1: On The Palms of My Hands
It was my first day on the job. I was a brand-new (and very naive) therapist at a shelter for runaway teenagers. The shelter was housed in the basement of an old school building and my "office" was in the section that used to be the showers of the boys gym. There was a drain next to my desk.
Another staff member needed to use this space, so I went into the main living area with one of the girls to begin her counseling session. The other teens were outside so we had the place to ourselves.
The 15-year-old was beautiful with long blonde hair and blue eyes. We sat at one of dining tables and she looked at me expectantly. I was so nervous but finally I began. "Tell me why you have run away," I prompted. She shrugged her shoulders, sat back in her chair and said very matter-of-factly, "My mother doesn't want me."
I was stunned. And suddenly I realized I was crying. When she saw my tears, she quickly got up and came to where I was sitting and began to pat me on the shoulder. "Miss, it's OK. Really. I'm used to it by now."
I wasn't used to it then, and frankly, I'm not used to it now. I can accept mothers and daughters having problems, and mothers and daughters not getting along. I can understand that children are rebellious and often ignore the wisdom and counsel of their parents.
But as long as I live, I will never be able to understand or accept a mother that does not love and do what is best for her own child. My own mother used to say, "Having a baby does not make you a mother and not having a baby doesn't keep you from being one." I never understood how true that was until I started working with abused children.
Over the years, many of the families who've come to me for counseling were truly trying to work with their children and do what was best. Some struggled with rebellious teenagers who were determined to walk in their own way. Some struggled with teens who seemed bent on self-destruction either through gangs and violence, drugs or sex. Some of these families were stressed by financial problems or legal issues. But these families were really straining at every turn to do the right thing for their children.
But so many of the people I've worked with seemed to want to live their lives with no rules and no constraints, and then were confused when their teenager tried to do the same.
One woman came in with her son who was the product of a night of "wife-swapping." Her husband had threatened to leave her if she didn't go along with him. He left her anyway when he found out she was pregnant. The 13-year-old boy had discovered his origins and was making her life a pure hell.
Another woman came to me with her teenager that was beginning to have difficulty and told me that the girl did not respect her authority as her mother. The young woman had never been married, had four children by three men, two of whom were married to other women. I wondered what authority she respected in her life.
Then there are the mothers who involve their daughters in prostitution. One girl confessed to me that she was the FOURTH generation of prostitutes in her family. I can't tell you how many young girls I have worked with that were sent out on the street to "put food on the table" or to "pay the rent."
And they were sent out by their mothers.
You'll understand if jokes about "the oldest profession" no longer bring a smile to my face. It is just too easy to close my eyes and see the face of a little 10-year-old girl whose life was over before it had even begun. And I can barely contain my rage at her mother.
One day I was in counseling with a little girl who had been found wandering her apartment complex in a large metropolitan city. She seemed to be living on her own and had been left to her own devices. The landlord called the police and she was picked up and turned over to social services.
I was trying, in vain, to explain to this adorable 11-year-old why she had been taken from her mother. I was doing my best to be gentle and understanding. When she finally realized that I was trying to tell her that her mother wasn't doing a good job, she jumped to her feet and slammed her hands on the table. She got right in my face and in fury yelled, "My mother is a good mother. She checks on me once a week!"
I was stunned, first, by how low her standard was for a good mother and secondly, that she truly loved her mother and wanted to be with her, even if she only saw her once a week.
While I am at it, let me go on to say that these mothers and daughters have come in all colors, all social levels and all economic levels. Some of them went to church and many had an education. Scary, huh? Evidently, there are no particular requirements or qualifications for being a bad mother.
But when we talk about bad mothers, mothers who scar their children, who does this include? Mothers who lead their children into the deepest sin? Those who were abusive or neglectful? The ones who turned away while dads, step-dads or boyfriends molested their children?
Sure those are easy to see. But what about mothers who were unable to provide for their children due to mental illness, mental retardation, physical illness, poverty or addiction? What about mothers who committed suicide or mothers who simply died when their daughters were very young?
For some daughters, it doesn't matter who was at fault. It all looks the same. I have discovered that many of the resulting emotional problems that these daughters encounter can match those of women whose mothers blatantly abused them.
We can go on and on about bad mothers. But that's not the purpose of this series of articles. We can't know all the circumstances and only God is wise enough to judge individual mothers. So these articles are not for the mothers.
These articles are for the daughters of bad mothers.
My purpose is to try to help the daughter who didn't have the benefit of a good mother, for whatever reason. It is THIS daughter that seems always to be in my office, at my desk, on my heart.
I seem to be always faced with the results of bad mothering - daughters who are damaged or wounded. Daughters who are trying to make a life in spite of their mother rather than with her help, and having a difficult time of it.
So rather than address the mothers, how they got this way and why, my focus will be on their daughters. Those who feel they had a bad mother or lacked a good mother. Those who feel like a motherless child.
And what a raw deal that is. Of all the difficult things that can come our way over a life-span, having a bad mother seems to be one of the most unfair. Some might think that this would predict a life of struggle and suffering, of abandonment and failure.
But I refuse to accept that. While beginning your life with no mother or with a bad mother is certainly an obstacle, it is by no means the end of your hope.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to address some of what you face and why. And if you feel that you have been cheated of having a good mother in your life, I would like to hear from you. I already have several letters and will be sharing those on my ezine.
In the meantime, I want to share with you a verse of scripture that truly made my heart leap with joy for the Motherless Daughter. I pray that God will use this to encourage you as we face this difficult topic together.
Shout for joy, O heavens;
rejoice, O earth;
burst into song, O mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me."
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
With all my heart,