Cheryl Pappas


Mother’s Day: The Good Child

If your mother was mentally ill, undoubtedly Mother’s Day, for you, was not the holiday it was supposed to be. In fact, the very existence of mothers who are emotionally and psychologically unfit to mother, as well as the experience of having a mentally ill mother, is still taboo and most commonly, a conversation left unspoken.

When a mentally ill mother “passes” as normal, often there is no one who reflects back to the child that there is something seriously amiss in the behaviors and expressions of the mother, and yeowwwww, that lack of acknowledgment and support hurts. The kind of hurt that is lifelong and personality bending. Dark secrets are held in the hearts of these children, self-esteem is nowhere to be found, emulated or developed, and shame is deeply felt.

For every Mother’s Day tribute urging a shout out and outpouring of gratitude for Mom, there is a bellowing rebuke to those for whom celebrating Mom would not only be crazy, but wrong. For every sentimental essay and love letter to mother, the woman who “taught us to be women and men”, the message is a queasy reminder that no such role model was present for children who lacked the loving reflection and guidance of a mentally well mother.

For every Mother’s Day article advising that we seek to be better daughters and sons, the missing piece is that if a mother is mentally sick, chances are 100% that the child has tried just about everything to win the impossible love of that mother. These children can legitimately be regarded as experts in the strategies of being “the good child”. They were experts as children. They had no choice. Children who fail to be loved by the mentally ill mother become grown children who feel that they, themselves, are at fault, for failing to be “good enough” to be loved by Mom.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I salute all those who were cast into this role as “the good child”, having to survive a mentally ill mother. Your job has been to separate from your mother’s illness, a heroic task; and acknowledge the loss of the mother you wanted to have, one of the hardest psychological truths in life to face. I hope that on each Mother’s Day, and the days in- between, you are able to understand and celebrate the love you have to give, and the fierce strength in you, that kept you alive! Bravo, and remember: The world is full of people who can and cannot love. Choose only the lovers.

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