Many of us have wounded relationships with our mothers, especially those of us raised in religious legalism. Learning to reparent ourselves and nurture ourselves is key to healing these wounds–and providing a secure attachment with our own children. As we work to reparent ourselves, it can be healing to develop a relationship with our own inner mother or father.
Writer and podcaster Alexis Morgan encourages us to view motherhood as a relationship rather than a role. To heal, we have to turn our strength and compassion inward and begin the process of meeting our own needs.
Enjoy this poignant article from Alexis Morgan and check out her podcast “Sharing Her Journey“.
Recently, I had an illuminating experience with my daughter. Upon arriving home from school, her vocal expressions and body language expressed that something had occurred at school that was upsetting her. From observing this brief interaction, I could sense her pain.
I went to her room, knocked on her door, and asked if I could come in. Through her tears she said “yes.” As I looked at my daughter sitting on her bed, puffy eyes and red-faced, my own eyes welled up. My heart was heavy as I considered what interaction caused her pain. I walked over, sat beside her on her bed, and put my arm around her. She put her head into my shoulder. I said, “I love you. Why are you crying? What’s making you sad?” She spoke and I listened. I smiled when she acknowledged it was silly drama but it still hurt. I hugged her. I wanted her to feel seen, so I expressed understanding and love. She knows I am here to help her through challenging moments that plague the developing mind.
It was a beautiful moment for us, mother and daughter. The kind of moment I had fantasized we would have while cradling her in my arms as an infant. Even then, I recognized teenage years might be a challenging stage for us. As she shared, I felt throughout my entire body my deep, all-encompassing love for her.
Relationship vs. Role
When I became a parent, I developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for my parents. I think numerous experiences in life can spark those ideas for adult children: simply growing into adulthood, working to meet the demands of a new job, or moving away from home.
I became a mother in my early twenties, so it was my own arrival into parenthood that spawned those feelings. As my children grew, I found joy in them sharing who they were with me. I wanted to know about them and their interests, and I became curious about their desires. I sought their insights into how to make our family feel more cohesive.
I also saw where I failed. I apologized on many occasions for my temper, my inability to express myself well when conversations became challenging, or when I missed the mark on helping them through a life experience.
In working to recognize how to meet the needs of my children, I began to become aware of the pain I felt from my teenage years with some of my experiences with my parents. I found myself pondering how to heal my inner wounds.
As a young girl, I recall noticing the relationships of other children with their parents, particularly mothers and daughters. I wondered how those mothers and daughters interacted. What types of conversations were they having? How were they spending their time together? What made a daughter say, “I want to be just like my mom?”
I’m not sure I was able to answer those questions then, but twenty-something years later I finally understand the reason behind my questions. I now understand what I needed from my mom was different from what she was offering–I desired a relationship with her. I wanted to develop a connection with my mom in which I was truly seen, understood, and loved for being me, but my mom was fulfilling her interpretation of the role of mother; she was meeting the demands of raising a family and unknowingly using her children as a marker for success.
After the conversation with my daughter concluded that particular day, I found myself in my room, overwhelmed with my own conflicting emotions. While my heart swelled in gratitude and joy for the relationship that is developing between me and my daughter, it also hurt for the lack of relationship with my own mother.
As I sat on my bed and reflected, reality hit me square in the face. I remembered the young teenage girl who did not know her mother loved her. I was filled with visions of her alone, crying, yearning for her mother’s touch and gentle hand, for the sweet whisperings of—I love you, nothing is wrong with you; you are loved simply because you are you.
That teenager-turned 30-something was still longing for her mother to be the kind of mom who could understand her pain, who could gently remind her that no matter what her mother was in her corner. It was my former teenage self that cried out in pain while sitting alone on my bed. I had just comforted my teenage daughter and now I found myself needing to comfort the wounded teenager within me.
Motherhood is a Relationship
Recently, I heard it expressed that motherhood is a relationship, not a role. This idea took root within, and I realize that at the heart of my calling as a mother, the vital component is to nurture a relationship with my children.
My motherhood is my opportunity to allow space to know their hearts and minds. My motherhood is creating an environment that allows them to reveal who they are–their thoughts, feelings, insights, and experiences. And in turn, for them to get to know me—a woman who has grown into a deeper understanding of what it means to be a mother, their mother. A woman who is dedicated to consistent development as an individual; and shows up daily for her family—ready to participate and learn together.
Growing into my understanding of how motherhood is a relationship was key to helping myself find the solution to heal my inner wounds from my teenage years–I would become my own inner mother.
“Growing into my understanding of how motherhood is a relationship was key to helping myself find the solution to heal my inner wounds from my teenage years–I would become my own inner mother.
Discovering My Inner Mother
The process of developing an inner mother (or inner father) is folded into the topic of reparenting. It requires the parent to use the skills that they express outward to their children, to now turn inward on themselves. The book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Dr. Karyl McBride states: “While in the past you had to give up on the notion that your external mother could give you what you needed, you can now have an internal mother readily available to you. She can make it possible to parent yourself” (p. 164).
Dissecting the parent-child dynamic can be tricky because our culture teaches that we are to honor our parents. It’s one of the ten commandments and we are promised that honoring our parents will give us a long life (Exodus 2:12). However, understanding our needs and separating them from the pressures of culture help us stay connected to ourselves and to our faith. Thus, it can be a challenging journey to openly share our feelings regarding the pains from our childhood. However, openly sharing normalizes our pain, alleviates the accompanying anxiety, and is a necessary step for healing.
Sitting on my bed that day, after comforting my daughter, I searched inward and recalled the words of Dr. McBride. As I pondered the written words, I reflected on my maternal instincts—which I typically express outward. But to heal, I would now need to extend my maternal strength and compassion inward.
I began the process of meeting my own needs. I started to speak kinder to my heart. I acknowledged that I had done something beautiful for my own daughter; I had given her a beautiful gift. I too deserved such a gift. I began making a list of all the strengths I had shown my daughter that day: my kind words, my investment of time, my understanding heart, and my listening ear. I pushed out all the negative self-talk; I tuned out the doubt (did I do too much for my daughter?), and the shame (I didn’t deserve such an experience).
I sat in silence. I felt my own breath. I listened to my inner mother. I could feel her presence. I allowed myself to feel the love she has for me. I let it swell and expand throughout my whole body. It was just her and I in that room, and she was comforting me.
My heart turned from feeling sadness for the teenage girl from all those years ago, to hope. That hope helped me feel I do have the ability and power to heal my wounds and propelled me forward to continue on my journey in my motherhood.
It is difficult to avoid being wounded by messages about women being inferior in a culture that is still rife with patriarchy. Some are covert, and some are much more overt. Spiritual communities that prohibit women from full participation and constrain gifting according to gender burden members of your inner family with beliefs of worthlessness. They provoke bitterness and anger, emotions meant to get our attention that something is wrong. The protective members of your internal family try to shut those emotions down; they are uncomfortable, and speaking up might be risky.
Shifting My View
Developing into a woman who could be whole, healed, and capable of a healthy relationship with her children begins with love. I had to give to myself the love and care I felt was missing from my teenage years.
For me, healing has come as I have shifted my views of my own mother. I have stopped seeing her for what she lacked and instead developed a practice of acknowledging what she was and is able to offer. This perspective is an opportunity to try and see her through the eyes of our Savior; He who offers the gift of everlasting acceptance and love.
This process has felt renewing and richly healing for me. It has involved letting go of old limiting beliefs: pretending my mother was able to fulfill all of my needs. No one person could fulfill all of my needs and it wasn’t kind of me to think my mother could or should.
My mother had given me what she was able to offer, that was the role she played in my life. She played the part of mother well: she took care of me, clothed me, fed me, took me to activities, advocated for me in school settings, bought me the greatest birthday gifts, and made Christmas magical. That’s what she did for me and I could see that.
I learned to understand that was how she viewed her job as a mother. It was a role. It’s what had occurred for generations before her. It’s what she had observed, absorbed, and acted upon.
My experience with my mother is not unique. Many parents value themselves by the role they play. It is necessary to care for children, advocate for them, teach them, and play with them.
However, there is so much more to it than that; children are starving to be truly seen, loved, and connected to the most important adults in their lives. Children want a relationship with their parents. They want to be loved for who they are, not who their parents want them to be. They want to express their inner selves and develop a connection with their parents. Children desire their parents to step out of a role-based position and into developing a deep and lasting relationship. As adult children reflect on their past experiences, it may be healing for them to develop their own inner mother or inner father.
“Children desire their parents to step out of a role-based position and into developing a deep and lasting relationship. As adult children reflect on their past experiences, it may be healing for them to develop their own inner mother or inner father.”
Healing has come as I have worked to answer those questions from my teenage years. An important distinction I made was that the mother-daughter dynamics that I observed in others were formed in their relationships. The connections other daughters develop with their moms were a result of each getting to know the other, loving each other, and accepting each other for who they are.
My inner mother has helped me see the beauty in my relationships with my children. I have felt the peace that comes from working through old patterns of thinking, confronting my heavy feelings, and challenging my beliefs by adopting new perspectives that are changing and healing my heart.
Alexis Morgan is a lifelong learner who works as a communication consultant helping individuals, families, and organizations. She co-hosts the podcast, Sharing Her Journey, which helps women explore their stories, brave tough conversations, and focus on becoming the authors of their own lives. Alexis and her husband Clinton live in Idaho with their four children.
You can follow her on Instagram @realtalk.alexis and @sharingherjourney or visit her podcast website here.