When Mother's Day feels more like a lamentation than a celebration

(Photo: Unsplash/Kristina Tripkovic)

A long time ago I wrote a blog, under a pseudonym, entitled "What do you do when your mum screams at you 'I wish I'd never adopted you'?"

My mum did, and it's a phrase I often recall around Mother's Day, along with many other shouted words, frightening incidents, gaslighting and punishing silences. All those things done and said that have hurt deeply from childhood to adult life.

I know I'm not alone in this. For many, Mother's Day brings mixed emotions that are difficult to express.

We are grieving for what should have been. For those moments of tenderness to look back on. For keepsakes that remind us of happy family moments and for those funny memories that enter family lore to be repeated at every family gathering. For the remembered feeling of safety when we look back on family photos.

If that's you, I hear you.

When my brother and I talk about family memories, especially about mum, they are rarely happy. We feel like 'brothers in arms' who have survived the maelstrom of war and come out the other side still intact ... just.

Some of those reading will know my family and now be gasping in horror at what I'm saying. Please believe me. I've spent a life time of people's concerns not being taken seriously. At this point in my life, I need to be believed.

And in the same way, if another other person expresses this to you over the time of Mother's Day (or any other time), believe them. Don't try to explain it away, don't try to fix it. Sit with them in their grief. Understand the value of being believed.

Don't insist they forgive instantly or tell them to get in contact with abusive family to 'fix things'. It won't fix anything, and it could be very dangerous.

I can put my mother's behaviour down to poor mental health (and a church that believed that Christians don't or shouldn't have mental health problems). I can explain it away by seeing the clear threads of reactive attachment disorder after a difficult childhood too.

But it doesn't stop the hurt of many years of behaviours that belittled me, made me fearful of everything, made me think I needed to attain her goals to be acceptable, and many more things that broke my heart and my soul.

I'm not writing this for sympathy, but to help and give courage to others who have gone through similar experiences and struggle with Mother's Day too.

I find now that I can forgive. But that's my story – not everyone will be at that point.

It's a daily thing, but to quote Neil Anderson in his Freedom in Christ material: it's not letting mum off the hook, it's taking her of my hook and putting her on God's. It's freeing and has given space for ongoing healing.

I found this forgiveness years before she died, but that didn't stop those feelings of terror, fear and hate rising at various points with flashbacks and similar experiences – this sort of trauma causes PTSD. It's normal. God understands it, and it often feels as if He's holding me and whispering "I know, I know..."

It was the same as we cleared her house. The diaries that catalogued why I was a bad daughter, the cupboard under the stairs I was locked in as a punishment for things like forgetting to clean my teeth.

I'm human. I have to remember to forgive and not allow those triggers to permanently kick me back to square one. My personality makes it something I can do – I'm not saying it's easy, that would minimise the struggle for others, but with God's help I get there.

One by one and as they arise, those old hurts, the triggers and the fears are given to God to hold so I can move on.

God has been with me through it all, loving me, but not to blame for 'allowing it'. He has been the one who has given stability and brought me through it.

My mum was also a woman of faith. A strong faith that she often weaponised, but still faith. I know God forgives too, and I know she will be in heaven. I'm looking forward to seeing her as the person God made her to be instead of the one the world shaped her to be.

God is a God of redemption, and I've given Him space to redeem this mess too. He has. I believe that it is shown loudly and brightly in my life. For all the pain and the difficulty, there is beauty.

Isaiah spoke the following words to a nation, but I take comfort from them. If you like me often struggle with Mother's Day, I pray they bring hope to you too:

"I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes. I will anoint them with olive oil to give them joy instead of sorrow. I will give them a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness." (Isaiah 61:3)

Kay Morgan-Gurr is Chair of Children Matter and Co-Founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, part of the Evangelical Alliance Council. For more, www.kaymorgangurr.com and on Twitter @kaymorgan_gurr