Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Re-Posting for Mother’s Day” Mothers and Mothering

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on May 13, 2012

Cheryl, forty-nine, mother of two adult children, called her mother Maureen, eighty, to tell her that her dog Candy passed away suddenly. Maureen said, according to Cheryl, “well, honey, you can’t get so upset about every little thing.” Cheryl reported to me that she was “flattened”. I responded “you have a mother, but you don’t have mothering,” trying to express to Cheryl that not all mothers are nurturing, even though one often hopes for that. It seems true that  a nurturing mother helps a child to grow up with good self-esteem. “Yes, but I always thought that I was doing something wrong such that my mother could not nurture me. She seemed to nurture my four siblings, but not me,” Cheryl says with great sadness. “What do you think you did wrong?” I ask, hoping that Cheryl will come to see that as with most children, she is blaming herself for her mother’s foibles. “I think I am too intense. I think I am a hard person to soothe. I am never satisfied.” Cheryl says, as if ready for my question. “Even if that were true, it still seems that your mother did not try to empathize with your pain, either now, or in your past.” I say, trying to stress that mothering implies working with the temperament of your child in order to find ways to nurture and support them. “I am just going to stop speaking to her,” Cheryl says, trying so hard to stop the pain. “Well, you could do that, but you could also change your expectations,” I say, stating the clear point that Cheryl can learn not to be “flattened” by the insensitivities of her mom. “Needing mothering is different than needing your mom to give you that mothering,” I say, trying to parse out the need for nurturing from the person one expects to provide it. “I am sorry Candy passed away,” I say, knowing that I may sound as if I can be a substitute for Cheryl’s mom. Cheryl looks at me knowingly. “Thanks,” she says, “but it is not the same.”

7 Responses to “Re-Posting for Mother’s Day” Mothers and Mothering”

  1. Shelly said

    How does one get over the need for one’s mother to provide mothering? True that the need for mothering and the need for one’s mother to provide mothering are two separate things. Did Cheryl believe that she was not at fault for her mother’s lack of mothering her? What are your plans of treatment for her?

    • I don’t think that one ever gets over the need for mothering, but one can get passed needing that from one’s actual mother. Yes, Cheryl had a lot of self-blame for the fact that she did not get her needs met. Understanding that self-blame is our first step.

  2. mimi lind said

    beautifully written dr. vollmer…

  3. Shelly said

    Do you think that Cheryl’s solution of not speaking to her mother will get her message across? I don’t think that her mother will understand what Cheryl is trying to say.

    • Shirah said

      Hi Shelly,
      I don’t think that Chery not speaking to her mother will get the message across. I don’t think there is much that Cheryl can do to communicate her feelings to her mother, as she has tried on numerous occasions. So, I agree with you about that. I think Cheryl has to strive for inner peace with regards to who her mom actually is, as opposed to who she wished she were. This, as I often say, is a long and arduous journey.

  4. I think children have an amazing capacity to love flawed parents. I tried to find the silver lining in my flawed mother for Mother’s Day:

    But, I agree, it doesn’t have to be the parent that provides the parenting. I had a mostly absent father, but received a lot of fatherly love from other caring males in my life:

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