Dear Dr. Claire,
I am a mom to three young children. When I was pregnant with my first child, I ended my relationship with my mother. Most of my life my mom has been a raging alcoholic and abusive; verbally for as long as I can remember and on a few occasions she was physically abusive when I was a child. Because of my mom’s unhealthy behaviors, I made the decision to cut ties with her. When I was pregnant with my first child, I didn’t want to be exposed to her unhealthy ways anymore. I had a difficult time making the decision to end our relationship but needed to because of her abusive behavior and her addiction to alcohol. I had been comfortable with my decision up until the birth of my third child last fall. I give so much nurturing to everyone in my life, and I feel so jealous and sad when I see friends or strangers out with their mothers and children. I am starting to regret the choice to cut my mom out of my life and am wondering if I should reconnect with her. Can you give me some advice?
-Melissa, Motherless in Albany, New York
The decision to end any relationship, whether a friend, family member or partner, is not an easy decision. Making the decision to end a relationship with a parent, is even more difficult. I imagine as a child you were exposed to significant stress and unhealthy behaviors as a result of your mother’s untreated mental health issues. On top of these experiences, you were emotionally, verbally and at times physically abused. Being treated by anyone this way is unacceptable and even more so when it comes from a parent, the person who is “supposed” to be there to protect you. My heart goes out to you for your experience with your mother. I observe a resiliency inside of you for your ability to step out of the abusive dynamic with your mother, knowing what is in your best interest and healthy for you and your children. As a child, you may not have had a choice being around your mother, but as an adult, you’ve made a decision to protect yourself and your children.
I understand how you spend a great deal of time nurturing and raising your three children. Being a mother is wonderful, and it’s hard work. I imagine you give so much to your children, you are looking for someone to nurture you. It can be tempting to think your mother could fill the role of taking care of you. Based on your description, she is not equipped to be the nurturing person you need right now. However, if your mother has stopped drinking alcohol and is receiving proper medical attention and in counseling, then perhaps reconnecting with her would be something to consider.
Instead of focusing on someone else nurturing you, I want you to shift your focus to creating time to nurture yourself. I’m sure taking care of three children is busy and hectic leaving little time left over to be alone. Try to find small activities that bring you rest, relaxation and restore your energy. Even fifteen minutes a day taking care of yourself can be helpful with the demands of your life. Spend this time doing something you enjoy. Consider some of these activities: going for a walk, exercise, spending time with friends, reading, watching a movie, meditating; anything that brings you peacefulness and replenishes your energy.
I want you to consider journaling your feelings, thoughts, and reactions regarding your mother. While writing may not be for everyone, research shows journaling can be a powerful strategy to process thoughts and feelings. Another benefit of journaling is writing can help to understand concerns and find solutions to problems.
Given your recent longing to reconnect with your mother, I want to encourage you to seek the support of a mental health professional. Talking with a professional could be beneficial by giving you the time and space to work on the relationship you had with your mother and explore if reconnecting is something to consider.