*mildly salty language ahead.
Think of one unhealed relationship between a mother and child being repaired and imagine how the Earth might then be different.
These were the wise words of a yoga teacher I used to work with, said softly at the end of a Mother’s Day class, as I lay in the fetal position on a pink mat nearly 10 years ago. They sank deeply and I will never forget them.
At the time, I related to these words as a 27-year-old woman in an unfulfilling relationship with a man who sort of liked me, enough to keep me around anyway, but probably not as much as I liked him. It was one of those back-and-forth, push-and-pull, I-wanted-you-yesterday-but-now-I’m-not-so-sure-today dynamics, and really tough on my sensitive, huge-ass heart that just wanted to love the living shit out of him. And desperately waited for the day he would love the living shit out of me. Because I knew that day would come if I patiently continued to love the living shit out of him. It would.
It didn’t. I’m pretty sure I reminded him just a little too much of his mom—slightly overbearing, needy, and perhaps not seeing him in all his glory, and instead seeing someone I really just wanted to take care of, to hold, and love the shit out of. I did not make this connection at first, but about two years into the madness of our relationship, I took in the words above from my Sunday yoga teacher and every cell in my body did a 180. The cosmos popped and I suddenly understood.
I wanted to mother him. He stayed with me because somewhere deep down, mom is comfortable, mom is validating. But this feeling of comfort fluctuated with the abject terror he had of me behaving a lot like his mom, who triggered him big time with her perceived neediness and failure to see him as he is. I thought, if this particular mother-child relationship were healed, maybe he would be able to show up more fully, more authentically, more openly with me.
And then there was me, coming from a space of neediness, codependence, and unworthiness—yet ignorant to how my own unhealed mother wound played a part in all this. I was digging the same hole he was with a similar looking shovel, both of us at the mercy of our own unhealed mother wounds. Me pushing, him pulling; we may have been fond of each other but this dysfunction prevented us from showing up fully for one another.
Now, 10 years later, I am a mother myself to a six-year-old boy who is intelligent, playful, extremely curious, and basically feral. I am raising him alone and the stakes feel quite high. With this beautiful insight nestled within my cells, I know our relationship matters. I also fear there are so many ways I could get this wrong.
The reality is that mothering is hard. Even though this is hard to admit, I get frustrated. I yell. I impatiently shoo him out of the door in the morning. I snip. I am also guilty of seeing him as an extension of myself, attaching myself to his behaviors, and fearing for his behavioral health.
And in hindsight, I can also understand how easy it would be to attach hard and not let go. As he nears age seven, it’s becoming frighteningly apparent that all of this has an expiration date:
His developing voice and puppy-like energy, morning snuggles, and random I love you’s and hugs, all the ways he needs me—to make his breakfast and pack his lunch, check his homework, pick him up from school, enroll him in gymnastics, and get him to swim practice on time, read to him at night—even the scowl he wears as he emerges from time-out will hurt to think about one day. I will miss it. I look to the future and already do.
Here is the opportunity though: That motherhood teaches us to love someone so much it hurts, with wild and careless abandon, knowing one day they will leave us, knowing one day they won’t need us (like this, anyway), knowing they will not always be huggable little teddy bears to snuggle and smother with kisses.
Motherhood teaches presence, to be sure, but it also brings with it a constant reminder of the impermanent, uncertain, and ever-changing landscape of the present moment as we know it.
Motherhood comes with grief.
The role of the mother has the potential to build fortitude in this way, to attach so wholeheartedly in the beginning, because both lives depend on it, and then to fully let go, for the same reason. All mothers must do this. Both parts.
If I am able to show my son wild, unconditional love with the fullest capacity of my heart and then, when it’s time, let him go just as gracefully with strength and an open heart—in a way that shows him how to give this same love and kindness to himself as an adult—that would be my ultimate success as his mother.
I do believe the relationship we have with our mother translates to the way we care for ourselves. My own mother, like all women, was textured, layered, and crafted by her own mother’s voice, and the mother before her, and yet again before her. She was plagued by pain from her childhood and often had a hard time getting around this, echoes from her mother, my grandmother, who rarely put her and her sister first.
My mother was also extremely giving and nurturing, and I never doubted the way she valued me, especially as a small child (when it counts the most, I think). She attached to me fully and one day also had to let me go. She cried when she dropped me off for my first day of first grade, and again when I graduated high school, and then yet again when I graduated from college.
She cheered me on like no one else did and it is by her raising that I know how to take good care of myself—that I believe in myself and my ability to overcome obstacles and try hard things. It is also by her raising that I feel guilty when I give myself too much—that I over-examine my body in the mirror and feel shame around my extreme emotions.
I have a distinct memory of sobbing all the way to preschool one morning after it suddenly occurred to me that one day she would grow old and I would be an adult without her to help me, that I would be alone and that she would die—the first existential pain that I can recall.
Our mother is our first relationship and lifeline to the world. And while she can give us wild, unbridled love, she cannot save us from death or the pain of living in the world. She cannot deliver us from suffering and so she is also the first person to let us down. She is our first love and our first heartbreak. It is all wrapped up in her.
The threads that tie us to our mothers are in a tight weave, a weave that extends from one generation to the next, warped edges and all.
The quality of this weave is rarely flat and perfectly patterned. The weave that ties us to the woman who birthed us is likely as crooked, kinked, and frayed as she is. And just as she moves through the inextricable grief of motherhood, our healing may be in grieving, ourselves, the flawless loom of her imperfect self. Our healing may be in the acceptance and appreciation for the unique particularities of the weave, gratitude for the way the weave holds us and made loops for us to exist there in the first place.
I am aware that some of us may not speak to our mother anymore or experienced bad mothering. I know that some of us have mothers who have passed on. Some of us never even knew our mother. But I think no matter what the present state of our mother relationship, we can find healing in allowing the weave in which we are tied to her to be imperfect.
When I rewind back to 10 years ago and think about how my own mother wound was playing out in my 20-something Katy Perry-esque relationship, it is hard to recall because I have put a lot of work into examining the loom since then. And in this way, I think it is not the weave that changes when we do our healing work, but rather our relationship to it.
As our relationship to the weave changes, maybe we are able to replace our attachments and expectations about what mothers should be with the grace of understanding mothers in all of their grieving, contradicting, unconditional-loving glory. In our own imperfect way, maybe we can even learn to love ourselves like this.
When we heal our mother wounds, we improve the emotional health of the planet. The love we give can be deep, nurturing, and rich. Likewise, a healed mother wound allows us to receive without attachment, without need, fear, or projection, just taking in life with openness and gratitude. When we choose to live and love this way, then love is the only remainder.