by Linda Herman, LMHC
A Mother’s Love on Valentine’s Day
Loving a child is easy when that child is easy to love. Since I write mostly about adult children, the relationships between mothers and their adult children is my focus this evening.
We’ve all stood at the Hallmark card display seeking the perfect card for expressing our love of family. Once purchased, we may add additional sentiments inside before mailing the cards. While sealing the envelope and affixing the stamp, our minds may revisit recent or distant moments where our love was given and reciprocated. Sliding the envelope into the mailbox is the final act in this, our ritual of showing our devotion.
There is an entire group of mothers however, who would give almost anything (and almost everything) to be the recipient of their children’s tenderness. These are the moms whose adult children have chosen to ignore, shun, reject or openly be hateful to them. They are caught in an emotional storm, experiencing frustration, rejection, guilt, and anger themselves.
But almost every woman to whom I’ve spoken, who finds herself in this situation, loves her child despite that child’s actions. I have communicated with women across the country whose stories are unique, but with some common threads. These include having children whose lives are ruled by substance abuse and those with severe mental illness. Some have brushes with the law. Frequently, as part of loving their children, the mothers (and fathers) have gone the distance to keep their children alive and get them help. Hospitalizations, bail, jail, physical and emotional abuse, attorneys, family therapies, loans, gifts of money, caring for the grandchildren, and paying for living expenses have been part of their lives. Perhaps as part of addiction or mental illness (or just pure manipulation)many of these adult children are experts at guilt-making, with loving mothers succumbing again and again to their accusations and pleas.
But there is another group of adult children who, for all intents and purposes, live “normal” existences. They have no significant history to explain what becomes a complete rejection of their parents. What these young people often have in common is having been very close to Mom and Dad through their teen years. Hence it is especially mind-boggling to parents to have their offspring almost surgically remove themselves from their families as adults. Mothers ask repeatedly what they have done to warrant the rejecting behavior.
I describe the children as having rewritten the family history. The history of their making points to perceived slights from years prior, long-held grudges, comparisons and jealousy toward other siblings. Frequently, these young adults appear delayed in emotional emancipation, or appropriate differentiation from their parents. Parents may not be spending money on bail and attorneys, but they often are seeking treatment for themselves.
The adult children about whom I am writing are not easy to love. But their mothers do love them. They may have to protect their hearts (and sometimes their physical selves) from the injuries that these children bestow upon them. They may seek out comfort and reassurance from professionals, friends and other family members. Whereas most of us hope and expect to give and receive love from our sons and daughters, these moms aspire to, if not love, then at least some peace of mind.
May you find meaning, comfort and love in your lives, through your either your own personal family members or through those who become families of the heart.
Happy Valentine’s Day.