Keeping Mum

Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK and all around us are images of families sharing happy times and celebrating the love of a mother.  In my home life I too will celebrate   four generations of motherhood; my relationship with my own mother, my being a mother and my daughter’s mothering of her son. Spending time with my family as I have this week and watching my grandson flourish in his place in the family line, is a never ending joy.  His unconscious contentment is my victory and my Mother’s Day gift of time spent with him is the deepest pleasure life can bring.

In my working life however, I carry with me the empty spaces of those whose children are not with them today and those for whom those absences are such that their children are now like ghosts in a nursery from long ago.  For those mothers  I send a special wish of love and care and a reminder, from my work with children in recovery from alienation, that if they could be with you they would be. No matter how much time has passed and no matter how much distortion has taken place, no-one can take the place of a mother and that reality, in their deepest heart, will never fade away.

I heard recently from a mother whose children had been alienated from her for seven years. They are now in their mid twenties and all reunited with her.  She told me of their emergence from the alienation and the way in which they had each, individually, struggled to reconnect over a period of several months. I asked her what she felt the challenges were for children in spontaneous reunification and she said this –

The real problem for all my kids was that their father had controlled their thinking and their belief system for such a long time that they had not really been able to develop any sense of individual self. Which meant that they were a sort of gang and they all felt the same way, or thought they did.  It wasn’t until the eldest went off to university and found a girlfriend that something changed. Even then when he reached out to me he was aggressive in how he did it, telling me I had been a useless mother and that he wished he’d had a better one. Had I reacted as I felt I wanted to at that moment (by telling him the absolute truth and defending myself) I think he would have sprung back into the gang and reinforced their collective belief about me.  But I didn’t, I used the empathic responses I had learned and invited him to come and find out whether I was the mother he remembered.  I think his girlfriend may have encouraged him to meet me as she came with him when we did finally meet, but that didn’t matter to me, whether it was because he was doing it for her or for him or something else, the only thing that mattered was that he wanted to meet me.

We met in a cafe in the town where I live now and I felt sick with anxiety beforehand. When we met though it was simply as if the years rolled away and there he was, my little boy.  Bigger now and looking very like his father, but still the same boy with the same floppy hair over his eyes.  When I saw him I stood up and I saw in his face the realisation of how much time had gone by. He hugged me, he actually hugged me and as he did he mumbled in my ear ‘I’m sorry mum, I didn’t mean it’ and it was like he was ten years old again  and sorry for breaking something. In that moment, it suddenly didn’t matter that what he had broken was my heart, I was in my rightful place again as his mother, soothing him and forgiving him as all mothers do with their children. After that it was a matter of months to meeting all my other children, brought one by one by their brother when they were ready.  One day we all met for lunch and after that we went back to my house where they spent hours looking at all the things I had kept for them, including their dog, now old and a bit fragile but still delighted to see them (and they him).

I asked this mother how she had managed in the time that her children had been away and she told me that she had done what she had been told to do, she had gone on with life and lived as best she could. She had spent time with other children and had nurtured friendships. She had remarried and was happy in her marriage and a good step mother to her husband’s children.  All along however, the space in her heart where her children belonged had been naggingly empty and her worries about her children and their wellbeing had never abated. She told me –

The worst thing was the worry and what I suppose is the biological drive to love and care and protect which is thwarted constantly. That feels like a damned up stream which cannot flow and at times it nearly killed me wondering how they were and who was giving them that love and nurture that is mothering.  I kept going though and kept that stream flowing as much as I possibly could, I drew pictures for them and wrote letters that I never sent and I talked about them and I kept myself strong and sane and well and healthy.   When they came back, this meant that I could step right back into those mothering shoes and give them what they had missed out on and it was clear that they had missed out and that they needed that love in their lives again. Now they are with me whenever they want to be, their father isn’t happy about it but they have grown strong enough to withstand his disapproval. We never talk about him other than in passing and I make sure to keep that light and happy and respectful. They seem contented and comfortable with me and I am grateful to have reached this place.

This mother’s journey was a long one, too many others suffer the same long wait. But the mother in us never dies and the need for a mother never leaves alienated children.

For all alienated mothers everywhere, may the space where your children should be, be filled with love today and always.

Until it is time for  you too, to put your mothering shoes back on.


With love x


























9 thoughts on “Keeping Mum”

  1. I too wish all mothers everywhere a happy and peaceful day. I have had two children. One died aged five from a very rare genetic disorder and another (the younger one) was alienated by her father from the age of fifteen. She is now 36 and I know I have no hope of ever seeing her again. It is good to hear of someone who overcame the nightmare and was reunited. Sadly I was so angry I blew. Instead of knowing how to handle my daughter’s hate (yes hate) I finally showed her how angry I was and told her what I thought of what she (and he) had done. I’m sorry it ever came to that but for me, there was and is huge relief in having done so.

    Today the sun is shining like a summer’s day and I shall be going out for a mother’s day meal with my lovely sister, my two beautiful nieces and their five children who range in age from 2 to 17. They have made me so welcome but in spite of my deep anger, there will always be two holes in my heart.

    Thank you for your lovely post Karen. It is good to sometimes hear good news. Happy Mother’s Day to you 🙂


  2. Happy Mothering Sunday, Karen. What a heart-warming story! Your work is so much needed: thank you for sharing it with us. I expect you will have a similar story to share on Fathers’ Day…


  3. What a wonderful heart filling response. I understand perfectly how she feels and will feel after reconnection.
    But all this would be so unnecessary if we follow the protocol judiciary guidelines of legislation which exists in our neighbour EU nation, Italy.
    To all Mums (and Dads)…every day should be a parent day…I wish all the family love which as we know DOES exist between children and all in their family.


    1. I agree with devils advocate. Alienated children Miss out on these traditions / special days but it’s the love and bonding of the everyday, the sense of security of being cared for, wanted respected and valued which is taken from a controlling parent that recruits them into fulfilling a role of co abuser. A role they should never have to play. So many people see it happening : children asked to choose between parents and cut off from capable parents and family and friends, grandparents in a context of overwhelming negativity from one parent. It’s as if this deasease is culturally accepted yet it’s so in necessary and injistified for children. It removes the carefree and freedoms from their childhood when a parent aligns them. Then of course they blame the target parent for defying their control and daring to try to maintain the child’s needs for a mum or dad by the only means available the courts and these targets the real victims second to the child become at fault. It is perverse. The parent trying to be loving and responsible is seen in a bad light. The system could learn hugely from much wider input from Karen Woodall and needs this type of service on a wider scale. For children and families sakes.


  4. What a lovely thing to read today. My husband, who has lost his son, read it and cried. I know his son would be with him if he could. I pray one day he will. Meanwhile I offer up a prayer to my step-son’s mother on Mother’s Day. I pray for her to enjoy the day, and enjoy her son today, for who he is (not what she wants him to be, or for what he represents in her victory over his father); the product of two people who, for a time, shared loving and caring for him. I pray that somewhere she acknowledges the person who gave the gift of being a mother – my husband. I pray for her to find peace, because I fear in the future she may find herself today where my husband finds himself – alone without her child.
    I wish you a wonderful day Karen. I wish a wonderful day for all mothers, whatever the circumstances you find yourself in today.


  5. This story is so close to mine with my four children all in their twenties. However they already have the girlfriends and boyfriends but nothing has changed. It helps to hear about the “gang mentality” and I think that is true. From what I have read and what I have seen, they are a gang. It has been nine years for me now and I have hope everyday. That is all we can have. I write to them every week telling them now much I love them and that I am here for whenever they are ready to come back to me. I never stop loving them.


  6. Thank you Karen, I kiss my daughter goodbye as she goes to have dinner with her daddy and my son! She will return tonight but he won’t, it’s been 4 years!.

    The story made me cry sore and have hope….

    Happy Mothers day to all!

    Frankie x


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