Cards, flowers, gifts, brunches and dinners, smiles and hugs and sweet words of appreciation, gratitude and love – that’s what Mother’s Day is all about — another sentimental celebration of the ideal.  But what if it were a day of celebrating the shadows of mothering.

This is my 64th Mother’s Day. I am choosing to make it a day of forgiveness.  I want to forgive my mother, forgive my grandmothers and their mothers, forgive myself as a mother, be forgiven by my children, forgive the mothers of all my friends and especially the mothers of the men I have loved, forgive the cultural idealization of motherhood and its disregard and diminishment of mothering.

The Mystery of Forgiveness
Most of my life I have struggled with the concept, the feeling and the act of forgiveness. Yesterday, I had an epiphany that I want to share with you. I was researching the theories on object relations, a psychotherapeutic approach that places relationships at the central struggle of being human and becoming I.  Of course, the mother is the primary object the infant relates to and separates from. Object relations theory addresses “splitting” in the infant’s psyche.The initial split is the division between “good” mother and “bad” mother — the fairy godmother and the wicked witch.  In this split experience, there is no neutral zone. Neutral comes from neuter – Latin for “not either.”

It was reading the words “neutral zone” that set off the forgiveness bells, whistles and sirens.  My relationship to everything and every relationship has been split into good and bad, heaven and hell, friend and enemy, perpetrator and victim with no NEUTRAL ZONE. This has been especially painful and constricting in my relationship with myself, I am either too good or I am too bad for self-forgiveness.

Forgiveness in my struggling soul has always been about the good forgiving the bad and the expectation that forgiveness has this transformative impact on the bad – it disappears.  On the primal level, the bad mother and her bad daughter disappear. But then I didn’t want the bad to disappear I wanted to integrate it with the good and heal the split – be whole, embrace the light and the shadows.  But from the good pole there is no way to integrate the bad and vice versa.

There needs to be the neutral zone.  Relating, forgiving, integrating, reconciling all come into being in the neutral zone. It is not about being good. Being human and becoming I, seeing the being and becoming of another, compassion and empathy all happen in the neutral zone.

Now as a counselor and educator, I live in and provide a neutral zone most of the time.  Where I struggle being in a neutral zone is with my mother, my father and with men I love.  I either struggle to prove my goodness  or I assume all guilt for all wounds and sins and condemn it (and me) or try to fix it.  Martyrdom, anyone?

The good mother we feel one with and adhere to.  The bad mother is the mother that separates from us.  Reactions to that separation are infantile anger, shutdown, shut off or shut out, fear and/or sadness.  And then we grow up with these unresolved, unregulated, unacknowledged feelings but aware of the hope that maybe we will be the good mother we so wanted.

Recognizing these feelings, we can begin to understand the four types (based on the four temperaments) of the “bad” mother in the dramatic story of our childhoods.

the angry mother
the absent mother
the anxious mother
the grieving mother

My mother was never there, she was the absent mother.  She would appear momentarily to charm or to attack and then she would disappear. I felt the glow or the slap of her shimmering light and then the the cold hollowness of her absence. Her primary temperament was sanguine.

The angry mother is always demanding and disappointed because she is suppose to be the ideal mother and the child is suppose to prove it by being the ideal child. Succeed little one. She’s choleric mother.

The anxious mother wants everything to be comfortable and pleasant.  She wants to provide everything for the perfect childhood, so she can relax and eat chocolates with her happy child.  She’s the phlegmatic mother.

The grieving mother will never really connect with her child except in moments of shared suffering.  There is this well of sadness that she seems to be drowning in and the child always feels like a floating device or a life jacket. She’s the melancholic mother.

My mother was a very bad mother – really bad. But when I am in the neutral zone, the land of forgiveness where there is nothing to forgive, I see she really did the best she could. She also had an absent mother.  In the neutral zone I also see that much of my ability to do what I do comes from the wisdom living behind my mother wounds.  She was the right mother for me – the one I chose. It is from the neutral zone that I can see her, see me and celebrate our relationship – she was a bad mother for my story and the best and only mother for my destiny.

With my children, I was too present in their early years as I was determined they would never feel abandonned. Then when I divorced there were times when I was absent, seeking the part of myself that was not mother and not child.

Mothering and the Neutral Zone

This post is about forgiving mother for not providing a neutral zone.  As a therapeutic researcher, I want to know why my mother (your mother, all mothers) couldn’t provide a neutral zone. Simply, she didn’t have one for herself.  The sin of the first mother, Eve, meant we all have been born into the world of good and bad and need to create our own neutral Eden for ourselves.

Let’s forgive our mothers for not giving us what they didn’t have to give.  Let’s see them from our self-created neutral Eden of compassion.

On Sunday, Mother’s Day, and every day, meet your mother, all mothers, and your children, all children, and yourself in the neutral zone.

As Rumi said

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing
 and right doing

there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.