My daughter puts her arms around me, her brown eyes soft and beckoning. Her rounded belly and motherly curves rest against me, and for a moment I choke up. She is pregnant with a girl baby whose middle name will be Joy like mine. She will be my first grand-daughter, and my second grandchild.
I was named Joy by my great-grandmother, Blanche, the mother of my grandmother Lulu, who spent much of her childhood living with Blanche’s mother. When Lulu was a young woman, she abandoned her daughter Josephine. Josephine abandoned me when I was four years old, leaving me with her mother. What a heritage!
When I look at my daughter, I see the images of my foremothers in my mind—my beautiful but insensitive mother, my intelligent, breaking-the-rules grandmother. I remember their terrible fights and broken dishes that went flying when my mother came to visit, and I think of my grandmother’s deathbed, where there was no forgiveness between them. I think of how my mother didn’t want anyone to know she had a child, and how I tried to win her love until she died.
I was able to break the chains of abandonment, but I still carry within me the memories of these passionate but disturbed women whose genes I carry. I am the last remaining witness to know and remember this heritage. We are the first mother-daughter generation to hug, kiss, talk over our disagreements, apologize, forgive, and have a loving relationship. For this I give thanks every day.
My grandmother and mother didn’t want grandchildren either. My children were not welcomed, and my mother made it clear the few times she saw my children, they were to keep their identity a secret too. Her passing on the poison to my children woke me up to how cruel and heartless she was. Over the years, I had adjusted to her rejection of me, but when I saw her teach my children not to call her grandmother, and to lie to the people at her apartment about their identity, I snapped. I never tried to get her to accept us again after that. I had to accept that she never would.
This was another pattern. When my grandmother received the telegram announcing my birth, she threw it aside saying, “So the brat is born.” Later, she took me in and raised me, but the feeling that I was living on the edge of societal and familial acceptance settled deep into my bones.
My story is only one such story about this topic—mother-child abandonment. There are many thousands of such stories in the world, people who were abandoned as children. On my book tour for Don’t Call Me Mother—Breaking the Chain of Mother-Daughter Abandonment, people listen with tears in their eyes as I read about the loss and loneliness that I felt as a child, and they cheer me on as I read how I fought to find myself and create a better life. When they come to me afterward to tell me how I have told a part of their story, I understand the tears are for their own childhood losses that are being healed by hearing another’s story. It is gratifying to see that I can use the painful parts of my life to give others hope about creating lives of meaning and joy despite deep early wounds.
If you recognize your story in mine, here are a few healing suggestions
1. Remind yourself of these things:
a. It was not your fault
b. You were not a bad child
c. Your mother may not have realized how deeply this affected you
d. You deserve love
2. Create joy and beauty in your life now.
a. Gather supportive friends and loved ones around you
b. Feed yourself good food, and treat your body well
c. Give yourself birthday parties and moments of celebration
d. Create your own family, whether it is your own children or friends whom you adopt as your new family
e. Appreciate each day as it unfolds
3. Find the help you need to heal your wounds
a. Find a therapist who believes that the past affects the present and can help you work through it
b. Write your story—from your point of view all the way through
c. Illustrate your story with family photos
d. After you write your story, write the story of your mother’s life. Research her life as best you can. Illustrate it with photos.
4. Use visualization, meditation, and prayer to get in touch with the life you want to live, and the blessings of your life
a. Meditate in quiet surroundings each day for at least 10 minutes
b. Read books that inspire you to love and accept yourself
c. Share with others your healing story