“For me, it is a reminder that I have a living mother, who for reasons I’ve never understood, does not like me and does not care to know me.”

As the annual celebration of mothers approaches, and everyone begins to buy gifts and make plans, a familiar sense of dread descends upon me. I remind myself that most people find this to be a joyous holiday—a chance to celebrate the woman who brought them into this world.

That’s a universal sentiment, right? Something we can all get behind?

That’s how many people feel. But what if that isn’t your story, and your feelings about your mother are complicated? What if you do not have a relationship with your mother at all? Maybe you never knew her, maybe she has passed on, or maybe you don’t get along, she doesn’t like or approve of you… or perhaps, she isn’t interested in knowing you at all.

Some people have a visceral, defensive response to those last few lines. Over the years, I’ve heard many decry the possibility that mothers can dislike or reject their children. And before the all-too-familiar refrain of “but every mother loves her child” is uttered here, let’s pause for a moment and consider that not everyone has the same experiences.

If you see yourself in any of the scenarios above, or a multitude of other possibilities wherein that singular maternal relationship can go awry, this one’s for you. Mother’s Day is not easy for everyone. The reasons and causes are as varied as we are. For me, it is a reminder that I have a living mother, who for reasons I’ve never understood, does not like me and does not care to know me. It is strange to imagine her passing through the years of her life, working, living in a community, celebrating holidays, going to the market, and having dinner with friends, seemingly uninterested in the life she gave 40 years ago. It is strange, and it hurts…

We have not spoken for over 10 years. Our difficult relationship began in my childhood. In fact, I can recall nothing else but that difficulty. One of my earliest memories is of being slapped by her, and in response, raising my small frame up and mightily slapping her back. She slapped me again, harder, until I could not or would not retaliate. This interaction came to typify all of the years to come. We could not stop “slapping” each other—she, for reasons personal and tragic, and me, always ferociously defensive.

“As a younger person, I vowed never to have children, assuming I would only pass on the confusion, pain, and suffering I had inherited.”

A trusted therapist once asked me to recall a happy memory of my mother, and I sat silently, fretting for an excruciating five minutes, before shamefully admitting I could not conjure a single one. After years of self-work, I can finally say I forgive myself for this “failure.” For many years, I felt that if I had only been “more _____”, that she would have loved me. I filled in that blank with so many different things, people, and experiences, both good and bad, before realizing the inevitable—ultimately you must love and mother yourself.

Therein lies the rub, of course, because if no one has mirrored self-love for you, and your birth mother was not the best example, you must improvise, make it up as you go. Perhaps this is why I became an artist, a singer, an activist, a teacher, an animal caregiver, and eventually a mother myself.

Through those journeys, I have encountered amazing people who have mothered, mentored, and loved me. Through their example and grace, I have learned to love myself. This writing is also for them… I am so grateful.

The healing that has come over the years enabled the courage to attempt motherhood myself. As a younger person, I vowed never to have children, assuming I would only pass on the confusion, pain, and suffering I had inherited. But I have learned that love is an act of courage; once taken, it answers all questions and quells all fears that new experiences bring.

To mother is to love. I now believe that if you truly love and care for anyone or anything, whether a child, a sick relative, an artistic project, the planet, an animal, a job or professional group of people, a friend, a stranger, a single flower, that you are a “mother”–displaying, mirroring, bringing into form and consciousness the experience of motherhood.

So I offer you ALL my hand and heart if this holiday is hard and applaud and embrace all who love and mother in the endless ways that exist to do so! We are all mothers, and that is indeed something to celebrate.

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