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When Mother's Day Isn't 100% Sunshine and Roses

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Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and for some grown women, that means only good things and all the happy feelings. And for others, it’s a day filled with mixed emotions. Maybe you’re a mother yourself, so you know you’ll get to experience the joy of sweet handmade cards and a meal that you don’t have to cook. But at the same time, maybe your own mom has left frustration and hurt in your life, so your celebration on that end won’t be very pretty, if it exists at all.

Christina Herr as a child with her mother

Maybe your mom left. Maybe she battles a harmful addiction. Is in prison. Has broken promises time and time again. Has a psychiatric illness that makes it difficult to connect. Is cold and has shut you out for reasons you don’t understand. Has said words or done things that have cut you deeply.

How does Mother’s Day look then? How do we feel when we walk past the greeting card aisle that expresses umpteen heartfelt sentiments towards the women who gave us life when none of the printed words seem quite right?

My own relationship with my mother is a very difficult one to explain or understand and would probably be better described in a full memoir rather than a concise essay. As a social worker admitted years later, I somehow slipped through the judicial system’s cracks and was raised by a mother who wasn’t mentally well enough to care for a child, but yet, there we were.

After a brief stint in a foster home and with my grandparents when I was 5, I was sent back to live with Mom, who had various psychiatric diagnoses and a history of being neglectful. I was usually the more responsible one in the family, taking care of myself and of her more than the other way around.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when it became official nine years ago, and at the age of 21, I became my mother’s legal guardian, to protect her safety and health. Our relationship now is so different than when I was younger. Not perfect, but different. Not ideal, but I guess I could ask the question: What relationship is?

For the longest time, I didn’t understand her illness or the reasoning behind her cutting remarks or erratic behavior. After years of trying to learn more about who she is and what she goes through mentally, I understand so much more now. But I’d be lying if I said I never get frustrated or the dynamic between us is all happy and carefree these days.

So how do we celebrate Mother’s Day when our relationship with our mother is on rocky ground or maybe doesn’t exist at all? It’s complicated, that’s for sure. But I’ll start with this: No matter what, we still have a great reason to celebrate. We are here. We are alive. We were born from this woman, no matter what has happened and regardless of the relationship we have with her now. We were given a chance at life, and she played the most pivotal role in that. Because of this, we have a chance not only to live but also to create a life that can leave a legacy that’s vastly different than the one to which we were previously accustomed.

Now, as mothers ourselves, and as human beings in general, we can love, nurture, protect our relationships with our own children and care for them the way we wish we had been cared for ourselves.

Your rough past with your mother doesn’t dictate a rough future for the rest of your life. Your legacy can be different and make a positive impact. I’m not bitter or angry about the way life went when I was younger, because it all led me to where I am today, which is a good place to be. I’m surrounded by a strong support system and a spouse and children I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Remember, life’s challenges create courage. Your messes become a message to others. A message of hope. A message that says, “You will get through this. I know, because I did, and I’ll help see you through it.” And that’s something to celebrate any day of the year.

I also can’t talk about the topic of troubled mother-daughter relationships without mentioning the big F-word: forgiveness.

I know. I know. It’s hard to give away. What if they’re not sorry? What if you don’t communicate at all anymore? What if they’re so far gone that there’s no way to even have a decent conversation with them? How can you forgive then?

You see, here’s the thing: Forgiveness has much less to do with their heart and more to do with your own. It’s not for their sake but for yours. All of the hurt, all of the bitterness and all of the anger you carry around is like a suitcase full of bricks. The weight is too much. Can you go through life carrying this baggage day after day after day? Yes. But is it a heavy burden? Of course. Lay it down. Forgive her for you. Your heart. Your mind. Your relationships. Your children. It’s a powerful move to set down that suitcase. Your arms (and every other part of you) will thank you.

So, maybe your Mother’s Day won’t be 100 percent sunshine and roses, and maybe your wounds are still somewhat open. And I get that. Boy, do I get that. But you will get through this day, and so will I. We can do it together. Happy Mother’s Day, my friends.

Follow this journey on Laughter Without Fear.

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Originally published: May 5, 2016
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