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