Do You Need Mother's Apology? What Should Your Mom Say?

Mother's Day can be one of the hardest days for those with troubled childhoods.

Posted May 10, 2017

Whose apology do you need to hear? If that person accepted responsibility for pain he or she caused you and asked for your forgiveness, what in your life would change?

When I posed this question on both my public and personal Facebook pages, I knew I’d get interesting responses, but I didn’t expect to get hundreds of them within a short space of time.

Ex-partners, unsurprisingly, appeared often. Perhaps my pal, Deborah Bacon Nelson, most effectively explained the desire to hear an apology from a former spouse when she wrote, "I wish I could say I've let it go, but an apology from my ‘wasband’ (my name for him) who ended a 35-year marriage but refused to talk about it, would still be nice.”

But many of us—by far the greatest number of respondents to my question—wanted apologies from their mothers.

I didn’t expect quite so many folks to begin their answer to the question with the words, “My mother’s” as to make “Mother” sound inevitable.

Sure, I’d begin my answer that way, but—even though I’ve come to realize that I’m as generic as possible without needing a bar code—I didn’t believe everybody else felt the same way.

Many of the responses went something like this: "My mother has no idea of the pain she caused me by loving me less than my siblings and not even trying to hide it"; "My mom made me feel fat, ugly and useless because it helped her feel better about herself"; "My mother, without consciously wishing me harm, wrecked my childhood by forcing me to become everything she wanted to be instead of taking into account what I enjoyed. I failed her and I made myself miserable.”

What apology do I need from my mother? I’d like to hear her say that she was sorry about throwing away the daily diaries I’d keep, inscribing each page as faithfully as a monk, from ages 11-15. She threw them away a few months before she died, explaining that I wouldn’t want to read them when I was older because there was “nothing important” in them and because they were “depressing.”

At my worst, I still feel the sense of fingernails running down my spine or the sense of a sharp stick drawn across the bottom of a bare foot that I felt when I realized they were missing; it’s a flaying, a peeling away of layers of protection and boundaries. I feel that my mother betrayed me, that she did not value me, and that she dismissed my most secret inner-life without a second thought.

At my best, I imagine she didn’t want me to revisit the last days of her illness or the sadness of her life. But of course I do, coupling them inevitably with a selfish sense of loss, both of the cheap notebooks and the irreplaceable parent.

Nobody said being a mother was easy; perhaps it's time to say that being a daughter to a certain kind of mother is very, very hard.

It is possible to forgive the dead, and I’m working on it. (I’ll let you know if I hear any comments from the other side.)

Our mothers probably did the best they could. I think mine did but the pain she caused, years ago, is still there—even after years of therapy. Is it possible to forgive our mothers without their apologies, but with generosity from our own hearts?