Where You Began: Untangling Your Mother’s Impact on Your Story

memoirs memories May 09, 2024
Mother and baby

A mother is always the beginning. She is how things begin.” Amy Tan wrote these lines in her novel, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and they’ve haunted me since the first time I read them. Mothers are the first beat in our origin story. In them, we experience the most elemental sense of who we are. 

When I came into the world, the most significant detail about the day I was born was not my gender—girl—or my hair color—brown—or my weight and length—8 pounds, 9 ounces—or my eye color—slate blue.   

According to my mom, the most memorable thing about the day I was born was that it was my oldest sister’s first day of kindergarten, and my mom missed her big day because of me. Because I was born.  

I was child number five, following three older sisters and an older brother, all of us about a year apart. My parents already had three girls. And they already had their boy. Nothing too special about bringing home a fourth girl, let alone a fifth child. I was the "been there, done that" kid.

When I’d ask my mom to tell me what it was like when I was born, she’d say she had no memory of it. They sent my dad to the waiting room and gave her drugs to knock her out so she wouldn’t have to participate in the labor or delivery. Other than the nurses and doctors in the room who witnessed my arrival, no one—not even my mom—could tell me about the journey I made from her body into the world. 

For me, the beginning of everything was...nothing. A void of information. The absence of an origin story. The lack of retold memory to fill the gap before I had my own recorded memory. Fresh out of the womb, I’ve often wondered what I saw as I gazed into my mother’s face for the first time. Was it delight? Disappointment? She couldn’t describe the feeling of seeing me for the first time after I wriggled out of her. With nothing memorable about my arrival into the world, let alone into my family, the beginning of everything for me meant becoming a footnote rather than a pivotal plot point in my family’s story.

From my first face-to-face meeting with my mother to this moment, I have spent my life trying to understand and untangle myself from the beginning of everything my mom set in motion. When she died in 2015, I delivered her eulogy and remembered her for the good things she began in me—primarily my love of words and reading, and my enduring faith. I am forever grateful to her for how she modeled what resilience looks like when life robbed her of my dad way too early and how she remained mostly cheerful even as her physical health declined later in life.

Sadly, my mother was also the prequel to most of the faulty stories I came to believe about myself. Her lack of affection convinced me that I was invisible and unlovable. I grew up an insecure, emotionally neglected little girl. 

It’s been a painful and arduous journey to peel back the onion on my relationship with my mom. And yet writing about these mother-wounds (along with plenty of therapy) has given me deep insights into how I came to be who I am, where some of my resilience and internal strength come from, and what areas of my life need to be “restoried.”

My mother may have been the beginning of all things, but she has not written my whole story, and she doesn’t get the last word. I’m holding the pen and with it, I get to explore and uncover what is true about me because of her. Unearthing memories about my mom brings a mix of joy and comfort along with heartache and grief. I can’t change the past, but in sitting with it, I better understand myself, and with age, I think I better understand my mother too. 

Writing about my mother has been therapeutic and cathartic and has helped me heal from past traumas, break generational patterns of negative behavior, and feel empowered to make positive changes in my life. Digging deep into stories about our mothers can be a powerful path to understanding the gifts they’ve given and the wounds they’ve inflicted. 

10 Prompts to Spark Mother Memories

If you’re ready to explore your mother stories, here are ten writing prompts to help you get started:

  1. Describe your earliest memory of your mother as vividly as you can recall it. What emotions does it evoke?
  2. Reflect on a lesson or piece of wisdom your mother imparted to you. How has it influenced your life?
  3. Write about a tradition or ritual you shared with your mother. What significance does it hold for you?
  4. Recall a time when your mother surprised you or did something unexpected. How did it shape your perception of her?
  5. Explore a challenging or difficult moment in your relationship with your mother. How did you both navigate through it?
  6. Imagine a conversation you wish you could have with your mother now. What would you say, and what do you think she might say in return?
  7. Write a letter to your younger self from your mother's perspective. What advice or reassurance would she offer?
  8. Describe your mother's presence in your daily life when you were growing up. How did it influence your sense of security and belonging?
  9. Reflect on an object or keepsake that reminds you of your mother. What memories and emotions does it evoke?
  10. Imagine a day spent with your mother, doing activities you both enjoyed. What sights, sounds, and feelings stand out in your memory?

These prompts can help stimulate reflection and inspire personal narratives about your relationship with your mother. Pick one that sparks memories and let your creativity flow.

Want more writing prompts? Download my free guide, 31 Memoir Writing Prompts and start digging for those meaningful memories today.


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