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Mother's Day Story 

By Joyce Zaritsky

longing for maternal love

Artwork: Aburrida, Bruno Berthier, 2023

If you wish to read a story about a wonderful mother on Mother’s Day, stop reading now! You are on the wrong page! Find another story, one that has a story about a fantastic mother who did everything right. Because this is the wrong one.


After years of therapy, I have a bold statement to make. I still suffer from maternal deprivation. My mother provided most of the material things I needed, but she just couldn’t give me what I most needed – support and expressions of unconditional love.


Corporal punishment was common in my childhood. If I didn’t obey her, there was a strong slap across my face. One cheek would turn scarlet and burn for what seemed like a long time. She never knew that when I was in 6th grade, and we moved to a house, I was excited about having my own room for the first time. But what really thrilled me was the house's circular layout. I could run from the entrance, through the hall and living room, into the dining room, and back to the entrance, always staying one step ahead of her. I smiled silently and thought, “She will never be able to hit me again. I will always be able to elude her by running this circle.”


My mother believed that children were moldable pottery. “Do what you are told,” was the constant message. As a result, I grew up not knowing who I was or what I wanted out of life. My father’s constant refrain helped not at all. “Do what your mother wants,” he repeated over and over. And so, I grew up not only fearing her but disliking him.


I was constantly told that I needed to improve myself. “Take off your glasses,” she would whisper when we went out. The message was that girls who wore glasses were not attractive and would never find a mate. And so, when with her, I often stumbled through the day, half-blind, with a myopic view of the world that resembled a blurry, impressionistic painting. Another example? “Many girls can wear anything, but you have to dress up,” she would announce. The message was that I was somehow below par in good looks. As an adult, I was often surprised when people commented on my attractive looks! Were they telling the truth, I often wondered?


When I became a young adult and was in college, my mother made it clear that if I wasn’t engaged by graduation, I was a failure. Men liked young women. Once a woman was past her early twenties, her options diminished greatly. I would be a “leftover,” destined to be an “old maid.”


I have wondered over and over again: Why did I swallow her definition of life, leaving me often feeling sad and depressed with a soaring lack of self-confidence? I have no answer. Although therapy has helped me greatly, some of the results of her upbringing still stick with me!


I often thought I wouldn’t have children because I would only repeat my mother’s childhood patterns. Over time, I changed and can say that I don’t think I have repeated these damaging patterns with my own kids. We have a good relationship. But if you want the truth, you will have to ask them.


One thought stands out in my mind. When my mother got old and sick, I took care of her and had her at my house most weekends. At that point, she changed and became much kinder to me. One day, my 16-year-old daughter made a remark that absolutely flabbergasted me. “You are lucky, your mom lived so long,” she said. “Why?” I asked, wondering what she was referring to. “You got to see a nicer side of grandma,” she said.


And so, when Mother’s Day rolls around, I look around at all the people who rave about their mothers and wonder if they are really telling the truth or if it is just the way many people respond at funerals when giving a eulogy. For me, the truth is clear. Mother’s Day reminds me that I have lived my life with a hole in my heart. And there is no surgery that can fill it.


But there is a bit of good news. In my old age, I have learned to shrink that blasted black hole. It’s there, but much smaller. Why? My mother is gone, and with a strong dose of therapy and self-help, I have accomplished a small step. Truly a miracle, albeit a small one.


And now, to my own amazement, I often reflect on her and feel sorry for her. Miss her? That’s a stretch! A refugee from Russia, arriving when she was sixteen, her childhood was marked with many terrible events. It is obvious now that she just didn’t have the ability to be better at mothering.

About the Author


Born and bred in New York City, Dr. Zaritsky attended Brandeis University, received a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University, and then a Doctorate in Education from Yeshiva University. She was a Professor of Reading and Communication Skills at LaGuardia Community College, a branch of the City University of New York, for more years than she can conceivably count. She now lives in Miami Beach, Florida. Writing continues to burn a small fire in her brain, with her life experiences and readings always active and, if not burning, then at least smoldering.


She would appreciate comments and your musings on this complicated topic. You can reach her at Don’t be shy!

Comments (1)

May 23

This story is a brutally honest look at a tough mother-daughter relationship. The writer doesn't hold back on the painful details of growing up with a critical and unsupportive mom. It's tough to read about the physical punishment and lasting emotional scars. But there's also a hopeful side as the author talks about their journey through therapy and finding some peace. It's touching to see the empathy that develops over time, despite everything. This piece is relatable and thought-provoking, and it really hits home for anyone like me who's had a complicated relationship with a parent.

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