Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE
Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE

February 20, 2024

February 24, 2021

Understanding the Mother Wound

E:
57
with
Bethany Webster
Author

What You'll Learn

  • Overview Of The Mother Wound
  • Unpacking The Mother Wound
  • Differences Between The Father Wound And The Mother Wound
  • Societal And Cultural Messages That Have An Impact
  • Symptoms Of The Mother Wound
  • Cultivating Our Inner Mother

The connection with our mother is typically the foundation of our relationship with ourselves. To form our own sense of self, as a young child we internalize deeply, even into our brain chemistry, so much about who our mother is as a person. A lot of this is unconsciously inherited from one generation to the next including pain which is referred to as the Mother Wound. This wound can become particularly noticeable when you become a mother and are constantly reflecting on your own experience while also mothering. 

The “mother wound” may show up as shame, comparison, guilt, and feeling like you must remain small and not rock the boat to be loved. Understanding these feelings is the first step to healing. Life coach and author Bethany Webster joins us to discuss what the mother wound is, the ways the mother wound shows up, and how we can find our inner mother.

Overview Of The Mother Wound 

“The mother wound is a result of patriarchy,” Bethany Webster said. 

One of the tasks of becoming a mom is reconciling your upbringing with your approach to mothering. In every present moment, we have one foot in the past reliving childhood events. I had a client say, “I just really grasp and hold onto the term ‘undermothered,’ because it’s not saying I wasn’t mothered, I hate my mother, or I want to lash out against her. It’s just saying in some areas I was undermothered.” The first time I spoke about this online about 90% of people were appreciative to have a word for it, but there was a very vocal 10% who felt this was “mom-shaming,” and everything that is wrong with the world. But this isn’t about shaming mothers. 

This is rooted in misogyny. “Our culture has a wounded relationship with mothers. We don’t value women, so mothers are either blamed or idealized,” Bethany said. Either moms are fabulous and how dare we criticize them and nothing could be their fault. Or they’re horrible and everything is their fault. There is no middle ground for mothers to be good at some things and struggle at other things like a normal human.

It’s painful to look at the ways we were undermothered, but it’s part of the process of bringing women and children to the center of society. “We have to look at our capacity to harm, not just our capacity to give life,” Bethany explained. And for generations, we’ve been taught that if we look at the whole relationship with our mother, we’re blaming them. “We’re stretching how we see ourselves as women, and how our culture sees women in a more holistic way,” Bethany said.

Because we avoid examining our relationships with our moms, there isn’t a space for us to talk about true feelings, and a name to tame our experience.  The mother wound comes with guilt and shame, and our inner critic is still convincing us that we are the one who is flawed. 

We don’t learn self-compassion if we don’t heal and look at these pieces. We can hold space for our mothers and respect that they came from generational trauma and whatever else they went through without invalidating our own experiences. We can hold space for our own traumas while still recognizing our mothers. “Compassion for our mothers can’t eclipse the compassion we have for ourselves,” Bethany explained.

Unpacking The Mother Wound

The mother wound has four levels:

  1. The Personal
  2. The Cultural
  3. The Spiritual
  4. The Planetary

“The most important one for all of us is the personal mother wound,” Bethany said. This is the dynamics with our mother that caused us to unconsciously limit or sabotage ourselves. This is a combination of our mother’s trauma, the patriarchal society we all inhabit, and how we see ourselves, the world, our bodies. Our mothers also teach us how to be a woman in society. “We’re set up to subjugate ourselves,” she told us. Because our mom has beliefs that were passed down to her and they are then passed down to us. 

The personal mother wound comes down to our inner child. We all have a kid inside of us, and our mom is like the gatekeeper of our upper limits. Her role is to keep us safe, so in times of stress and depletion, we’re going to revert back to our safety algorithms. We form these safety patterns for survival like looking for approval—focusing on the external—and we can carry them with us well into adulthood. That’s a sign of the healing work that really needs to happen on the inner child.

We all have a kid inside of us, and our mom is like the gatekeeper of our upper limits.

We can mother ourselves though. We can bring in an inner mother who helps that inner child to release all those needs for reassurance. Bethany called this “the mother gap,” and we can fill it in by parenting ourselves. If we’re feeling undermothered, we didn’t get enough love, support, celebration, and encouragement. And finding a way to give that validation to ourselves helps us raise the upper limits. It relieves Mom and Grandma from being gatekeepers trying to protect us and allows us to feel unstoppable, so we can accomplish more.

We can develop almost a sense of perfectionism, because we’re trying not to rock the boat and keep the adults in our lives happy. And that’s another tendency we can bring with us into adulthood and into our own parenting. We can feel like we’re not doing it right, or we’re not doing well enough. But it all goes back to this little person who just wanted to please their adults because our whole survival depended on that.

Healing the mother wound is about going back to the root and resolving these conflicts, but we can only do that by going back to where the problem started.   

Differences Between The Father Wound And The Mother Wound

Both parents have such a huge influence on our lives. Not just the way they interact with us, but also the way they interact with each other. 

The mother wound can be harder for women because we learn to mother from our mothers. It’s interesting, because my parents went through this highly stressful divorce, and my dad actually got custody of me. I spent years with him, and because of that I never thought about being a mother or seeing myself as a mother. I had a relationship with my mom and saw her every other weekend, but I didn’t have the day-to-day example of being a mom.

The mother wound can be harder for women because we learn to mother from our mothers.

I have a father wound. At twelve years old, I got everyone up and out of the bed in the morning. Almost like I’d become the woman of the house. It’s ironic, because I have three kids now and run a motherhood platform, but I didn’t have this roadmap of being a mom.

For me, the father wound played out in being able to trust in my romantic relationships, and there was a lot to unpack with my partner. It was work, but it wasn’t the same work as having to unpack the way my mom’s mothering affected my own.

Societal And Cultural Messages That Have An Impact

A lot of the messages are contradictory. Things like, “Motherhood should be natural to you. If it’s not there, something is wrong with you,” or “You should be able to manage children, look fabulous, and have a great marriage.” 

“It’s super human standards, and they’re often contradictory,” Bethany said. She explained there is no room for the mother to be human in all the expectations and subversive messaging directed at moms. But our generation is starting to realize how unrealistic this is.

When we heal the mother wound, we really get better at rejecting all of the messaging society throws at us.

When we heal the mother wound, we really get better at rejecting all of the messaging society throws at us. We’re often taught that we need to be small and gentle to be loved. This becomes a core belief and gets passed down from mother to daughter. It can be hard to overcome, but you can be the independent badass you are and still be vulnerable and depend on others. It just may take the work of healing the mother wound to get there.

But doing the work is how we take down the patriarchy. Not making ourselves small and agreeable to be liked or loved is the first step. We can pass down a different message. 

“We’re building a new motherline across cultures, across the world, and even across time. As we start to feel safe enough to discard some of these old values that are very harmful to us, children, and the future,” Bethany said. So your inner work is crucial. It doesn’t just benefit you. It benefits the people you interact with, your children, and the future.

Symptoms Of The Mother Wound

If you carry a lot of shame or guilt and feel like you’re not enough, that can be a symptom of the mother wound.

Fearing abandonment—“I’m going to be left alone. What am I going to do?” 

Problems in romantic relations can also be a good indicator of a mother wound, because usually problems we had with our primary caregiver repeat in our romantic relationships.

If the same kinds of problems keep showing up, you can usually connect it back to your early childhood.

Look for patterns. If the same kinds of problems keep showing up, you can usually make a connection back to your early childhood. We sometimes look to our partners to fill those needs and make us feel safe, but we don’t have to. We can let go of the shame and work through it.

Once you identify that early childhood problem that is causing this repeating, you can start to mother yourself and take care of that need on your own.

Cultivating Our Inner Mother

The map we have been given to parent by was handed to us by our own mother, so I’ve developed a journal called the motherhood roadmap to help us make our way as a mother. Mothering our inner child helps us break generational cycles for our own children. Doing this work is hard, but it is worth it! 

The map we have been given to parent by was handed to us by our own mother.

Secure attachment is to feel safe, secure, soothed, and seen. And a lot of clients who come to me felt safe and secure that their needs were provided for, but they didn’t feel soothed. And now that they’re parents, they look back and think about what being soothed may have looked like. 

Some of the first steps to explore your inner child is to get a picture of yourself you really liked as a child and be curious. Be curious about this little child and connect with them throughout the day. Express interest on a consistent basis to this kid that you were. 

Bethany sometimes told the picture of herself, “I’m here,” forty times a day. It didn’t take much time and it allowed her inner child to be soothed consistently in a way she didn’t have as a child. 

Another thing you could say to that photograph of Child You is I know you were scared or unseen as a child. It wasn’t your fault. Of course, you were scared. But now I’m here. I’m the big you, and you’re seen. This provides a step of differentiation between the inner child and the adult. Bethany said, “We have to differentiate to fully integrate.”

Any time you feel panicked, desperate, or impulsive, that’s a sign the inner child needs help. But the small action of checking in with the child frequently can build trust with the inner child.

What did you need back then that you didn’t give enough of? That’s what you give to yourself now. For a lot of people, that is “no feeling is bad.” 

We’re reparenting our inner child and showing up for ourselves and our needs in a way that didn’t happen in early childhood

Part of the healing is letting go of the attachment of our moms meeting our needs.

Part of the healing is letting go of the attachment of our moms meeting our needs. She’s her own person who may not have the capacity or desire to meet your needs, but that’s okay. As an adult, our main source of love and security comes from inside of us. 

Something that comes up in therapy a lot is how hard it is to grieve the relationship with your mom when she may still be in your life. But at the same time, we’re watching these gaps come up in real-time by having her in our life. We can show up and parent ourselves during those gaps almost like a rupture and repair. The rupture with anyone important to us hurts, but we can repair it for ourselves by activating our inner mother.

If you need more resources on how to heal the mother wound, Bethany has a free offering on Reclaiming Yourself, and also the Discovering Your Inner Mother course.

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

The Mother Wound

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Bethany Webster
Author

Bethany Webster is a writer, international speaker and transformational coach. She started blogging in 2013 about the Mother Wound and quickly experienced worldwide demand for her work. Through blending research on intergenerational trauma, feminist theory, and psychology with her own personal story, Bethany's work is the result of decades of research and her own journey of healing. Bethany speaks, consults and mentors around the world sharing her growing body of work that is raising the standard of women’s leadership and personal development. Learn more at www.bethanywebster.com

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.

RESOURCES MENTIONED

RELATED ARTICLES
April 29, 2024
April 24, 2024
Understanding and Implementing Responsive Parenting: How to Break the Yelling/Shame Cycle
E:
222
with
Dr. Cindy Hovington
Founder of Curious Neuron
June 5, 2024
April 17, 2024
How to Maintain Friendships (and Make Friends) as a Mom
E:
221
with
Danielle Bayard Jackson
Author
June 5, 2024
April 10, 2024
How Stressed Moms Can Cope: Understanding and Breaking Out of the Stress Cycle
E:
220
with
Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout
June 5, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
March 18, 2024
February 21, 2024
Understanding Postpartum Depression in Dads and Non-Birthing Partners
E:
213
with
Mark Williams
International Advocate for Perinatal Mental Health and Author
June 5, 2024
February 14, 2024
Rekindling Your Sex Life After Baby: Communication Is Key
E:
212
with
Vanessa & Xander Marin
bestselling authors & hosts of the podcast Pillow Talks
February 26, 2024
January 31, 2024
Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms
E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist
June 5, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 6, 2023
Navigating Different Sex Drives in Parenthood: What Impacts Libido and How to Reconnect
E:
202
with
Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy & Dr. Jennifer Vencill
Licensed Psychologists and Authors
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 22, 2023
Erica’s Husband Reflects on Sharing the Invisible Load
E:
200
with
Frenel Djossa
Erica’s Husband & Co-Founder of Momwell
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
November 1, 2023
Breaking Out of the Default Parent Role: How to Communicate with Your Partner and Change Patterns
E:
197
with
Erin & Stephen Mitchell
Founders of Couples Counseling for Parents
February 20, 2024
October 18, 2023
Rebuilding Connection and Intimacy After Baby: How Family Systems Can Help Us Navigate Relationship Challenges
E:
195
with
Aaron Steinberg
Co-Founder of Babyproofing Your Relationship
February 20, 2024
October 11, 2023
Embracing the 7 Types of Rest: Why Moms Are Exhausted and What Actually Helps
E:
194
with
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
Board-Certified internal medicine physician and award-winning author
February 20, 2024
October 4, 2023
Interpreting Newborn Hunger Cues and Sleepy Signs: How to Learn Your Baby’s Needs
E:
193
with
Sharon Mazel
Author of Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year
February 20, 2024
September 27, 2023
Understanding Overfunctioning in Relationships: How to Change Dynamics After Baby
E:
192
with
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish
Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Expert
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 23, 2023
Understanding Sensory Self-Care: How Overstimulated Moms Can Regulate and Regain Calm
E:
187
with
Holly Peretz
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
August 16, 2023
Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom
E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York
February 20, 2024
August 2, 2023
Establishing Family Values: How to Identify What Matters and Avoid Comparison
E:
184
with
Mell & Joe Hashey
Founders of Strong Family Co.
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
April 26, 2023
Working Through Conflict About Growing Your Family: What to Do When Only One Partner Wants Another Baby
E:
170
with
Elizabeth Earnshaw
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
March 29, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 2: Facing Pregnancy After a Traumatic Birth
E:
166
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 22, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 1: How Birth Trauma Impacts Our Family Decision Making
E:
165
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
January 18, 2023
Resolving Conflict in Your Relationship After Baby
E:
156
with
Sheina Schochet
Mental Health Counselor
February 20, 2024
January 4, 2023
Reestablishing Sex After Baby: Why Communication Matters and How to Create a New Normal
E:
154
with
Travis Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 16, 2022
Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies
E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 12, 2022
How to Know if You Have Postpartum Anxiety: Red Flags to Watch for in Pregnancy, Birth, and After Baby
E:
142
with
Dr. Sarah Oreck
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
October 5, 2022
Protecting Maternal Sleep: The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression
E:
141
with
Dr. Nicole Leistikow
Reproductive Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
February 20, 2024
September 14, 2022
Dividing Labour Fairly in the Home: Redistributing the Mental Load of Motherhood
E:
138
with
Dr. Darcy Lockman
Author and Psychologist
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
August 3, 2022
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Why Support Matters and How to Find Resources to Help
E:
132
with
Dr. Wendy Davis
Executive Director of PSI
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 16, 2022
What is Matrescence? The Transition into Motherhood (And Why Being a New Mom is Hard)
E:
108
with
Dr. Katayune Kaeni
Perinatal Psychologist
February 20, 2024
February 2, 2022
Discover Your Personal Core Values
E:
106
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 5, 2022
Sleep Training Doesn't Have To Be Scary
E:
102
with
Dr. Aubrie DeBear
Founder of Baby Sleep Dr.