When Your Mother Needs Mothering


As previously seen on Wit & Delight

I have a story this month that’s a little bit harder to get off my chest than my usual “What the actual frick am I doing in my relationship, ugh God I am a mess,” meltdowns. Those are surprisingly easy because I am very much at peace with the reality that I am, in fact, a mess.

This doozy of a story is about my (wonderful) mother and my (always-in-progress) relationship with her, and truthfully, I sat staring at a blank page for a very long time because I wanted to get this just right. It probably isn’t but, you know, deadlines.

So, because we’re friends, promise to bear with me. My biggest fear in writing this is that anyone with a mom or parent who’s died will be like, “this bitch,” or that (even though I’ve cleared writing this article with her) something in this article will hurt a woman I love very much. So let me just acknowledge those things right now and then we can move past them, deal?

  1. Please know that I do not take for granted the fact that I have a mother to have a relationship with.
  2. Mom! I love you and I’m proud of us! I’m so glad you birthed me, and I wouldn’t be me if you weren’t you.

I want to write this as candidly as possible, because I think this story is important, and it speaks to the complicated relationships a lot of us have with our mothers but rarely shed light on outside of an eye roll and an “Ugh, moms, amiright?”

My mom is not my best friend. I mean that in the most loving, appreciative, respectable, most “please don’t write me off as the Devil” way possible. My mom is My Mom.

There’s this perpetuated stigma out there (Thanks, social media? Thanks Hallmark? Thanks, Gilmore Girls?), that you and your mom should be joined at the hip from the minute you’re out of her vagina, and look, that’s *so so* great if you are, but I don’t want my mom to feel like something’s wrong with us, or her, or that she should’ve taken a left when she decided to take a right and it prevented us from being BFF4EA. My mom and I have the relationship we are supposed to have. Period.

I’m not emotionally dependent on my mother because there was a time when I just wasn’t allowed to be. My decision to remove some of my emotional dependency from her wasn’t intentional, nor was it a conscious effort. Your brain just kind of processes things and adapts accordingly.

My mom is not my best friend. I mean that in the most loving, appreciative, respectable, most “please don’t write me off as the Devil” way possible. My mom is My Mom.

My mom and I had a difficult period. It wasn’t day-to-day awful but when it was bad – It Was Bad. I was a hormonal know-it-all teen, and my mom was dealing with, unbeknownst to me, some mental health issues. Spoiler alert: not an ideal combo.

We’d get in fights the way moms and teenagers do. I’d explode, she’d explode. When she got mad or felt hurt by me, she did something different than yell at me or send me to my room until she was ready to come hash it out: she’d just stop talking to me.

That was how she learned to show she was upset, so she did. With a daughter who was too young to understand mental health and too naive to realize our parents aren’t right all the time. I learned how to read her mood instantaneously “to survive,” as my therapist once called it. I could interpret the tiny muscles in her facial expressions like they made up a mood language only her and I knew.

I grew up and I watched those same habits form inside of me and assist in disintegrating relationships with people who weren’t bound to me by blood. Who didn’t need to forgive me or stick around. Shockingly, it sucked.

It wasn’t until I entered a relationship with someone I wanted to be better for that I promised myself “NO MORE.” A win, but I could still feel resentment simmering deep down towards my mom for her communication skills or lack thereof.

Years later, during a triggering repeat offense, I became unhinged. I said things I’d wanted to say for years. “You don’t DO. THAT. You don’t ignore and shut out people you love when your feelings get hurt. That’s not how you show people you’re upset. You talk. You communicate. You work things out. And then you move on. You get better.”

I’ll spare you the details but what followed was a brutally honest and uncomfortable conversation with lots of tears.

She didn’t want to hear it, and I don’t blame her. I can’t imagine hearing critical feedback from someone you raised who is 25 years your junior is easy. You’re “supposed” to show them everything: how to brush their teeth, and manage their anger; be the perfect and stable role model 24/7 if you can manage. You know, easy stuff.

I don’t know what it’s like to parent. I can’t imagine what a fucking battle that is. And I see the struggle my moms and other moms clearly go through over being so unforgiving of themselves for not knowing how to act in certain situations. I remember my mom crying to me after an episode between us when I was super young, maybe like seven, and saying “I’m sorry I’m such a bad mom.” That kills me.

Be receptive to learning at any age, regardless of who it’s from and many trips around the sun they’ve had. . . . Sometimes it will hurt to hear; usually, the most important things do. But trust that people who love you want to make you better.

I hate to be the one to break this to you since we’ve probably never met and this advice is unsolicited but, you’re not perfect. It’s okay that you don’t know everything. It’s more than okay! As we’ve discussed previously in this class, life can be bad and hard! Be open. Be receptive to learning at any age, regardless of who it’s from and many trips around the sun they’ve had. I absolutely think five-year-olds are the smartest people on the planet! Sometimes it will hurt to hear; usually, the most important things do. But trust that people who love you want to make you better.

My mom, bless her heart, has been working so hard on getting better at something that is very much ingrained in her. It’s hard to break decades of long habits, and I’m sympathetic of that. Seeing her clearly reflective effort means everything to me.

I’m working through things, too. Like, for example, I have a subtle aversion to my mom showing emotion which technically should absolutely get me fired as a daughter? I’m guessing, though I don’t totally understand it, that her tears trigger memories deep in my brain of The Fun Days and the guys running the switches upstairs are like “ABORT MISSION! ABORT! RUN! SHUT DOWN! NOPE!”

What I *do* understand is that our days on this planet are numbered and fleeting; I believe in trying consistently to improve as humans, together, because what else is the point?

Image via: oldbrandnew

BY Liz Welle - May 12, 2019

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May 13, 2019 11:19 am

Thank you. For different reasons, my mom is not my best friend, and I often feel out of sorts when I see so many people talking about how close they are with their moms. I love my mom, and she was/is a good mother. But we’re very different. That’s just how it is.

May 16, 2019 8:18 am

I love your article, I am constantly battling the lies that tell me I am a bad daughter. I love my mom but have hard time enjoying my mom. She is getting older and more dependent on me, since her husband passed away years ago. I tell myself constantly, be kind, be patient. It is not always easy but worth the effort. I do not want to regret not treating her well after she is gone. thank you for your honesty.

May 29, 2019 1:46 am

Oh wow, I never comment on blog post but this is so similar to my relationship with my mom and made me cry. I do love my mom, but she is not like other moms. I tried desperately to make her love me, I shouted and tried getting her attention, but she would just ignore me. Struggling also with mental problems, at the time a alcoholic partner and just her whole live never been a person that showed affection like other moms. Now as an adult I do understand we all are different and we have different ways of showing… Read more »

November 18, 2019 10:14 am

Amazing that you have the strength to share this and have an honest dialogue with your mom to prep her on it. As I’ve gotten older and have become a mom myself, I see clearly how mother’s mental illness is hurting all of her relationships, including her marriage to my dad (who has now began to turn to me to vent about my mom…awkward..and whole other conversation!). I have been upfront with her about this, as I feel I can be now since I have also publicly battled my own anxiety in front of my family, but I see her… Read more »

April 18, 2020 8:47 am

Really nice amazing and unique post

May 11, 2020 12:46 pm

I don’t know what else to say other than that I didn’t realize how badly I needed this after a tough Mother’s Day yesterday. I will be rereading this often. Thank you.

Alexis VeeP
July 30, 2021 9:36 am

Why am I crying so hard right now??!
Ugh. Thank you… this helped a lot. You Rock, Liz!!! Hugs (and so many tissues)

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