Unfortunately, motherhood is so difficult that virtually no one does it perfectly. Maybe your mother was flawless, but it's more likely she made mistakes. Whatever her errors, you inherited a legacy of sorrow. You can and should find a way to heal what psychologists call the "mother wound." My favorite strategy for this is to stop focusing fruitless hope and blame on the woman who raised you, and make yourself another mother.
Step One: Think of Mother as a Verb.
Thinking of the word mother not as a noun but as a verb ("to mother") helps change your internal definitions so that you stop looking to a human female for perfect parenting and begin to identify your mother as anyone who offers you maternal care. You're being mothered when anyone
offers you one or more of the following gifts:
Step Two: Meet Your Motherless Self.
Acceptance. This is not the anxious adoration of a mother who pins her hopes for happiness on her child's appearance or achievements. True mothering starts with unconditional love for another person, without demands or expectations.
Nourishment. Sustenance, comfort and care, whether physical or emotional, are components of real motherhood. Anyone who nurtures you, in body, mind or heart, is mothering you.
Instruction. Real mothers teach constantly, showing both by example and by explanation what their children must know in order to live well.
Empowerment. Real mothers are intent on working themselves out of a job, by building in those they mother the courage and confidence needed to become completely independent.
Once you've detached your concept of motherhood from a particular human being and learned to see mothering as a gift of love and strength, it's time to assess where you could use more mothering. Complete these sentences with whatever comes to mind:
- I feel useless, unlovable and disgusting when ________________.
- I feel empty and needy when ________________.
- I feel stupid and ignorant when ________________.
- I feel helpless and incapable when ________________.
If none of these feelings are familiar to you, it's a sure sign that you've been very well mothered, by either your biological mom or an excellent substitute. But if the sentences above sparked clear associations ("I feel like a stupid, ignorant moron in board meetings," "I get incredibly needy around the holidays"), you owe it to yourself to find the kind of maternal love that can nurture your unmet needs. It's time to make yourself a patchwork mom.
Step Three: Patch Together Your Ideal Mother.
After identifying the situations where you need more mothering, commit to finding people who can offer you acceptance, nourishment, instruction and empowerment in those areas. If you think your biological mother is up to the task, great—go to her and ask for help and advice. But if your mom can't or won't provide it, open yourself to finding someone who can.
The perfect mother is available to all of us if we're willing to let go of expectations that will never be filled, and to see what is being offered to us here and now. Though all mothers are limited, the force of motherhood is not. It surrounds us every day, in all sorts of guises, some predictable and ordinary, some startling and extraordinary. If you allow yourself to embrace it, I guarantee you'll find it waiting to embrace you. And that, to me, is the mother of all comforts.