The mother we never had

The mother we never had May 10, 2014


your mother

was caustic,






If she was irresistibly drawn

to making much too clear

that her unhappiness—

her pain,

her dysfunction,

her drama—

was more precious to her

than you could ever be,

so that as a child


had to live your life

frightfully and desperately


for whatever

corrupted version of love

you could squeeze from her,

then this Mother’s Day,

while others

(as you imagine; as we all imagine)

are basking in the warmth

of their exemplary mothers,


close your eyes,

and say a prayer

for two mothers:

the one you never had,

and the one she never had.

And then say a loving prayer

for yourself,

for the child

raised too alone.

And then open your eyes—

and there is the world,

beautiful again.

Uncorrupted again.


fuck ’em.

Fuck ’em all.

Because you are still here,

and you are not done yet.


— John Shore

Originally published on Mother’s Day 2013.

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  • MsFury

    I had a toxic and very dangerous mother – so I made it my mission to become an exemplary mothers. Today is about my son, who is now 16, and about me being the mother I wish I had. Forgiveness can be extremely difficult but it is a gift you give to yourself. : )

  • Christina Scroggins-Shipley

    Thank you for this! My mother was horrid but her mother (my grandma) was awesome… this messsage is so needed!

  • Christina Scroggins-Shipley

    I have two sons as well… I at times overdo the protective mother thing because I never wanted them to hurt or be harmed. I try to be there to listen and be supportive always. Kuddos to you on being a great mom to your son, our boys need awesome examples of positive mothering.

  • wjtaylor

    Thanks John. It’s a confusing day for me as well.

  • Katie Doyle

    John, I do have to say that though you are mostly correct here, sometimes good mothers raise some pretty awful mothers. You have to factor in mental illness and personality traits that can’t be fixed, even with the best of intentions. On the other hand, some pretty awful mothers brings some great one into the world.

  • usingmyvoice

    :::::hands clapping::::: Thank you for remembering the truly-motherless, John! So many of us, despite the childhood presence of a woman we called “Mom”, never experienced unconditional love, protection, or even nurturing from her. And more applause for those of us who determine that “this stops with me” and go on to become truly loving, caring, nurturing mothers anyway. We all do the best we can with what we have, but some of us are miracles… Happy Mother’s Day to ALL the miracle moms out there!

  • Guest

    Thanks John. I find Mother’s Day very difficult, because neither my mother nor stepmother will acknowledge the harm that they did (and continue to do) to my siblings and I. So, I parrot all the appropriate Mother’s Day language and pretend to celebrate a relationship with my mothers that was, in reality, fairly horrifying. I’m working on it, trying to forgive – but, I can’t help how I feel right now.

  • MsFury

    Yup, I hear ya’ – gotta watch that Mamma Bear thing. : )

  • Liadan

    I had a great mom, but this sure works for my dad. And it works for so many of my friends who had less than perfect moms.

  • John Thompson

    I’m thankful to know I’m not the only one to feel this way about mom.

  • Greg Robertson

    This expresses my own experiences, however, because of the F word, I cannot share it with many others, even though they need to hear the message. I wish it was said without the crude language

  • Pavitrasarala

    Thank you so much for re-posting this today. FAIL isn’t a remotely adequate descriptor for my egg donor… to make things double tough, her birthday falls around the same time as Mother’s Day.

    I cut her out of my life years ago; she’s dead to me. The longer time goes by since I made that decision, the fewer regrets I have – about the only lingering one is that I didn’t do it sooner, and that I didn’t realize MUCH sooner that she not only never truly loved me, she was never capable of it.

  • Michelle Par

    And some of us aren’t allowed the choice to become mothers. And, no, pets, hobbies, and being “in the lives of other people’s kids” are not the same thing. It (and the days leading up to it are/) is a hard day.

  • Gary in FL

    I had a relatively happy childhood and still have a good relationship with my mother. But that is a piece of BRILLIANT writing!

  • Anastasia

    Replace Mother with Father and it pretty much sums it up. I’m going to bookmark and come back on Father’s Day.

  • Patricia Anne Brush

    I once went to a conference that misguidedly started with a guided meditation that dwelt on the comfort, safety, and unconditional love that was to be found in our mother’s arms. So many people ran out in serious distress, that I had a serious thought that the conference would not be able to continue.

  • HLee

    Copy it and replace the F word with “forget”?

  • Andrew of MO

    Wow, John! Thanks! That was my mother.

  • Frank McManus

    When I clicked on the link I certainly never expected to read a perfectly flawless description of my own mother. Yet there it is. But my response wasn’t scrounging for love from her; it was pretending, especially to myself, that I didn’t need love.

    Last week I was at a training seminar dealing with child abuse, and the list of things that constitute “serious mental injury” as a form of child abuse described my own experience. It was a bit sobering to realize that what I grew up with is something that professionals in the field would now formally name “child abuse.” (But my childhood is now far in the past and I’ve gotten over that particular mountain in reasonably good shape.)

    Anyhow, thanks, John.

  • Nydia G

    You have no idea how liberating it felt to read this from a Christian source. Thank you

  • Cheyel Lemley-McRoy

    I am nearly 70. I was raised by a paranoid schizophrenic mother in the day before you could talk about such a thing. I always saw myself as essentially motherless. Until my mid 60s in a Biblical Hebrew class I learned the Holy Spirit in Hebrew and Aramaic is female, and didn’t become male until the Catholic Church changed Her gender. I learned that the first century church in Jerusalem had referred to her as Eme Elohim, Mother God, or God the Mother. I realized then that I had had a mother all along. The epiphany I had that day was life changing for me. I was not only able to finally forgive my mother, but see her for the sad, lonely, frightened and confused person she was. My emotional healing was complete.

  • Michael

    The Holy Spirit is female?? That is so cool! That makes so much more sense! How nice to know I have a mother who isn’t a narcissistic psycho.

  • Lynne

    Hi John, it’s me again, the one who wrote you 2 or 3 years ago about my abusive past and a mother (both parents) who turned a blind eye. My parents wanted me to forgive him? Then I wrote again that I finally walked away from a relationship with my parents. I have read this poem over and over. I re-read it many times the first time you posted it too.

    In January I reported my brother. There was an investigation which lead to a warrant request but it was not approved due to the passing of time. In spite of that I found a great deal of peace after I did that and finally found some closure. Still, I’m not sure I would have gotten that far if I had never walked away in the first place.

    I, like many others am not sure what to expect this mother’s day. I’m going to put as much emphasis as I can on being my daughter’s mom and just enjoying her. I am so thankful for this relationship. I do crave a “mom” so much sometimes though.

    Thank you for your writing. I’m looking forward to your next book!

  • God bless you, Lynne.

  • Beautiful, Cheyel. Just beautiful. Thank you.

  • Psycho Gecko

    You had me until the prayer part, though at least you acknowledged around Mother’s Day that some mothers were terrible and not in need of celebrating.