And sometimes this may mean being wounded because of our early environments and relationships, including with our father and our mother.
Specifically, when it comes to being wounded in our mother relationship, this can often arise when we have/had a mother in our childhood and adolescence who couldn’t meet most or any of our mental, emotional, or physical needs.
Perhaps she was neglectful, or avoidant, or dealing with mental health challenges and emotional limitations of her own. Perhaps she passed away when we were young and still growing up into adulthood. Perhaps she was outright abusive in some way. Perhaps she was dealing with her own overwhelming inherited pain of being a woman born into a time when it was even harder to be female in a patriarchal, largely still female-denigrating world. Or perhaps she was like so many women out there, struggling to do the best she could in what is largely regarded as the world’s hardest job and sometimes (or often) fell short despite her best efforts.
Whatever the case was for you personally, almost ALL of us have places inside of us that may need to be remothered or, in other words, healed through reparative experiences of relationship that we simply couldn’t get from our family-of-origin, flesh-and-blood mother.
And the good news is that with awareness and a different kind of relational experience, whether that’s with yourself or with others, there’s opportunity to heal and strengthen any of the gaps or wounds you may have unconsciously or consciously developed in response to your childhood experience.
So this post is not meant to lambast or denigrate mothers out there — far from it!
It’s simply an acknowledgment of our mother’s humanity (in other words, her limitations) and the reality that many of us (if not all of us) could benefit from more conscious, active psychological re-mothering work in our lives.
And it’s our responsibility now as adults to do this work for ourselves in order to grow, to heal, and to show up for our lives as fully as we can.
(And please note: Men can possess the qualities of an archetypal mother, too. So while I use the feminine pronoun throughout this article, this post still applies to you if you grew up with a single or multiple fathers and no female-identified or female-gendered figure(s) in your life.)
So why is remothering work so important?
The point of remothering work is to have different experiences with yourself and with others to help you fill in any developmental gaps or unmet needs from childhood that are getting in your way as an adult and sabotaging your ability to engage with and enjoy life.
The way that mothering wounds manifest for each of us is going to be unique and complex.
Growing up, we each develop myriad and usually unconscious coping skills in order to process and tolerate the pain that can come from having a neglectful, absent, or unequipped mother.
So while I can’t personally tell you how your own mothering wounds will manifest, for some, mother wounds can show up in the following ways:
- Unrealistic expectations in relationship.
- An inability to practice foundational self-care.
- Emotionally care-taking others to the point of your own exhaustion and resentment.
- Unconscious self-sabotage in work and in love.
- An inability to ask for and receive support.
- Disordered eating – binge, bulimia, or restriction – or other addictions or numbing coping mechanisms.
- Allowing and accepting poor or abusive treatment from others.
- Living out the unlived lives of our mothers and not being true to ourselves and our own dreams.
- Shame, believing that something is fundamentally wrong with you or that you’re not worthy of love.
- Keeping yourself small – physically, emotionally, or mentally – for fear of stepping fully into your power.
- Feeling relentlessly needy in your relationships.
- Feeling resentful and bitter at your own children or what it means to be a woman in this world.
- Never, ever feeling good enough no matter what you seem to do.
And while these are just some of the many, many ways mothering wounds may manifest, if you find yourself nodding as you read through this list and clearly feel that remothering work may benefit you, good. I invite you to scroll down to the next section of this article.
And if you’re reading this list and not seeing yourself in it or not understanding how mothering wounds may manifest or even be a problem for you but still you have a sense that something’s not right, please remember that sometimes in our healing journey we’re a bit like a fish who’s being asked, “How’s the water?” If water is the only thing a fish has ever known, how could he possibly know anything different?
We can be the same. You don’t know what you don’t know and, in this case, you may not even be aware that remothering yourself is a healing task facing you because you’re not even aware that something else – something potentially better and healthier – may exist for you as an option in moving through the world.
If this is the case for you, if you find yourself feeling stuck imagining what your own remothering work might be, if you don’t see yourself in the list above but you have a niggling sense that something’s just not right, you may want to consider working with a therapist for a brief stretch of time to even begin to explore what this may look like for you and what might be possible instead.
You may also want to consider learning how to set healthy boundaries when interacting with difficult family members, in order to support yourself and create a thriving adulthood. If you would like to know how to feel good no matter how hard your family is and no matter how they behave, please be sure to explore my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries.
Because the reality is, there is so much you stand to gain from conscious remothering work!
And, again, while the benefits of this work may look different for all of us, essentially at the core of more conscious, active remothering work is the possibility of a more cohesive, integrated and grounded sense of self which can immeasurably contribute to our ability to show up for and more consciously engage with our own lives.
What does it actually look like to remother yourself?
So we’ve talked quite a bit about what remothering work is in theory and how and why this may be needed in our lives and what, fundamentally, we stand to gain by doing this work, now I want to dive more deeply into what remothering work actually looks like and provide some creative examples for you that you could imagine weaving into your own life.
Again, remothering yourself is the act of meeting your emotional, physical, and logistical needs now as an adult that a real life mother might have done when you were younger, addressing those gaps or stuck or hurting places that your flesh-and-blood mother couldn’t or wouldn’t meet, tending to the hurting little one inside of you.
So to begin this work, I want you to consider what qualities or characteristics “mother” and “mothering” may mean to you. And while we all have different ideas of what it means to mother, some common characteristics attributed to mothering may include:
Take a moment and consider what else you might add to this list. What else comes up for you when you consider what it means to mother?
Now, I want you to consider what actions, thoughts, or beliefs would be in alignment with qualities like these. What actions, thoughts, or beliefs did you not receive from your mother (or did receive but could use/want more of) that they you may cultivate?
Because it is with acts and thoughts both large and small that we consciously and actively re-mother ourselves.
And, given this, the opportunities to actively re-mother yourself and to embody the qualities and characteristics of a “good-enough” inner mother are endlessly creative and absolutely unique to each of us.
For example, perhaps each time you turned to your mom for support as a kid she was emotionally unavailable and you learned to stop turning to people for support. And now as an adult, you feel isolated, burdened, longing for connection but afraid of and not knowing how to receive it from others because you’re still scared of that rejection you experienced with your mom.
Remothering yourself, in this case, might look like actively working to learn how to reach out again, tolerating the discomfort that comes up for you when you do this, and seeking out more constructive sources of help so that you can increase your odds of feeling received and supported when you’re struggling.
Other creative ideas for actively re-mothering yourself may include:
- Learning to expose yourself to more examples of healthy, functional mothers — whether this is in real life or in reading books and stories that feature good-enough mothers — and then beginning to internalize and embody their supportive ways of being inside of you.
- Spending time with girlfriends or neighbors who are mothering little children – letting yourself observe and soak up the kindness and love that they show their children.
- Making a list of all the things that you imagine a good, stable, loving mother might do for her child — taking them to medical appointments, making sure they have good clothes that fit, making sure they’re having playdates with friends, etc. — and then doing some of these things for yourself.
- Finding pictures of yourself at different ages and asking that child inside of you what she needs from you.
- Seeking help when you need it (medical, dental, therapy, legal, etc.) and then giving it to yourself.
- Honoring your emotions, listening to them for the information and wisdom they contain and then meeting any needs within you that arise.
- Working with a therapist, perhaps one who embodies some motherly characteristics or one who even has children, so that you can have reparative relational experiences with someone warm, caring, and present.
- Creating a soothing, comforting bedtime routine for yourself.
- Reading parenting books (even if you don’t have children!) which can yield some terrific insight into the developmental needs of children at different ages and what’s appropriate/needed from parents at that time.
- Asking for and allowing yourself to receive supports – whether from your therapist, your friends, spiritual guidance, etc.
- Reflecting on what you DID receive from your flesh and blood mother. Celebrating this. Seeing the mothering acts you learned from her that you already do or want to incorporate more into your life.
- Reflecting on what you didn’t receive in childhood. Grieving this. Understanding that grieving the losses and hurts in your childhood may take some time. Seeking out support for this process if you need it.
As you can imagine, this list of examples is but the tip of the iceberg!
I now invite you to take a few minutes and reflect on or write down some ideas of what active remothering work may look like for you given what you know about yourself, your childhood, and your own unique struggles or challenges in your life.
Open up a Google doc or your journal and spend some time with this. And then, if you really want to deepen this work, bring that list of insights to your next appointment with your therapist to discuss it.
Hopefully, you’re understanding by now that active remothering work is endlessly creative and can be customized specifically to you and what you personally need and want in your own healing and personal growth journey and that it can have tremendous benefits for you if you engage in it.
And if you’re in doubt about what you need and want or what your own remothering work may entail, please consider working with a therapist to gain some clarity and some support around this. It’s one of the best and biggest gifts and investments you can ever make in yourself.
I truly believe we all do what we know and when we know better we do better. And so on and so forth it goes down the generations until someone in the family lineage learns and practices something different with her children, thus passing on different ways of being.
And so this post today is meant a support in helping you learn something different, the concept of active remothering work not only for you but for the generations that may come after you if you choose to have children.
So if you’re ready to make this investment in yourself and you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d love to work with you! You can book an appointment here or email me at email@example.com for more information.
Now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below: What’s one example of active remothering work that occurred to you in the course of reading this article that might feel helpful or supportive? Leave a message in the comments below so our community of blog readers can benefit from your wisdom.
If you would like additional support with this and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together. You can also book a complimentary consult call to explore therapy with one of my fantastic clinicians at my trauma-informed therapy center, Evergreen Counseling.
Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.
Beautiful .. so balanced, thorough and well written. Thank you.
I’m so glad you liked the article, Ashwin! Thank you for taking the time to read it, and for commenting. Warmly, Annie
Susan Laird on
This was a very well written article. I found it serendipitous that I had just come from doing some self-care when I read the article. I had gone to my local massage an oxygen bar and had enjoyed a half hour chair massage and 20 minutes at the oxygen bar. I felt real vitalized and rejuvenated. Then I bought myself lunch and settled down to read this post. I do have my own therapist and we talked a lot about taking time for me, resting when I feel tired, watching for signs that I’m getting over stimulated in social situations so that I can excuse myself before I get to burnt out. Also make a time to play: to find things I actually enjoy doing and do them. That last one is hard for me to give myself permission to do. Anyway thanks Annie for this article.
It looks like my original response back to you never went through so I wanted to be sure to come back and comment. I so appreciated your feedback and the time you took to read my article. It sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job of tending to your self-care (your day sounded dreamy!) and I’m glad you have an advocate in your therapist to keep paying attention to this.
Thank you again for taking the time to read this article and to comment.
I wish I had come across this article during my teenage years. This is so well-written and I couldn’t help but shed some tears at how relatable this is for me. As an adult, I am so glad that I came across your articles about being under-parented and this one above because it allowed me to reflect and gather up the courage to finally seek help from a therapist to begin my journey to healing. Thank you Annie. Looking forward to reading more of your articles.
It looks like my response to your comment never went through so I wanted to be sure to circle back and to comment.
I’m really touched by your feedback and am so glad my articles can feel helpful to you in any small way. I often write the articles that I, too, had encountered when younger so it means a lot to me knowing that you feel that way.
I’m wishing you all the very best moving forward.
Kay Terera on
Thank you so much Annie for this article. I spent so many years believing that my emotional needs could be met through romantic relationships and wondered why those relationships failed to make me feel better. I’ve only recently realised that I suffered so much emotional neglect (and some trauma too) from my parents.
I am now trying to rewire my brain from thinking, “This is what I wish my boyfriend/sister/friend would do for me right now,” to “What would I have wanted my mother to do for me right now? Let me do that very thing myself.” 😊
For example, growing up my mother would always order me to make tea for her. When I was feeling down, oh how would I have appreciated it if she had made tea for me! So now, I am going to make myself a soothing cup of chamomile tea every night.☕
Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, I’m so pleased that this article resonated with you! I am proud of you for doing the hard personal work of changing your thought patterns and for taking good care of yourself. I hope your nightly cup of chamomile tea brings the comfort you so richly deserve.
If either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – could be of support to you as you continue your remothering journey, I’d love to be of support to you. In the meantime, please know I’m sending you my very best.