When Mother’s Day Hurts

Abraham Lincoln, the United State’s 16th president, is quoted as saying, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

Well, great for him. He was blessed. But many of us can’t tie his sentiment to our own moms.

On this Mother’s Day, I hope you are celebrating that your mom is a positive influence in your life; an advocate that you can trust with your thoughts, difficulties, and even secrets. But if this Hallmark holiday fills you with dread, I understand.

What does God tell us to do with our hurt and anger at not having the respectful and loving relationship that every child should be able to count on having with their parents?

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For 50+ years, Josh McDowell Ministry has been leading seekers into a deeper knowledge of God’s truth and power. We offer you our accumulated knowledge and research to help you find truth and encouragement to live a healthy and whole life in Christ.

Acknowledge the Pain

On Pinterest I noted a graphic that stabbed my heart: “Mom, I’m sorry I’m a disappointment to you. I’m sorry that I couldn’t make you prouder of me.”

Ugh. The finality of that statement hurts. But it is flat out wrong — and unhealthy — for us to make the mental jump that if we disappoint someone because of something we do (or don’t do), that we are defective people. Screw-ups. Worthless. Failures. And that we deserve to be treated as such.

If you have accepted that any negative labels pinned on you by your mom define you, you need to back up the shame bus. And every time it circles back and invites you to get back on, you need to shout, “NOT MY RIDE!”

If you want to change how you feel, you have to change your thoughts. You must choose to think on what is true about you. What God says is true. No person on this planet has the authority to assign your value. Not your friends. Not your teachers. Not your pastor. Not your boss. Not your parents. Not even YOU.

God declared you precious and worthy and beloved the second He breathed life into you. Only God’s opinion of us matters. Don’t “own” another person’s assessment of you. Don’t let it define how you show up in life. I *know* this is SUPER hard not to do as a child, but if you’re a teen or adult, it’s time to start valuing yourself. God gave you personality quirks and talents that others might not appreciate to be used for His glory. Even if all you can see are your mistakes and bad choices and failings. Even if all you can feel is shame.

As Christine Caine, international Bible teacher, author, and anti-human trafficking activist (who herself has overcome a childhood of sexual abuse and shame), says, “The Enemy will always try to shame you in the area that God wants to use you somewhere in your future.” Truth? I think so. The aspects of my personality that my mother shamed me for I am definitely now using as a writer and author for His glory.

Accept God’s Assessment

Our society asserts otherwise, but here’s the truth: we don’t have to earn the love of others. We don’t have to do or say what others want to be “acceptable.” We don’t have to think like others to be “good enough.” We don’t have to hold the same values (and prejudices) they hold to be considered “intelligent.”

Yes, we want to be our best selves — but other people don’t get to determine what our “best” is. Only God. And He is so gracious toward us that He doesn’t expect — or demand — that we be perfect.

Christian speaker and author Joyce Meyer has repeatedly shared that she entered adulthood carrying a heavy load of shame — and HUGE chips on both shoulders. Sexually abused by her father for years (her mother knew and ignored it), Joyce saw herself as damaged goods with little value. When Joyce heard that God views her as having immense value, she smirked. What? And He unconditionally loved her, too? “Rigggggghhhhht.”

But one day Joyce used bright lipstick to scrawl “God loves me” on her bathroom mirror. She read the words for days, just rolling her eyes. She said the words aloud, and not a single syllable sounded true. But slowly, over time, God used that inked message of love to jolt Joyce’s heart alive. One day she uttered those three words — and realized she meant them. Because their truth sank into her soul and stuck.

Healthy Actions To Start

Be reminded that the Maker of the sun and moon and the Milky Way didn’t create you to live small, under the weight of trying to please others. He made you to live large to echo the beauty of His glory. If your relationship with your mother is difficult right now, here are some healthy first steps:

Let go of your desire to have a close relationship with your mom.

Is this easy? No. Because we want our mothers to like and love us. But we can waste years (and decades!) chasing after this approval, if we don’t release our expectation. In this article, a family relationship coach writes that when she began to stop seeking the acceptance, approval, kindness, and love that her mother could never give her, her wounds began to heal as her frustration and disappointment faded. I can say the same.

With space, we can more clearly see where the negative messages projected onto us by our mothers aren’t really about us, but them. We don’t know all the factors and experiences that shaped our parents.

I remember asking, as a child and teen, “Why is she so mean to me?” I now understand that my mom had unhealed childhood wounds of her own, which surfaced in her frustration at finding herself a parent. As the saying goes, “Hurting people hurt people.”

Offer grace, even if you don’t feel your mom deserves it.

It’s true that forgiveness is more for ourselves than it is for the other person(s). Forgiveness gives us freedom. This mantra helped me as I worked on forgiving my mom: “She did the best she could.” Meaning she did the best she was capable of at the time.

The hard truth: we can’t expect people to give us what us they don’t have. And we can recognize that holding onto our hurt and anger wastes our time and keeps us stuck.

If we can, instead, offer grace, our focus changes from judgment to acceptance. And we begin to judge ourselves less, too. Ah, yes, the ugly cycle of our own self-judgment. Yet another reason for us to learn to forgive as early as we can. Again, forgiveness doesn’t mean we’re okay with what’s happened. It just means that we’re not going to let it get in the way of our having a healthy and productive future.

Own your own junk.

If your own words and actions are fueling a difficult relationship with your mom, only you can stop them.

You have to commit to bringing your best self — again, at your current capability — if you want to ask your mom to bring hers. If ugly, disrespectful communication has been the habit in your childhood home, you will have to do the hard work of unlearning those bad habits. And then perhaps teach new, good habits to your mom, if she’s ready and capable of learning them. (Just don’t count on this. Again, don’t get tied to the expectation that you can change others. Because you can’t.)

An excellent resource for growth is Dr. Henry Cloud’s online Boundaries workshops. Dr. Cloud also hosts a private group on Facebook called Dr. Henry Cloud’s Boundaries with Parents Peer Group. Setting boundaries for yourself is a critical first step to creating a positive and respectful relationship with your parent(s).

It has taken many years of my digging in deep with God for Him to convince me that His love for me is high, wide, deep, and endless. That there is NOTHING I can do to stop Him from loving and accepting me every single minute. Even when I feel like I don’t deserve it. My faults and quirks and weaknesses don’t repel Him — and yours don’t repel Him, either.

I’m praying Ephesians 3:16-21 over you! Soak up God’s ceaseless grace and love for YOU.


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> Watch Undaunted, the powerful story of Josh’s own recovery from a difficult childhood.

Sheri writes and edits for Josh McDowell Ministry.

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