same time we as a society berate the laziness and ineptitude of mothers  —  that closes our mouths to our neglect and abuse by the hands, deeds and words of our mothers.

The Mother has a larger-than-life image imprinted in our minds since birth, a god-like figure who literally grew us within her sacred body. That’s a lot to undo within ourselves when it has caused more harm than good, yet we must realize that simply because our mother grew the throat with which we must speak our truth, no matter how painful the process may be in order to finally begin healing for ourselves, she does not own it.

True mothers, just as all true parents, know that we hope our children will surpass us in greatness, will envision the world in new ways of which we could never have acknowledged; they understand children are their hope for the future.

The idea of The Mother is what I attached myself to for years; realizing that was the reality in which I was living guided me into a place where I could seek the help that I needed. It was the old definition of insanity I was playing out  — I kept anticipating my mother’s reactions to be different, more in line with The Mother as a concept, but that’s never who she was or continues to be.

This was brutal and wounding to learn, to see it for what it was in honesty. I’m still navigating the layers of feeling like a warped, motherless child but having my truth heard was the beginning.

You can see more from Hazel on Medium.

Getty image via AlexLinch