Mother's Day for Those with Unloving Mothers

hands holding mothers day card and flowers

Mother's Day for Those with Unloving Mothers

Each Mother’s Day, I wrestle with conflicting emotions. As a mom, I love to celebrate the gift God gave me in my daughter and the special moments we spend together. The cards she writes sweet messages in. Hand-made gifts. Family dinners filled with laughter as we reflect upon previous years. But as a daughter who has lived most of her life disconnected from her mom, this annual tradition feels confusing and hard. I’ve spent hours standing in the greeting card aisle, searching for that perfect card. One that feels honest, authentic, and honoring.

To avoid inflicting pain, I felt I had to send something. But all those nostalgic poems commemorating memories and heart-felt impact didn’t feel true. And so, I’d select something funny and light, add a blessing for a special, sun-filled day, and send it off, grieving the relationship I’ve never had and likely never would.

Working with women across the globe, listening to their struggles, stories, and hurts, I’ve come to realize I’m not alone. Many people are hurting deeply and feeling conflicted regarding how to respond in love, grace, and truth. This can be even more confusing for those connected with a faith community where reconciliation, restoration, and sacrificial love is emphasized. But love doesn’t mean ignoring or accepting sin, poor behavior, and dysfunction. Love and truth must always coexist. The challenge, then, is finding where love and truth intersect and how to experience personal healing in the process.

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1. We begin with truth.

For a long time, I felt such anger toward my mom, largely because I wanted something I now know she’s incapable of giving—true relationship. This realization allowed me to evaluate my emotions and behavior. My failure to accept my mom for who she truly was, in short, to accept reality, had caused much of my inner turmoil.

I couldn’t force her to love or engage with me, no matter how hard I tried. I had zero control regarding how she responded. I did, however have full control over myself. I could choose to heal and develop healthier relationship patterns or remain stuck in our dysfunction. Through prayer, I realized I needed to give myself time to process and discern how God wanted me to respond. I also stopped taking ownership for her actions and reactions. In other words, her rejection wasn’t because I was a bad person or lacked worth. She simply wasn’t capable of loving me well.

Initially, I found this perplexing. Scripture told me to seek peace and said I’d been given the ministry of reconciliation. Didn’t that mean all my relationships should be strong?

In a perfect world, perhaps. But our world is broken and tainted by sin. There are those who actively choose to rebel against God’s ways. If people refuse our Savior’s reconciliation attempts, we can assume some will refuse ours as well. Our greatest and purest efforts might come to naught. God reminded me of this truth by pointing me to Romans 12:18, which says, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

“If it is possible,” because reconciliation and peace isn’t always possible. “As far as it depends on you,” because relational health doesn’t depend solely on us. We’re responsible for our part, and our part alone.

I also realized that God would provide for my emotional needs. He showed me this in such a powerful way about seven years ago. After pursuing a publishing career for nearly a decade, I’d finally landed a contract and was celebrating the release of my first book. This felt like a monumental moment, similar to a college graduation. But my mom appeared to have zero interest, not just in the new release, but really, in my life. Her silence during such a special time, and countless other similar situations, proved this. While on a prayer walk, I poured my heart out to God, stating, “I don’t have a family.” Almost instantly, my phone lit up with congratulatory texts from older women in my church, and I sensed God saying to me, “You do have family. I’ve given you many mothers.”

Photo Credit: © SWN

woman praying prayer sad tears crying upset mourning

2. We give ourselves permission to grieve.

Many times, we need to feel in order to heal. We need to recognize, name, and experience the grief that came with not having the mother our hearts craved. In many ways, we’re mourning a death—the death of a childhood dream, of parent-child expectations, and of all those moments we’d never experience.

According to Sarah Flynn, a registered counselor with Synergia Counseling and Consulting, “Grief is a necessary and restorative process that permits a person to bring new life and a renewed sense of hope to childhood hardship and deprivation. Looked at in this way, grief allows us to cleanse ourselves of hurt and loss and continue to grow and expand our sense of ourselves.” She suggests our failure to grieve well “can be more emotionally devastating than the loss itself.”

As we turn to God in the middle of our pain and seek His guidance, He’ll reveal deep wounds we’ve long suppressed. Not to hurt us, but to heal us. I’ve found such freedom in regularly praying Psalm 139:23-24, which states, Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (NIV).

Using that passage as a prayer prompt, I might say, “Search me, God. Uncover those hidden hurts, those lies that have taken root deep within me. You know my every thought, including those that hold me in bondage. Remove every offensive, non-life-giving thing within me and lead me toward Your perfect, joy-filled ways.”

3. View the situation through the lens of grace.

I experienced the greatest healing once I began viewing my mother and her behavior with grace. I realized she never intended to hurt me. I knew some of the hurts and abandonment she herself had suffered. I came to realize that much of her behavior stemmed from the brokenness she had experienced. While this newfound understanding didn’t justify her actions, it did stir empathy within me. And gratitude that God was bringing me to a place of increased wholeness, not because I deserved it but simply because He was loving and good.

I imagine I’ll always feel a tinge of sadness when Mother’s Day comes. We all long for our moms, after all. But I now know the power and comfort that comes when we invite God into our wounded places and follow His lead toward increased freedom. He gives us His truth-filled perspective of the situation and our moms, helps us to grieve well, and to view our entire lives—our shortcomings and the shortcomings of others, through the understanding of grace.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.

As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event  and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE  and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.