“Divorce the dream and marry reality.” - Jeff Foster
In my twenties I probably spent more time trying to get my mom to believe me about the trauma I’d experienced from several family members (it’s a long story, just know I’m way past it and doing amazing these days) than the average person spends getting a PhD. At this point I hadn’t yet woken up to just how abusive my mom can be all on her own accord, let alone my mother wound, so I thought it was just a me problem. Back then me: “Of course mom wants to believe me. She’s not believing me yet because I’m not doing it the right way. As soon as I manage to finally do it right then mom will believe me.” So each time my mom didn’t believe me I’d go sprinting back to the drawing board, grabbing one self-blaming excuse for her after another. Which of these can you relate to?
“Mom will finally believe me when I ______________”
“Find the right words to say to her”
“Bring it up when she’s not busy”
“Catch her when she’s in a good mood”
“Use the right tone of voice for her”
“Communicate my feelings the right way to her”
“Prove to her that someone agrees with me”
“Go to joint therapy with her and get the therapist to help”
Fast forward another decade and my mom still didn’t believe me. You knew this was going to be like this didn’t you? You gotta give it to younger me though. Younger Stephi still had a lot to learn but she sure was dedicated. Wow she was dedicated. Dedicated to her mom anyways. Something needed to change. Big time.
Going through trauma is awful. Not being believed about your trauma is awful. Not being believed about your trauma by your own mom is awful. Trying over and over and over again to get your own mom to believe you about your trauma only for your own mom to still not believe you about your trauma is awful. They’re all awful, and truth be told I needed a break from awful.
“Stephi, your relationship with your mom is not supposed to be this hard.” I can still see the little blue bubble wrapped around my friend’s words on my phone. I can also remember reading her words over and over again to myself. Not supposed to be this hard? Not supposed to be this hard. Huh. Wait. Really?
“I mean seriously. Your mom doesn’t believe you about anything.” I immediately felt defensive not of myself but of my mom. I speed-typed, “My mom believes me about…” but then sat there without any words to finish my own text coming to mind. What does my mom believe me about?
My feelings? No, definitely not those.
My perspectives? No, not those either.
My memory? No again.
My needs? Nope.
We need a word for that place where you’re standing between working even harder to keep lying to yourself because there’s this painful truth you don’t want to see and welcoming that painful truth with open arms not because you actually want to but because you really need to. Whatever the name of that place is, that’s where I was.
When you’ve been doing something for so long it becomes your normal. And normal, even when it sucks, is a whole lot more comfy than two things: 1) truth and 2) change. I had become so used to all these pieces and parts of who I was being dismissed and invalidated by my mom over the past two plus decades that there I was, a fully grown adult, thinking it was somehow a good use of my time to tie myself all up in knots in this never-ending bid for my mom’s trust. The idea that I could get off this miserable treadmill was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.
“Why doesn’t my mom trust me?” I text my friend. Doing what it knows - it’s normal - my mind then starts to wander down that same old path of “But what if I say it to mom this way? Then she’ll believe me!” I’m beyond grateful for my friend’s fast response, the ding of her text jolting me out of my own head and back to the beams of sunlight dancing across my phone as it lies face down on the table. “Your mom doesn’t trust you because she doesn’t trust herself.” I read it again.
There I was spinning my wheels trying to get something from my mom that she didn’t know how to give to herself. It all suddenly made so much sense. How could my mom possibly believe me if she didn’t know what it was to believe herself? The answer of course was she couldn’t. Did I like facing this truth? Nope. Was it a truth I needed to face? Absolutely. I knew I needed to change, and I knew it wasn’t going to be comfy.
Healing IS possible
Now this is the part in the blog post where I fast forward through all the tears and the wrong ways and the realizations and the sharp turns and the fast lanes and the coming home to myself and the dead ends and the aha moments and the detours and the transformation that was my own mother wound healing journey. The story certainly is messy, but it has a fabulous ending. Hint: The princess saves herself in this one.
But that’s not what I want to tell you about today. What I want to tell you about today is what I wish someone would have told me years and years ago, back before I did the work of recovering from my mother wound, back before I even knew I had an abusive mom in the first place (that whole “your normal is what you think is actually normal” thing again), back all the way back to when I was still a kid living in the house I grew up in. It took me way too long to learn what I’m about to share with you, so I’m sharing it with the hope that you can use it to save your time and energy and most of all your heart. Ready? Here’s the truth I know now:
Stop carrying your mom's stuff for her
You can’t change your mom. No, seriously. You can’t change your mom. It’s not up to you at all. You can’t get her to finally get you. So do what I wish I could have done decades ago and lay.it.down. It’s not yours to carry. It’s not and never was about how you said it or when you said it or where you said it or the feelings you did or didn’t have when you said it. You can’t get your mom to see or hear or understand or believe or trust or love or know you better than she knows how to do any of these for herself. She cannot give to you what she hasn’t yet given to herself. This isn’t something you can somehow do for your mom either. This is work that she needs to do herself. It’s hers, not yours. It’s not your job to change your mom. It’s also not your job to save your mom. It never was.
Start reclaiming yourself
When you’ve been working as hard and as long as you’ve been working to finally FINALLY be seen by your mom, know that it will take time to learn a new way of being. As you release your hope to change your mom and gently resist your efforts to reinvent the wheel yet again to maybe, just maybe, get through to her, something really amazing will start to happen. You’re the one who will change. Little by little, sometimes ever so slowly and sometimes in brilliant bursts, you will come to know how to give to yourself what your mom can’t give you. I’ll talk about the details more in a future blog post, but for now, here’s 5 things you can do today that I promise you are way more empowering and heck, way more fun too, than reverting back to your old ways and trying for the millionth time to change your mom.
The pandemic taught us that when things are beyond our control out there, taking time to create can be a wonderful way to refocus and reconnect with ourselves. Whether you’ve been wanting to learn how to knit (I picked up my first pair of knitting needles back in undergrad and have been in love ever since) or you’ve been thinking about taking out that sewing machine that’s been sleeping in the back of your closet or drawing and painting are more your style, now just might be the time. In the time you’d usually spend arguing back and forth with your mom you could have a cozy new sweater to wear.
Spend time with a friend
Your mom might not be getting you right now, but chances are good your friend is willing to be there for you. And listen. When you’re used to getting the impression that you’re somehow unworthy of your mom’s time and energy it can be super difficult to imagine a totally different experience with a friend. Your mind might be saying, “But if my own mom couldn’t be bothered to do this for me, how could any one else??” But here’s the thing. You are worthy exactly as you are, and your mom’s struggle to recognize that is all about her. So instead of trying to be heard about that thing your mom has refused to hear you on the 65 other times you’ve tried, consider reaching out to a friend who cares about you and is willing to give you the respect you deserve.
There’s something about being outside surrounded by the sounds of all the critters and the smells of all the trees and the plants (and also of the critters) that is so deeply restorative. And for those of up here in the northern hemisphere the idea of some sun on our shoulders sure sounds amazing, too. Whether it’s a walk down the sidewalk in front of your apartment or a hike out in a local forest or a journey by canoe out on the lake, it’s okay to put your stuff with your mom on hold so you can take some all-important time outside for you.
Read a book
If you’ve tried reading before but just weren’t able to really get into it, maybe all it is is you haven’t found the right book yet. Maybe you’ve tried a bestselling novel on the recommendation of a friend but just couldn’t see what all the fuss about. Give non-fiction a try! So think self-help, women’s history, psychology, philosophy, or world history. Or maybe you’ve been reading textbooks in school for so long that you’ve started associating all reading with drudgery. Opt for some fiction! Looking for a book to pick up? Check out our favorites.
When we carry pain from someone who was supposed to nurture us and help us grow, I don’t know what it is exactly, but there is something truly magical about nurturing and growing things ourselves. There’s a reason so many of my mother wound counseling clients find gardening so cathartic. So whether you have an open plot of land or a small ceramic pot on a windowsill, maybe give it a try and see what you can nurture. You can even start from seed if you want to be extra adventurous!
Are you someone who wants to take your mother wound healing journey to the next level? Come join the conversation, learn more about the mother wound, and receive compassionate support in our now 100% free private mother wound healing community over in The Porch. Interested in keeping up with the latest Mother Wound Project news? Follow us on Instagram