The Pain of Mother’s Day

I’m sure that we all experience holidays that depress instead of uplift. For me, that holiday is Mother’s Day and the days preceding it. It’s not a holiday like Christmas or Easter that people decorate for, but it’s still difficult to get away from. Both social and more traditional forms of media share anecdotes and stories about it, and you can’t go shopping without a reminder of it. For me, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of a past better left forgotten.

My parents got divorced when I was in the first grade. Unlike most children of divorce, my father received nearly full custody. My Mother wasn’t necessarily abusive or anything, but she was an alcoholic, and certainly not cut out for raising two small children (I have a younger brother). My father wasn’t really cut out for it either, not because he couldn’t handle it, but because he worked nearly twelve hours a day. He’d get my brother and I up and showered in the morning, drop us off at the babysitter’s a couple of hours before school, and then pick us up a little bit past dinnertime. We were the first children there in the morning, and almost always the last to leave.

Within a year or two of my parents divorce my Mother moved back to live with her Mom in North Carolina. I lived in East Peoria Illinois at the time, but it might as well have been the moon. My brother and I went three years without seeing her after she moved. I had a parent leave me, and all these decades later I still can’t put the pain into words. There were a few letters, and there were Christmas presents the first year, but after that point it began to trail off. Christmas presents the second year were replaced with “I sent them . . .” and of course they never showed up. I remember the tears and excitement every time the UPS Truck would rumble down our street. Perhaps this time there would be those things my Mom promised me . . . . it never happened.

I don’t want to make it sound as if my elementary school years were completely awful. Yes, I remember crying in class several times for no reason other than “I missed my Mom,” but there were a lot of happy memories. My Grandparents were amazing people, and my brother and I often spent the summers with them. They were a constant source of love, positivity, and encouragement. I can still remember drifting off to sleep during those hot Midwestern summers, cicadas and crickets chirping outside the window, lightning bugs flashing through the sky. On those nights I slept in complete contentment.

My Father was (and remains) a rock. I did not do well on one side of the parenting pool, but I struck gold with the other. My Dad was my brother and I’s best friend, along with being a mother and a father. Even while working 60 to 80 hours a week he somehow still found time to coach soccer teams, go to school things, and do whatever else needed to be done. If I turn out to be half the man my Father is I’ll have done pretty well in this life.

After the first few years of estrangement from my Mother, my family moved across the country to rural Virginia, near the Tennesse/North Carolina/West Virginia border. That meant my Mom was only a few hours away, and she did bother to visit my brother and I a small handful of occasions. We were never allowed to leave the house with her, it was all just a few small reunions in our living room. It was nice, but all it really did was set my brother and I up for my disappointment. The last time I saw my mother was in Sixth Grade, the last time I talked to her was in Seventh. It’s now been about thirty years, and counting.

When the door closed on my Mother being a part of my life, the spectre of her continued to be a presence in our lives. I remember one gut-wrenching night on a church retreat after we had all been given letters from our parents to read. We were told to fan out and read the letters alone so that we might have some privacy while dealing with whatever emotions they dredged up. I went to look for my brother when he didn’t show up with everyone else a half hour or so later. I found him in a hidden little spot, a picture of our birth mother in his hands, and he was just a torrent of tears, crying over the letter we would both never receive. The memory of her leaving the two of us does not hurt me as much as the memory of what she reduced my brother to. All these years later its near impossible to write about.

My senior year of high school my Grandparents told me about a phone call they received from my Mother on Christmas Day of that year. At that point it had been almost six years since we had heard from her. She didn’t want to talk to my brother or I (and didn’t bother to get our new phone number) but she did ask about us. Her image of us must have been stuck in elementary school as she referred to my sixteen year old brother Chuck as “Chuckie.”

My father remarried a few years after his first divorce. To say that my step-mother and I didn’t get along would be putting it mildly. As an adult I completely recognize the impossible situation she and my father were in. They each had two boys, and complete integration of the six of us into a fully functioning healthy family unit probably wasn’t possible. I still love the two brothers I inherited from that situation, so it’s not like the experience was a total loss.

I do remember the last time I tried to celebrate Mother’s Day, and that was with my (then) Step-Mom. My father was out of town, and as the oldest (and the only employed sibling) I stepped up to try and do something for the day. I bought a cake, a card we all signed, and even a present from “all of us.” All I wanted out of it was a thank you, instead I got yelled at for no reason I could figure out. I stopped trying after that.

I still think about her now and again, and when I get wistful I play a lot of late 1970′s pop music. I have few memories of my Mother, but I do remember listening to the radio with her while we drove around in her giant blue Dodge. It’s not much, but sometimes you’ll look for and find the tiniest little thing to hold onto.

It wasn’t until I found the Goddess and converted to Paganism that I was able to have anything approaching a real relationship with a member of the opposite sex. The Lady has been a better “Mother” than the one I was born to. For those of you celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend I hope you treat your Mom like the blessing she is, and realize just how lucky you are.

Endings and Beginnings
Paganism: A Tribe or Tribes?
How the Claim of Being Old Saved Modern Paganism
Finding the Common Ground at PantheaCon
About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Christine Kraemer

    > The Lady has been a better “Mother” than the one I was born to.

    I have definitely found that relationships with mother Goddesses can help many people to begin healing from unhappy or nonexistent relationships with their own mothers. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Kauko

    I’ve also had a very bitter relationship with Mother’s Day; in my case, it’s because she died when I was 7 years old. I’ve only been able to acknowledge Mother’s Day again in recent years since I began formally honoring my ancestors, and she is central to my ancestor work.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I don’t get the American ‘Mothers Day’.

    Over here, we have ‘Mothering Sunday’ which, being on the 4th Sunday of Lent, is basically a Christian festival.

    • JasonMankey

      We have a lot of cards and flowers to sell, that’s why we do it.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I did look it up (well, wiki) and, apparently, it isn’t one created by the cardmakers. In fact, my source tells me that the lady that originated the idea (Anna Jarvis) “… was already disappointed with its commercialization by the 1920s.”

  • Bianca Bradley

    Hugs from someone you don’t know.

  • Catlover

    Beautiful, Jason, as always.

  • Aline O’Brien

    I’m sorry for your mother’s neglect and for the pain her absence in your lives has caused you and your brother.

    I would like to say a few words for birth mothers. We birth mothers — and believe me the world was a much different place for unwed mothers 50 years ago! — can have reasons that are not apparent to our children for not being in their lives.

    Obviously I cannot speak for your mother. I am not trying to defend her. What I am mentioning is that there are often other aspects to one’s personal history that the child or children of a mother may not be privy to. None of which diminishes the harm done to you and your brother.

    P.S. Please give some attention to using the proper cases of pronouns.


    • JasonMankey

      I mention in the article that my mother was an alcoholic. Her actions in regards to my brother and I are most certainly a reflection of that. When I write about her I tend to do so through a much younger set of eyes, I can’t help but see her as I did as a broken hearted eight year old.

      I wanted to write this piece with any reference to my parents in upper-case (to me, “Mom” Is a name) and all generic references to mothers and fathers in lower case. When I got done with this I realized I had screwed that up, but I just didn’t want to edit the thing. I didn’t want to spend any more time with it and the emotions it was dredging up. Perhaps a lazy (and unprofessional) decision, but I decided my wife didn’t need a moodier than usual husband.

  • Robyn

    Your story moved me to tears (and my first post here.) I’m so sorry for what you went through. I
    feel your pain, as much as one person can feel the pain of another.
    Mother’s Day is a horror for me as well. It’s a long story, but my
    daughter abandoned me in much the same way your mother did you, and my
    Mom died in 1995. Every time I see a commercial or hear somebody going
    on about special dinners, candy and flowers, it cuts like a knife. You are not alone.

  • Kitty Allred-Hodgin

    My mother is a bipolar manic depressive with schizoid tendencies who hated me because she was 14 when she had me. Prozac made her worse. As a child, she would find creative ways to “torture” me (taping me to a chair, taping my eyes open and making me watch Faces of Death when I was 8, for ex) besides the emotional & physical abuse as well. So, when I was married and had 4 biological kids and adopted 1, she told me I was dead to her. I knew I needed to do something to put the pain behind me. I went through “Death of An Ego” with a Kali Ma Priestess. I could finally set the pain aside but still have the memories to learn from. I am best friends with all 5 of my kids (now 22-9 yrs old) in their own unique way. I may not have a mother to send a gift to, but being a mother has given my life purpose. And sharing my story gives other people courage to separate from their abusers. So, trust me, I feel your pain. Even with the divorced parents and step parents, too. I have to say one thing still bothers me, though: If she wants to hate me, fine. I’ve accepted that. But why my children? She loves my brother and sister and her child. I didn’t ask to be born. She shouldn’t blame my kids who want a Grandma because she says I ruined her life, something she did all by herself.

  • Jeanne Anne Decosta

    wow Jason .. your experience was much like my own .. cept it was my dad who left rather than my mom .. i have 2 younger brothers & after the 2nd of them was born he just up & left .. left his tools his guns his books his clothes & everything .. just left my mom w/ 2 baby boys & a ltl girl to care for .. so mom had to work & much of the responsibility for raising my brothers fell on me .. if they got rowdy & loud it was ME mom yelled at .. for ‘letting’ them .. but my mom was & still is awesome & it wasnt her fault she was tired & stressed & needed me to ride herd on those guys .. my brothers dont remember our dad but i do .. when i was ltl dad would send yule & bd cards & call very occasionally but that petered out til i never heard from him anymore .. i guess hes still alive cuz mom knows how to contact him & if he died im sure she woulduv heard about it & let me know