According to the articles I’ve read, the Mother Wound is a loss or lack of mothering that has an impact that can be passed down through generations. Putting a name to this concept is compelling. It is a catalyst for thought about how I’ve parented my kids over the past 17 years, and makes me wonder what they will think about their own childhood when they are adults, and perhaps, parents.
The concept of the Mother Wound is new to me, and as I learn, I wonder if I am doing the right thing for my future adult kids in parenting them in such a way to make up for the mothering I needed in my own life. My approach to parenting has been an unwavering commitment to my children and to my life as their mom, to make up for the attention and guidance that I didn’t have from my own mother as a child. The fundamental motivation behind my approach to parenting is my vow that I will never be a mother like the one I had; I will be the best mother in the world. I will hold it all together.
Seventeen years ago, when my midwife placed my son on my chest, I promised him that we would have a beautiful life together. For seventeen years, I’ve enthusiastically fulfilled that commitment. I never questioned my approach until I saw a comment by another reader on an article about the Mother Wound. She noted that one day, her adult son told her she parented too much from the perspective of making up for her own loss. This commenter had no idea until decades later that, in trying to be the ideal mother, she was just the opposite.
That random reader’s comment stopped me in my tracks. While I thought I was being an engaged, committed, and involved mom, while I was congratulating myself for having assembled that beautiful life for my kids, I began to wonder: what if I’ve been too much? I haven’t smothered; I know how effective it is to watch my teens fail. For heaven’s sake, Andy Grammer’s “I Wish You Pain” tops my “most listened to” list. How can it be possible that I’ve been too much of a mother to my kids? While many mothers are worrying about being not enough, could I have been making the mistake of being too giving, too loving, for the last 17 years?
Of course, many of the answers to these questions depend on the kid. It’s a two-way street: a kid’s personality and needs also influence how one will react to them. I can’t change how I parented my teen son and daughter in the past, but I can re-frame my role in their future. I can explain how I made parenting choices based on what I felt had been missing, making up for the Mother Wound in my own life.
I reflected on my underlying parenting philosophy to try to determine how my Mother Wound influences my parenting. On one hand, there are the obvious reasons why we all lead, cajole, and invest in our kids. We learn to know them; we give them what they need. My reality goes deeper. Maybe my too much parenting is a reflection of my quest to make up for the Mother Wound: I want my children to have the guidance, love, and nurturing experience of childhood that I missed out on.
Your assumption: I fed you healthy food so you would grow.
Well, yes, but… in reality: I fed you healthy food so that you could be as prepared as possible to succeed in life’s adventures. I know that while life as a teen is not always carefree, a helping hand is usually not far away. Then, one day you will find yourself alone in a difficult situation. You will need to be as strong and capable as you can be, and yes, there will be a point – a hailstorm on a mountain peak or even something much more mundane like a flat tire on the side of the road in frigid temperatures during a snowstorm – where suddenly the stakes are high. Where out of nowhere, you will have to rely on your strong body and your sharp mind to survive.
Your assumption: I bugged you about homework and tests so you could be successful in school.
Well, yes, but… in reality: I revel in your academic accolades, your leadership programs, your focused laps in the pool and precise kicks on the field, and the “that’s my kid” pride. I can’t wait to see your next steps as the school year marches on, the sports seasons begin and end, and we start the college application process. But more than anything, I know how education is the most powerful thing I can give you; it is your resource to define your path, a broad perspective on your responsibility as a human and how you fit into this world. As I grow older, I understand that what I want to pass on more than anything is the ability for my son and daughter to find their own happiness.
Your assumption: I bugged you to clean up so I could make the house look nice and save myself some work.
Well, yes, but… in reality: You learned to be precise, value your environment, and take care of the work at hand. The blankets on the floor, scattered laundry and dirty dishes are yours; they drive me nuts because it’s your messy stuff in my space and you should take care of them. But for all the times you thought I should relax, or “calm down” (my personal least favorite admonition), you were learning to be decisive, do the routine work you don’t want to do, and do it because it’s the right thing to do. Sweep in front of your own door, take care of business, whatever you want to call it… keeping yourself on task, and living up to even the least exciting obligations will ensure that you keep focused on your goals.
Your assumption: We travel to expand your horizons.
Well, yes, but… in reality: We travel so I could share your excitement in your discovery.
Beaches and mountains and new cities, oh my. Even that time I lost my mind and brought two teens to South Beach, Miami, for spring break, where the wealth and the nightlife were beyond anything that even I, in my maturity, could have imagined. And every single trip, every single time, the fleeting thought would pass through my mind: enjoy this time, because someday, it will be over. Someday, I won’t be invited, someday, I will be too infirm to travel. I will ask to see the pictures of my son and daughter’s adventures because I will not be there, and I will remember the excitement found together. We traveled because it brought us together.
Your assumption: I got your teeth fixed so you would be more attractive.
Well, yes, but… in reality: I got your teeth fixed so that the happiness in your life would be reflective in spontaneous joy. The regular cleanings (mostly uncovered by insurance), years of ortho, and let’s not forget the replacement of the front tooth that you left on the soccer field… You will always be beautiful to me, because you are authentic and I can tell by your smiles that you are showing up for life. I invested in my son and daughter’s smiles because I invested in their joy.
And trust me, my dears… life is not easy.
You’re going to need all the strength, resilience, perspective, and access to joy that you can get. You’re going to need the ability to find within yourself the resources and capacity to be brave like never before. I learned on my own; I don’t want you to have to learn alone too. I want to give you what I believe you need, but the reasons behind my choices are not always what you may think. This is why, just maybe, I am sometimes too much, wrapping layers of gauze and tape around my own Mother Wound.
My mother died seven years ago this month. The final chapter of my life with my mother was not written by either of us, but by the waves and wind that dissipated her ashes. Maybe I just don’t understand enough of my own mother’s story; at this point, I never will.
The work at hand is how my children will see my role as a mother in the present and the future, as well as how my teens will someday approach their own roles as parents, should they become mother and father. Maybe I can write my final chapter over time as they grow. Maybe I can help them understand what will someday be their own story.