I recently had lunch with a good friend to talk about planning a women’s retreat. As we discussed ideas for the teaching sessions, we ended up on the topic of mamas and daughters, and how there seems to be a large majority of women carrying around hurt, anger, unforgiveness, and/or resentment when it comes to this special but complex relationship. It’s a topic very near and dear to my heart — as both a daughter and a mother of two girls.
I’ve seen firsthand generations of women struggle to find peace and healing in their relationship with their mama. I don’t know what it is about the mother/daughter relationship that makes it a breeding ground for so much hurt. Perhaps it is because of the raw, primal dependence we have on our mothers from birth that makes us expect so much. We expect them to always be there without fail, to always say the right things, lead by example, and pick us up and brush us off when we are hurting. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a person, really, and when mamas mess up — as we surely will because we are, after all, just flawed human beings like everyone else — we come tumbling off our golden mother-of-the-year pedestals. The super-mom image crashes into a million pieces and we daughters, we don’t seem to know how to reconcile that.
I am very blessed to have three women in my life who have loved and mothered me at one point or another. Each of these women is incredibly dear to me, yet I have experienced some degree of conflict in all three of these relationships over the years. But it is my relationship with my first mom, the mom who gave birth to me at the tender age of 23, that has been through the most difficult of times. Our story is one rooted in hurt, anger, pride, and estrangement. But it has blossomed into a story of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope. It is a testament that healing and redemption can be found through the grace of God. I don’t divulge my past lightly or without concern for the others who played a part. But, with my mom’s blessing, I share with all of you this piece of our story because it’s important to understand the place of hurt that we came from to truly appreciate the place of healing we have found.
If you’ve been a reader of my blog, you know that when I was young I went through a horrible ordeal. Not knowing how to handle the shocking news and reality that was facing her, my mom chose to believe it was all a misunderstanding. After “the incident” I moved out of my mom and stepfather’s house and had a painful and estranged relationship with my mom. I was still just a girl, only 13, and I struggled internally between just wanting to have my mom in my life, and feeling deeply wounded over her choices. I tried many times to come to terms with what had happened and to forgive her, but the pain and rejection never went away, and eventually it turned to anger and resentment.
When I was a young college student my mom divorced her second husband and that seemed to open the door to a better, easier relationship. But it was really a superficial relationship because no matter what I tried to tell myself, or her, I still had not forgiven her; the wounds were still there, just under the surface. This was not the foundation of a healthy relationship because every time there was a conflict or a disagreement it was easy for me to go right back to that place of resentment; to pull up a mental record of all the ways I had felt hurt, shortchanged, or abandoned and relive that pain all over again. And so, our relationship continued to be strained.
After having my first child, my mother disagreed with some of the parenting choices my husband and I were making. At that moment I really considered just walking away. It would be easier, I reasoned. No more conflict, no more hurt, no more disappointment. Why was I trying so hard anyway? And then I looked down into the face of my little daughter and realized she was why. She deserved a relationship with her Nana. She deserved to have a mother who believed in forgiveness and healing, and who lived out those things; a mother who loved by example. Because one day she might be the daughter on the verge of throwing in the towel and giving up on me!
It took several years of counseling and prayer before I was able to truly put the past to rest. I was in my early 30’s and for the first time in my life I felt truly free of my past. I got rid of the mental record of wrongs. I saw my mom for who she was: a flawed, hurting sinner, just like me. Yes, she had made mistakes, and would likely pay the rest of her life for those, but I realized that she had been scared and overwhelmed and unprepared for the decision that faced her and so she did what she thought was best. In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us “You must not hold on to any bitter hurts, rage or anger. You must not fight each other or say bad things about each other. You must not think or act because of spite. You should be friends and you should be kind to each other. You must forgive each other, just as God forgave you. God forgave you because of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
In the 12 short years I’ve been a parent I have made many mistakes. I have been scared, overwhelmed, and unprepared for decisions that faced me. I have tried to seek guidance from the Lord, but I know I often jump to conclusions or act in haste. I have been guilty of doing the same in my marriage, friendships and other family relationships.
I am human.
I am a work in progress.
Thankfully I have a Father in heaven who forgives me every time; who does not hold grudges or a record of wrongs; who sent His very own, beloved child to die so that my poor choices and decisions would be wiped away and I would not be separated from His love. If He can do that for us, should we not also try and do the same for our friends, siblings, spouses, grandparents, fathers, and our mothers? Forgiveness is not something we earn because we are worthy, for human nature makes us unapologetic and arrogant. Forgiveness is a gift that comes free of appraisal or condition.
About three years after I finally let go of my hurt and anger and truly forgave my mom, she said the words I had been waiting almost 25 years to hear: “I believe you. I’m sorry.” I am convinced God was working on both of our hearts for years leading up to this. After I finally let go of the past and started anew with my mom, she was able to do the same.
Today my mom and I are closer than ever. I lean on her for support and guidance. I value her opinion and I trust that she loves me beyond all measure. Our relationship is not perfect, we do things that frustrate each other and disappoint each other. But I can’t imagine my life without her in it. Fellow daughters, I don’t know what past hurts you are carrying around. I don’t know if your relationship with your mama can be restored, because it takes two people to heal a broken relationship. But I do know that with God’s help you can forgive. You can finally, once and for all, let go of whatever you are carrying around and be free of that burden. You can find healing. And I encourage you to start now, before any more time is lost.
Can I share a prayer with you?
Heavenly Father, the relationship between mamas and daughters is an incredibly special and fragile gift. From the moment we are born there is a bond forged in iron. Yet the very things that make our bond strong can also be our undoing. Father, I know there are so many women who are hurting right now — seeking out forgiveness, repentance, healing and hope. I pray that we daughters can soften our hearts and turn our sights to you so that we may see our mamas through your eyes. I pray that every daughter who is hurting will seek out the help she needs to heal and come to know the freedom of forgiveness. I pray that us mamas, we will lean on you for strength and guidance when we are taken by surprise at how incredibly difficult this mothering job is. May we be patient with our children and gentle with ourselves. And may we show mercy on our own mothers, remembering they once stood in our shoes and, just like us, they did the best they knew how. Amen.
Forgiveness is freedom! And I’m honored to be linking up today with Suzie Eller and friends for #livefreeThursday. Hop over to Suzie’s blog to read more encouraging stories of hope and freedom from women who are joining together to live freely in Christ.