Culture

How To Celebrate Mother's Day While Protecting Your Mental Health

Nothing hurts like mommy issues.

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How To Celebrate Mother's Day While Protecting Your Mental Health

Nothing hurts like mommy issues.

“I hate my mom” is a phrase we’ve all uttered, most likely in our angst and eyeliner-filled teenage years.

While we’re bound to be annoyed by our family members, to hate or even dislike one’s mother is considered a cardinal sin, regardless of your religion or lack thereof. It seems almost counterintuitive to be at odds with our very source of life, yet many of us carry the heavy and silent shame that comes with having a complicated relationship with our mothers. What kind of flowers do you get when your mom won’t acknowledge your sexuality? What card is appropriate when you have to keep conversations on a surface level because your mother doesn’t understand you as a person?

Not everyone is lucky enough to be born into their support system. Children grow up to become adults with minds of their own, sometimes filled with values and principles that don’t align with the ones they inherited. “I brought you into this world and I can take you out” is the standard response to criticism. Although the openly threatening phrase is a known exaggeration, it points to the toxic obligation society places on us to obey our maternal figures — no matter what it costs us.

To question the way your mother raised you teeters on blasphemy, not only perpetuating the myth that mothers are perfect, but upholding harmful familial structures. It goes without saying that parents, but mothers in particular, sacrifice so much to provide and care for their children. In the midst of working to meet our material needs, often to the detriment of their own, maternal figures sometimes find themselves stretched too thin to truly meet our emotional ones. Mental health is a relatively new concept and for many of our parents, putting a roof over our heads and food on the table was all they needed to do. No one chooses the family that they’re born into and as Gen Z and Millennial women approach raising children with caution, we’re learning that it may be the case that our mothers may not have meaningfully chosen to have us either.

“My early memories of my mother are her implying that my femininity is a problem.”

The relationship we have with our mothers is quite literally our first and most formative human connection, creating a biological blueprint for all other connections to follow. If a child can’t go to their mother to fulfill their emotional and psychological needs on a consistent basis, it leads to a lack of self-trust, maladaptive coping mechanisms, low self-esteem and trouble in intimate relationships, to name a few. As innately social creatures, it’s devastating to not be seen and understood by the human beings that brought you into this world. Writer and Back From The Borderline podcast host Mollie Adler adds, “Not having your needs met consistently throws your nervous system into dysregulation at all times, wondering, ‘Am I going to be abandoned again? Can I share my pain with my mom if something happens? I know that I can’t even tiptoe beneath the surface because it’s going to trigger something. It’s a constant drip feed of stress and anxiety.’”

While no mother sets out to emotionally neglect their child, at times caregivers weren’t given the tools to support their own inner children, on top of our own. The patriarchy has taught women not to trust their own feelings, to shrink themselves and to accept abuse with a smile. While we may be our mothers’ daughters, we have the benefit of living in a time where it’s commonplace to question such norms.

“A lot of young girls desire a safe space to ask their burning questions. From dating to sex, we need our maternal guides. When you struggle to feel that intimacy with your mother, you start looking for home in dangerous places,” Hypebae’s Sex & Dating expert Gigi Fong shares. Sadly, some of our mothers internalized antiquated double standards for their own survival, passing down generations of shame. “The greatest example I can think of is how older Black women call young girls ‘fast.’ Instead of being taught sisterhood, I, unfortunately, was taught to view all women as a threat — family or not. This was a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true. Why else would older Black women shame little Black girls? Isn’t it their job to guide us? My early memories of my mother are her implying that my femininity is a problem.”

So, how do you begin to heal?

For some, it can take the form of setting boundaries and limiting contact. While the notion may seem selfish to Boomers, deciding to cut off all forms of communication can be the hardest choice someone can make. We are biologically hardwired to look to our parents for support and it is often after countless repeated and failed attempts to foster understanding and connection that adult children have to distance themselves for their own well-being.

“So many people say ‘leave the past in the past,’ but what if it’s still playing out in the present?” Adler argues. “It’s not really in the past if your parents are consistently and currently not acknowledging the emotional neglect they inflicted on you, even if it was unintentional. Emotional neglect can damage your body and nervous system, so you are quite literally jeopardizing your own health by continuing to give them unlimited access to you.”

Mothering yourself also requires grieving the maternal figure you wish you had. “It’s really hard to become a woman without your mom. You’re constantly questioning whether you’re making the right move or if you did something that all the other girls know because their mom put them on. It’s a secret shame to carry daily,” Fong adds. It can be hard to have a relationship with a mother who refuses to change as you’re put in a position where you’re forced to re-parent yourself and parent your parent. “I can accept love without letting people’s limitations impact me,” Adler attests.

For Fong, going no contact was her first act of self-love. “Reparenting myself is the most important lesson for me right now. Showing myself care in the form of a healthy diet, creating community with kind, loving people and little things like honoring my bedtime are major. I’m not perfect, I don’t have to be. I can take my time in succeeding because my mother telling me I wouldn’t amount to anything is a lie. I give myself the grace to learn because I understand that the most important thing to my mother right now is her ego. Focusing on healing myself, that’s something I can control, not only for me, but for my future children,” Fong continues.

Additionally, finding surrogate maternal figures can be a saving grace for those of us who can’t be their full selves at home. When our biological mothers may not have the space to hold our emotions, creating community with those who can gives us confidence in our identity. “From my personal style to how I carry myself, my surrogate mothers have given me the space to f-ck up, succeed, cry and laugh. Ironically, it took being rejected by my mother for me to learn what motherhood was. It may seem like a small thing, but to a woman who didn’t grow up with that, it means the world,” Fong adds.

Mother’s Day can be a difficult holiday, but it doesn’t have to be. Having compassion for your mother’s shortcomings doesn’t mean you have to make excuses for harmful behavior or continue to endure it. By acknowledging and honoring your feelings, you’re not only ending a legacy of shame, but giving birth to a new generation of emotionally present and unapologetically vulnerable women.

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