Showing Up

Being the Mother I Never Had

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Credit: @decolonizingtherapy // Instagram

As I try to understand self-care and intuitive eating for myself, one thing keeps coming up: Treat yourself as you would treat your daughter. // Be your own parent. // Treat the child within you the way you weren’t treated growing up.

It kind of sounds like psychobabble, but it also makes a lot of sense.

I love my mom very much, but if you’ve been reading long, you know we did not have a very healthy relationship growing up and there are still some potential hot zones I have to tip-toe around even now.

We both grew up in the deep dysfunction of my grandmother June, great-grandparents Lib and Brophy, and uncles Robert and Charles. Any vulnerabilities we allowed ourselves to show were used against us and especially used to shame us. Our bodies and how/what we ate were constantly policed. Brophy, Robert, and Charles all said inappropriate things about our bodies, touched us inappropriately, and made us feel gross and ashamed of our bodies. She was chubby until high school when she lost a lot of weight and her weight went up and down over the next few decades, and there has never really been a point where she has felt great in her body. And being around men who always talk shit about our bodies with their also not-perfect bodies doesn’t help.

Feelings, except anger, were wrong. Having needs meant we were weak. Crying was not allowed.

She learned how to shut off her emotions and needs, and I never did, and out of that experience, she found herself treating me the way she was treated because she saw her pain and shame for herself in me. Because of this, I have felt like such a disappointment and eyesore to my mom my whole life, and a lot of my own pain has come from trying to be a daughter she loves and isn’t ashamed of.

The weight I have gained has been even harder for me because it takes me back to the pain in how she treated me when I was this heavy before. She would feign stomach aches whenever I asked her to go shopping at Lane Bryant with me, and she would leave me to try on clothes alone and then return just as I was ready to buy the clothes I liked. She joined my brothers in calling me a whale and made fun of how I walk and how I carried myself. She said I smelled bad, would never be happy in my body as it was, and told me no “normal” man would love me.

I’ve been through several rounds of therapy over the past 20 years and in each of them, I’ve been told to accept that I will never have the mother-daughter relationship with my mom that I have always wanted and that my mom is a hurt person who hurt me out of that hurt.

In all of this, no one has really ever asked one question: What do/did you want/need out of a mother?

And that is what I am trying to figure out now because I have spent too much of my life hyper-focused on what I never had and what I will never have. I have sold myself short because of the worthlessness I’ve felt, because I could never measure up.

What do I wish I’d received from my mother growing up?

More positive attention, encouragement, and affection. Being told it was okay that I was sad or angry. Feeling like she was on my side. Not feeling like I was already sentenced as guilty before I even opened my mouth. Feeling safe to explore my thoughts and beliefs. Being supported in all I wanted to do. Feeling loved in my body no matter what it looked like. Being encouraged to intuitively eat and move my body in ways I enjoyed.

I know my mom didn’t know or have the capacity to do those things. Neither did my dad. And even as much as June doted on me and encouraged me in the things I enjoyed, like reading and my teenage obsession with the Backstreet Boys, she was still very shut off emotionally and didn’t have the best relationship with her body and food either. I don’t blame my mom or think she is a horrible person because she couldn’t do what she didn’t know or have for herself.

I also can’t just give her this grace and forgiveness and not give it to myself too. I can’t shame myself for needing what she wasn’t able to give me. I can’t keep holding on to the pain and shame I felt growing up and still feel now either.

Yesterday, when I was so upset, I cried in the shower and just asked God to let me let go. Allow me to have a voice of my own and to trust it. To hear it and respect it. To validate it. I am trying to listen to all of those critical thoughts and picture myself as a child or my own daughter telling me she feels this way. It feels so weird and awkward.

So I am starting small.

I wish in all of those times I cried to my mom about how ugly, stupid, and gross I felt in my body and as a person, she’d said, “Amy, I hear you and I am sorry you feel this way.” I wish she had hugged me and told me she loved me, asked me why I felt like that, and helped me understand that how other people talk to or about me is about them and not me.

I can do this for myself.

I wish my hunger had been honored and that I’d been given unconditional permission to eat and trusted that I could do this. I wish I hadn’t been made fun of for the shape of my body and instead encouraged to move it in ways that I enjoyed instead of dismissed because I was “uncoordinated.”

I can do this for myself.

I wish I had felt allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, to speak out and question things and not be shut down. To try new things and not have to be perfect at everything. I wish as her child, I would’ve been a higher priority to her.

I can do these for myself too.

I wish I could’ve been her child the whole time and not at some points, her mother, and most of the time, more like her sister.

There are two parts in all of this: forgiving my mom for not being the mother I needed growing up and giving myself the love and care I needed and also realizing my needs matter so much and are so valid and I am worth speaking up for them.

I have done so much work in the first part even if it doesn’t always sound like it, but I still struggle to do the work in the second half.

I can do it too and also realize that just as my mom couldn’t be the perfect mother to me, I cannot be the perfect mother to myself either.

I found this graphic on instagram yesterday and think it will be very helpful:

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For those of you reading this who have struggled in your relationships with your parents or who never had a relationship with your parents, what has helped you heal and give yourself the love and care you need? 

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