5 Lessons Learned Regarding Mothers, Daughters, & Mental Health

By way of the month in which mothers are celebrated and mental health awareness is acknowledged comes to a close, I can’t help but close out the month of May reflecting on the roles of motherhood, daughterhood and the influence these relationships/the absence of said relationships have on mental health.

As the daughter of a strong-willed and faith based Haitian woman, my experiences in life have been deeply rooted in cultural expectations and cultural clashes, being that I am a first generation Haitian American girl bred and groomed in the states. Raised with the expectations that what happens in the family stays in the family; I was torn when I witnessed verbal and physical violence in my home, I was distraught when I was molested by strangers and family members, I was frustrated when I observed that the pain of my relatives overwhelmed my mother (who is the eldest of 8) and how it caused her to become short tempered with her own children-not them, I felt neglected and conflicted when my mother worked long hours and my siblings and I had to fend for ourselves (but also admired my mother for her strength and work ethic), and I was confused when all I was told to do was pray about my feelings-forced to live in silence-knowing in my gut that talking it out with a responsible adult was the best way for me to process and heal.

Growing up with a plethora of emotions and interpretations of the life I lived, I was emotionally mature but very fragile and sensitive. Latching onto everything and everyone that provided me with affirmation that everything would be ok—it took several years for me to find the strength and courage to provide that same level of promise and affirmation to myself! Still a work in progress, I have learned the value and importance of finding affirmation from within. Thus, here I am-reflecting on lessons learned as a daughter who has encountered mental health challenges with a mother who has struggled herself-in a Caribbean cultural environment taught to exude strength by taking the blows of life and not falling down-no matter how hard they may be.

This post highlights 5 key lessons that I have learned as a daughter-regarding my mother and I’s relationship that may help to encourage, strengthen, and/or provide perspective to other daughters building relationships with their mothers who may have or are currently undergoing experiences with their mental health.

  • A loving mother’s biggest fear is you not being safe and secure.
  • Just because your mother does not believe in therapy, does NOT mean you can’t believe and go to therapy yourself!
  • Respecting your mother does NOT mean living in silence with your mother.
  • The relationship you have with your mother impacts the relationship you have with your loved ones.
  • You will learn to understand your mother more as you age.

Read further for more details:

1. A loving mother’s biggest fear is you not being safe and secure. As a daughter in her late 20’s, my mother still worries about my whereabouts. Questions like; where are you going? Who are you going with? When will you be back? Are you saving money? How are you saving money? all come down to your safety and your security! My mother needs to know and trust that I will always be safe and sound-ensuring that she will never have to be in a position to bury me-rather I bury her. And along the way in life’s journey, she needs to know that I am making great financial decisions because the only person I am to truly be dependent on is myself! Sure, the constant questions could be annoying at times, but it comes from a place of love. Loving mothers need to be secure in the well-being of their children.

2. Just because your mother does not believe in therapy, does NOT mean you can’t believe and go to therapy yourself! My mother is a God fearing woman who lives in church and is constantly with her church community-which is her therapy! When I discuss counseling with her, her response is always, “God is my therapist and I don’t need that.” When I was an adolescent and it was suggested that I seek counseling, my mother was very reluctant to take me to sessions and the commute to sessions and back home were so painful, I did not stay in treatment. Something I thought was needed, was something she hated. I grew a bit older and sought out counseling while I attended college. Keeping my sessions a secret grew tiring as I lived with my mother through the summers and used her car to attend sessions at times. When I shared that I attended counseling sessions, she gave a stern look of judgment and I was hurt and felt I disappointed her, but I persisted because I knew counseling was what I needed. I praise God as I am a God fearing woman myself, and one thing I have learned and accepted is that God also provided the avenue for clinicians to be present in the lives of those who want and need it. My mother’s beliefs on counseling are not my own and they do not ever have to be. It may take years for your mother to understand the positive impact of therapy in your life and that is ok. But never deny yourself or be ashamed of the services you need and want because of the comments of another-even if the comments are coming from your mother.

3. Respecting your mother does NOT mean living in silence with your mother. Listen, as an adolescent, I was forced to share that I was molested with my mother. To my painful surprise, she did not believe me and it destroyed me further. I resentfully thought, how could my mother “love” me when she didn’t protect me or believe me? For years I struggled with the disappointment and all that I encountered thereafter. After working on my heart and the impact of living in silence in my truths through therapy and loved ones, I opened up to my mother and shared my hurt. I received an emotional apology and recognition of her disappointment in herself. While I can’t go backwards in time and undo some of the damage done, I set the tone for my new path in life with her. Out of true respect to myself and true respect to my mother, I have decided to no longer live in silence again. Know that it is not an easy process to speak up and speak out to your mother-especially when sharing their shortcomings and its impact on you. However, in the journey of adulthood and demanding the respect that you need to earn-you have to be honest-even if it hurts (so long as you take the time to heal). You can do it. Of course there are better and worse ways to communicate. Upon determining the best practice for you and your mother to engage-trust yourself and give it a try. The response may or may not be what you envisioned, be sure to have a supportive contact person on speed dial or nearby to debrief with them after if necessary.

4. The relationship you have with your mother impacts the relationship you have with your loved ones. I am not yet a mother. One day, I hope to be blessed with the opportunity to give birth and raise my own children. However, I do not need to be a mother to understand that my relationship with my mother impacts my relationship with loved ones in my life. Assess your relationship with your mother and if she is deceased or she is no longer present in your life, reflect on what your interactions were like when she was physically here and what role her absence plays in your life today. Reflect on the aspects of the relationship you enjoy(ed) and what aspects of the relationship are/were challenging. The love, intensity, insecurities, confidence, laid ‘backness’, connectedness, compassion, and patience displayed with your own children, your siblings, relatives, friends, mentors, and strangers will be a result of your experience with your mother if she were present or absent to some degree. What the relationship or lack of it means to you and how it impacts you takes time to assess. Don’t run from such meaningful work.

5. You will learn to understand your mother more as you age. Understanding does not mean that you agree with your mother, but it does mean that you can acknowledge differing and similar perspectives. As your mother ages, so will you. As we start finding ourselves and discovering who we really are, we end up becoming more comfortable in our skin. As a result, we have a better grapple on what we will address or let go of from our mother. We will develop a better understanding of how to control our interactions with our mother, and how to move forward in a way that is healthy for both individuals, not just one.

As an adolescent, I never imagined that I would be able to look at my mother and tell her, “I love you!” and mean it. My mother is a living testament of strength, courage, wisdom, faith, compassion, and heart. She is the matriarch of my family, the backbone of survival to many, and the catalyst of change and adaptability for her siblings. My mother struggled to adapt to a new country and raise children as a single mother of 3 children, long before she divorced my biological father but she persisted. She made her mistakes and she hurt me deeply; but culturally I had to understand who she was and what world she came from. As I grew older and with patience, I was able to see her for her and love her in spite of her short comings because she is the human who brought me into this world! She too had witnessed abuse, she too had encountered assault, she too had experienced poverty, and she too had gotten her heart broken and lost her way in life, only to re-determine what her life purpose was every single time a door shut. How could I not admire and value such qualities, even when she hurt me? In life we have choices. I chose to forgive my mother and I chose to love me, despite the ugly I did not want to accept as my personal narrative. Your ugly truths make you beautiful.

Getting to a place of loving my mother has been a journey, and so has learning to love myself. To mothers and daughters out there-trust that life is about the journey. We all have experienced some level of challenge that we must constantly combat in order to progress and be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. Believe in yourselves and believe in the woman/women who raised you to be you. No one individual is perfect. Mothers, I celebrate you EVERY DAY; daughters, you are valuable EVERY DAY; and mental health, I recognize the significance in addressing you EVERY DAY.

Ladies, go out there and slay-knowing that every single day is another opportunity to be the woman you would like to be.

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