Joyful Musings – May 2010

Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC

The Eternal Maternal Legacy


As May arrives and brings another Mother’s Day, I’d like to send a thank you to all the mothers in the world for helping to provide a steady stream of therapy clients. The mother-child relationship is powerful for both daughters and sons, and more problems presented in the therapy office trace back to Mom than any other source.

We all begin our life within Mother. Perhaps because of this, she lives within us all of our lives thereafter. Through her strengths and kindnesses, she taught us how to live and how to love. Through her shortcomings and pain, she taught us how not to live, as much as how to live. Our particular mother may have helped us build our own lives with confidence and wisdom or driven us to spend our lives striving to survive and overcome her difficult legacy.

Messages repeated to us by our mothers tend to repeat in our heads ever-after. Many messages received from Mother are so ubiquitous, we’ve all heard them. Some of my most memorable “momilies” include:

“I’m only doing this for your own good.”

“I don’t care if everybody else is doing it. You’re not everybody else.”

“If you swallow the seeds, you’ll grow a watermelon in your belly.”

“Be sure to wear good underwear when you go out in case you get run over by a bus.”

And of course, everybody’s favorite . . .

“Because I said so, that’s why!”

Not everything Mother taught us was so benign. While some of us had pretty good moms who, for the most part, steered us through childhood with a warm heart and loving guidance, an unfortunate too-many were born to moms steeped in their own emotional torment. Their kids were ignored and neglected or drenched with cruelty and abuse. Some kids were raised by Jeckyll-and-Hyde moms whose kids never knew what to expect next.

Our first vision of ourselves was through our mother’s eyes, and our relationship with her shapes our relationships with ourselves and everyone around us. How our mothers responded to or rejected our attempts to connect with her, and later our attempts to separate from her, shape how we connect (or not) with other people.

Whatever kind of mother raised you, you’re an adult now. It’s too late to blame mom for your troubles anymore. She may have planted the seeds, but it’s up to you to choose what to continue to reap and sow.

Paula Caplan, author of Don’t Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship, says, “Blaming our mothers is destructive to ourselves because what we believe about our mothers, we often suspect about ourselves.”

As this Mother’s Day approaches, ask yourself the following questions:

What was your relationship with your mother like when you were a child?

How about your relationship with your mother as an adult?

How do you see your mother’s traits and characteristics showing up in you? In your relationships? In your parenting? How do you feel about these similarities?

What do you most value about your mother?

What do you most dislike about your mother?

Many of us today are at a stage of life when roles are reversing; children become the caregivers for their aging parents. If the time comes for you, will you be the kind of parent you had or the one you wish you had?

Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at or 765-4988.

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