Trauma and a Mother’s Protective Fortress of Love – A Mother’s Day Story


Jenn, Mom raking leaves matching ponchos picThere are some situations from which it is impossible to shield a child from experiencing. The whole family goes through a crisis – whether it’s a death of a loved one or a fissure between family members – and the children must endure those times right along with the adults. Ready or not, here we go! We are coming up on a milestone event in my own child’s life – his First Communion (a Catholic religious tradition) – which brings back memories of my own First Communion, a traumatic day for me and my family.

Since Mother’s Day is coming up, I wanted to ask the question: “What did my Mother do so well to get me through that day that was particularly difficult for me so that I can learn from it?” You must understand the story in order to understand what she did that, I believe, is a model for me and all mothers.

So many years ago, my Grandmother – my Mother’s Mother – announced to our family that my First Communion would be the last time she would see us. There had been many problems leading up to this point. She had been a caregiver to me for my first three years of life while my Mom worked and there were many boundaries inappropriately crossed. Some of the ongoing disagreements between my Grandmother and Mother led up to my second grade milestone day in which she made this announcement in advance of the event. Strangely she made my dress knowing it was an important occasion for me. And she kept true to her word. Until her funeral twenty+ years later, it was the last time my Mom and I saw her. She stood in the back of a fully congregated Church with a hardened stare that pierced me like a poison dart while I stood with my class at the front. I have only two memories of that day, the rest existing only as a disturbing blur. The first is the angry forcefield she seemed to emanate directly toward me, a force that seemed to eliminate my view of all other people and feelings in the room. But the second memory were the powerfully loving women that surrounded me like a fortress as I came down from the altar, my knees failing me and my body limp, feeling as if I were about to topple over. My Mom, my Aunt and my two grandma-like neighbors held me in their collective arms and made me feel safe. My Father hovered close too. I was losing one central caretaker but the message was clear — I had numerous others who loved and would care for me. Those individuals were all there and poised to support me because of my Mom. She had assembled that support team knowing that it would be needed.

She went through trauma too that day, the kind that I cannot possibly understand – losing her Mother by her Mother’s choice. My Mom anticipated her own stress. And she called upon every person she could imagine to serve as a buffer. Despite her own crisis, she made certain that I was protected. As we approach this date in my son’s life, I am filled with gratitude that he has four grandparents who want to be involved and love and support him in becoming who he wants to become. He has a ready support team for the good times and bad.

And because I realize the occasion brings back difficult memories for my Mom and me, we’ve discussed it in advance. We have put away the old photographs. We have talked through our feelings and reflections. And we are putting them all – the memories – where they belong, in the past. Precisely because we’ve done that reflectingJennifer and Ethan Miller, we are prepared to fully focus on the day at hand and the celebration of the now. We plan to bring our whole selves to this new experience of my son receiving his First Communion and allow him his own fresh, unique memories surrounded by his loving family.

In thinking about the many gifts my Mother has given me, this is only one example of many times that my Mom surrounded me with a fortress of love during crises. As I quickly ticked off in my mind each time crisis struck my family as I was growing up, I can picture those my Mom called upon to offer support. Whether she enlisted neighbors, friends, counselors or teachers, there was a ready team each time I needed it. I realize that protection is what kept me safe and mentally as well as physically healthy. It’s a deeply-felt comfort to know that when trauma strikes a family, though we may feel helpless, we are not. Like my Mom, we can assemble a team and surround our children in a fortress of support to offer resilience. Those times will be remembered by our children just as I remember my own experiences – with gratitude for my Mom. Because of them, I know she’s always got my back. Happy Mother’s Day to all you awesome Moms out there and in particular, Happy Mother’s Day to my very own Mom!

2 Comments on “Trauma and a Mother’s Protective Fortress of Love – A Mother’s Day Story

  1. This is one of the most moving and vulnerable mother’s day stories I have ever read. Thank you for sharing it. It is wonderful that you and your mom have the awareness to deal with the past trauma so that it has no chance of leaking into your son’s important day. My own mother and grandmother had a similar split. To this day I can only guess at the full story behind their estrangement, but I know full well the confusion a child experiences when there is a rift in the parental and/or grand-parental relationships that are supposed to guide children to become healthy, loving human beings. Happy Mothers day to you, your Mom and all the Mom’s out there. And congratulations to E on his First Communion!

    • Tom, Thank you so much for your comment! My work helps me reflect on those past experiences in such meaningful ways. I have such gratitude for bridging my personal and professional lives to grow as a person. I know you’ve done the same. I do hope sharing stories can help others who have similar issues. I’m amazed at how many families have had to deal with estrangements. Even as a grown son/daughter, it’s difficult to understand. But I grapple with it nonetheless because it helps me, I believe, be a better parent. Thanks for sharing your story too, Tom! Happy Mom’s Day to Kathy and we – Jason and I – treasure your friendship! Best, Jenn

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