I’m interrupting “Eating Disorders” to post about Mothers’ Day, which is coming fast. This year it is on May 8.
I wrote this way back in April, 1999, for the Survivorship Monthly Notes. Nothing has been changed, except grammar and spelling mistakes. And not much has changed in my feelings about Mothers’ Day in the intervening seventeen years.
For me, May is a wonderful time because nothing much happens between Beltane and Memorial Day. It’s almost a whole month without the anniversary of a ritual date and so I really have time to catch my breath after the long and difficult spring. But it’s not that easy for most survivors, because right in the middle of the month comes . . . Mothers’ Day.
My family did not observe Mothers’ Day, either in the day life or the night life. It meant nothing to my mother, and she looked down her nose at the commercialism of the commemoration. Perhaps she wasn’t thrilled at being a mother? I don’t know; I can only guess.
I have no idea what others experienced in the cult on Mothers’ Day, but I can imagine, and the things I imagine are horrible. I presume they were designed to break any sense of attachment and safety that a child might still feel toward Mother. I presume that all attachment had to be to the cult itself, and that tender feelings between mothers and children were anathema.
So I sail through Mothers’ Day, with memories only of my own kids’ little hands holding lilies of the valley, coffee and burned toast in bed, and home-made cards telling me how great I was. An hour of fame, and then a normal day.
One year, though, I got a shock when I was driving to therapy. I was listening to a C&W radio station and there was a song about a mother comforting her daughter about loss. The loss of her best friend when she was a child, a divorce, and finally the mother’s death. “What can I do to help you say goodbye?” The tears were streaming down my face.
My mother would not have comforted me. At best, she would have told me to act my age. As a result, I learned early on not to let her know my feelings. I never went to her for advice, for a quick good-luck hug, for a smile on hearing good news. I aimed for a distant, polite relationship, like two strangers who don’t much like each other thrown into close proximity. I got the distance, all right, but underneath the veneer was seething resentment and anger.
And of course I modeled my relationships with other adults on what I had learned at home. It never occurred to me to ask a teacher for help. It just never crossed my mind that adults could be a resource. Once, in high school, a classmate became psychotic and I and a couple of other secretive girls helped her hide it from the teachers for several months. If there was a problem, the children took care of it themselves because, if the grown-ups found out, boy, did the problem ever expand!
The truth of it, for those of us who were born into cult families, is that we never had real mothers. Our mothers did not delight in our spirits and active little bodies. I learned as an adult that some mothers do.
Ours swung between sadism and dissociation, and neither of these traits is supposed to be part of mothering. They could not teach us how to love and connect with people because they themselves couldn’t. Or if they could, it was intermittent or ineffectual. They did not have the resources to protect us, to raise us as we needed to be raised.
That day, after therapy, I stopped at a bookstore and found a “Random Acts of Kindness” bumper sticker. I also bought a book by Laurel Holliday called “Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries.” (You can get inexpensive used copies on Amazon.) I expected stories of devastation, like the stories I read of ritual abuse survivors’ childhoods.
What I found, though, was the writings of children who were loved by their families, children who were vibrantly alive. A disaster came upon them from outside. They responded with grief, terror, despair. But there is also humor in these diaries, and joy. There is so much empathy; these children loved themselves, loved life, and felt the pain of those who were tortured, gunned down, starved to death. Even in the Warsaw Ghetto, a father risked his life to obtain bread for his children and birthdays were celebrated as best as possible. It is beautiful to read how people cared for each other, even unto death.