As Mother's Day approaches, Christi Braschler grapples with the difficult emotions involved in preserving healthy boundaries and breaking the cycle of past abuse.
Mother's Day used to be a difficult day for me. Not because I don't have a mom: I do, but one who is alive and isn’t in my life.
This is something that is often very difficult to explain to people.
"Oh, you’ll work it out."
"You never know; someday you may be in touch again."
"You should call her anyway—she’s your mom!"
"How do you know she hasn’t changed?"
"You only get one mother and you have to love and accept her the way she is."
While many of these comments are well-intended I think most of them are said because ... what do you say to someone who has chosen to keep a parent out of their life? Especially when those people get along with theirs just fine and can’t relate. Or maybe those people suffered through it because "they’re family."
"Family" are still people who sin.
"Family" wields the power to hurt in deeper ways that others can’t.
And often, they do.
Yes, we forgive and accept. That’s part of the process. But we can forgive and accept from behind boundary lines within our hearts. So many people don’t know the background of the decision or the pain that prompted the decision for a child to separate themselves from a parent.
For those of us who have chosen the more difficult path, it’s a choice we’ve made to enforce a boundary that cannot be crossed anymore. It’s a way we have broken the cycle of pain from our past to avoid that same pain being transferred to our own families. Boundaries are allowed. They’re healthy and we are not called to put ourselves in positions that compromise the family that God entrusted to us to care for properly. We are called to protect them.
You can still love "family" and accept from a distance.
For some of us it’s just how things are.
It took several years to mourn the loss of the parent who is still alive. It took years to know that no matter how much I wanted to reach out, the person I’m reaching for isn’t emotionally capable of being the person I so desperately need her to be.
I would dwell on the close mother-daughter relationships of people around me, and I would internally sulk at a healthy mother-daughter relationship I would never have with my own mom. I would select cards for my mother-in-law with no emotion, selecting something maybe my husband might want to say to her ... all the while understanding that they don’t make cards for people like my mom.
[insert dysfunctional family humor joke here]
What I didn't focus on for a long time was the person my kids call "Mom" or on the mother-daughter relationship I am building with my own children.
Oh, it’s not perfect.
Breaking an abuse cycle is a constant work in progress and will be for the rest of my life. I mess up daily. But working on being healthy and loving them the right way is something I didn’t have growing up and it’s something I can certainly give to them.
It’s never going to be easy to not have my mom in my life, but it’s worth it to see my kids being kids and not being burdened with grown-up situations that came long before their time. It’s a blessing to help them along the road by showing them we all make mistakes, and it’s okay—as long as we accept responsibility and learn from them. As parents, we are learning alongside them. Everyone is teaching each other. Everyone is helping each other.
Isn’t that what families are supposed to do?
My hope is that someday my kids will see that I was helping to guide them around falls where I could, and helping them get back up when I couldn’t. My hope is that by admitting my failings and owning up, because I am human too, they will understand that I am not more than them. I am a more broken version of them that has taped and glued pieces of myself back together so that they can see their mom has cracks, but ones that were made whole again in the hopes they’ll have less broken parts than me.
While it’s true that they are mine, they belonged to God first and He gave them to me to take care of. It’s a big job. It’s an important job. It’s the most important job.
So, this Mother's Day, for all you moms and daughters/sons who have healthy relationships, say a Hail Mary for those of us who have had to make very difficult choices for our own families. We could always use an extra prayer from a Mother in Heaven who loves us more than we can imagine. Who loves us in ways we have always longed to be loved, in ways we hope we can someday replicate, and in ways we didn’t even know was possible. Because it’s that love that will flow from us to our children and give them a life of healthy love that we didn’t have.
As for you moms in the same boat as me, when it gets hard, go find a child to snuggle and thank God for the strength it took to start this path and always remember it's those children that you are doing this for.
If you’re struggling with breaking out of your own childhood cycles, I strongly recommend the book All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family by Erin McCole Cupp. Her book wandered into my Facebook feed one evening when I thought I had it all together. She has opened my eyes and my heart to managing my family in ways I never dreamed I could even do. It’s a wonderful book that will help you know, understand, and have the courage to take those steps you need to heal yourself.
Copyright 2022 Christi Braschler
Images: (top) Canva; (bottom) copyright 2022 Christi Braschler, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Christi Braschler is a wife and mom. She was also a lifelong member of the Catholic In Name Only Club until a few years ago when she realized the Practicing Catholic Club had better t-shirts. When she's not folding ridiculous piles of laundry, or roaming the house in search of single socks, she's writing, learning about her faith one misstep at a time, and probably burning dinner. You can follow more from her on her blog: Francis and Squeak.