caring for mom who never cared for you

Are you dreading Mother’s Day again this year and worrying about what to do for your mom? Perhaps you have never been close or are now estranged and feeling angry. Have you cut the mother-daughter ties and ignore the day, but remain resentful and sad? Or do you pretend everything is OK and give her a gift anyway? Even though the media lead us to believe that all mothers deserve flowers and chocolates, if you don’t have a good relationship, this ‘special’ day can be agonizing.

Not all mothers are lovable. In fact, there are those who are hurtful, critical and even destructive. These heartbreaking truths can be related to your mom’s severe psychopathology or a character disorder, her painful life circumstances or personal crisis. Maybe your mother is narcissistic, bipolar or suffers from alcohol or drug dependency. And you very well may have vivid memories of physical abuse or emotional neglect.

Perhaps you’re fed up with trying to win her approval and be accepted for who you are. Or sick and tired of feeling guilty and blaming yourself for the problems in the relationship. Here are some ideas that can help you take better care of yourself, on Mother’s Day and throughout the year:

1. Let go of the dream of having a loving mother and a relationship that is emotionally healthy. It’s not easy to face the fact that your mom is self absorbed and has serious problems – or to fully acknowledge your pain in not having a ‘good enough’ mother. Once and for all, stand up and step back. Now is the time to shift the focus away from her. And begin to protect, nurture and mother yourself.

2. Feel more empowered as you practice self love. Make a list of all that you have achieved without the support of parental encouragement and assistance. Realize that these assets belong to you and you alone. If you’ve spent a lifetime trying to be taken care of or consumed with rage about not having that kind of love, it may be hard to see yourself as the valuable person you really are. You will come to know that you are not defined by your mom, but by what you envision yourself to be.

3. Focus on the positives of the life you’ve created. When you were young, your mom’s actions or attitude may have made you feel worthless or invisible. Did you fantasize about getting out from under her control and moving far away? Now that you are perhaps married, with a family of your own and a successful life, you’re no longer that helpless little girl. Admire and respect your grown up qualities – how responsible you are, being able to laugh at yourself, your fierce independence, common sense and good judgment.

4. Be clear about what you’re willing to do. Perhaps your mother is older and still has unreasonable expectations of you yet doesn’t value what you do for her. What you get in return may be criticism, arguments or tantrums. Try your best to stick to your rules by writing a list of what you will tolerate. And don’t assume that you have to do it all alone. Talk honestly about how you feel and encourage other family members to pitch in and do their share. Maintain firm boundaries as you handle these challenges. Some women have to work it out by walking away.

5. Refuse to respond to unrealistic demands – or even realistic ones that you can’t meet because of how you feel or other commitments. You can create a more balanced sense of wellbeing by setting limits, especially if your mother is verbally abusive. You don’t have to continue to identify with the role of the victim. Although you may not be able to change what happens to you, you can change how you handle it. Consider the possibility of seeing a therapist. Learning how to self soothe and manage your moods will help you feel more in control of your life.

As you continue to work on getting what you need and want, think about the possibility of offering forgiveness. Granted, your mom may have been incredibly damaging, making it difficult to accept yourself or trust others. But know that forgiving your mother for who she is and what she did to you doesn’t necessarily excuse her actions. And starting to extinguish the feelings of rejection and resentment can mark a new beginning for you – a Mother’s day gift that you give yourself, freeing you from the past.

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