Dear Mom: I Know Now That Sometimes We Break

Karen Patten

My facebook feed on Mother’s Day is mysterious to me. It’s filled with outpourings like: Dear mom, you were the perfect mother who was always there for me whenever I needed you. Streams about mothers who have always listened and advised well.  A flood of stories about daughters who could never have grown into the amazing women they are had they not been guided and nurtured by their mothers.

Sentiments more like these.

I wonder how writing those posts might feel…

Mother's Day can be tough if you have a difficult relationship with your mom. Maybe you can still pull gratitude from the ashes if you can acknowledge how, even hurtful behavior, helped you grow into the woman you are now. Maybe one day, you'll be able to find something that allows you to say, Dear Mom - thank you. #mothersday

Finding the right Mother’s Day card has always been hard work. As I flip through the cards, I find “I wouldn’t be who I am today without you.” Nope. “Thank you for always being there.” Not right. “You taught me about [fill in the blank].” Definitely not. “I could always count on you to listen to me.” Said Karen never. “I’ve always known that you loved me no matter what.” That could work, but we would really have to clarify your definition of love.

So I continue scouring the shelves to find just the perfect sentiment, the perfect words written by someone else yet still true to my relationship with my mother. Sometimes I think I should just apply for a job at Hallmark and write it myself. There have to be other people out there like me who hope that finding the right mother’s day card isn’t hopeless.

Where’s the card that says “Dear Mom, thank you for teaching me that my skinned knee wasn’t cancer, so it wasn’t worth your concern or empathy.” Or the card that says “Dear Mom, thank you for constantly referring to me and my friends as the “lowest common denominator.” “Dear Mom, when you called me a slut, it REALLY raised my self esteem and made future relationships easier.” And I already have a picture in mind for the card that says, “Dear Mom, yes, thank you for noticing. I am fat and lazy. I know that because my mother told me so.”

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Dear Mom:

Up until I was ten, I was certain you adored me. We played games (school teacher was my favorite) and we spent all our time together. You played your guitar and we sang to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Monkees. (I’ve let it go that you told me my singing wasn’t nearly as good as yours…)

You must have started to resent me for being the reason you stayed in a marriage you wanted to flee, a marriage that broke your spirit. A pain so deep that it drove you to do things that continued to hurt you as much as he did. After that, I wasn’t even sure you liked me. You transformed into someone I couldn’t recognize. In my dreams, you were a terrifying monster and I woke in a cold sweat.

As time passed, I occasionally saw through the chinks in your new armor. There were moments when your glorious light shone through. I grabbed at those moments like a man drowning in the ocean grasps at a lifeline. I trusted you with my heart in those brief moments. But my trust was misplaced because you were still broken. Each time, I ended up torn just a tiny bit further.

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Dear Mom: Something Has Changed

As you grew older, I saw through your armor more often. But by now, I knew not to trust you with anything that could hurt me. Once you began to soften, you also began to forget. Or maybe because you began to forget, you began to soften. I can’t be sure.

The disease latched on and began eating away at your brain so that there was no time to repair what we broke. Now time allows only reflection and forgiveness.

Only your first grandson has ever had a wisp of familiarity to you. But as I paced in the hospital with my crying newborn, your memory sparked and you said “Sing to him; babies like that.”

I started to sing. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, mama’s gonna’ buy you a mockingbird…And if that mockingbird won’t sing…” My memory sparked and I remembered that you always sang that to me.

Your advice astonished me. Until that very moment, not once had you shared any excitement or even happiness about my pregnancy. You never shared stories of how gratifying a baby would be or how much joy or love would be brought into my life. You shared no words of wisdom or advice. The slate was blank but for: “Sing to him; babies like that.”

Dear Mom: I Understand More Now

In reflection, maybe the card I would search for or write would be different and less angry. Maybe this year there will be a facebook post from me on Mother’s Day. It won’t be like so many others out there, but still, maybe I’ll post:

Dear Mom: Thank you for loving me as fiercely as you knew how. Thank you for making me tough as nails. Thank you for forcing me into independence. Thank you for making me a strong woman. Thank you for teaching me to be responsible for myself. 

And thank you for not clinging so tightly that I couldn’t escape.

I’m sorry that you were broken and could never recover. I wish I had been strong enough to pull you through at the tender age of ten.  And I’m sorry that I didn’t understand how broken you were until it was too late.

And always, always, I thank you for teaching me to sing to my sons.

Mother's Day can be tough if you have a difficult relationship with your mom. Maybe you can still pull gratitude from the ashes if you can acknowledge how, even hurtful behavior, helped you grow into the woman you are now. Maybe one day, you'll be able to find something that allows you to say, Dear Mom - thank you. #mothersday


  1. Sara on May 9, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Beautiful, Karen. I have often stood in the card aisle and wondered where the cards for the dysfunctional relationships were hiding. I could write a few, too. Hoping your Mother’s Day was a great one!

    • Karen Patten on May 14, 2016 at 11:20 pm

      Thank you! Hope you had a great Mother’s Day too!

  2. Unnamed on May 13, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    Dear Karen,
    I too have the same problem as my mother was never there for me either, she also conveniently was gone out of town visiting her favorite daughter at the birth of my two children. She has never encouraged me, given me good motherly advice or even shown love towards me. Her own sister named me both my first & middle name. I felt unloved, uncared for by her. Her only redeeming quality was that she said she prayed for me often. My only parent was my father & he wasn’t home much. But at least he showed compassion & caring for me as best he could.
    I really feel I never had a mother. She is only trying to make up for lost time now when I am grown & so are my children.

    • Karen Patten on May 21, 2018 at 9:07 am

      I’m so sorry. I do believe that we all do the best with the tools and knowledge that we have. I just also know that, sometimes, it isn’t enough. I’m sending you big hugs!!!

  3. Amy on March 25, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    I needed this… I couldn’t finish reading I was engulfed in tears.. you know exactly how my life is without even speaking with me… your truly a blessing and I thank you for writing this. Stay strong