The Internal Mother.

By: Jen Shoop

In a recent interview with Gwyneth Paltrow, Elizabeth Gilbert spoke about nurturing herself through grief, and she said: “The first thing that trauma needs is a mother, and I don’t mean the one you got. Maybe you were lucky enough that you got that actual mother that had that tremendous capacity to hold you and to tell you that everything was OK, and that you were perfect, and beloved, and that nothing was expected of you, and that you could collapse and she had you, that she could hold you. Maybe you had that Mom, maybe not. But what I need to find when I’m in that trauma is that love from me to me.”

Though I am blessedly not enduring trauma or acute grief, I immediately wrapped my arms around the concept of an internal mother. I asked —

What if I applied the same tenderness I bestow upon my children to myself?

What if I handled myself with the same care and — is it permissible to say — exceptionalism?

After all, aren’t we always raising future versions of ourselves? And shouldn’t we approach that task with the same generosities of heart, the same enveloping and abiding love, that we bring to nurturing our own children?

The message arrived as though a carefully-timed German train: later that night, I would find myself tossing and turning in bed over a string of inconsequential matters that spiraled into 2 a.m. torment. Angst over my preoccupation when my daughter trotted into my office to tell me about the bee sting at the park — I had listened, but only halfway, my fingers positioned over my keyboard. Chagrin at my forgetting to return my mother’s call. Fixation on the details of an upcoming social event. Etcetera. As Fleur Adcock put it in her poem “Things,”

It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in

and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.

My own worries bore a similar bedside manner, supercilious and cold as they circled my midnight mattress. I thought, then, of my internal mother, of what she might say? And I found her warm arms cradling me, shielding me from my prepossessions. I heard her say: “It’s OK. You can begin again tomorrow. You can call your mother in the morning. You can sit down with your daughter and teach her to play the Uno game you just purchased, and make a point of asking about the sting. But, Jennifer, you should also know that you sat across from your girl at the dining room table a few hours ago and listened, rapt, to her story about her friend at the pool, and her knock-knock joke, and her thoughts on tomato sauce, and she saw you laugh and nod. And you should know that you just spent three days away with your mother, and you have plans to see her next week for lunch, and she read the text that you sent earlier in which you said: “I love you and miss you.” And so perhaps you need to be reminded that you are doing a fine job and that everything is OK and that you are enough.”

She became, in other words, a soft landing, the bosom against which I needed to press my cheek.

I don’t know what future version of myself I’m mothering at the moment. (Do we ever?) Is it the woman of fifty who one day looks back and thinks, “I did an OK job making time for my young children when I was in a productive period of my creative life,” or is it the woman of ninety who thinks, “I’m so glad I made a real effort to show my mom how much I loved her while she was here.”

I can’t know who those future selves will be any more than I can divine the adults my children will one day become — I can only surround them as they are now with love and reassurance. I can only tell them to rest easy, to trust that I will not abandon them, to know that they are safe and beloved.

Onward, mothers —


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+I was reminded, while writing this essay, of a comment by a Magpie reader a few years ago on a post in which I shared that my son had burned his hands on the fireplace, and I was lamenting the incident, and she wrote: “Oh, Jen, this is so hard. What comes to mind reading this is that when Hill got hurt you also got hurt. The difference is that you didn’t have someone to scoop you up in their arms and twirl you around in distraction and reassure you that you will feel better and you will get through this. Hold yourself a little while and acknowledge the hurt and pain you felt when he got hurt, knowing that once that balm is applied the pain will lessen and you will heal too. Sending love and a hand to hold.” This is exactly the internal mother energy I am after.

+Motherhood is a surfeit.

+If you are a new mom and feel you are withdrawn from the entire world: I see you.

+Midnight in Molisano.

Shopping Break.

+These $128 jeans are en route to me. Love the 90s style!

+Major Toteme vibes for $115!

+Ordered myself these reasonably-priced running shorts.

+Obsessed with these table lamps.

+I know we’re nearing the end of pool season, but this $30 100% cotton cover up is PERFECTION. I love the crinkly gauze material! I have a similar one I wore allll summer long.

+ADORE this coat for little girls in the blockprint pattern!

+This top and bottom set are in my cart — reminiscent of La Double J for under $100. Fun for a night out. I actually LOVED wearing my Sleeper feather pajamas out last winter for a festive, fun twist on date night / party dressing. You must pair with heels to make it work.

+Love the look of this slouchy cardi, especially over a slip dress!

+My friend Jen was just raving about this foundation. I usually use tinted moisturizer (this is my favorite) instead of foundation (and when I do need foundation, have been very happy with Westman Atelier), but am intrigued…

+Thank you to a Magpie for pointing me in the direction of Cuyana’s newest bag style. Love! Do I need in yellow?

+Love the monogram options on these patterned pouches. (Cute gift!)

+This footed mug sparks joy. And it’s $7!

+Love these towels so much. We use them in our primary bath. The scalloped edge and fluffiness = divine.

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2 thoughts on “The Internal Mother.

  1. This post was very well timed for me. I recently fell and shattered my elbow and broke the same wrist. Had to have emergency surgery and was in the hospital for a week. I was anxious to get home, until I actually arrived home and realized how difficult life was for me. My husband tries to help, but he can’t even put my hair into a ponytail to get it out of my face for me. I’ve been searching for my internal mother and she’s not around. I need every ounce of strength just to heal. I’m not trying to say this for sympathy but to say when trauma hits you need to curl into a protective ball until you can gather the strength to move forward. Its been 5 weeks for me and yesterday was the first day I felt like I could unfurl from my protective cocoon.
    Just my observation as I am definitely “in the middle” and need protection.

    1. Oh Cynthia! I am SO sorry to hear. That must feel so lonely and difficult! Thinking of you and sending you grace/good vibes for the recovery. Hoping you can find your internal mother soon.


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