What Is The ‘Mother Wound’?

May in North America means Mother’s Day and that can be … complicated.

Whether your relationship with your mom was amazing or rocky or you were adopted or in foster care or you’re navigating motherhood with your own children or you wanted to be a mom but couldn’t or you’re tired of everyone asking when you’re going to have kids or you’re a stepmom or…

…phew!  It’s a lot.

And the relationship with our mothers is unique. It’s foundational. They are typically our primary caregivers. And whether it’s clashing personalities, or our moms were struggling with their own wounds – it isn’t always the easiest of relationships. (Also, did you see the final episodes of Firefly Lane?!)

But I wonder if you’ve stopped to consider how society influences our relationships with our moms ????.

Have you heard about “the mother wound” in wellness circles? Today, in honour of Mother’s Day this month, we’re breaking down what it is, how it shows up, and how we can start to heal it.

What is The Mother Wound?

The Mother Wound is the generational trauma passed down from mother to daughter caused by living in a patriarchal culture that’s oppressive towards women and the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain.

Of course, this gets more layered when we consider intersectionality and other marginalized identities being a woman who is also BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, differently abled, not straight-sized, chronic illnesses, and even things like education level, poverty, and being a single parent all get added into the mix.

How society shapes our relationships with our moms

“The stereotypes of “all mothers should be loving all the time” strips women of their full humanity. Because women are not given permission to be full human beings, society feels justified in not providing full respect, support, and resources to mothers.”

~ Bethany Webster

Think of all the ways you (and your mother’s generation) were conditioned to be “good girls” and “good mothers”. Women are expected to be self-sacrificing and put everyone else’s needs above their own. They are supposed to deny their needs and set aside their dreams for those of their children. According to our patriarchal society, self-abandonment is the hallmark of a “well-behaved woman”.

And these limiting beliefs – that we are never enough or that our “too much-ness” is the problem work their way in. We internalize them. And pass on these “behavioural norms” from one generation to the next.

And because we want to be good and loyal daughters we adopt the same mindsets and beliefs that our mothers did.  

“For daughters growing up in a patriarchal culture, there is a sense of having to choose between being empowered and being loved.”

~ Bethany Webster

Sometimes fulfilling our potential can feel scary. We don’t want to eclipse our moms or leave them behind. We don’t want to trigger wounds by realizing our dreams if they felt unable to realize their own.

This is The Mother Wound and it shows up in really big ways and even in small moments.

I think everyone I know has experienced the moment when they said something that was a phrase their own mother used (I jokingly say that “I open my mouth and my mother comes out.”) It’s often shocking, like we didn’t even realize that was in there and we don’t necessarily agree with it but there it is escaping our mouths anyway. That’s the thing about these unconscious beliefs – until we bring them to the surface they’re driving the bus and we don’t even realize it.

How The Mother Wound shows up

  • Comparison and competitiveness with other women (and never feeling like you’re good enough)
  • Striving to fit in rather than finding a place where you belong
  • That sneaky fear that maybe there’s something wrong with you
  • Playing small – choosing “realistic” dreams or apologizing for having ambition
  • The guilt of wanting more than you currently have because “good girls” are grateful for what they’ve got
  • Trying to “have it all”
  • Self-sabotage
  • Being overly rigid or dominating – operating too much from your masculine
  • Inability to receive or ask for help – because in addition to having it all you should be able to do it all with a smile on your face, right? ????
  • Not feeling safe enough to speak up and share your truth
  • Weak boundaries
  • People-pleasing (ohhh the people-pleasing)

Of course, which of these are relevant for you and how they play out in your life and relationships will be different for each of us.

When I was in Australia…

I was meant to be there for a year. But my incredible boss, Robin (who I talk more about here), offered me a sponsorship which meant I could start the process of becoming an Australian to stay and work there.

She told me to take the weekend and think about it. I did some MAJOR soul-searching. I loved it in Australia – everything about it. But what ultimately made me say, “No thanks” was that it was just too dang far away.

The only thought in my mind was, “What if something happens to my mom?” I HAVE to take care of her because she took care of me for all those years when I had cancer.

When I got home I told her that story and she was rather upset with me! She didn’t like that she had stood in the way of my dreams. And I had never considered it that way.

I have no regrets about that decision but I do wonder how my life would have been different if I had chosen to stay in Australia instead. It’s one of those sliding-doors moments.

Even when you have an amazing, supportive mom like mine we can still replicate those wounds of self-sacrifice, playing small, or prioritizing others needs. I think that’s why it’s so important to zoom out and look at the societal piece – The Mother Wound we all carry. Because it’s in the air we breathe. We also need to remember our mothers are unraveling what they were taught just as much as we are.

How do you begin to heal The Mother Wound?

Tackling generational trauma feels BIG so let’s start small and focus on the only thing we can control – ourselves.

It begins with awareness. When you notice these behaviours coming up (maybe you don’t speak up in a meeting, maybe you’re self-sabotaging your relationships, maybe you’re putting everyone else’s needs before your own and becoming a martyr). Just notice when it happens and peel back the layers. When have you done this before? Where did you learn it? Who modeled it for you? And where did that person learn it? This leads me to…


It’s important to begin any inner work with curiosity and a questioning mind. Leave judgement at the door. We can begin by questioning the stereotypes of mothers – from the supermom to the Stepford Wife to the exhausted, struggling single mother. We can ask things like who benefits from this stereotype? What are the power dynamics here? What are the unspoken messages about mothers and daughters?

Wherever the popular narrative is “it’s your fault/ there’s something wrong with you” it’s usually a sign that gaslighting is going on. Who benefits from us being distracted by trying to better ourselves? And if we’re not the problem what systemic changes need to happen to eliminate the problem?

I’m not saying that it’s your job to create those systemic changes unless that’s something you feel called to get involved with. But recognizing that “Hey, I’m not the problem. It’s not me.” can help relieve feelings of guilt and shame.


That part of you who needed to hear that her dreams weren’t too big, that her voice matters, and that her ideas were thoughtful and creative. The part of you who experienced the full range of human emotions even if you weren’t allowed to express it. The part of you that existed before you tried to shove yourself into the box society designed for you.

She is worthy of your love, attention, and care. And as an adult, you can show up for your younger self as the nurturing, supportive parent that you needed. You can connect with your inner child through visualization, meditation, writing them a letter (and allowing them to respond), affirmations, being playful and silly, and keeping a picture of your younger self somewhere you’ll see it every day.


And all the other emotions that come up. You might be mourning the fact that you had to play small, that you had to hide parts of yourself for the sake of love and fitting in, or that you had to give up your dreams (or postpone them) because you were putting others first. It’s okay to grieve that.

And if there’s anger, rage, bitterness, resentment, fear, loss, guilt, shame – acknowledge whatever comes up for you. Feel it to release it. Let it move through you. Notice where it shows up in your body and how your body wants to move or soften to let it go.


Whenever you’re doing any kind of inner work it’s important to treat yourself with compassion and gentleness. The heart is this beautifully vulnerable space where unconditional acceptance can happen. Can you accept that you were doing the best you could? Can you accept that your mom was doing the best she could with the tools she had? Can you accept that there was more at play (cultural influences) than simply different personalities or personal traumas?

We always have the opportunity to nurture ourselves the way we need to be nurtured (even while we mourn the fact that we perhaps didn’t receive the care we wanted from our parents). And we always have the opportunity to let our hearts be the guide in our relationships with ourselves and our mothers.

p.s.  Grief shows up powerfully on Mother’s Day whether you’re grieving a loving, supportive relationship or something far from it. If you’re grieving this Mother’s Day here are 17 posts on grief so you can remember that you’re not alone.

And if you’d like support in navigating your grief please reach out to me here.

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