When Mother's Day hurts

Pinkn blossoms_feistyharriet_April 2016

Mother’s Day can be one of the cruelest holidays for women who are unable to easily or naturally conceive a child, for women who have made a choice not to become mothers (yet feel continually judged for said choice), for women who have a turbulent relationship with their own mother, and for women who fulfill a sometimes impossible and lonely role of stepmother.

I am all four of those things.

I hate Mother’s Day.

I do not hate you, my friend who is also a Mom. And I don’t hate your Mom either. I hate all the glowing, fluffy, emotional, social-network-y hubbub surrounding Mother’s Day. I really hate all the pointed advertising and sponsored content for weeks and weeks before to remind us about Mother’s Day, to remind us to celebrate, and appreciate, and buy stuff to let mothers know that they are Important and Appreciated and Valued. The Facebook posts and comments about the joys of motherhood hurt, the rapturous monologues about mothers who are your best friend and role models hurt. All of it hurts.

To be clear, if you post about Mother’s Day I’m not deleting you from my feed reader, nor will I harbor some kind of resentment on your happiness in being a Mom, or having an awesome Mom. I like to think we are better friends than that. Please understand what I’m trying to say. I know that I am on the VERY FAR END of the Mother’s Day Tolerance Spectrum: I’m an outlier. I get it. Hell, even the Olympic Mom commercials don’t get to me, I cannot relate to a lifetime of support and encouragement from my Mom. I am not allowed to fully support and encourage my stepkids because their “Real Mom” is threatened, she thinks I’m intruding and makes it clear that I am unwanted and unnecessary. Years of not relating and being pushed/shoved to the side has made me bitter and probably jealous. I’m not proud of that, but it is the truth. When it comes to mothers I feel like I’m over here in the Untouchable section all by myself. Part of me wants to just skip the internet for the rest of the week, open my feed reader on Monday morning only to immediately mark everything as “read” and then move on with it. The other part of me knows that there are probably women like me, and we should stick together, and even if we don’t know what to say we should at least throw up a white flag we can all flock to, birds of a feather, and all that.

Harriet sig

On Mothers

I have started and saved, edited and deleted “The Mom Post” for two or three years, never knowing how to proceed and not sure what to share or how much, feeling like a small slice could never properly explain and a larger portion would be complete overload. For the first time in ages I feel some kind of…comfort? Closure? Distance? Freedom? I don’t know, but I feel something strongly enough that I can finally write this down and hit “publish.”

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There is a spectrum for almost everything which covers a wide range of possibilities with a pretty good distance of “extreme” on each side of a more moderate “normal.” We’re all familiar with bell curves, right? And to some extent we probably know where we personally fall on any given spectrum, with a least a relative amount of certainty.

The Mother Relationship Spectrum:
A Super Scientific Explanation

Extreme Pro-Mother/Mothering: Those who call/email/text/Skype their Mom or child every day, or multiple times a day, and consult on all major and minor decisions, offer advice both solicited and unsolicited, and experience positive feelings of happy co-dependence and interdependence.

Normal (or, at least how I perceive “normal”): fairly regular phone calls/emails, perhaps 2-3 times per month, maybe more, visits on major holidays, distance and funds allowing, and general feelings of positivity and warmth and love going from mother to child and back again.

Me: I can go months and even years without any motherly communications whatsoever and be a-okay; I very much prefer that route. There are general feelings of nothingness surrounding the relationship with my Mom which at times can involve strong negative emotions and can swing heavily towards dislike or disdain (hate?) but with a general sense of indifference.

For the last five-ish years this lack of relationship has been the norm for me, I can count on one hand the number of birthday, holiday, or Mother’s Day cards I have sent and despite a one-hour commute the visits have more-or-less been limited to a few hours on major holidays, but nothing more, and sometimes not even that.

About a  year ago that not-really-a relationship became…well…non-existent. She said things and I had very, VERY strong, very hurt, and very negative reactions; both to what she said/thought and how she communicated it. I cried. I yelled (a little). And I walked away feeling misunderstood, angry, hurt, incredulous, and baffled. I felt like I’d been smashed flat yet again by a truck filled with Teh Crazy and I just…I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it anymore. I made an active decision to cut her out of my life completely.

Insert twelve months of absolutely nothing. No communication. No visits. No Christmas card. Nada. I was content and happy and did not miss her or our always volatile relationship in the slightest.

About a month ago (ish) it all started over again. She said All The Horrible Things, she levied All The Horrible Accusations, and she made All The Crazy Non-Factual Assumptions on my character and my life choices. Only, this time I didn’t walk away. I responded to her very long, nasty email with a much shorter, more concise argument that, in no uncertain terms, told her that her behavior and communication was absolutely unacceptable and I would not be part of whatever it was she was trying to do. She could be kind and polite or she could shut the fuck up. I also told her she needed therapy. Lots of therapy. With a few swears. I added a few swears…in an email…to my Mom. In my 32 years I don’t think I have actually cussed her out in person, not even once, so a “bullshit” and a “damn” and a “hell” seemed like a REALLY big deal. Kind of like lobbing a missile, actually, and waiting for the inevitable explosion and ensuing shrapnel.

No explosion. No shrapnel.

At least, I thought.

A week or two ago my mother sent an equally horrendous email to my older brother with an incredible set of unfair and untrue accusations–Unimaginable Accusations–levied against him, and all somehow relating back to Me, My Character, My Life Choices, My Marriage, My Innate Problems, Etc., Etc., Infinity, Ad Nauseam. I was literally sick to my stomach reading her words about me. This was a Friday evening. My brother was fuming, I was livid, we talked for 90 minutes about Teh Crazy without any real resolution except to steer clear as much as possible, no matter the cost.

And then I stayed up all night thinking about it, having arguments in my head with my Mom about how wrong she was, and how misinformed, and how presumptuous, and how twisted her thinking, and how WRONG (I won all those arguments, obvs).

And then repeat all day Saturday.

And all Saturday night, no sleeping, lots of teeth grinding.

And then continue the pattern most of the day Sunday.

By this time I was not so much fuming as literally (figuratively) foaming at the mouth. I hadn’t eaten for almost 48 hours and was so twitchy inside my arms and legs wouldn’t hold still.

I wrote down a list of what I wanted to say, hoping it would help me get rid of all that angst.

It didn’t.

So, I did what any rational, well-rested adult would do: I drove an hour to my hometown, pounded on the door, and yelled and screamed at her for two hours until I finally felt like she heard me. Until I felt like she understood me. Two. Hours. I brought a clean notebook and made her write down what I said so she would for sure remember it clearly afterwards. I yelled at her until she wrote down how I felt and why. I have not lost my temper like that for probably 12 years, since my very early 20’s, and despite a truck load of “what the fuck!?” and “that’s bullshit!” and “who the fuck do you think you are!?” and “BULLSHIT!” and “YOU ARE WRONG! YOU ARE FUCKING WRONG!”…yes, even with an enormous quantity of in-person, ragey swears, I have zero regrets.


For the first time in over fifteen years I feel like my Mom finally saw me, not as this very messed up child and adult that existed in her head, and not even as a ragey, furious, cursing feind (which I kind of was at the time). I feel like she finally saw me a grown woman who had a rough childhood and had worked for years to escape those clutches, I feel like she saw me as a human who had been consistently misunderstood and hurt, as a girl who more-often-than-not felt bullied by her parent, who had been unfairly judged and unfairly criticized (by her) for a lifetime. And I finally feel like she truly saw how that background shaped who I am now, a relatively well-adjusted and happy adult, but one who was no longer willing to lay down and be run over by her, keeping quiet and retreating to lick my wounds. I feel like I was finally able to say what I needed to say without any fear of how she would react; she couldn’t possibly have been more upset or angry than I was and I had nothing to lose in the first place. I feel like I was able to correct a LOT of misunderstanding and set the record straight. She learned a lot about Adult Harriet that afternoon, perhaps even more than she had learned in the previous decade. I learned a little about her too, and I feel like I understand some of her choices and behaviors, I may not agree with her, but I truly tried to see the available options from her perspective. And if it took two hours of serious feist and swears and an incredible amount of adrenaline, then so be it. I do not regret clearing the air, even if it took a damn nuclear bomb to do so.

I don’t know what will happen next, I’m still trying to unravel all my feelings and emotions and look at them with some level of objectivity. I feel less animosity towards her than I have felt for the last five (or fifteen) years….but I also am not actively perusing Hallmark for the perfect warm-and-fuzzy Mother’s Day card. To be honest, anywhere outside of the far end of the “No Relationship With Mom, Thank You” spectrum is pretty new territory for me and I am still trying to figure out what it means to be two steps closer to the middle. This relationship took years and years to implode and crumble to nothing, so I’m not suffering from any delusions that it will magically be “normal” after one lengthy conversation. I’m still kind of shell shocked at my own verbal violence and how firmly I stood up for myself–they don’t call me Feisty Harriet for nothin’. But more than that, I am baffled that she actually sat there and listened to me, really listened with the intent to understand. I didn’t think that kind of communication would happen in my lifetime.

I also…don’t really have anything more to say about it right now. I guess I don’t really know what my expectations are, or what a normal next step would be.


Harriet sig