(Essay) My Mother Is: The Stories We Tell Ourselves and the Divine Dreams that Change Them by Trista Hendren

My Mother is: The Stories We Tell Ourselves and the Divine Dreams that Change Them

“My grandfather used to tell me that life was a dream. He also said that when people finally realized this, the dream could be changed, and then humanity would change.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz

My mom left me when I was four.

At least that’s the story I told myself most of my life. It was the story that I had been told and it was the story I identified with, whether it was true or not.

The last memories I have of being close to my mom are from when I was four. And those are the pictures of us together, before the rift that I have cherished.

Trista and Mom
Trista and Mom

It’s not that I did not love my mom after that. Quite the opposite. I remember clearly lying in my bed alone at night, crying my eyes out when my dad and stepmom thought I was asleep. I was crying for my mother. All I wanted was my mom. In those moments of feeling sorry for myself, I told myself she did not love me enough to take me with her, or at the very least, that she had chosen someone else.

I felt invisible around my dad. In fact I still do. I know he loves me, deeply. But I don’t feel like he has ever really seen me. He doesn’t know me.

I was his loyal little girl for most of my life, well into adulthood. I wanted to please him, and oftentimes, I felt like pleasing my dad included showing disapproval towards my mom. Not that he ever said that, per se. Quite the opposite. I have never heard my dad badmouth anyone.

I literally had the wicked stepmother. It took a long time for me to finally say that. For most of my life, I have tried to frame everything positively, even when it was not.   My sister got most of her wrath because she was spunkier than me. I kept everything inside.  I was easier to control.

There are not a lot of moments that stand out to me from my childhood. But I do remember one day in particular with my stepmom when I was 12. We were in the supermarket. I had been going on and on about my real mom until her annoyance-level became unbearable. She turned to me and stopped me mid-sentence, stating with venom: “Your mother is a whore.”

I cried my eyes out. I remember sitting in the car with her afterwards, unable to calm down and stop the heaving tears. That statement stung more than any words I had ever heard in my life. To this day, they still cut deep into my heart.

My mother married when she was barely out of high school.  To be brief, she ended up having an affair after years of living with my emotionally unavailable father. When he found out, it was painful and dramatic. He never showed her his love, but I remember walking in on him several times as he was crying over my mother. He wrote it all out in music that she never heard until years later. Those images stayed in my mind whenever I dared to side with my mother.

Last month, I was supposed to go to my father’s birthday party. I got a migraine that morning, as I often do when I am avoiding something. And I decided for one of the first times in my life that I would not go to his party.  Soon after that, I rallied.

Since I rarely have a night without children, I decided to go out with my mother instead. My mom has been my only babysitter all these years, so this was the first time we had ever done this. We had a blast. We ate dinner at a local pub, went to see a funny movie, and were headed home when I said, “Mom, how often do we have a chance like this? Let’s go do Karaoke!”

Tierra Madre, painted by Elisabeth Slettnes
Tierra Madre,
painted by Elisabeth Slettnes

My mother, who rarely drinks, had a few cocktails with me and we sang our hearts out. We even danced.  I can never remember dancing with my mother — ever. It’s a night I will always cherish.  It got me thinking: we all ought to have an opportunity to dance with our mothers – at least once – if not often – before we die.

On the way home, we talked. We rarely really talk. We talk about the kids, and we talk about work, but we rarely talk about what is really going on for both of us.

She mentioned that she was sorry for being a supermom and trying to do it all. And I told her that was never a problem for me. For me it was something else. And I started thinking about the difficulties of mothers and daughters. Longing to be close, but remaining distant for whatever reason.  Feeling sorry for things that never bothered the other person at all, and not realizing the things we had both done to hurt each other.

We have a long history in our family of difficult mother-daughter relations, going back at least as far as my great grandmother. There is some sort of legacy there. It is time to break traditions of hurt and heal together.

I recently submitted an article to be published anonymously that I had written years ago. And in that article I had written that I did not have the close relationship with my mother that I yearned for. I realized, gratefully, during our talk that that was no longer the case.

It was first time I told my mom she was a great mother, and I meant it.

Just before my daughter was born, over 6 years ago, I had a freak out moment with my mom. My first pregnancy was with a son, which jolted me into action – and therapy.  I knew I had things to work on before I could become a mother. I was terrified to have a daughter and very happy when I learned I would have a boy first. I always knew I would have a daughter too – and even chose her name more than 10 years before she was born – but I was not ready at that time for her.

Late into my pregnancy, I wrote my mother a lengthy letter filled with all my grievances. She sent me one back. Even my sister got in on it. Things were tense for many months, and then we all just made up.

It’s not important what was said anymore. I’m over it. Being a mother has both healed the old wounds and made me have more grace and understanding towards my mother. It has also caused me to reflect on how I have behaved as a daughter.

Several months ago, I began reading Claire and Mia Fontaine’s mother-daughter memoirs. I strongly identify with both of them, as my age is somewhere between theirs.  Mia said something in their last memoir that struck me as truth.

“The world is full of instructions and advice on how to mother, in bookstores, in academia, on the playgrounds, in the media. Mothers are always examining how they treat their children, but aside from the occasional ‘Don’t talk to your mother that way,’ or ‘You shouldn’t have listened to your mother,’ there’s not much guidance out there for daughters.” – Mia Fontaine, Have Mother, Will Travel

In the Western world, we often have an unspoken contract with our mothers.  We have extremely high expectations. We expect them to be beautiful, perfect and forever at our beck and call. While we submit to the father authority, we often treat our mothers as our slaves. We do not allow them to be fully themselves. We expect them to be our mothers. We are often unable to see the bigger context of their lives.

We perpetuate our mothers’ oppression by following patriarchal patterns and in doing so, we perpetuate our own oppression.  Perhaps no other relationship on earth has such blurry lines of separation. Do we ever fully separate from our mothers? Our identities are so strongly bonded to theirs, even when we are estranged.

The most primal need of all of us is to be loved by our mothers. Nothing is more painful or more devastating to feel that love cut off. In my case, it was the stories I told myself that did the most damage. As I look back as an adult woman and mother, I know that my mom did the best she could. She gave all she had. She loved me enormously.

My mother was also a victim of patriarchy that I supported by my actions most of my life. For that, I am truly sorry.

The separation many women experience with their mothers prohibits them from living full lives. The fact is that women cannot do it all. Perhaps my mother’s apology about trying to be superwoman was more about that than anything else. Perhaps I could not hear her words. Perhaps we are socialized to discredit and not listen to our mothers.  Coming together as equals — as partners — is how I see modern motherhood working.  Taking from both east and west – giving and receiving.

As I walked hand-in-hand with my 6-year-old daughter to school earlier this week, I started thinking. I was struck with gratitude and a realization that the most painful thing in the world for me would be to be separated from my children. Knowing the way my mother loves, I finally caught a glimpse of her pain. Looking back at the times that we were together, it is her small acts of kindness that always get to me. The way she made my peanut butter sandwiches with a chocolate chips in the middle shaped like a heart. Her little notes in or on my lunch bag. The way she made me feel like I was the most precious creature in the world. For a long time, I don’t think I let myself feel the depth of her love for me.

Lystbaat, painted by Elisabeth Slettnes
Lystbaat, painted by Elisabeth Slettnes

Over the last year, we have been working on my book, The Girl God.  It has been more work than I ever could have imagined. I never could have done it without my mom. She has been there 300% – helping with editing, website, design, you name it. I had to rely on my mother more than I have since I was a child, and at times that was very uncomfortable for me. I had to learn how to accept help, which I have just never done well.

My entire spirituality has evolved in the process. I wrote the book for my daughter, but it has also been healing for me.  Oftentimes as women, I think we can’t do things for ourselves. We will do anything for our children, but we usually come in last.

I never would have written this book for myself.

I wrote it because I knew that things had to change for my daughter, and that soon evolved into realizing that things need to change for the entire world. And finally, I came to recognize that things also need to change for me – and the way I value myself as a woman.

I had known that intellectually since discovering feminism nearly 20 years ago. But it was not until I embraced the Divine Feminine, that I actually felt it.

I come from a Fundamentalist Christian background, so the idea of a Girl God was foreign to both my mother and me. I venture to say that this is not a project she would have been interested in either, if it were not for my longing to complete it. We had both been cut off from the idea of a Mother God. I often wonder how that has affected our relationship.

My daughter identified the Girl God with the image of my mother as her grandma. Seeing our mothers through children’s eyes is a refreshing lens. I now also see the Divine in my mother. It’s as if it was there all along, but I had not recognized it. Or, as Oprah calls it, “an Aha moment.”

My mother’s strong arms give the best hugs. How comforting it would have been to feel the arms of the Goddess around me as a child. It saddens me to think both she and my mother were there all along.

Now that I am finally able to feel the love from both of them, I am healing. I have begun to tell a different story about my mother. It is a story that will perhaps always be evolving; however, it seems more accurate and balanced with time.

I had the most beautiful mother in the world. She was magical. She read me stories every night, made the best homemade food and gave me all her love. For a time we were separated. We both grew up; we grew stronger. We did the things we had to do. And, then we came together, forgave each other, and changed the world together, hand-in-hand.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

So glad you found your ‘Aha’ moment, what I call the organismic self. For too long we try to balance the scales with all those questions unanswered, but I found that I had to leave them alone and eventually the answers appeared and the scales gently balanced alone when the time was right. We do grow up and we do grow stronger, we do forgive and come together.

Mom Charm

First of all I would like to say awesome blog! I had a quick
question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find
out how you center yourself and clear your head
prior to writing. I’ve had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15
minutes are generally lost just trying to figure out how to begin.
Any recommendations or hints? Cheers!


this story really touched my heart it made me cry and now i feel so much love for my mother cause she has always been there for me but i never realized it until now


A moving story Tristan Hendren. I was struck by your comment that you had known intellectually ever since you discovered feminism that things have to change with regard to the relationship between mothers and daughters but it wasn’t until you embraced the Divine Feminine that you FELT it. This is an important distinction and one that is not made often enough. Thinking about the Divine Feminine is abstract, but FEELING it is living through the truth of our BODIES and it is this that changes everything.