Dear Mama: For the Maternally Conflicted on Mother's Day

Tupac Shakur at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, New York (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Tupac Shakur at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, New York (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

This Sunday welcomes another Mother's Day, our national celebration of motherhood. For many, it will be a joyous day. Young children will present their mothers with handmade cards and breakfast in bed. Older children will take their mothers out to dinner. In some traditions, children will accompany their mothers to a house of worship, even if they do not regularly attend themselves. Some children with financial means will lavish their mothers with extravagant gifts, presenting her with everything from all expense paid vacations to brand new automobiles.

For many others, Mother's Day will be a day filled with sorrow. Some children will experience grief as their mothers are now dearly departed. Some children will experience challenge due to the rapidly declining health of their mothers. For children whose mothers are incarcerated, and even for children whose mothers faithfully serve our nation's military abroad, Mother's Day may be an emotionally difficult day due to their separation from their mothers.

Still, there is another group of children -- both young and old -- who will experience great challenge this Mother's Day. Let us call them the maternally conflicted. And many of them have just reason to be conflicted. These are children whose mothers are still present with them. However, these are children whose lifelong experience with their mothers has left them feeling unsafe and wounded.

These children have mothers who were functional addicts, able to succeed in society, but unsuccessful at home.

These children have mothers with mental health challenges -- both diagnosed and undiagnosed -- whose episodes have wreaked havoc on their children's sense of stability.

These children have mothers who have gone out of their way to create barriers in their engagement and interaction with their other parent.

These children have mothers so enmeshed with them that they have created difficulty for any of their children's romantic partners for fear of losing their children's affections forever.

The list of pains experienced by the maternally conflicted goes on and on.

What comfort is there for children who feel uninspired to celebrate their mothers on Mother's Day due to the pain that their mothers have caused them?

Twenty-one year ago, Tupac Amari Shakur penned and released a powerful song of dedication to his mother Afeni. Afeni Shakur passed away this week at the age of 69, almost 20 years after her son's tragic death. The song sings like a letter, and "Dear Mama" is a brutally honest reflection of Tupac's experience with his mother.

"Dear Mama" is a celebration of Afeni's commitment to her family as well as an acknowledgement of Tupac's struggles with her and of Afeni's struggles with him and her addiction. Tupac raps "And I can see you coming home after work late, you're in the kitchen trying to fix us a hot plate. You just working with the scraps you was given, and mama made miracles every Thanksgiving." Here, Tupac expresses an appreciation for the tremendous sacrifices that his mother made to help raise their family.

Still, Tupac raps "And even as a crack fiend, mama, you will always be a black queen, mama." This line must be paralleled with another autobiographical line from his song "Keep Ya Head Up" released two years prior to "Dear Mama". In that song, Tupac raps, "I blame my mother for turning my brother into a crack baby."

Between the two songs, Tupac covers much ground from blaming his mother for her addiction and the pain that it caused their family to acknowledging her addiction yet still recognizing her contributions. For the maternally conflicted, Tupac offers a process by which to confront their pain, a process that has been tried and tested over many generations; write it out. Whether completed as an exercise, or completed with the intent of sharing what has been written, this can be a helpful process to healthily release emotions long bottled up inside. In order for this process to be as helpful as possible, one must be completely honest concerning their experience.

Another important consideration for the maternally conflicted is to meet with a mental health professional. These persons are trained to help people healthily confront their pain. Regardless of life experience, everyone should have a mental health professional that they meet with annually.

Finding a community of support may also prove helpful. It is important for the maternally conflicted to remember that they are not alone in their experience with their mothers. Furthermore, if possible, the maternally conflicted might consider getting their mothers the help that she needs through family intervention. It might not change their situation, but it might, and it may be worth the risk in helping your mother to live the best life that she possibly can. Whatever the path chosen, the maternally conflicted must ensure that their actions are motivated by love and not by a desire to inflict pain.

Through his writing, we witness how Tupac was able to grow to see his mother as fully human. Afeni is presented as a woman both beautiful and flawed. One sign of adulthood is the recognition and acceptance of the fact that your parent, like you, is not perfect. Another sign is the commitment not to pass on your pain to the generations that follow you and to face your own issues face to face.

For the maternally conflicted, Mother's Day may be a difficult day. However, let it be a day where you commit yourself to your own process of healing. In so doing, you may give your mother the greatest gift of all; a healthier family dynamic in which all can grow and become their best possible selves.