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I debate writing this every year, and every time I’ve considered it, I’ve declined to do so because it feels somehow garish and perhaps disrespectful. I apologize in advance to those who may feel it is, and I hope those who can’t relate to this may understand that so many of us are lacking relation today in more ways than one.
I hate Mother’s Day.
I don't hate its intended purpose. The mothers I know, the ones in my life--all our lives--should be celebrated. We should be talking about the ludicrous labor placed on mothers in this country, the importance of maternal and paternal leave, childcare access, the absurd pressures on women to conform to rigid and impossible standards of parenting, etc.
All these things should be recognized and addressed and, above them all, to emphasize: celebrating mothers — celebrating the labor of being a parent, particularly a mother, in all its myriad, imperfect, and sacrificial ways.
But every year, I am one of many folks forced to reconcile this holiday with my own less-than-wonderful experience. There are a lot of us out there, so many more than you might think, and we have been conditioned to let it go — to pretend, in the midst of so much joy around us, that we’re not feeling deep pain.
Many of us are left bereft of a formative experience, or worse yet, for some, we see it replaced with an abusive one.
My mother was a terrible, abusive human being. Physically and sexually abusive. Neglectful. Manipulative. Toxic. Beyond awful. I have wanted so many times to write about it, and for various reasons, I always get stuck in neutral and leave it unpublished. I don’t have the right words, or maybe, I fear I haven’t seen enough seasons in my life to talk about it justly.
I worry how it might come across. I fear the lack of experience around this may alienate those who follow my writing. I worry it may be too dark.
Those of us with terrible mothers—and terrible parents generally—are forced to exercise restraint, lest we be deemed the turd in the punch bowl on days like today.
It is so difficult to talk about these things because we understand it is so difficult for those with decent parents—or parents at all—to relate. And so, we shut up and hope the pain will go away.
But the pain doesn’t go away. It never will. We get better at managing the pain, interrogating and unlearning it, but it will never be entirely gone — a handful of small pebbles permanently stuck in our soles that we will inevitably feel wherever we walk.
Yesterday, I sat at my computer and tried to write about all this, and again, I hesitated. Maybe, I thought, I've come far enough where I don't need to talk about this. Maybe I can let this day just be for those who have something to celebrate, as they should.
I think most of us do try this time of year. We want other folks to be happy. We feel deep guilt over our own reality and its way of bleeding into the common fabric.
I distracted myself and tried not to think about it. I spent time with friends. I got caught up on work. I wrote a lot of words. Goodness gracious, did I write about anything other than this.
But there is a great gnawing that accompanies this holiday that will never subside. For others, it's Father's Day. For many of us, it’s both. And still, for others, especially those who have experienced profound and devastating losses--of children, of parents, of spouses, of loved ones--it's every holiday.
Mothers who have lost children, children who have lost mothers, women who always wanted to be mothers but never realized that dream for whatever reason, children who always wanted mothers but got anything otherwise. Loss and loss and loss.
We become caught between not wanting the world to have to turn its head to our pain of loss and absence, feeling guilty over own hurt, and yet, wanting every bit of venom laid bare and recognized in its acidity.
We want validation of our experience. We want things taken back and things recovered. We often long for things that never existed and never will. We want love and safety that never arrived or were lost somewhere along the way.
So many of you experienced this pain over the past week and particularly today, and I write all this as much for you as I do for myself. Your pain is seen, and despite that little voice in your head that says otherwise, it is not inconvenient. Not by a mile.
Someday, I’ll be able to write about this more fully. I certainly hope I will. We draw out the venom in different ways, in all directions from the heart, and this is how I do it. I want to break it open and write it. Someday.
I’m wishing a joyful day for mothers and all caregivers.
And I’m wishing peace and joy to those just trying to get through today. You always deserved better.
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Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but it’s also how my bills! So, please do kindly consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Lifetime Member at $250.
Thank you for this. I know the room from where you write this. I know the furniture, the lighting, the closed door, and the sounds of life coming from outside. I know the feeling of having your soul scooped out of you because it doesn’t feel human to know your mother hates you. I know that my salvation, or something that feels like salvation, had to come from other people than from my family. In fact, I had to start all over and choose a family. Thank you for inviting us into your room today. I like it there❤️
Thank you. I had a strained relationship with both of my parents, and ended up in, well, not quite a caregiver position so much as a care manager position. Hard, very hard. I cringe reading all the paeans to mothers each year because I know there are people like me and like you, who by the sounds had it far worse, for whom this day is not one of flowers and pancakes in bed.