We Must Be Our Own Mothers and Heal Our Wounds

“Each one of us carries our mother forward so it is necessary to heal the mother-daughter split whether your mother is alive or not, in order to heal the deep wounding of your feminine nature. The key element here is to become a good mother to yourself. With that in mind, take on the task of mothering yourself.”
—Maureen Murdock, The Heroine’s Journey Workbook

This Mother’s Day, I am hyper-aware of the collective need to expand our ideas about motherhood: what it is, what it isn’t, what it should and shouldn’t be.

Let’s face it. Despite all the Hallmark sentiments, gorgeous bouquets, and images of happy moms and kids that abound this time of year, many of us haven’t exactly been lucky in the mom department.

While I receive hundreds of inspiring stories about moms and daughters who’ve found solace and meaning in their relationships, I am equally struck by the heartrending tales of betrayal, disappointment, estrangement, and miscommunication that often characterize that most primal of connections.

Coming to terms with how we feel about our own moms, especially if we have longstanding issues with them, has the power to transform our lives. We all get this on a fundamental level.

But seriously, if I see another webinar announcement about healing the mother wound, I’m going to scream!

At the same time, I have to admit it’s a cliche I’m all too familiar with. After all, I’ve had my fair share of challenges with my own mother.

My mother gave birth to me when she was a child herself—a 19-year-old who fell in love with an older man in order to escape her own turmoil. By the time I was in fifth grade, my mother had divorced my father and I had attended five different schools within the year. It was then that I realized I would have to be the adult in this situation. I became a pillar of strength…for both of us. This created obvious lifelong challenges in our relationship, including buried resentment and the inability to candidly talk through our issues.

When I was a kid, I used to think that every other kid I knew probably had the kind of mom you’d see on TV: smart, compassionate, and always at the ready with a freshly baked batch of cookies and words of wisdom. The truth is, most of us will never get, or be, the mother of our dreams. And, as I’ve come to learn, this fantasy is not what will ultimately bring us into our power.

There are plenty of obstacles we face in forming close relationships with our moms, including cultural and generational differences, as well as the inability to clearly see each other’s point of view. I’m all about having the hard conversations, but given my experience with my own mother, it’s not only not always possible…it can also be emotionally draining when you try to bridge that gap.

Given the complex and often painful relationships many of us have with our mothers and motherhood in general, I think it’s high time we expand our definitions of what “momming” means. Instead of clinging to cultural ideals that may not fit our real-life experiences, or seeking “healing” in imperfect relationships, how about we start mothering ourselves?

For me, true motherhood is the essence of the feminine—but that doesn’t mean you need to be a mom to experience it. Motherhood is deep compassion, strength, resilience, nurturing, and the ability to find solace in community. I’ve been fortunate to be connected to a number of powerful women in my own life who have helped me to expand my ideas about motherhood. My best friend Michelle taught me steadfast nurturing and all the qualities I value in a mom: unwavering support, loyalty, and love. Then there’s Alima, my teacher at my healing school whose no-nonsense approach to tough love helped me overcome my perfectionism and figure out what I really wanted for myself.

Knowing these women has helped me to find the resolution that I never had with my own mother. I discovered that even if she didn’t understand me, there was a world of women who did.

These relationships have been tremendous in shaping the way that I mother my kids—with the utmost compassion and dedication to their truest expressions of who they are. This also means mothering myself: giving up the idea of perfection, putting on my own oxygen mask, and following my joy so that I can be a powerful role model for my kids. I have learned to want more for myself rather than deferring my dreams in the way so many women have been taught to do. I have been inspired to take back my life and live it on my own terms—and to encourage other women to do the same.

Like many of you, I’ve actually been fortunate to have a strained relationship with my mother. It has been a sore spot throughout my life, but I can now acknowledge that it is the very reason I have gained other tools—as well as mother figures in unexpected places. It definitely drives me to be more conscious of how powerful my own impact on my children is.

Our experiences of motherhood can make or break us. But instead of pointing fingers and blaming others, let’s start with reclaiming motherhood for ourselves. Being a mom is truly a state of mind. It’s not merely about our biological mothers, or our relationship with our kids. It’s also about our relationship to the Earth, ourselves, and each other. It’s about recognizing our intrinsic interconnectedness and acting from the knowledge that we have exactly what we need in order to make life happen.

So, as the mothers of the world (whether we see ourselves this way or not), let’s celebrate Mother’s Day together. Let’s be here for ourselves and one another. Let’s become more conscious of our choices, cultivate deeper wisdom, and take responsibility for healing the wounds of our past and creating a future in which all of us can flourish.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you define motherhood? How have the women in your tribe helped you figure it out? What is your relationship with your own mother like? If it’s not so hot, how can you expand your definition of “mother” and “motherhood” so that you can get the nurturing you need?

Kelly McNelis

About the Author | Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of Women for One, a place where women from 50 countries share their powerful stories with the world. Over 500 Truthtellers, as Kelly calls them, have answered her call to action: Make life happen by sharing your messy brilliance. Their stories range from the devastating to the delightful, and everything in between. Kelly is a mom, wife, friend, mentor, businesswoman, Reiki master, minister, healer, incest survivor, and firm believer that there’s no such thing as “TMI.” Formerly a nonprofit- and small-business consultant, Kelly now travels the world as a speaker, teacher, and workshop facilitator, empowering women to find their voice and discover their true power. She has interviewed global changemakers including the late Dr. Maya Angelou, Arianna Huffington, Regena “Mama Gena” Thomashauer, and Byron Katie, on the importance of cultivating our own inner wisdom and truthtelling voices. Kelly’s first book, Your Messy Brilliance, will be published by Enrealment Press in Fall 2017. Kelly’s work, husband, kids, and brilliantly messy life are based outside Seattle.

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2 comments to "We Must Be Our Own Mothers and Heal Our Wounds"

  • Betty Pena

    Hi, Kelly..
    I am Betty Pena from the Philippines. Thank you for this article ,ii gives me such relief.
    several things that resonate with me. i also had a very difficult relationship with my mother. in the process, yes, i also found many “mothers” in the women’s movement. i am not a parent myself, but i have been a support to so many women who were my clients in counseling work.
    You found the value in the difficult relationship with your mom, i too have the same experience. because of the “not so ideal ” relationship ” with my mother, i was pushed to find kinder , nurturing people. and i was pushed to developed that value in my life.
    Despite our negative or difficult experiences with our primary relationships , we are able to still to come to a better place. Healing , forgiveness, compassion are the gifts that take away from the experience…
    More power and love to you..
    Betty-Philippines

  • Jennifer Palmer

    Finally, at 35, I am making great progress and on the brink of “getting over my mama drama” I realize that for many many many years I’ve been chasing my tail and ending up in circles, right back where I started out, feeling disappointed, hurt, ashamed because I felt unworthy, unlovable, “I’m just not good enough”. My situation with my mother is not unique; I am fairly certain of that. But it was so all-consuming, like it was the obstacle and battle of my life. Everyday. I might as well have been the only person on the planet dealing with that pain, loneliness and I was just so deeply hurt that, really, I felt completely flawed. My desperate attempts to create that mother daughter relationship that I always wanted was so huge for me. It tainted everything I did and I carried that burden alone allowing it to go untreated, festering, decaying, destroying any positive affirmation I ever held for myself. I perpetuated the harm, the feelings of shame and worthlessness… I let that black cloud shroud me as if I found some twisted comfort in it’s familiarity, dimming any natural spark I had. This distressing ill perception, a disease of sorts, was always with me. 35 years.

    One day things began to change for me. I was beginning to understand that it was her own shortcomings, perhaps her very own “mama drama” to battle and that I can and should nurture my self; honour my own right to shine. An immense sense of freedom and acceptance for myself, to start practicing love for myself; being patient and thoughtful, self-aware and kind… I finally just let myself be myself without the negative commentary and thoughts in my head. In that space, in the quiet, in the stillness to let me be me without judging myself so harshly.

    Surprised by how easily it all fell into place. I quite honestly, never thought I’d ever feel better. I didn’t quite understand what was wrong with me. An outsider in my own life. War torn within; those decades of personal battle had scarred me deeply. I knew I didnt have the relationship that I needed, that I craved, that I deserved. Adolescent life was a hard road for me, trying to cope, trying to heal, trying to disappear, trying to just feel OK. Epic battles with addiction, body image, depression, self-hatred… well into the beginning of my adult life. I have perpetuated my own brand of toxic shame; a deep seeded conviction that I was not good enough, simply not enough…. old habits die hard; i’m not yet completely free from the patterns and behaviors/feelings of my past they manifest in unhealthy ways. Although, now I’m able to recognize that side. I have opportunity to turn things around. Simple awareness, redirection and just the act of being gentle with myself, allowing myself to be OK, to feel Ok and to be patient. I am discovering so much of the inner turmoil and negative opinion of myself had to do with the relationship I had with my mother; and when I was finally able to let go and I began to accept it as it was, without trying to control or fix or improve on; almost naturally, I managed to create a space to practice acceptance, leading quickly to so much satisfaction, joy and happiness. A far cry from anything I’d ever dreamt I’d feel free enough to enjoy.

    What a tangled web we weave for ourselves, as children, adolescents, young adults. The carrying on and reinforcing of such poisonous and distructive tendencies. Recreating that toxic childhood drama.

    Id finally gotten to a point where it just sort of started to melt away and became infinitely less important.

    I don’t know if I’m just getting older and I’m running out of f*cks to give or if that patience, presence, awareness and the wonderful space created, permits for one to really find peace. A contemplative curious place where our minds and our hearts are content and we allow ourselves to learn and to understand and embrace what creates joy for our own selves. Savouring moments where you just feel free and freely feel.

    If I had to pin it down to one single “aha moment” suddenly so relatable and clear… I’d attribute this shift to discovery that what I had been missing for so long, wasn’t me or any flaw or inadequacy. I was always good enough; she just didn’t have the capacity to give the way I wanted needed or deserved. After all, it turns out, I was quite bright and shiny; it was her own shortcomings that were dimming my light.

    Back to that “aha moment”… I don’t remember what we were discussing; but it probably had to do with my mother. On some level I was wallowing, feeling badly about how things were between mom n I; when my friend abruptly stopped and gripped me by the shoulders so firmly I can feel her fingers pressing into my flesh as I recall it now. With a great sense of urgency, very matter-of-fact tone, she bluntly cried out “Jen! you’re not going to find milk at the hardware store!”

    Perhaps it was my time? Maybe I was just ready to hear something different? Perhaps it was the urgency in her approach? Not certain what it was that made such a lasting impact for me; but, in that moment I felt like I understood.

    With an airy ease and immense sense of relief, right then, in that moment, I let go of distress and shame that I had carried so long…

    I accept myself (mostly hehehe); I am able to let (most) things be… for so many years I just wanted my mom to say “I’m proud of you” to accept me and just love me, rather than openly criticize my efforts, comment on my wasted potential or how I managed to muck it all up all the time…. for once, I just wanted her to genuinely feel love for me; to look at me, hug me and to quietly let me know that I WAS enough.

    I suppose it was her way to love me, though it often tore me up inside, finally, at 35 I feel satisfaction and pride in myself which is something I had never imagined would ever be comfortable for me…

    Yes, getting over my “mama drama” altered the very fibres of my being, of my life. I am light years away from the girl I once was and I take great pride in that.