My Mother Passes, Again, on an Opportunity to Know Me

I live on the west coast; my mother lives in New England. She last visited me in 2010. I went to see her once a year from 2010 to 2014, but I haven’t been in three years. We talk on the phone, but usually not more than once a month. I love her, but we aren’t close. That’s her choice, not mine. And sometimes, that makes me crazy.

Here’s the latest incident, which just exemplifies our relationship. I’m happy, very happy, about my participation in a yoga teacher training program. I am not one of those young, supple dancer types. I am a solidly middle-aged type, weighing somewhat more than I should, not as strong as I once was, and never a dancer except in my own imagination. Or perhaps in my living room, when no one else was home. At any rate, I went into the YTT with some trepidation: I am too old, too stiff, have a crick in my right shoulder, can’t do an unsupported handstand… But I thought I’d take a risk and do it anyway. I could deepen my personal commitment to yoga, at the very least, and maybe, just maybe, I would do some volunteer teaching. More on that another time.

I recently went through my second intensive weekend of YTT; 42 hours over four days. Asana practice, chanting, study of the Bhagavad Gita, listening skills, meditation, how to lead meditation, how to lead a yoga class, word choice, why to choose different types of poses, a little anatomy, a little introduction to the brain and neuroscience. All of it interconnected and beautiful, and all of it shared and discussed and lived together with a group of 19 other people who are similarly moved and enthralled. I feel a sense of spaciousness, of ease and possibility. I make myself vulnerable in the group and am met with compassion and kindness. I float on a cloud of exuberance–“I’ve found my people!”

So I want to share this with my mother, let her know what a meaningful experience it is to me, how I’m discovering important pieces of myself that I didn’t even know I was missing. I’ve called her because it’s been more than a month since we last spoke.

Me: And the yoga teacher training, you know, it’s just amazing. I’m excited about everything I’m learning, but somehow what’s really incredible is the way it all comes together to create something larger, a sense of community with people who are also care about…

Mom: Sorry to cut you off, I am just thinking I should probably think about getting dinner made soon for Leo. He has to leave the house by six for his band practice, to get there on time, and I don’t even know what time it is.

Me: It’s 4:45, your time.

Mom: Okay, so we still have a little time to talk. It’s just that I don’t want him to have to rush to eat too fast. And he needs time to drive up to the rehearsal. It’s at the new high school. Do you know where that is? They built it up… blah blah blah… the school, the rehearsal room, the conductor… blah blah blah…

Because after all, it wouldn’t be interesting to talk about my yoga teacher training for even five fucking minutes now, would it? It wouldn’t be worthwhile hearing about something I say makes me excited and happy and hopeful, after spending several years being depressed a huge amount of the time.

The call ends just a few minutes later, so she’ll have time to make dinner for my stepdad. A timely meal for my stepdad has cut short many a conversation between me and my mother over the years.

I get off the phone and sit still on the bed for a few minutes. I feel so deflated. I feel unimportant, boring, invisible. My mother has no interest in knowing me as a person. She wants to love me–she says she loves me–from a distance, generically, without getting close enough to actually see me.

At one level, I know it’s her, not me.

I know this because when I said something about this to my sister last year, daring for the first time to voice the feelings of rejection that I’ve carried for years, my sister said, “You know, I’m sorry you feel like that, but I’m also not sorry. It kind of makes me feel better, because I have had the feeling for a long time that Mom didn’t really like me all that much.”

I know this because E tells me, in therapy session, that it is my mother, not me. That not everyone is willing to accept the emotional vulnerability that comes with intimacy. That I have intimacy with other people, but my mother does not.

But there is a three-year-old self inside me that is holding up a picture she drew and saying, “Mommy, look, I made you this.” And Mommy is refusing to look.

There is a 14-year-old self inside of me who was raped and feels confused and angry. And Mom makes her spend the weekend in her room for talking back.

There’s sadness in me, and loneliness, longing and anger and outrage. How can a mother be uninterested in her child? I don’t get it. I find my sons endlessly interesting. I love to hear how they see the world and feel privileged when they are willing to share that with me.

I know the solution to this painful soup of emotions. It’s right there in yoga, in of the early teachings in one of our dharma talks: non-attachment, non-judgment.  I can decide to accept my mother as she is, guarded and remote. I can free myself of this attachment to a fantasy mother who doesn’t exist. Doing this would be a gift to myself.

And even though I know this, I also watch my mind spinning out its plans: 1) I can call her back and tell her I feel wounded and overlooked because she changed the subject, again, and didn’t want to hear about something that mattered to me. Then she will say, “Oh my gosh, I know, I made a terrible mistake. Really I have been thinking  of this non-stop, ever since our call. I’ve wanted to call you back and apologize and ask you about the yoga, but I was too…” [worried/embarrassed/busy? what would she fill in here?] But I get to this point and know this plan will not work. 2) I will not call her ever again, and after a while, she will realize I am shutting her out, and it’s because she has shut me out a million times, and she will see how painful that is and will express her regrets… no, this one probably won’t yield much either. 3) I will write her engaging, funny letters, full of news and things I care about, and she will realize how much she loves knowing about my life, and she will call me up and ask me to tell her more… well, she has letters I’ve been writing to her for more than thirty years. She does keep them, it seems, but she doesn’t mention them.

And still my mind is busy, plotting, looking for some way to get her to notice me.

Let it go, mind. Let it go, little three-year-old girl, lanky fourteen-year old adolescent. Let it go, middle-aged woman. She doesn’t want to be that kind of mother.


  1. Well she freaking SUCKS. She should put her daughter first. At least give her daughter her presence and her time to get to know what is going on in her life. This is absurd. What would it have done to give you 10 minutes!!!!
    I am VERY interested. What you wrote sounds fascinating. I know nothing about it and would love to know more, I’m sorry your mom didn.t. It is her not you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Bethany. I had to smile as the “she freaking SUCKS.” I can just picture you feeling outraged on my behalf, and I appreciate it!

      It is her, not me. And still it makes me sad. But I’ll be okay anyway, right?


      • I actually got red in the face and said outloud how much she sucks!!!! I am outraged on your behalf!
        As much as it is her and not you I do understand the sadness it leaves. I hate the sadness part.
        You are more than Okay in my book!


  2. So what about having a mother unable to have relationships is a very sad and painful thing and doing something that might be comforting instead of trying to either detach from the feelings altogether or somehow force her to be kind of normal?


    • You are right, of course. I do need to do things to comfort myself (my younger selves). I just didn’t write about it here, but yes, I do believe that. But I also would like to quit setting myself up for this kind of disappointment, which I think would be possible if I could detach, not so much from my feelings, but from the expectation that somehow the next time she will be different. At least, that is what I was trying to say.


    • Oh, I’m sorry you can relate, too. It’s a very sad thing to have a hole in your heart where you want your mother to be. I will try hard to be sweet and tender to that hole, but it will never entirely go away, I know it. And I’m genuinely sorry you know it, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so happy you are doing YTT and that you are excited about what you are learning and enjoying the trainings. I’m so, so happy for you.

    And I’m sorry your mom can’t see you. I know that pain, that grief, and I’m sorry.

    Hugs to the three year old, the 14 year old, and you. All of you are amazing and precious.💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’m very happy about the YTT and should probably write about it more. It’s reinforcing healing things and deepening and enriching my perspective on things.

      AND… none of that will go away, just because my mom can’t / won’t see it. Instead, I will try to use the strength that yoga gives me to tend to my sad parts who wish she wanted to know them better.

      Thank you for your understanding and kindness!


      • 💟 If you write more about YTT, I promise to read! I really want to take YTT one day, but I worry about the amount of physical endurance needed because if my fibro, the time commitment (because of the kid) and the cost. Maybe one day. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my gosh, Alice, I am doing it now but have all those worries too. I worry about physical endurance because I have been having so many health problems for the past few years. I worry about the time commitment, not because of my kiddos anymore, but because of my new business and my energy (can I get everything done I’ve committed to?). And I hesitated over the cost. It helped that my husband was so enthusiastic of the idea when I brought it up; he clearly thought it was worth the money. All this is to say, maybe you can make it at some point too. And also, I hesitated because I’m OLD, well, middle ages, but I feel old to be doing this now. And yet, despite all this, I am so so so glad to be doing it, whether my mom wants to hear about it or not!


  4. Your mother and mine, both. I am so sorry – I lived with it for so many years, and what struck me was just how persistent the feeling was that somewhere, deep inside of her, was a person who would do the ‘right thing’ if she could. That maybe, she regretted the million and one interactions we had, that echo what you describe. Maybe on her death bed, she would say how sorry she was to not have been able to be present to me – to be the kind of mother she wanted to be. She didn’t. She died the way she lived, she never really demonstrated anything other than resentment, anger and complete disconnection towards me.
    I just think they CAN’T. For whatever reason, they were unable to give us what we wanted then and she is unable to give it to you now. It’s immensely sad and the worse kind of loss. Like, being motherless but still having a mother. There is not a grief-category for that.
    As for the teacher training – wow. I am in awe of you. You’ll bring a special kind of understanding to people. As for your mother not relating, well…she’s not your people. AS awful as it is to accept that, it’s kind of liberating to know her opposite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, wow, you said it: being motherless but having a mother.

      One thing that is very confusing to me is that she occasionally shows flashes of a warmer, more present mother, or of one who regrets freezing me out. For example, once she told me she regretted never seeing me pregnant or being around when I had my two sons. (I even invited her and she didn’t come.) I am still not truly okay that she wasn’t there, but I do appreciate her expression of regret. Sometimes I suspect she regrets not knowing my boys very well or being so far away from us, physically and emotionally. But other times, I think it doesn’t matter to her that much. Sigh.

      It’s sad. I guess it’s okay to be sad sometimes, though.


      • It’s very sad. And, I think, good to feel the sadness, as well as the confusion and longing and all the other things that come with it.

        Yes, mine did that, too. She even would have these moments of what felt like lucidity, where she would acknowledge what she had done and how hard it must have been to me, but then it would be like she’d never said it. Same way she would be suicidal and raging one minute, and totally normal the next (and be shocked that I would assume there might be something to be worried about. Like, the suicidal threats, maybe?!).

        They’re not wired like the rest of us. I know it’s not much consolation, but it gives you something to contrast yourself against and the reassurance that, no matter which balls you drop with your kids, it will be nothing like the things she has done/not done.

        I don’t think the hurt ever goes away. It can’t be replaced with anger or anything else, it’s a thing all of its own, and it needs to be felt. I don’t know that I ever accepted that my mother was the way she was, and that was that. But I do think, at some point, I stopped buying into her perception of me and realised that actually, she was both unable – and probably unwilling – to change anything.

        I really feel for you: it’s the hardest place to be.


  5. That is so sad, that your mother can’t seem to scrape up interest for you and the things in your life which are important to you. Worse than being neutrally uninterested, she actively cut you off! That’s a gut punch. I love that you are doing YTT, I want to hear lots more about it, and I hope that it will help you find a way to make peace with your relationship with your mother.

    I’ve been through some of this with my parents and have reached a point where I’m not angry at them any more, I’ve just given up and it’s as if they don’t really exist. My mother died at the age of 58 but that made no difference in practical terms and I had no real feelings about her death. My dad is in his 70’s and I don’t talk to him any more. I don’t think I will feel much when he dies either. They’re like cardboard cut outs, they just don’t feel real to me. To be honest I’m not sure if any of this is “non-judgemental acceptance” or if it is simply avoidance. I recognise that I have somewhat of an avoidant attachment style, and probably the way I have handled it relates to that and the way you experience your situation and what might work best for you may be completely different. I do know that the way things are now for me is vastly less painful than struggling to get something from them they couldn’t or wouldn’t give.


    • When you say you have “given up,” do you feel like sometimes you have given up but sometimes you haven’t, and it still bothers you? I feel a little like that. Sometimes I can say, “fine, she is who she is,” but other times, I resist, resent, grieve, rage, or pathetically try to be more interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve given up on the people, but still grieve the loss of what I could/should have had, if that makes sense. Which is why I wonder if it is more just a form of avoidance, disconnecting the feelings from the cause. It really is less painful with my father, though, to have have consciously acknowledged that I’m never going to get what I want from him and not bothering any more, which includes cutting off contact.


      • I’m confused about what I want to do. I don’t want to cut off my mom. I love her. As her health worsens, I’d like to be helpful. But I want to find a way to do this while also protecting myself from repeated hurt and disappointment. I haven’t figured out how to do this.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That really highlights that what may work for one person won’t necessarily work for another. I’d hate to think anyone would cut someone out of their life on the advice of a stranger if it wasn’t something they truly felt was right for them.

        In the case of my dad, I can see that he has many people in his life (including step children and ex-wives) who do value him as a friend, and they have obviously got something out of their relationship with him that I haven’t. I don’t resent their relationships with him. But I also feel free of guilt leaving any needs he might have as he gets older and sicker in their hands.

        I think it would have been more difficult if my mother had lived longer, because she would have been more demanding and I would have felt a lot more resentment toward her if she’d still been alive for me when I recognised the narcissistic element in her behaviour that my sister and I have seen in retrospect. I think in her case I would have just offered money to help with care but still stayed away.

        I don’t think either of those scenarios is really similar to your situation with your mother and you are in a much tougher position. All I can think of is that it might help to think about and discuss with your T what you would feel able to give her *as a gift* with no expectation of return, in terms of helping to look after her. A bit like stopping lending people money and only letting them have it as a freely given gift which you never expect to see back, and only doing it when you can afford it. Or another situation I’ve been in where people have been very generous in having me to stay and paying for meals but I’ve come to the conclusion later that I didn’t actually like those people very much and in other ways they have been unkind, so I have stopped feeling guilty about not reciprocating the hospitality in person and have mentally prepared myself to just give a gift voucher or money, plus my grateful thanks, instead. Letting go of some of the internalised expectations really does seem to help.


      • Thank you for this very insightful response. I know this is a topic I will bring up with E at some point, but in the meantime I’ll be thinking about what you said. I think giving whatever I decide to give as a gift is the right approach. It’s just a matter of managing my expectations when I interact with her.


  6. I just shake my head. This is all too familiar. Even though it’s there loss, it’s our loss too. It’s a grief we’ll carry with us for a long time. More unnecessary wounding. It seems so simple, and for normal mother’s it is. Normal mother’s don’t have to be all but begged to notice and care about the lives of their kids. It is not normal to overlook us this way.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.