The Mother Within

Many of us have traditions for celebrating the strong and sensitive women in our life who gave birth to us (or raised us) – on one day of the year we acknowledge their contribution to our lives explicitly.

These are the women who shape and guide our lives.

They create the image of the “mother within” us. Even when they are not present, they’re no longer in our lives, they still shape the capacity for the kinds of relationships we have.

For many children, the relationship with their mother (or primary caregiver) is a template for the “feminine” energy within them–nurturing, sensitivity, receiving, flowing, flexibility, etc.

It’s a template for “the mother within” whether your gender is male or female–we each internalize this version of what it means to be a mother.

The mother within you is another way of describing some of the qualities you carry within you that you bring to relationship.

It’s also a way to describe the qualities and attitudes you’re most likely to have toward yourself that also color the filter of how you interpret the meaning of other people’s words and actions.

If your template includes little nurturing, sensitivity, and difficulty with receiving the good (as well as the hard), then it’s difficult to create those qualities in your relationships and friendships.

It’s also more likely you’ll tend toward making assumptions that other people are insensitive toward you.

It’ll be harder to experience the good and really take it in, and it’ll be more difficult to adjust and readjust your expectations.

Mother’s Day is here, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with my own mom.  It’s evolved over time and into what any child could hope for with his or her mother.

But, it hasn’t always been good.

I’ve been thinking about things that’ve been hard and painful between us and how we got to where we are now.  There was a time when we could’ve easily stopped talking, and hardened in our respective ways of looking at things.

As I sit down to reflect on this Mother’s Day, my own sense of the “mother within me” has changed as my relationship with my mom changes.

As I’ve changed, so has she.  As she’s changed, so have I.  And so on.  But I think the biggest gift for me, is that it’s enabled me to change my own relationship with that original template so that I am more compassionate toward myself and with others.

I am in the process of becoming a complete SAP.  Sensitive And Proud!

On that note, I hadn’t intended to share this letter to my mom publicly, but I think if I’d had the chance to read something like it many years ago, it would’ve given me hope in those dark moments to know something better was possible as we struggled through.

I hope my words are meaningful to you.

Dear Mom,

Happy Mother’s Day! I wish I were there to take you to brunch or to have the time to spend walking or doing something enjoyable with you.  I am grateful we’ve both lived long enough to be at this point in our lives where our relationship has grown into what it is.

Today is the day set aside to appreciate you for being my mother.  But you know me well enough to know that I don’t do “obligations.”  Today’s just the excuse to sit down and write down the way I appreciate you. So, here goes.

You’re not the easiest mom, but like you, I am now strong and persistent because of it

You are a do-er.  You inherited the feminist gene from your mother, and I inherited it from you.  There is an edge to you that enables you to take action and make powerful and meaningful things happen.  You have high expectations of yourself and of the people who surround you.

You put people in their place if they dare treat you poorly.  You put people in their place if they dare treat other people poorly.  You do not suffer fools easily, and can have quite the formidable presence!

I still remember the time you volunteered at the snack and beverage stands at the Rose Bowl during a football game to raise money for Jesse’s class.

An obviously drunk and rude man tried to buy more beer.  You refused to sell it to him, and he became very upset and physically somewhat threatening.

You thought it was irresponsible to sell any more alcohol to an already drunk man and held firm even when he got in your face.  I remember being in awe of you as I watched the event unfold.  I was proud you were my mom.

Sometimes, though, I was on the receiving end of this edge.  There were times when it was incredibly hurtful and painful. I doubted myself and felt like there was something wrong with me.

It’s taken me a few years to find my way.  Or, at least to my find my path on this front.

Without that early challenge, though, I would not be strong and persistent and daring enough to follow the dreams I have that other people think impossible or not worth attempting.

I would not have the tools to follow in your mother’s footsteps and yours to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable for strong and sensitive women – the feminist gene that attracts so much lightening.

Your edges made me have to choose to find my edges so I could know my worth and the power I have within me.

You weren’t the warmest and fuzziest of moms, but like you, I am highly sensitive and now highly attuned because of it

You don’t mince words.  You say things as they are, and as you see them.  And, everyone knows where they stand with you.

And even though it wasn’t your intention, it could come across as cold or biting or sarcastic at times, which confused me. I felt pushed away.  Sometimes, I felt alone when I needed you.

It was not easy nor painless, but I learned to be highly observant of everyone and everything around me.  I learned to process multiple streams of information all at once: what someone says, the actions they take, their body language, how they interact.

Without this gift and these skills, I could not have become a good social worker.

I could not have worked with so many different kinds of people and found ways to really “meet them where they’re at” to offer the best help I can.  I could not have worked in the dangerous environments I’ve been in, and stayed safe.

I do have one truly treasured memory that I hold in my heart.  I remember the time I came home from elementary school and was in shock because of what Marilee shared with the class.

I told you I felt like “I had earthquakes inside of me” and I was very upset and crying.  We were sitting at the dining room table.

You came over and held me and and held me until I stopped crying.  Your softness and your fuzziness was there, in that moment, and it touched me deeply.

You are curious, intelligent, reflective, encouraging, interesting and interested in the world and the people around you, and one of the most caring souls I know.

It’s this last one I appreciate most about you.  I have countless memories of being exposed to new and interesting things.  You’re still one of the most interesting people I know.

As a kid, I have really good memories of tide pool explorations, watching street performers juggle chainsaws and jump into piles of broken glass (with no injury), living in the “shack on the beach,” finding orchids and random Kentuckians in the middle of the jungle, and reading newspaper clippings of articles (lots and lots of them 😉 ) you think I might enjoy…

Your encouragement and curiosity and fascination with the world around you nurtured my sensitivity, my intellect, and my compassion.

All in all, I’d say I’m pretty lucky.  I got exactly what I needed to be most me in this world.  You weren’t a perfect mom (and I was far from a perfect child!), but you were the perfect mom for me to become the person I am.

Mostly, I am grateful that we have continued to become closer over the last few years in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

You surprised me and buoyed me at a time when I was at my lowest.  Your warmth and compassion, the warm and fuzzy love you showed me as an adult was exactly what I needed to make the shift to a better place.

Thank you for being my mom.

I love you,

Eva

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Eva Rubin, MPH/LCSW

Hi! I'm Eva Rubin, LCSW. I study the psychology and the art of how to live well as an introvert and sensitive person so that I can learn and share it with you.
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