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What You Wish Your Mother Would Say to You When Life Is Tough

One of the most painful pieces of coming from a relational trauma background is the absence of having had and still not having the kind of parenting that felt and feels adequate, supportive and like a safety net you can turn to when life feels hard and overwhelming (which, in adulthood, it often does).

The very natural and normal impulse to call your mother (or father or other guardian) when life feels hard and challenging, for many, doesn’t ever fully fade.

But, even though the longing lingers, you may increasingly know that, if you do reach out looking for support, you’ll likely just get hurt, disappointed and even angry when presented with the reality of your parent — a parent who simply can’t meet your needs because they don’t have the emotional and psychological capacity to do so.

You know this. Intellectually you get it.

But still, naturally, you hunger for support. For comfort.

For your mom or dad to be on the other end of the phone as a source of solace when life feels hard and you feel like you just can’t adult anymore.

So what is there to do when you’re in this space?

When you’re hungry for support but you know you can’t and won’t get it from your mother or father figure?

You absorb the support, guidance and uplifting of psychologically healthy others who can meet your needs in ways that your family-of-origin cannot.

Ideally, we have flesh-and-blood others, second-chance-family-of-choice, around us who can offer this to us.

And in addition to this (or instead of this), we can draw comfort and solace from pen and paper mentors, the written word, a random essay posted on the internet.

Helpful words can be a balm to weary hearts.

And so, today’s essay is a sort of a pep talk, a letter of encouragement and comfort, written as though a good enough mother might say it to her overwhelmed and exhausted adult daughter.

If you’re struggling, feeling overwhelmed, burned out, exhausted, lost and scared, if you long for comfort but cannot get it from your actual mother, today’s essay is written for you.

(And please note: while this essay is written from mother to daughter and assumes the daughter has children, you can of course substitute any gender of parental figure and your own gender expression into this essay as well as edit out any parts about having children. Use this as a mental, imaginal exercise and personalize it to your life and your needs.)

What your mother would say to you (if she could)…

Oh, honey. You’re really having a hard time right now, aren’t you?

Tell me all about it. I want to hear what’s going on with you.

It’s a lot, isn’t it?

Working full-time, trying to raise children, trying to run a household and keep up with everything, let alone trying to be a good partner and a good friend.

I remember those days. How exhausting, how draining it could feel.

And I didn’t have to deal with a global pandemic on top of it all!

You’re doing such an incredible job, honey. Truly.

I know it doesn’t feel like you’re doing a great job.

I’ll bet that most of the time it feels like you’re failing in some way or letting one part of your life fall apart while you tend to another.

I get it. It’s so, so hard.

And I want you to know: you’re doing an amazing job.

I see how hard you work.

I know how tired you are and yet how you show up for everyone in your life with grace and strength.

I know it doesn’t feel that way, though.

I know it feels like toddlers destroy the house faster than you can clean up.

I know it feels like if you’re being a good mom, you’re letting work down.

I know it feels like if you’re giving all you have to work and to your kids, your home is a mess, your marriage takes the backseat, and there never seems to be time to work out.

I know it feels like a double bind sometimes.

I know the pressure you feel as the primary breadwinner. I know how expensive life can be!

I know it feels like all you want to do is hide under the covers and watch Netflix all weekend and eat takeout and have the world go away.

I know that feeling where you feel like you have it all under control some days, and then you feel like a failure and like a scared little kid trapped in an adult body the next day.

I know how desperate you are just for five minutes alone — alone from everyone no matter how much you love them.

To go to the bathroom in peace. To lay on the couch without being grabbed.

I remember how I used to fantasize about a break — no one needing me, no responsibilities, the ability to just hide away from it all. I remember those days well.

And I want you to know that it’s OK to feel this way.

It’s OK to be totally overwhelmed and exhausted and burned out.

It makes sense you would feel that way given all that you’re holding.

It’s OK to sometimes wish you never became a parent. Or got married. Or took on those grad school loans. Or put yourself out there in such a big way with your work life.

It makes sense you would have those thoughts given all that you’re holding.

It’s OK to wish life were easier. Truly.

It makes sense that you would wish that.

It’s OK to feel grumpy. It’s OK to feel resentful.

It makes sense that you would feel that way.

It doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

I know you love your child.

I know you don’t really want to throw away your career and move to Mongolia.

But that impulse to hide, to run away, to wish things were easier, that makes so. much. sense.

It’s OK to feel that way, honey. Really.

Life isn’t easy.

It’s especially not easy right now.

Not in the grind years of being a working parent to young children under five.

I look at all that you do, all the ways you love other people and work so hard every day to be a good person and a kind, helpful presence in the world and I’m so, so proud of you.

Actually, I’m beyond proud of you. I’m amazed by you.

You are so resilient. So strong. So capable. Such a good parent. Such a good person.

You have so many responsibilities, so many people counting on you, and you don’t let them down.

Your character is incredible.

I know those Marvel movies are popular and everyone puts superheroes on pedestals.

But I think full-time, working moms who are responsible for their family’s income and well-being are the real superheroes of the world. You’re one of them.

And I wish I could make it all so much easier on you, honey.

I wish I could shoulder all the work for you, all the sleep deprivation, the emails, the bills, the drudgery.

I wish I could take it all on and you could have a break. A long one. A really long one.

I can’t do that exactly. But I can listen to you. I can love you through it.

I can listen to anything you want to say, anything you want me to know. I want to listen to you.

I won’t judge you harshly — I remember feeling burned out beyond words myself and just wanting some safe space to vent into.

Someone I could say the dark and embarrassing things to.

Sometimes that’s all we need.

So tell me, honey, what do you want me to know? What’s on your heart? What are you wishing for?

Tell me whatever you want. I’ll listen to you, honey.

And here’s something else I want you to know: even though the days feel interminable right now, even though you sometimes hate your spouse and you’re completely overwhelmed as a mother in a pandemic, even though it feels like you’ll never make traction on your goals, even though it feels like you’ll never sleep through the night again, I promise you: you will.

Time will pass, the kids will grow up and become more independent, work will get easier because you’ll have more time to exercise and sleep and be with your girlfriends.

You’ll have a chance to get nourished again and that will make everything else easier.

And these years are always, always hard on a marriage.

If you two can just hang in there, it will probably get easier.

Of course, if you do want to change your life — separate from them, change jobs, move home — I’ll support you no matter what.

I don’t need you to stay married or stay where you live or be in that fancy career.

I don’t need you to do anything that doesn’t ultimately work for you.

I’ll love you and support you no matter what.

And, I’m holding the hope for you that things will get easier.

Even if you can’t find that hope right now, especially since you can’t find that hope right now, let me hold that for you.

Let me hold the faith that things will get easier in time.

When this pandemic ends, when the kids grow, when you get more sleep, when you can see your friends again, when I can fly out to babysit…

I really do trust that things will get easier, honey.

But in the meantime, I’m here to listen to you.

Gosh, I wish I could hold and hug you right now and just hold you in my arms while you have a long cry. I miss you so much.

You’re such an incredible person and you are doing a wonderful job, honey.

Being an adult is not easy.

Being a good parent isn’t easy.

Being the primary breadwinner of your family isn’t easy.

Doing that job you have, being in that career of yours, I know for a fact that’s not easy!

Keeping a family’s life revolving and functional, especially in a pandemic, isn’t easy.

None of this is easy.

And despite how you feel like you’re failing, I see how wonderful of a job you actually are doing.

I think you’re a great mom. A great spouse. A great worker. A great person.

I know it doesn’t feel like it honey, but you’re doing a truly wonderful job.

And I’m so, so proud of you.

I love you so much and I’m here for you in whatever way you need, in whatever way feels good to you.

I love you.

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