When Mother’s Day Is No Cakewalk

Motherís Day just passed, which was a day to celebrate, right? We take Mommies out to brunch and give them flowers. Kids hand-craft macaroni necklaces to adorn Mommy in her Sunday dress. We kiss, hug, send cards, and jam up the phone lines as we remember our own mothers. In a perfect world, Motherís Day would be a day we could all celebrate.

But, as some of you may know, we donít live in a perfect world. For some, Motherís Day is a day people want to dig a hole and crawl in. Itís a day they wish they could fast forward through. Itís a day that makes them cringe as they watch all the happy people bustle about wearing white orchids and smiling with happy children carrying balloons.

I’m Blessed
Iím not one of those people. Iím blessed to have a fairy tale mother, the kind you read about in books, the sort of mother who hand-sewed my clothes and made my favorite meal on my birthday and went all out for Easter and Christmas and everything in between. Stacks of baby books prove how much she adored me as a child, and even now, we speak nearly every day and I continue to seek guidance from her. Even imagining losing her one day makes me tear up.

…But Many Aren’t
Most people didnít grow up with fairytale mothers. Many were more like the wicked step-mothers. As one of my friends said, ďThe world is full of assholes, and unfortunately, some of them reproduce.Ē

Averyís mother gave her up when she was born. She lived in and out of foster care for years before she was finally adopted — and then her adopted mother died of breast cancer when she was only 11. When she turned 18, fueled by the fantasy that her birth mother would take over for the loving mother she only had seven years with, she sought her out. But when she finally found her, after a pilgrimage that took her across the country, she stood at her motherís door. And her mother stood on the other side of the closed door and said, ďI donít love you. I never did. Thatís why I gave you up.Ē And refused to open the door.


Selenaís mother drank. And drank. And drank. Until she beat Selena senseless. Over. And over. And over. And then, one fateful day, after a bender that led her to beat the sh*t out of her 9-year-old daughter, Selena walked out — and never came back.

Miaís mother died in childbirth, and she grew up with a distant alcoholic father who blamed her for the death of his childhood sweetheart. And then he married her step-mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. From the day she moved in, Mia walked on eggshells, trying not to incite her explosive temper, but she couldnít win. No matter how careful Mia was, Miaís step-mother cut her down with vicious verbal abuse that rings in her ears even now, many years after she ran away from home and was emancipated from her parents.

Kimberlyís father beat her mother senseless throughout her young life. Her primary memories from childhood consist of broken glass and broken lips and broken bones — and huge cover-ups to make sure nobody knew what was really happening. Until one fateful day when Kimberlyís mother had had enough. And she picked up the gun she had been hiding for years — and shot the bastard who had been beating her for years. Kimberly spent the rest of her young life in foster care, and her mother refused to see her — not because she didnít love her, she said. Because she wanted Kimberly to have a better life and she didnít want to provide any reminders of the life she once had.

It Doesn’t Have To Be That Obvious To Be Ambivalent
Your mother may not have been as misguided as some of these mothers I describe, but you may still find yourself ambivalent on this Motherís Day holiday. Many of us have had both tender and challenging experiences with our mothers, and this holiday may bring up memories of some of the challenges, which may lead to feelings of guilt. So Iím not suggesting that your mother has to be the devil to lead to ambivalent feelings on Motherís Day.

Itís easy for lucky people like me to forget that those who grew up with mothers like Avery, Selena, Mia, and Kimberly cringe every time Motherís Day rolls around. Itís yet another reminder that they werenít blessed with the kinds of mothers we all dream of having in our lives.

If you feel this way today, this post is for you. This post is permission — to cry, to scream, to regret, to get angry, to question God, to feel sorry for yourself — whatever it is you feel. Feel your feelings, love. Let it all out. Release all that pent up ickiness you may feel. Cleanse your soul.

You Deserve To Be Loved

And now Iím going to go out on a limb here and tell you what I wish your mother would write to you on this Motherís Day. So here it is.

Dearest YOU,

I know I havenít been the mother I dreamed of being when I was a little girl, playing with dolls and hoping to be a mother some day. The truth is, that dream died long ago and I got a little blindsided with life. And regrettably, you got hit with a lot of the shrapnel.

I know I wasnít always there for you when you needed me. I know I blew it when you needed me most. I know I made selfish choices and often left you to fend for yourself when you really needed a Mama. I know I hurt you, and it breaks my heart to even think about it. In fact, itís so hard to face my own failings that I pull back. Or I lash out. Or I run away because I canít face myself, much less the look of disappointment on your face.

But I want you to know something, my precious. You are the best thing Iíve ever done in my life. Iím beyond proud of you. I often feel like I donít deserve you — I know I donít, in fact. But when I see who youíve become, I know I was put in this Earth for a reason — to bring you into this world so the world could be better because youíre in it.

You deserved a better mother than me, my love. I wish I could be your fairy godmother instead of who I am. If I was, I would wave my magic wand and I would take it all back. I would change what happened and I would give you the fairytale life you deserve to have.

But instead, I will offer you this. I donít expect you to forgive me. I wonít ask that. But I do hope you let go of the anger, hurt, betrayal, and loss — for your sake, not mine. Please, my dear, you have big things to do in this world. People to love. Lives to touch. Big dreams to live out.

Donít let me get in your way, darling. Cleanse your heart. Know that you are loving — and lovable — and safe. Know that the way I treated you was about me, not you. You are perfect. Perfect and beautiful and precious and dear — just the way you are. I wouldnít change a thing about you. Not a thing.

On this Motherís Day, I donít want presents from you. Only one small thing — I want you to be the YOUest of YOUs — starting today. Drop the walls. Suck the water out of the moats youíve erected. Take off your masks. Just be you, my dear. If you can do that, I will know my life mattered, even if Iíve made too many mistakes to count.

Please give me that gift. I expect nothing else. And I love you. I know you may not believe it. But I really do love you. Hold that in your heart, and please, let Motherís Day be a time of release, of renewal, of love for the person you have become.

Look what you overcame, beautiful. Iím so proud of you. May you be free.

With great love,

Your mother

So there you go. Iím pretty psychic these days and when I look into the hearts of your mothers, thatís what I see with my magical eyes. So please, know that it’s true.

What does Motherís Day bring up for you? Please share your stories here — or join me at Owning Pink and know that you are safe, loved, and nurtured as you heal, connect, and thrive.

*† † *† † *† † *

Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of†Whatís Up Down There? Questions Youíd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.


Tina L.
Tina L.4 years ago


KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B.5 years ago

Noted with interest.

Bernadette P.
Berny p.5 years ago

thank you for this powerful story but luckily these...mothers are not the majority.
Been a mother is never easy ,you do the best that you can with what you have and sometime the child turnout well and sometime not BUT never reproche yourself because no one is perfect.

It is better been wanted so natural mother or not if you have a good one cheerish her .....if not...forget her and get on with your life...YOU dont ow her anything!

Shari G.
Shari G.5 years ago

i love your articles!!

Renee Lopez
Renee L.5 years ago

I haven't cried that hard in awhile. Everyday I wish that my 'mother' could simply utter something even half as endearing as this. From such a tragic childhood & adulthood this letter written above was just another piece to the puzzle and another means to help me let go. Thank You!!!

Ioana Cristina S.

This article brought tears to my eyes and I never thought I could react this way to an article about mother-daughter relationships. I never really evaluated more deeply my own relationship with my mother before but I read this. I identified with one situation described here and even though my mother isn't a cruel person her very difficult marriage made it so that I witnessed and experienced many unpleasant moments before she divorced. In my relationship with her I've often felt that I'm the mother because I had to help her in very stressful situations. It was not easy to take on an adult responsibility at a young age. Although some scenarios described here are very painful to read I'm actually glad I managed to read about them because they showed the kind of mother that I would never want to be. Thank you for the beautiful letter at the end. It was very touching and motherly.

ana p.
ana p.5 years ago


Luna Starr
luna starr5 years ago

I give my girl something for Mothers day because without her it is just another day. My birth mother more or less demands homage because she gave birth what she did not give was love and understanding...its all about her

Deborah Elliott
Deborah Elliott5 years ago

My daughter died on Mother's Day two years ago after a month long vigil. Add to that the fact that my mother and grandmothers have been gone for years, and I kind of prefer to skip this holiday.
I light a candle in memory of them all and just spend a quiet day. Still, I am a great grandmother now and always remind my granddaughter that she is a wonderful mother on Mother's day!

Drusilla P.
Drusilla P.5 years ago

I'm convinced that my great-grandmother having children was a poor idea, and the two generations afterwards kept repeating bad things. My mother doesn't even see the manipulation, but she's repeating it, and it bloody hurts. Nothing I do is ever enough, and I'm not allowed to be ill (I can't get my mind around that one, but I had two serious conditions, which she both denied and never mentions now).
I remember that year when I bought her what she'd asked for, and she complained to my grandmother that I wasn't very original. Whatever I do, I'm a bad daughter.
She'd have been better off with a poodle.
As you can guess, I'm stopping the DNA failure here with me.

Thanks for the post and the opportunity to growl freely!