Mother’s Day Thoughts

I am exhausted after a whirlwind emotional trip to drop my youngest off at college. The nest is officially empty and I run a gamut of emotional over that realization. Mother’s day is next week my first with all the kids “gone”.

Last month I met a brilliant woman, A librarian by profession and talented in a plethora of ways yet she has not had the experience of being a mother … nor did she have a particularly nurturing mother herself. She shared with me the “other” side of Mother’s Day in a talk she did for her church. The talk opened doors that people might prefer left shut. But in a very visceral way I came to understand the pain many women experience.  Take a read it is well worth your time.

(reprinted here with her permission)

In Anticipation of Mother’s Day


A daughter’s journey towards a peace with Mother’s Day.


byJill Ellern


Presented to Boone Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on May 6, 2012 and Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Franklin, NC on May 8, 2011


First, I want to do a reading from the children’s book, Are you my mother? By P.D Eastman

Also available from on YouTube at:


A mother bird sat on her egg.

The egg jumped.

“Oh oh!” said the mother bird.  “My baby will be here! Hewill want to eat”

“I must get something for my baby bird to eat!” she said “I will be back”

So away she went.

The egg jumped.  It jumped and jumped and jumped, and jumped!Out came the baby bird.

“Where is my mother?”he said.

He looked for her.

He looked up.  He did not see her.

He looked down he did not see her.

“I will go and look for her,” he said.

So away he went.

Down, out of the tree he went.

Down, down, down! It was a long way down.

The baby bird could not fly.

He could not fly, bu the could walk.  “Now I will go and find my mother,” He said.

He didn’t know what his mother looked like.  He went right by her.  He did not see her.

He came to  a kitten.  “Are you my mother?” He said to the kitten.

The kitten just looked and looked.  It did not say a thing.

The kitten was not his mother, so he went on.

Then he came to a hen.  “Are you my mother?” he said to the hen.  “No,” said the hen.

The kitten was not his mother.  The hen was not his mother.  So the baby bird went on.

I have to find my mother!” he said.  “But where? Where is she? Where could she be?”

Then he came to  a dog.  “Are you my mother?” he said to th edog.

“I am not your mother.  I am a dog,” said the dog.

The kitten was not his mother.  The hen was not his mother.  The dog was not his mother.  So the baby bird when on.  Now he came to a cow.

“Are you my mother?” he said to the cow.

“How could I be your mother” said the cow.  “I am a cow.”

The kitten and the hen were not his mother.  The dog and the cow were not his mother.  Did he have amother?

I did have a mother,”said the baby bird.  “I know I did.  …


Let us stop the story here.


What do you think might happen to this baby bird?  Take a moment and let yourself imagine his future and his journey to find his mother.   And what about the mother bird in this story?  What about her journey in the story?  Take a moment to imagine her future? Are you a happy ending kind of person or a tragedy ending kind of person?


I think it’s a good possibility that your personal experiences as a child or as a mother will have colored what you might imagined what happened to this baby bird and his mother and about how their stories could end.


Today, I want to share the journey of discovery I took to find, to talk and share some of those other visions and stores of children, mothers and motherhood that we don’t often think about.   I think it would be a good topic for us all to ponder because I have found that there is sizable minority of us with negative experiences with motherhood. Mother’s Day for those like me, is a day of contradictions, of turmoil,and of anticipated sadness amidst the reverie and festivities of others.


My adventures actually began during my visit to a friend’s church three years ago.  My friends had invited me to their church after they had attending mine.  I had thought it was only fair that I go but I hadn’t realized that it was Mother’s Day until after I had agreed. Friends are wonderful.  I had seriously considered staying home that day anyways. However, after much internal debate, I decided that I really wanted hear the speaker regardless of his Mother’s Day topic and to go that afternoon to my friends’ church.


What I got was instead of one dose of Mother’s Day, was a double dose of Mother’s Day. But what inspired my writing was what happened at my friend’s church in Clayton,GA.  Amidst the praising and crying and room filled with love for mothers, (and it really was all that) a woman bravely stood up and said, “Please be mindful, that not everyone had a good mother.  For some, this is not a happy day because some of us truly had bad mothers.”


Wow, I thought, what courage to bring this up on such a day in such a venue.  My next thought was “hey, I was not the only one” … I was impressed because here was the first person I’d ever heard in a public setting to voice what I had been feeling for a long time.


And I began to wonder just how many others are feeling the same way and who they are and what their stories are. It immediately occurred to me that this would be a good topic to bring back to my own fellowship for thought and discussion. So that’s what I did, I gave this talk. Afterwards, it was recommended that I share it with others, and that’s why I did it again for the church group in Boone North Carolina.  Since then I have read it to many individuals and I was asked to provide it as a blog or publication.


In the process of writing this original talk, I thought and wrote about this topic; about the reasons why someone would not want to celebrate Mother’s Day and about my own experiences with my mother. Ihave asking many others what they think about the topic and I’ve gotten lots of answers and advice.


You probably don’t know just how many folks like me secretly dislike, dread, and even hate this day.  No one really wants to talk about it much.  We are embarrassed, sad, mad,envious and hurt.  Most of us will most likely stay home quietly next Sunday or if we have to attend any event on the subject, we will have tears in our hearts as we listen to the stories oft hanks, ideal mothers and mother love.


We are those persons we mention each week after the sharing part of my UU service when we mention thoughts “for the joys and concerns that although unshared, are in our minds and hearts”. No one really wants to talk aloud about what we are feeling on this day and we don’t really want to ruin the day for others.  And thatis why I presented it in the churches the week before Mother’s Day, and why I present it to you in this publication this same week.


Today I would like to share some of what is in mymind and heart and what I have discovered over that year of discovery as I wrote this talk. —


I have found that there are several groups of folks who will be suffering some pain on Mother’s Day.  These include:


•those that had no mothers,

•those that have lost child,

•those that given up or had a child taken from them

•those that can’t have children and finally

•those with bad mothers


I have known women from all these categories and I’m sure you have as well although you might not know it.  There is no equivalent day for us.   But on this week before Mother’s Day, I think it’s a good time to talk and reflect on them.  Let me first talk about the categories I’m not in and then reflect upon my own situation.

About motherhood after the loss of a child or being denied motherhood


It doesn’t matter if this loss is through death or having them taken away, my observation is that the level of pain is the same.  I have known women that have lost children to legal action that removed them from home.  I have held mothers that have miscarried and those that have tried and failed to conceive. I have seen the tears of mothers who have lost their children through disease or accident.


I have listened to them when they have cried for their loss; heard her prayed at every sanctuary they passed for their safe return; wondering what the future might have held if that tragedy or event  had not happened.  It is heartbreaking.  Mother’s Day for these mothers or would-be mothers is just a reminder of what they have lost or future they could never experience.


About having no birth mother


Do you know anyone that’s been adopted and doesn’t know who their birth mother is? There are mother’s that for some reason (oftentimes good ones), have given up their children to adoption.  Over 125,000 children are adopted each year.It’s a pretty good bet you have known someone in this category.


I have known several folks who were adopted.  Most of them don’t know who their birth mother is.  But there is something primal in a connection to your birth mother. Even if you were raised in love, even if you had a good adopted mother,a great adopted family, there is an ache in your heart for that biologica lmother you don’t know, don’t have and wish you did.


Also in this category are those that lost their mothers too early in their life so that they never really knew their mother.  The child within them cries for this mother all of their life.  Mother’s Day for these children is just a reminder of the mother they have lost.


About having a bad mother


I don’t want to woman-bashing here. I’m not talking about a bad day, a bad experience, or a bad event with your mother. I’m talking about the realization and undeniable truth that you had a bad mother. I’m talking about having experienced mental, sexual, or physical abuse or neglect. My own mother fits into the category.


Being a librarian, when I began working on this talk, I started by trying to do research on the topic for other’s thoughts on  this subject of having a bad mother.  I tried to do a Google search on it and found that I had a very hard time finding an appropriate term to search on. I think that I couldn’t find good search term for this concept because our society doesn’t really think about this as a possibility.  We have a group denial and delusion about it.

And this is true despite the number of abuse cases,the untreated or under-treated mental illness, the incidence of addiction and failure to have effective drug treatments to fix it … the list goes on and on…I’m not saying that having a bad mother causes these things, but if you have these afflictions, just how can that not affect your mothering.  We want to believe, we need to believe, that everyone grew up with a good mother, an ideal mother and that every woman can be a good mother.  We want to believe that every woman has an automatic capacity to just know how to be a good mother. No education needed, no broken places fixed, no good role models needed, a woman that has given birth just knows how to be a good parent. Ou rsociety, our culture thinks that motherhood is an instinctive action.


I do not believe this is true.


Mother’s Day for me is about being silent amidst the joy and celebration of others. I’ve experienced this denial personally both in myself and to me by others. I have had people tell me that my experience can’tbe as bad as I think or remember. That every mother had something you should celebrate on this day.


And while that might be true to some extent, denial of the bad is not a good practice for the healthy.  Among other things, I have been told that it can’t be true, or that I must forgive her.  Well, too much of this, the social stigma, the silence of not sharing because it is so painful or socially unacceptable and you begin to doubt your own experience or thinking you were the real problem and that you were a bad daughter.  I have had my relatives tell me that they didn’t want me around for the holidays because I might be thinking bad thoughts about her.  They did not feel that same way about the betrayal, the hurt and the suffering that my mother allowed to happen to us.


But I know what it is like not to be loved as a daughter but instead to feel that you were a burden, an obligation, a rival for the affections of men, and just a student that she had the obligation to teach about the hardness of the world through direct experience. It is not a good place to be.  Like those other catalogues of people I’ve already mentioned, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of what you don’t have but that other do.


But it does get better —-and healing does slowly happen.  But I’m not talking about forgiveness… I’m talking about the healing power of sharing our stories.


Mothers that have given up their children for adoption, mothers that have lost their children traumatically, those that have suffered from flawed mothers or no mothers. We all have painful stories to share. But I think that it is that sharing, the finding of trusted friends and activities that validate our feelings of lose and hurt. It’s about breaking the silence and finding the courage to stand up, open up and talk about what has happened to us despite the social stigma. That is all part of the working towards a peace with Mother’s Day.


I had the opportunity, to read the diary that m ymother kept during some of the crazy parts of my childhood.  It confirmed what I already knew, that it was really as bad as I remember it. And that she was very badly damaged from her own childhood experiences, filled with self-loathing and that she didn’t understand the depth of the pain she caused her children.


I have been asked many times why I have survived the experience so well; I have even asked myself this as I read my mother’s own words about what was going on around me during that time.  Beside genetics, I can only attribute it to blind luck, hard headedness and the love of reading.


What is it about the love of reading and the healing power of a story?


In fact, it was when I was a preteen or teen that I read a story that has kept with me over the years and helped me though. I don’t remember the title or what else it was about. What I do remember is that somewhere in the first chapter or so that the author was imagining a conversation that she wished had happened between her and her mother. In the scene, she saw herself about the same age I was at the time I read it. In this imaginary conversation, her mother sat her down and said to her, “I am flawed;I cannot be the ideal mother you wish or deserve. I will disappoint you, as I was disappointed by my mother. You will need to find other mothers, other women that can fulfill the gaps and needs in you that I cannot.”


I think that story was one of the reasons I have survived my childhood as well as I have. That story helped me to seek and see the mothers in the women around me as I grew up. And I found them everywhere. Perhaps in my own way, I was asking the same question as our baby bird in the reading..  “Are you my mother?”And these women, these mothers of my heart, have been there to teach, scold,encourage, inspire, cry to and love.


And so now that you have read this talk and after you have time to think about it, I hope that like the woman in the church in Clayton,I can inspire you to be mindful on this Mother’s Day.  To remember that for a whole story of Mother’s Day, you should seek out not just the good parts with your celebrations and the festivities.  That as you listen to the thank yous, the stories, the singing, and the general love of all things motherly, that you also listen and notice the folks that have not shared.  For somewhere in amidst the merriment may be a few quiet or absent people with other thoughts on their minds this day.  Ask them and be supportive of those stories of their mothers. And if you, like me, are usually silent or missing on this day, that youfind a way to share a little part of your story, because you never know when it might help the healing of yourself or others.

Thank you for reading this.


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