Mothers and children - the unavoidable relationship

Our mothers are the single most influential people in our lives. That alone makes her Number One. Well before we are born, her every decision was influencing us: food, drink, smoke, anxiety, stress, rejection, joy, love and acceptance. Every day, who Mom is made its way into who we were becoming.

And, then we were born. That was a struggle, making our way out of the nurturing environment where everything was provided into the world of separation where everything is uncertain. No wonder we cried!

And, now, over the years, we have wrestled with that separation.

  • Am I supposed to be separate, or am I supposed to be part of her?
  • Can I count on her to help me survive?
  • Am I acceptable?
  • Am I in the way?
  • Does she want me?
  • Am I safe?
  • Is there something I am supposed to do to make her like me?
  • Do I know what that is?
  • Will she leave me if I don’t do it?
  • Can I do it?
  • Will she let me?
  • Will she reject me?
  • Does she love me?
  • Am I good enough?
  • How am I doing, anyway?

And, for some, with all those questions they add one more:

  • Who cares?

No matter who we are, at the deepest levels, we care. You can go on saying you don’t, but you know, under that Teflon exterior you work so hard to maintain, there is still that Velcro child, clinging to the hope that Mom will love you. I’ve seen hundreds of clients over the years and I’ve worn through a lot of Teflon with my clients and within myself. “Mother’s Day” brings this all to the top of the heap, no matter how much we say we don’t care.

One thing is for sure: Mom was and is doing the best she can. If, as Maya Angelou said, she knew different, she would do different. That is knowing at the action level, not just the level of information. My Mom had the words for how mothers demonstrate love. It just was very difficult to find in her behavior. Your mom may have had the same difficulties. Can she say “I love you,” even in a card? That’s a good start. Sometimes, the message comes in ways that take a little detective work. Sure, it would be lovely if we didn’t have to sleuth the truth, but mom had a mom, too, you know. She had her own stuff going on.

Most mothers look forward to loving, cherishing and guiding their children. Even the most unsuspecting mothers held that ideal as they waited to see your face. I used to lead a school for at-risk teenagers. One thing I could count on was that each year a student would get pregnant. They held the ideal, but it was smothered in the hope that finally there would be someone who would be just theirs, someone who would love just them. They had it so backwards. And, each year, I would watch that girl go from the submerged delight at having accomplished this adult feat of reproduction, through the birth and halo of new motherhood with all its attention, to facing the days---and very long nights—of being the sole caregiver for this creature who cried too much and seemingly rejected her. Their dream was shattered, and they were faced with the reality of motherhood and its 24/7 nature. You give to the child. That’s your role. It’s in the DNA of your job description.

Really, you mean I’m going down a one-way street?

Well, that all depends on how you do the job, doesn’t it? If you’re giving looking to get, in motherhood as in all other areas of life, you’re going to have problems. That is the key deterrent to prosperity on every level. You give because it’s what you do. It’s who you are. It’s what you choose. It expresses your values. But, if it comes with strings and expectations, you’re going to have difficulties with it. And, that’s the truth.

So, it is with motherhood. You simply pour the love. That’s the most significant ingredient in the life of a child. I’ve read many stories of children raised in homes with not even the basics for much beyond bare survival, yet their smiles tell it all when they talk about the love they received. On the contrary, I’ve worked with men and women who lived lives of luxury and abundance in the material realm. Nothing was spared if it cost money, yet, they live desperately longing for that missing ingredient: the love and attention of their parents. Yes, they cover it well—they think—when they say their parents were too busy and they understand. But, the heart of their inner child still longs for the time and attention that says “I love you” like nothing else.

motherI vividly remember a moment in my childhood. My parents owned a grocery store and we lived above it. As an only child, I was more nuisance than anything else as they created our livelihood through the daily trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship. Hence, I was often corralled upstairs with a series of teen-age babysitters who didn’t want the job, just the money. The moment that is so vivid in my memory is a Sunday afternoon when the store was closed. I was leaning against a door frame, watching my mother working at her little desk. I asked her to play with me. She told me she was too busy. Even at seven years old, I knew and responded to her by saying,

“You’re either too busy or too tired. I don’t know why you had me.”

So, the trappings were there. There was a mother and a father and a child. But, there was that longing to be known, to be acknowledged, to be on the receiving end of love and attention. I just didn’t want to be part of the furniture, or, of their fulfilling the expectations of others by having a child. And, when we’re only seven years old, we are just beginning to realize that the world is larger than we are and that we are part of it, not the center of it. It’s painful, difficult and complicated. And, then there was Mom.

She was caught in her times and in the expectations of others. She was bright and capable in a time when a woman’s role was in the home. She needed the career to fulfill her innate desire to express herself and, she got it as an equal partner in the grocery store. That made her day. Motherhood didn’t. It was that simple. She had needs that simply could not be set aside and she could not marry and balance those desires with meeting the emotional needs of a child. She was not uncommon in her day, although speaking about it was.

In fact, these days, with the so-called new valuing of the “stay-at-home” mom in our society, there is still much champing at the bit to get out and be and do, even though their value and contribution is seen in a supposedly much better light. I shake my head at one woman I know who is seen as a shining light in the new target market of “Moms,” who, while espousing the values of child-rearing, enjoys her new single life so much—traveling, engagements, appearances—that the very thing on which she built her business is an example of what not to do in the mothering department. Finding the balance of being herself and being a mother is not an easy search. Sometimes the pendulum swings way too far in each direction. Hopefully, she’ll find it again before her children are grown and telling stories of missed moments with mom. I had my times of doing the same and I know the price!

So, what’s your story with Mom? Have you given it the attention it deserves? Or, do you dismiss it as old news, or even run from it? Denial is the most perfect system ever. We simply pretend it does not cause us pain, that it is old news, all in the past, that “I’ve gotten over it.” Yeah, right. That most basic of human relationships affects us deeply. It is worth the time, energy and money to learn from, to grow with, to heal from. No, it doesn’t just go away with the years. No, it cannot be submerged because it will pop up in our love relationships over and over again. No, you cannot be free of the pain you may even say you don’t have, without walking through it.

Am I saying this because I’m a therapist? No, I’m saying this because I am also a mother, a daughter, an adult and a child. I’ve walked the journey within myself and I’ve walked with countless others. I know the richness that transforming our relationships with our mothers can bring to us, even if our mothers are not available to participate. And, not only to that relationship, but to all relationships. It frees us to engage more fully, more lovingly in every relationship.

Give yourself that gift. It truly is the gift that keeps giving.

Thanks, Mom.



Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, is a peace catalyst. She makes it easier to talk about difficult things and manage difficult relationships. Founder of Sow Peace™, she focuses on empowering individuals, leaders and teams with solutions and skills that get to the heart of communication, conflict and conscious collaboration through counseling, mediation services and anger management. A popular keynote speaker, Dr. Shaler has shared her light-hearted approach and value-packed content with audiences, teams and readers for more than twenty-five years. Author of over two dozen books and audio programs, including her most recent books, Wrestling Rhinos: Conquering Conflict in the Wilds of Work and Soul Solitude: Taking Time for Our Souls to Catch Up, Dr. Shaler teaches people to express themselves in ways that are totally kind and totally honest at the same time. That sows peace. Trained as a psychologist and professional mediator, she shares her insights through her blog at www.SowPeace.com


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