This year I found myself really hating Mother’s Day. Many people have written beautifully about the pain they feel on Mother’s Day, for many and various reasons: infertility, child loss, painful relationships with their own mothers, estrangements from older children… the list goes on. I am so ridiculously lucky that none of those situations apply to me. And yet… as Mother’s Day approached, I found myself stewing over how much I hate it, my heart growing heavier and heavier with dread. This is not the first time I have felt this way on Mother’s Day, but, for whatever reason, it seemed worse this year.
I looked for places to place the blame. Mother’s Day is a stupid holiday, I thought. It just makes everyone feel bad. It’s nothing but commercialism. It’s just pressure on husbands and kids to buy stupid stuff for the wife/mother who really just wants someone to clean the house, cook the food, and take care of the kids while she has a day off. Those things are (mainly) true, but that wasn’t really it.
I tried to place the blame on my husband. Gift-giving is not his love language, let’s just say, and I knew he would wait until afternoon on Mother’s Day to take the kids out shopping for my flowers and chocolate–which he did, and which IS totally lame. My husband is wonderful, but he could definitely step up his game a bit when it comes to days like Mother’s Day, my birthday, and Christmas. Still, in the end, I knew that that wasn’t it.
Here’s what it was.
My first marriage was emotionally abusive. It took me many years to figure that out. It’s still, even now, so hard to explain. But my first ever Mother’s Day as a mother is a good example. It was 22 years ago and my first child was about 6 weeks old. She was healthy and amazing and being a mother was hard but also wonderful and I loved it.
My first husband
did could do special days really well. When I was depressed about spending my first Christmas in Sweden, away from my family, he–who grew up in Iran and therefore had no Christmas tradition of his own–went out and bought a Christmas tree for me, carrying it home on the city bus. He bought a box of decorations for the tree and cajoled me out of my funk and into making Christmas cookies. For many special birthdays (my 25th, my 30th) he planned whole days full of surprises for me, from breakfast in bed to exciting activities and special dinners with friends.
It wasn’t always like this, mind you. There was the year when he put exactly two identical boxes under the Christmas tree, which, as it turned out, each held a pair of long underwear. One for me, and one, believe it or not, for him. So there was that…
And then there was my first Mother’s Day. Did I mention that it was my first one as a mom? How exciting and special that felt for me? So, knowing this, my ex chose not to acknowledge the day in any way. If I thought he had forgotten or hadn’t known that it was Mother’s Day, there were several people with whom we interacted that day who mentioned to us both that it was Mother’s Day, so I knew he knew, and still he didn’t acknowledge it. By the end of the day, I was done. Sad, angry… confused, mostly. Why would he do that? Why would he refuse to acknowledge my first Mother’s Day as a mother with so much as a “Happy Mother’s Day”? When I finally broke down and told him how bad it made me feel, he said that it had indeed been an intentional lack of acknowledgment on his part. I’m sure he had some stupid, quasi-psychological explanation for this, but whatever it was, I remember this: it was intentionally done to hurt me and throw me off balance.
A couple of days later, my ex brought home a flowering plant for our balcony. It was not a Mother’s Day present, he said… just a present. It was beautiful and it bloomed all summer and I acted grateful and pretended that everything was fine, but what that beautiful flowering plant really did was serve as a painful reminder to me all summer long that I could never expect anything, never count on anything, that I could certainly never count on being allowed to think that I was worth anything special.
Sometimes emotional abuse is that subtle. It might be hard to understand this example as abuse without knowing the context of the rest of the relationship; I get that. Don’t get me wrong, the abuse was often not even a little bit subtle, but sometimes it was, which, in a strange way, made it almost more insidious.
Who would have guessed that, of all the horrible things my abusive ex did and said to me in the years we spent together, it would be this relatively small and seemingly insignificant thing that was wreaking havoc on my heart and soul all these years later? This year I felt, as I said, an increasing sense of dread as the day approached, and what I can only describe as profound sadness that seemed to sit like a weight in my bones as Mother’s Day dawned.
The good news is that the day got better. I was able to pinpoint the source of my sadness and that, along with love and hugs and reassurance from my husband and kids that I am special and important to them, was all I needed to reorient me in my present and make me feel OK again.
Which is all to say, if you have been emotionally abused, those old hurts might sometimes reverberate in your heart and soul for a very long time. You can think you’re so far past it all that it will never hurt again… and then it does. For me what helped was acknowledging that what happened to me, how I was treated all those years ago, was not OK. It was just one example of a whole lot of things that were not OK, but none of it was OK. And then I reminded myself–and my family reminded me–that the person my ex-husband tried to make me think I was, the unworthy, unlovable one, is NOT who I am. It never was.
If you are dealing with emotional abuse or have dealt with it in the past and it is still hurting today, you can reach out. Reach out to the people who you know love you and tell them that you need to be reminded of your worth. You can reach out to me. But reach out. Let people remind you that YOU are valuable and worthy. Because THAT is what is true.