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God Can Heal the Pain of a Difficult Mother

How to let go of past wounds and celebrate Mother's Day with love and grace.

Young woman on bridge looking at river below

It’s a godly desire to honor our mothers. But let us not forget God also redeems the past by asking us to set healthy boundaries in our families of origin. We also have the opportunity to create something new and nurture our families as mothers to our children.

Wrestling with emotionally complicated mother relationships often leaves us torn. We want to celebrate Mother’s Day with our husbands and children to honor the new family we’ve building by creating memories that are emotionally healthy and give our children the chance to celebrate us as mom. Yet Mother’s Day can also cause us to feel emotionally overwhelmed and stressed, trying to meet our own mother’s expectations and demands to gain approval.

It’s a godly desire to honor our mothers. But let us not forget God also redeems the past by asking us to set healthy boundaries in our families of origin. We also have the opportunity to create something new and nurture our families as mothers to our children.

At night when I was little, I frequently cried because of painful words my mom would sling at me. I would stay quiet until she stopped yelling. I’d finally fall asleep, pouring my heart out to Jesus, asking Him to change things between us.

When I became a mom, I struggled to acknowledge how my difficult mother and daughter relationship wouldn’t change. I could never meet her expectations, though I tried my best and prayed about it my whole life.

It’s an unspoken taboo to talk about having a difficult mom in Christian circles. We don’t want to be misjudged as unloving or unforgiving daughters. We’re afraid people won’t understand.

But God understands the complexities of human relationships. We’re not alone; there’s hope. As children adopted into a new spiritual family, we receive the guidance we long for from our loving heavenly Father.

As I learned to heal emotionally, God freed me to celebrate Mother’s Day in new ways with my husband and children, to honor God’s love and parenting. Here’s what I’ve learned.

"As I learned to heal emotionally, God freed me to celebrate Mother’s Day in new ways with my husband and children, to honor God’s love and parenting."

1. You don’t have to be ashamed. 

We carry tremendous shame and guilt, thinking, If only I did “X” my mother would stop being angry, sad, or troubled. But God loves us unconditionally. We belong to Him. Our mothers also belong to God. We’re not responsible to fix our mother’s brokenness.

2. Grieve the loss. 

We need to accept the reality of our difficult moms and grieve the loss of our ideal mom — then we can grow as daughters of a loving Father. With God’s comfort and friends, we can let go of the mom we wish we had and gain wisdom and courage to relate to the mom we do have.

3. Experience freedom with the truth. 

Trust God with the truth, even if it hurts. Make different choices that are healthy for your spouse, children, and you. Break hurtful, old patterns. We can stop becoming enablers so our moms can face the truth with God too.

4. Redefine motherhood and receive mothering from your spiritual family.

Jesus redefined family. We have earthly families, but ultimately we’re adopted by God into a new family of believers, fueled by love and grace, instead of dysfunctional rules and expectations. Seek out friendships with women who are kind and who encourage you.

5. Forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean reconciliation. 

Forgiving someone’s debt means no longer expecting it to be paid. Instead of looking for the offending person to change, we look to Jesus to restore us. But forgiveness doesn’t mean trust is freely granted or automatically restored. Forgiveness doesn’t mean removing boundaries if someone’s unhealthy actions cause you emotional or physical harm. Forgiveness takes one person, but reconciliation takes two. Reconciliation happens when both make amends to repair the trust. Sometimes it’s not possible — for a season or longer. We forgive but trust in God’s timetable for reconciliation.

6. Establish boundaries. 

A relationship is two-way. Honoring our parents doesn’t mean opening borders to toxicity, fear, or intimidation, or allowing someone to control or manipulate us.

7. Have hope and share.

Perhaps the gift God wants to give you this Mother’s Day is a new season of healing and rebuilding. Opening up and writing about my journey with my own mother was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also what helped me to begin to heal and flourish.

Today, you have the opportunity to create new memories. Take better care of your soul as God’s beloved. You’re worth it. So is your family.

Originally published in HomeLife magazine.

Bonnie Gray loves being mom to her boys, hiking trails, and eating pastries. She also loves encouraging women through books, like her soul-refreshing devotional Whispers of Rest: 40 Ways of Revitalizing Your Soul with God’s Love.

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