If you were a child who came into this world with a mother who, for whatever reason, was unable to fully welcome, nurture, protect or connect with you, you have a part of you who is an unmothered child.
It is an aspect of nature that not all lives who enter this world can be cared for. In animal and plant species many more new lives are birthed than can sustainably live, and many die very young. In human species too, before western civilisation was able to ensure adequate food, shelter, hygiene, and medical technologies to sustain life, many infants and children did not survive. This is still true in cultures that do not have the resources to sustain every new life.
In Western culture, we live with the expectation that we will survive childhood, and this is mostly true. However, many of us live with the legacy of an experience of being unwelcome and unmothered, and this creates trauma that begins so early in life it is perceived as normal by the traumatised child. A child may have the experience of being unwelcome and unmothered for many reasons, not all of them due to intentional rejection by the mother. A pre-birth experience of threatened miscarriage or a mother’s serious illness may be experienced by the unborn child as an attempt to eliminate them. Likewise the death of a twin in utero or a life-threatening birth experience may be experienced as a threat to the infant’s fragile existence. Premature babies separated from their mother and undergoing necessary but frightening or painful procedures may experience terrifying vulnerability and fear of death.
These experiences are hard to make sense of and heal well because they happen so early in life that they are held in the body, unable to be verbalised or created into coherent narratives that could tell, and therefore share, the story being lived.
Unmothering also results from crises that affect a mother’s capacity to mother, and that affect her family’s and community’s capacity to support her. During times of famine, war, social upheaval, and family crises, the capacity for mothering is disrupted. When families and communities go through severe stress and become traumatised, these traumatic patterns of relating are transmitted through the generations, leading to mothering patterns of abandonment, neglect, violence or aggression, disconnection and withdrawal which were means of survival in the original and ongoing trauma. Substance abuse is another survival mechanism that may contribute to the situation.
A child who is not being, and feeling, cared for takes responsibility for this, believing they are bad to deserve such treatment, unable to recognise this is the result of a desperate situation and maladaptive reactions.
Sometime a child feels unmothered through a disruption to the mother-child bond. Perhaps through adoption, or illness, or a parent’s death, divorce or government intervention. Separation (or disconnection) from mother is devastating for a child, for whom mother is their root to life, and the ground of their being. In the earliest years, we need our relationship with mother to regulate our emotions and sensations. Very young children are unable to do this on their own. Without attuned connection to mother we feel at the mercy of our physical and emotional states. We can feel ungrounded, disconnected from life, as if we were not really born, and have no place to rest. We can feel we’re not meant to be here, or we don’t know how to be here.
The latin root of the word mother is the same as that for matter. In order to incarnate in our bodies on this earth, we need connection with the qualities and connection of mother. Without this we cannot feel like we matter and our worth and sense of existence is threatened. We may long to feel embodied and connected but not know how. We may have an eternal sense of hunger and longing that we can’t find a way to truly fill, or a desperate need to numb our pain with substances, food, sex or devices.
How do we heal this unmothering?
We need to find and restore ways of nourishing, nurturing, caring, protecting and welcoming this little one into the world. We might need the support of another person with these qualities to help provide a safe place where we can gradually learn to take in the nourishment offered and put down tender roots into new soil in our bodies, hearts, minds and souls – allowing us to plant somewhere and receive vitality, strength and connection from the earth’s stability. The only way to heal is to offer what was needed and not given at the time. This is why connection with the Sacred Feminine is so important. Through engaging with the qualities of the mothering aspect of the Sacred Feminine, we can begin to embody and develop these and nurture ourselves.
We also need to allow the unmothered child in us to rage and grieve for what was not available at the time and the impact this has had. Grief and other emotions need a safe place for their expression and care. It is usually not helpful to rage at a parent who has not been able to be there for you. Your energies are better spent taking care of the little one within you, and learning to matter in your own life.
The unmothered child in you may want someone else to take care of you. The best mothering is offered by the care of another person (although this might not be an actual person – it might be an ancestor, a spiritual being, a place, a tree, a creature that feels safe and caring) who will support you to awaken these qualities in yourself so you can develop a safe grounded relationship within you that heals trauma and opens you to new possibilities in life. If we simply rely on another person to continue to mother us we remain trapped in infancy, always at the mercy of others who recognise our helpless dependency. The qualities of the Sacred Feminine are available for us to relate to and draw from to grow into our nurturing selves and heal our unmothered wounds.
With you on the Journey – Violet