Updated: Jan 17
I actually wrote and shared this in 2016, but it will always be relevant. It has since been updated.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to share about my relationship with my mother and how that relationship has shaped me. Growing up, I felt my mother did not live up to my expectations of who a mother should be to their child, and that created a great sense of resentment and pain for me that bubbled up and over while I was away at college. I am the 4th child of 5 children, or the 5th child of 6; my mother gave birth to a child before my oldest sister who passed away shortly after birth. My mother is White, my father Black, and when they got married, interracial marriage was taboo. Most of my mother’s family disowned her. My maternal grandmother committed suicide when my mother was in her early 20s--the one person my mother believes would not have disowned her. My mother was married once before to a White man when she was just the tender age of 19; she did what her family wanted her to do, but she was unhappy and the marriage did not work out. She married my father several years later.
My father was a God-fearing man, and he was also intense. He was often emotionally and verbally abusive towards our mother in front of us, and he did not spare the rod (belt) in disciplining us, particularly me—not sure what that was about. As a young child, I was often referred to as “the smart one.” My mother bragged about my intelligence and accomplishments to others as I stood there and watched, but she did not actually tell me, “Jenny, I’m so proud of you,” until the day I graduated from college. My mother was hard on me and her expectations were high, whereas I felt she set the bar low for my brother (God rest his soul; he passed away last year) and my little sister. My oldest sisters were off on their own at that point. My mother seemed hyper-focused on my brother, who suffers from Schizophrenia, and my little sister, the baby. I was on my own.
It was an unspoken consensus in the family that I would be fine, and I would figure things out on my own because I was smart; some things never change. My father passed away when I was 9 years old, and I never saw my mother cry about it, although I know she loved him deeply, in spite of their issues. She became a single mother in her early 50s, which is an age many would say is “old” for having young children. I thought it was, too. She wasn’t “fun” and after my father passed away, it seemed like she kind of gave up on so many things. She chopped her hair off (common), stopped working a few years later, stopped doing her makeup. I just didn’t get it. I thought we, her children, should be more than enough to keep her going, right?
Away I was in college, I’d call my mother every day, without fail, until one day I protested. I refused to call her. I wanted to see how long it would take her to call me. She called me a few days later, and she wondered if something was wrong with me. She was concerned and thought maybe something happened, yet she hadn’t called any sooner to check on me. I lost it! I’m thinking: You’re the mom! Don’t you care? Don’t you love me? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you? I don’t remember exactly what I said to her, but I did express myself, and as usual, she did not respond. I was an extremely sensitive child, and my mother’s mottos are: Crying isn’t going to change anything, [and] Oh well! Imagine that! She actually still says, “Oh well” all the time, at less than appropriate times, but I can laugh about it now. She couldn’t meet me where I was at, in my pain, in my longing to know how much she loved me.
I started therapy shortly after that. Over time, through the healing process, I realized that I had to meet her where she was at. It didn’t seem fair, but I knew it was the right thing to do, and it finally felt like the right thing to do. I knew my wholeness, as well as the quality of my relationship with my mother, depended on me coming to terms with this: My mother loves me the best she knows how, and that’s enough. People can only be who they are (at any given season in their life), and that doesn’t have to dictate who we are. We don’t get to place value on anyone; God does. We need to train ourselves to see people how God sees them and forgive them and love them accordingly.
My mother is enough. I am enough. I am an extension of my mother, yes. Some of the things I love, or not-so-love about myself, I see in my mother. The things I thought made her a weak mother are actually what make her a strong woman. She went through so much, and though she must have felt alone so many times, she is still alive, she is still standing. My mother is kind-hearted, thoughtful, generous and selfless. We idealize our parents, not realizing the great responsibility and challenges that come with the reward of bearing and raising children.
My understanding grew even more once God blessed me with Nnenna, as I became a mother myself, double-time when Natalie made me a mother of two [and triple when Nasir made me a mother of three this year]. I know my mother worries about some of her children more than others, and those are the children she reaches out to more. I’m okay with that now. I know she’s proud of me. I know she loves me. I am comforted knowing she doesn’t worry about me. I find solace in knowing that what I thought was a lack of affection, attention and love was her silent strength. When she hugs me now, she grabs my face and pulls me in to kiss my cheek, and I know I’m loved. I cherish her embrace. I have forgiven her. I respect her. I love her. I thank God for choosing her to be my mother because every detail of my life has led me to this point today, right here, right now, and she is one of the major details of God’s demonstration of grace and love in my life.
Thank you, Mom!
As time continues on, I don’t like to think about it, but I know that my time with my mother is limited--age and distance between us; this is a thought that haunted me when I was younger, especially after losing my father at such a young age. I know it's a feeling that won't completely go away. And now, while the thought still devastates me if it lingers, it’s something I keep in mind to remind me to cherish her all the more. We are all aging, and sometimes God calls some home sooner than others. Many are grieving the loss of their mothers. Maybe you are now. Maybe your mother is not physically gone, but she is emotionally unavailable. One day that will be me. One day that will be you. I urge you to reconcile with your mother if, within reason, you can. If you can’t, go to therapy, strengthen the tribe of women in your life; there’s no replacement for having a mother, but there is motherly love left to receive.
Happy Mother’s Day!
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
You are doing your best; you always have.
You are blessed.
Shush Your Shame
Jennifer J. Jones