Encouragement for Mothers Who Are Estranged from Their Child
This morning I read a post on Facebook written by a mother whose 21-year- old daughter has stopped talking to her. She drove 4 1/2 hours to her college to have breakfast with her and her daughter refused to see her. Heartbroken, she drove the 4 1/2 hours back home.
In her comment she said “Actually, I’m not enough.”
My heart broke for her. I wanted to gather her into my arms and say, “You are enough! You have always been enough. Even when you were messing up, you were enough.”
You see, I have a daughter who is not speaking to me, as well. And just like the people who responded to this heartbroken mom, people said to me, “She will realize how much she needs you and she will be back. Kids go through this sometimes.”
Most of those well-meaning people have never had a child turn away from them. Their comments were meant to comfort me, but instead, they kept me in a state of guilt and shame. If she doesn’t come back, then that must mean I am a terrible mother.
It has been 8 years since my daughter cut me out of her life. For a long time, I lived with the hope that someday she would come back. I reached out over and over with cards, letters and gifts. She never responded.
I replayed everything I ever did as a mother, focusing on all my mistakes and beating myself up for failing her. I grieved, sitting in the floor, night after night, weeping with so much pain. I would fall apart in public when I saw a young woman who looked like my daughter.
After eight years, I have learned to live differently.
There was a point in the grieving and self-shaming process that I woke up to the fact that I could not continue to live this way. I was so focused on what I had lost that I was failing to look around and see what I still had.
I am blessed with two other children who love me and seek out my company. I have three fabulous bonus-children who also bring so much love, acceptance and joy into my life. And then there are the beautiful young women I work with who consider me a mentor and mother-figure.
I had to stop living in the morass of grief and loss and get up out of that floor and embrace the life that was right in front of me. Was it easy? To that I have to say a resounding, “Not at all.”
But it was the right thing to do, because I was slipping away from life while I was looking across the abyss at the child who, for whatever reason, decided she did not want me to be her mother anymore.
So I got up, brushed myself off and started the very hard and painful work of letting her go.
I filled pages in my journal, pouring out my pain and asking for the strength and wisdom to let go and move on.
I practiced forgiving myself for “not being enough” until I came to the realization that I was always enough. I wasn’t perfect, but then, our children don’t need us to be perfect. They need us to love them, and be willing to own our mistakes and make amends for them if they give us a chance. In the meantime, all we can do is work on loving ourselves.
I began to rewrite the narrative of, “This shouldn’t be happening! It’s not supposed to be this way!” and began to ask the question, “Who says?”
Who says that children and mothers are never supposed to go their separate ways? We give birth and nurture and love our children and we never think something like this will happen. But what if my daughter came to earth in order to take a journey that does not include me? Could I accept that and be okay with it?
I began to bless her and honor her choice by opening my heart to her need to go it alone. I began to allow her to take her own path, without requiring her to fulfill my hopes for our relationship. I sent her love anytime I felt a pang of pain, and I wished her well.
And all the time I practiced forgiveness. Over and over again I forgave myself and I forgave her, recognizing we are both doing the best we know how to do.
I learned to see our time together as what was allotted, what was needed, for her to launch into her spiritual quest that may or may not ever lead her back to me.
And I have learned to be at peace with all of it, knowing that she may never come back, or she may. Either way, I am living my life and sending her love and wishing her well, like any mother’s heart would.
I had the opportunity recently to see her at a family gathering for the first time in seven years. She would not make eye contact with me, even though we were seated directly across the table from each other. I wondered how much emotional energy it was taking her to avoid looking at me.
My heart was breaking for both of us. But I did not fall apart. The work I have done these past eight years has truly brought me to a place of acceptance, peace and forgiveness.
After the luncheon, I walked over to her and put my arms around her, giving her a quick hug.
“I still love you, you know,” I said to her.
She said, “I know you do.”
I released my grasp and walked a few steps away. I looked back at her and thought, “I wish we could talk about this. I hope one day we can. In the meantime, at least you know I love you.”
My daughter is turning 27 in a couple of weeks. It would be misleading to say I don’t miss her. But it would also be misleading to say that the grief and sadness I feel is controlling my life. I have learned to manage it. I have learned to hope for a day we can talk, so I can understand why she needed to distance herself, but I am not obsessing about it.
Life rarely turns out the way we want it to. That is something we learn the longer we are on the planet. But that does not mean we have to stay stuck in the place of looking longingly back at the thing we had hoped for that will never be.
We have the ability, if we will use it, to look forward and celebrate our lives for what they are, right now, instead of grieving for what we had planned for them to be.
Please let me say, from one mother’s heart to another, I see you. You have always been enough. You are enough. And I am cheering you on through this very difficult journey life has given you to embark on. My wish for you is that your child will quickly come back. But if she doesn’t, I want you to know, because I am living proof, that you can survive. You WILL survive.
If you would like to read more on this subject, here is a previous article I wrote about my daughter.