When I was four, I stood in the peanut butter aisle at Ralph’s Grocery Store clutching a signature bright, blue-capped jar of Skippy peanut butter, peering pleadingly through sob-stained eyes up at my mother, who angrily snatched the jar from my hands.
To offer some context to this grocery aisle incident, growing up I had a strong relationship with my Grandma Ruth and Aunt Wende and would often spend the night at their home. The first time I came across Skippy peanut butter was when I saw my aunt drop a glob of the sandy-colored gooey goodness onto her dry cornflakes, which she proceeded to put into the fridge so they would be ready to eat when she arose for work at 5 a.m. the next morning.
Some evenings when I stayed at Grandma Ruth’s, after sipping her creamy, homemade potato leek soup and nibbling dark-green canned peas, which I didn’t have much of a taste for, I’d ask my Aunt Wende for a spoonful of Skippy.
She would take down the jar from the top shelf of a faded white cabinet, pull out two spoons, dip them into the jar, offer me one with her high-pitched and light-hearted yet somewhat strained “Here you go, honey,” and tap the other on the side of her cereal bowl until the glob plopped atop a mound of cornflakes.
I savored that spoonful of Skippy. At home, we had natural peanut butter—the kind you mix with a knife to disperse the separated oil. While I enjoyed mixing the natural peanut butter and eating it with apples freshly cut by my mom, something about the creamy, sugary, artificial flavor of Skippy melted in my mouth and satisfied me in a way natural peanut butter could not.
Maybe it was the comfort of my Grandma’s home, or the association with my aunt, or the addictive nature of the food itself, but something compelled my four-year-old self to ask my mom if we could buy Skippy that day in Ralph’s, not thinking there was anything inherently wrong with the question, feeling safe enough to ask her for what I craved.
My mom’s reaction was something along the lines of, “What?! No! We don’t buy that stuff. Why would we buy that?! Put it back!” She was shocked that I would ask for Skippy. And my small self was confused as to why she had reacted so harshly.
My mother has always had my well-being in mind. From her adult perspective, not allowing me to have Skippy peanut butter meant she was setting me up for a healthy lifestyle to live in a body nourished by whole foods from mamma earth.
Yet, as a small, impressionable child, I contorted her reaction into a message about me and my worthiness as a human—a pattern I would repeat with innumerable interactions throughout the years, a pattern which evolved into a detrimental cycle of hiding my every want, need, fear, and desire from my mom.
This week, 19 years after the Skippy incident, I had a conversation with my mom. We’ve been trying to heal our relationship, and, in doing so, triggers arise constantly for us both. As we spoke, I felt heat gurgle in my stomach as I often do around her, both of us butting heads as we have for most of my life, and then, in the spirit of vulnerability, I found myself desperately clutching my hair in front of her and crying out, “Why are you always mad at me?! I feel like you never want me to be myself!”
She paused, subtly shaken by the direct slice of my anger, then said, “Well, you’ve always hidden things from me. Even from a young age you pushed me away.”
And I did, because I learned when I was very small that some things upset my mother and other things didn’t, so I better do what doesn’t upset her, because when she yells at me, it hurts.
Consciously and unconsciously, I squashed myself into a simpler me who was certain to be accepted, and I pushed her away in case she crept too close and saw through my façade. The messages my child-self energetically received from my mom—my primary caretaker—served to create false core beliefs about who I am and how the world receives me that I still carry today.
Writer, speaker, healer of the mother wound, and self-identified “midwife of the heart” Bethany Webster says, “For daughters growing up in a patriarchal culture, there is a sense of having to choose between being empowered and being loved.”
I chose being loved, as most of us do, molding myself into what I thought my mother wanted of me, something she could swallow, someone palatable and sometimes small, a distorted version of myself.
This pattern of secrecy and self-suppression because of a desperate desire to be loved has been acute not only in my relationship with my mom, but also in my friendships and romantic relationships from childhood onward.
It’s gotten to the point where I often feel incapable of tapping into myself, of articulating who I am or acting like my true self around others because I’ve been so deeply conditioned to believe there’s something wrong with me, innately. So to survive, to avoid wrath and the profound pain of feeling uncared for, self-suppression, performance, and people-pleasing have become second-nature.
This is the mother wound.
In Bethany Webster’s words, “the Mother Wound is the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures. And it includes the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain.”
My language throughout this composition reflects the mother-daughter axis with which I am familiar from my own lived experience, yet those of us who do not identify as women or who were not physically raised by female mother caretakers still have a nuanced mother wound, whether it’s concerning whoever our caretakers were, the lack of having a mother, or the way the surrounding community has failed to nurture us.
While my struggles to bring my authentic self out into this world are largely a result of my relationship with my mom, they are anything but her fault. Generational ancestral beliefs have been passed down from a time and reality when women were censored to their cores, when bringing our full, magnetic selves forward could quite literally get us killed or locked away. So we’ve inherited these false beliefs from our mothers to keep us safe, who inherited them from their mothers, who inherited them from their mothers, who inherited them from their mothers.
Confronting the mother wound is about pulling off the skin-tight mask we forgot we were wearing and finally being candid about how damn challenging it is for everyone, of every race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and physical or mental ability to maintain a persona of being “okay” in a society that strips us of our birthright to be big, bountiful, breathing beings.
Healing the mother wound is not about hating our moms; it’s about saying “No more!” to the patterns of shrinking, competition, unworthiness, self-hatred, and every single limiting belief system we want to shed because it’s simply not ours but has been handed to us generationally and woven deeply into both the patriarchy under which we live and brains from which we operate.
We live in a culture where undue pressures are thrust upon mothers and primary caretakers to fill all of a child’s needs upon their immediate demand with no help, and if they fail at this, then they have failed as humans. We—almost paradoxically—also live in a culture where we are shamed for openly expressing anything but reverence for the mother.
I know in the depth of my bone marrow that the suffering I’ve experienced at the hands of my mom is a direct result of the silencing of women in our family line for generations, and—in the same breath—I have unbridled anger toward her.
My holy rage toward my mom is simply the uncorking of innumerable generations of suffocated screams from every woman in our bloodline. So at Bethany Webster’s wise advice, I am holding this justified rage in equal standing to my profound gratitude and reverence for my mom doing the absolute best she could with the circumstances she’s been given and beliefs she’s inherited.
Working through my mother wound involves releasing any shame I have around feeling guilty or ungrateful about being angry at my mom so that I can nurse my own wounds and move into a state of deeper love with myself and the world around me. This is self-mothering, where we learn to connect with the universe’s loving nature and mother ourselves in the way we’ve forever longed to be mothered. We are allowed to do this. We deserve the softness of our own knowing nurture.
Someday, I hope to be a mother. Whether I adopt children or birth them myself, I want to work with my children to create an environment of openness and safety in our interactions. I know this is only possible if I venture through the complex, dark corners of my psyche to scrub them smooth and shed light upon the shadow realms of my spirit.
Today, when walking down the aisle at a grocery store, usually Trader Joe’s, I always choose natural peanut butter over Skippy. I relish the rich, salty flavor and love how you can pour it straight from the jar. This is one of my mother’s tendencies I am choosing to keep. Many others I am actively releasing.
As I confront my mother wound bit by bit, I learn to forgive; I let myself be forgiven; I forgive myself.
While writing these words, I feel a familiar river of courage bathe my body into life and fill me with the breath to bring my deepest truth into being.