Re-defining “Honor Thy Mother and Father” in the new paradigm

“Honor thy mother and father,” says the commandment.

Young children are biologically pre-disposed to revere and honor their parents in order to survive. Yet when children become adults and are capable of questioning their parents and evaluating them from an adult perspective, they may be discouraged from looking too deeply, so as not to offend the parents who have given so much for them.

Cherelle Sappleton.

Many see the act of examining one’s childhood to be avoiding adult responsibility and pointlessly dwelling on the past. Yet the epitome of not taking responsibility is refusing to deal with the pain of your childhood and then unconsciously projecting your unprocessed pain onto other people.

This can be very challenging for those of older generations who were rewarded for being silent about the truth of their pain. In generations past, the very definition of honor and responsibility involved hiding painful truths--and this worldview is still quite dominant in our world today. Some parents may unconsciously expect their adult children to be silent about their feelings because this is what was expected of them. That was how family loyalty and honor were defined. Children were to be seen and not heard. And adult children who examine their histories may be viewed with suspicion, distrust or outright scorn.


Due to the belief that silence is honor, the old form of “honor thy mother and father” has allowed for inter-generational pain to fester and to be unconsciously passed along for centuries.

Seeing the value of conflict in the service of transformation 

One of the major taboos in our culture is that conflict is bad. Yet, conflict that is in the service of transformation is necessary. If we avoid all conflict, we are avoiding growth, greater intimacy and deeper understanding. We have to re-envision how we approach conflict and discomfort, not as a form of personal attack or victimhood, but as a necessary step in creating greater intimacy and understanding.

What we refuse to acknowledge, we unconsciously pass onto others.

We have all to some degree developed a false self, a mask to help us survive in our societies and in our families. For countless generations people have been encouraged to see the masks as their true selves. This has resulted in a persistent background pain and sense of shame. Many address this pain with drugs, alcohol, or end up feeling chronically depressed. There is a wisdom in the body that wants to reject the mask and live from the authentic self.

Simon Burch

There is only one thing that will bring relief: The truth at the center of your Being and living from that place of deep authenticity, no matter the cost.

Because this taboo against exploring our inner truth has been operating with momentum for countless generations, we are each presented with a dilemma. Do we continue with ‘business as usual’, with the persistent, background pain, but with an illusion of peace and security? Or do we directly face the pain for the sake of moving through it, to arrive at a place of genuine truth, clarity and the deep fulfillment that it brings?

Honoring your Authentic Self

street art & graffiti Vitry-sur-Seine - Indigo by _Kriebel_

There is a paradox that in order to truly progress we must temporarily regress, meaning we must look back to truly move forward. We cannot truly move forward until we understand what it is that we are moving on from.

What we refuse to own does not simply go away; it will keep manifesting until we deal with it directly. So why not deal with it directly? Dealing with our unresolved pain directly is increasingly being seen as the only sane choice.

The pressure to look within is stronger than ever.  We can see how full our collective shadow has become; we can see it in the floating trash in our oceans, the squandering of our resources and the poisoning of our atmosphere. This is symbolic of the inner avoidance and of not “cleaning up our own inner trash.” Contrary to the belief of former generations, we’re seeing now that the inner garbage doesn’t disappear even though we may prefer to be silent and pretend it is not there.

In the new paradigm that we are moving into, family honor will not be equated with silence but rather with honesty, integrity and authenticity, even if that involves confronting painful, uncomfortable feelings. The uncomfortable feelings that come up in the process of healing from emotional wounds will not be avoided due to fear, but seen realistically as an integral part of a healthy process that ultimately delivers one to clarity, deep wisdom and compassion.


The work of individualization requires that we honestly examine our histories and how they have impacted our lives, not for the sake of assigning blame, but for the sake of authentically moving forward and receiving the gifts that lay dormant in our wounds. 

It is a paradox that the more of us that individualize (live from a place of authenticity and truth) the stronger the collective unity we are capable of creating.

Our hunger for authenticity is starting to exceed our hunger for cultural and familial approval.

I recently went to a talk by a prominent Jungian analyst who was discussing our current predicament in the context of the symbols of the Age of Pisces (depicted with an image of many fish swimming in the ocean)  and the Age of Aqaurius (depicted as a woman carrying a water vessel on her shoulder). The Jungian analyst had an interesting insight. He said this could be seen as a symbol of the new era towards which we are moving; from swimming in the collective, group unconsciousness (fish in the ocean) to a new realm where we each must take full responsibility for our own consciousness as depicted by carrying our own vessel upon our own shoulders. 

We are building a new culture of self-responsibility.

by Iiliana Mendez

The ability to experience intimacy and oneness is preceded by the willingness to embrace the solitude and necessity of self-reflection that result in genuine insights into the self.

The fact that our culture has equated honest examination of our histories with treason or blasphemy illustrates how this commandment is a form of exerting control, not about genuine love. Love that is commanded is not love. Examining our histories, if we stay with the process, ultimately brings us to honor and love for our parents. No commandment needed.

It is truly revolutionary to do the work of uncovering our true selves.

So many taboos must be broken:

  • the taboo against exploring your deeper self and finding answers within
  • the taboo of honestly feeling your feelings even if they offend others
  • the taboo of feeling fully deserving and worthy of big things
  • the taboo of loving yourself and owning your worth
  • the taboo of process, patience and things taking time
  • the taboo of imperfection
  • the taboo of acknowledging the truth of our childhood histories
  • the taboo of vulnerability
  • the taboo of focusing on self-exploration (labeled “selfish,” especially for women)

Healing the mother wound is a form of honoring your entire female line: the generations of women who have gone before you and the generations of women that are to come. 

Due to the cultural atmosphere of female oppression, women have historically felt caught in a bind: honoring your mother may seem to necessitate dis-empowering yourself and likewise, empowering yourself may feel like not fully honoring your mother. This either/or bind has been a problem in women’s empowerment. This is because of the power dynamic that has been passed down through generations of women living in patriarchy, which is a sense of scarcity that makes it seem challenging for mothers and daughters to both be empowered individuals.

Honoring your mother will be seen as in full alignment with honoring yourself. 

As more generations of women become individualized and live their authentic truth, it will no longer be taboo for daughters to reflect on the mother wound to seek healing. It will be known that healing the mother wound is essential to taking responsibility for oneself, to living life consciously and with integrity. And it will be seen as a critical step in fully owning one’s brilliance and power. This is also true for the father wound and for the work that men do in healing their own generational wounds. And as men and women increasingly come together and support one another in this desire for authenticity, change can happen on a massive scale.

Our personal mothers are windows into the archetypal power of the Great Mother.

Rima Staines

Archtypes are universal energies. A human being cannot BE an archetype because the energy is much bigger than a single person. Yet mothers in our culture are expected to be the personal mother AND the archetypal mother, which is impossible. We need new models of female empowerment, more symbols of the power of the divine feminine in our culture so that we are not only relying on our personal mothers to provide us with the experience of our divine feminine power.  Thus, we can spread out our mothering needs among many sources and thus, have those needs more likely to be filled.

One of the readers of my blog recently wrote to me that she was visiting a exhibition in her town in the Netherlands that depicted the heroic women who struggled for women’s liberation. She said that in viewing the exhibition, she had a poignant realization that healing the mother wound in herself was a right that these women had also fought for. In other words, the process of healing the mother wound is a continuation of this struggle for women’s liberation and empowerment.

Honoring your Inner Child

Ophelia by IMagine studio

The story goes that Christ told the disciples that one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven until we have become like little children.  This is not about reverting back to childishness or lack of responsibility. It is about re-claiming the original innocence of  our inner child by confronting the false masks that we’ve accumulated that block the expression of the true, authentic self.

The innocence of our child-self combines with the wisdom of the integrated adult-self to create a powerful, new consciousness capable of transforming our world beyond anything we have yet known.

We truly honor our parents and our children when we take responsibility and do the work of healing our own wounds. 

When we are strong advocates for the child within us, we are advocates and stewards of all that is innocent, pure and good. And as we redeem the child within ourselves, we also redeem the children that live in our mothers and fathers, because we can then see them in the light of truth and the light of compassion. This sense of honor then extends to the earth and all life.


(art credits in order of appearance: Cherelle Sappleton, Imagine Studio, Simon Burch, street art from Vitry-sur-Seine: Indigo by Kriebel, Ekaterina Korolera, Liliana Mendez, artist unknown, artist unknown, Rima Staines, Ophelia by Imagine Studio, Sayudeko)

© Bethany Webster 2014

I teach a course on healing the mother wound. See Events page for upcoming dates. If you are interested in bringing a workshop to your area, please send an email to

Please stay tuned as I’ll be announcing new, upcoming opportunities to work with me personally on healing the mother wound.


Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below!

Does this article resonate with you?  Sign up here for a free 30-minute “Healing the Mother Wound Clarity Session” with Bethany to learn about her private coaching on healing the mother wound. 

Ways to work with Bethany: 

Click here to download my FREE e-book on “Transforming the Inner Mother” and sign up for my newsletter.


When Shame feels Mothering: The Tragedy of Parentified Daughters

The Kiss, 1890-1891 Mary Cassatt

The road between a little girl and her mother is supposed to be a one-way street with support flowing consistently from the mother to the daughter. It goes without saying that little girls are totally dependent on their mothers for physical, mental and emotional support. However, one of the many faces of the mother wound is the common dynamic in which the mother inappropriately depends on the daughter to provide her with mental and emotional support. This role-reversal is incredibly damaging to the daughter, having long-range effects on the her self-esteem, confidence and sense of self-worth.

Alice Miller describes this dynamic in “The Drama of the Gifted Child.” The mother, upon having a child may unconsciously feel that finally she has someone to love her unconditionally and begins to use the child to fill her needs that were not met in her own childhood. In this way, the child begins to carry the projection of her mother’s mother.  This puts the daughter in an impossible situation to be responsible for her mother’s well-being and happiness.

Mother and Child 3, evelyn williams

The young daughter then has to repress her own developmental needs in order to accommodate the emotional needs of the mother. Instead of her getting mirroring from her mother, she is expected to be the one doing the mirroring. Instead of being able to use her mother as a secure, emotional base for exploration, she is expected to be the secure emotional base for her mother.

The daughter is vulnerable and dependent on the mother for survival so she has few choices available to her; one is to comply and fill the mother’s needs and the other is some degree of rebellion from her.

A daughter is being exploited when her mother gives her adult roles, such as surrogate spouse, best friend or therapist.

Paul Hermann Wagner

When a daughter is asked to be an emotional prop for her mother, she is unable to rely on her mother enough to get her own developmental needs met. 

There are a number of ways that parentified daughters may respond to this dynamic:

  • “If I’m a really, really, good girl (compliant, quiet, without needs) then mother will finally see me and take care of me” or
  • “If I stay strong and protect mother, she will see me” or
  • “If I give mother what she wants, she will stop abusing me,” etc.

As adults we may be projecting this dynamic onto others in our lives. For example, in our relationships: “If only I keep trying to be good enough for him, he will commit to me.” In our careers: “If only I get one more degree, I’ll be good enough to get promoted.”

These mothers set up a competition with their daughter for who gets to be mothered. 

The message is there’s not enough mothering or love to go around. Girls grow up believing that love, approval and validation are very scarce and one must work to the bone in order to be worthy of it. Then as adults they attract situations that replicate this pattern over and over. (Many of these dynamics and effects are also true for male children as well.)

Parentified daughters are robbed of their childhood.

dorothea lange

The daughter does not receive affirmation for herself as a person, rather she receives affirmation only as result of performing a function (relieving mother of her pain). 

Mothers may expect their daughters to listen to their problems and ask them to provide comfort and nurturing to calm her adult fears and worries. The daughter may be expected to bail her mother out of her problems or to clean up her messes, whether physical or emotional ones. She may be regularly called in as the problem-solver or mediator.

What these mothers convey to the daughters is that they, as mothers, are weak, overwhelmed and unable to handle life. It conveys to the daughter that her developmental needs are simply “too much” for the mother and so the child blames herself for even existing. The young girl gets the message that she does not have a right to have needs, does not have a right to be listened to or validated as her own person.

Parentified daughters may cling to this role even into adulthood because there are many payoffs. For example, the only time the daughter might receive praise or validation is for being mother’s warrior or mother’s savior.

Expressing your own needs may mean rejection or abuse from mother.

As she grows up, the daughter may fear the mother would be too “easily shattered” and so the daughter may hide her truth for fear of what it would do to the mother. The mother may play into this by playing victim and causing the daughter to see herself as a perpetrator if she dares to express her own separate reality. This can manifest into the unconscious belief in the daughter that “I’m too much. My true self injures others. I’m too big. I need to stay small in order to survive and be loved.”

Mother’s Hand. 1966 by Antanas Sutkus

While these daughters may carry the projection of the “good mother” for their mothers they may also carry the projection of the negative mother. For example, this can play out when the daughter is ready to separate emotionally from the mother as an adult. The mother may unconsciously see the daughter’s separation as a replication of the rejection by her own mother. The mother may react with overt infantile rage, passive sulking or hostile criticism.

The mothers that exploit their daughters this way are often the same ones that say to them “Don’t blame me!” or “Stop being so ungrateful!” if the daughter expresses discontent about the relationship or seeks a discussion on the matter. After the daughters have been robbed of their childhood via the invasive needs of their mothers, they are then attacked for having the audacity to propose a discussion about the dynamics of the relationship.

These mothers may be unwilling to see their role in the daughter’s pain because it’s too painful for them. And they are likely in denial of how their relationships with their own mothers have impacted them. “Don’t blame your mother” can be used as a way to instill shame and silence daughters from speaking the truth of the pain they’ve endured.

If we are to claim our power as women, we must be willing to see the ways in which our mothers truly were to blame for our pain as children—and as adult women, how we are fully responsible for healing these wounds within ourselves. 

Stephen Cefalo

Part of being powerful is the ability to create harm, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Whether mothers are completely ignorant of the harm they have created or shy away from that knowledge,  they are still responsible for it. Daughters must own the legitimacy of their pain. If they don’t, no true healing can occur. They will continue to sabotage themselves and limit their ability to thrive and flourish in the world.

Oslo - Vigelandpark

Patriarchy has deprived women to such a degree that when they become mothers, they often turn to the love of their young daughters starving and  ravenous for validation, approval and recognition. A hunger that a daughter could never possibly satisfy. Yet generation after generation of innocent daughters have been offering themselves up, willingly sacrificing themselves on the altar of their mother’s suffering and starvation, with the hope that one day they will finally “be good enough” for her. There is a childlike hope that by “feeding the mother,” the mother will eventually be able to feed the daughter. That meal never comes. You get the “meal” your soul has been longing for by engaging in the process of healing the mother wound and owning your life and your worth. 

Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in the church of San Miguel in Valladolid, Spain

We have to stop sacrificing ourselves for our mothers because ultimately, our sacrifice doesn’t feed them. What will feed your mother is the transformation that is on the other side of her own pain and grief that she must reckon with on her own. Your mother’s pain is her responsibility, not yours.

When we refuse to acknowledge the ways our mothers may be to blame for our suffering, we continue through life feeling there is something wrong with us, that we are somehow bad or deficient. This is because it’s easier to feel shame than it is to face the pain of realizing the truth of how we may have been abandoned or exploited by our mothers. Thus, shame is a protective buffer from the pain of the truth. 

The little girl within us would rather feel shame and self-hate because it preserves the illusion of the good mother. 

(We hold onto shame as a way of holding onto mother. In this way, shaming ourselves functions as a way to feel mothered.)

In order to finally let go of self-hate and self-sabotage, we have to assist our inner child with understanding that no matter how loyal she is to mother by continuing to be small and attenuated, it will never cause her mother to change into the mother she longs for.

We must have the courage to hand back to our mothers the pain they asked us to carry for them. We hand back the pain when we can put responsibility where the responsibility truly lies, with the dynamics that were present with the adult in the situation, which was the mother, not the child. As children, we were not responsible for the choices and behavior of the adults around us. Once we really take this in, we can then take full responsibility by working through it, acknowledging how it has impacted our lives, so that we can make new choices that are in alignment with our authentic selves.

Many women try to skip this step and go right to forgiveness and empathy which can keep them stuck. You can’t truly move on if you don’t know what you are moving on from. 

Why it’s hard to face how your mother was a perpetrator: 

  • As little girls we were culturally conditioned to be caretakers and to not advocate for our own needs
  • Children are hard-wired biologically for unwavering loyalty to mother no matter what she does. Mother love is critical for survival.
  • Having the same gender identification as your mother; the implication that she is on your team
  • Seeing your mother as a victim of her own unresolved trauma and a culture of patriarchy
  • The religious and cultural taboos of “Honor thy father and mother” and the “holy mother” that instill guilt and silence children about their feelings.

Why is self-sabotage a manifestation of the mother wound?

  • As a parentified daughter, the mother-bond (love, comfort and safety) was forged in an environment of self-suppression. (Being small = being loved)
  • Thus, there’s a subconscious link between mother-love and self-attenuation.
  • While your conscious mind may want success, happiness, love and confidence–the subconscious mind remembers the dangers of early childhood in which being big, spontaneous or authentic caused painful rejection from the mother.
  • To the sub-conscious mind: rejection by mother = death.
  • To the sub-conscious mind: self-sabotage (being small)  = safety (survival).

That’s why it can feel so hard to love ourselves, because letting go of shame, self-sabotage and guilt feels like letting go of mother. 

Sorrow by Patrick Palmer

Healing the mother wound is about re-claiming your life from dysfunctional patterns set in place through the early relationship with your mother.

It’s about honestly reflecting on the pain of your relationship with your mother for the sake of your own healing and transformation, which is every woman’s birthright. It’s about doing the work within yourself so that you can be free to be the woman you are meant to be. It’s not about expecting your mother to change or to finally fill a need she couldn’t fill when you were a child. Quite the opposite. Until we face and accept our mother’s limitations and all the ways she truly harmed us, we remain stuck in a limbo of waiting for her approval and keep our lives perpetually on hold as a result.

Healing the mother wound is a form of integrity and taking responsibility for one’s own life.

One reader recently commented on how she has been healing her mother wound for over 20 years and although she had to distance herself from her own mother, she’s done enormous healing that has resulted in a healthy relationship with her young daughter. She captured it beautifully when said about her daughter,  ‘I can be her rock of support because I’m not using her as an emotional crutch.’ 

While there may be conflict or discomfort in the process of healing the mother wound, it is necessary for the sake of healing to take place so that you can confidently move into your truth and power. If we stick with the process, we eventually come to a place of authentic compassion not just for ourselves as daughters, but for our mothers, for all women throughout time and for all human beings.

Yet on that road to compassion, we must first hand back to our mothers their own pain, their pain that we absorbed into ourselves when we were very young. 

The true abdication of responsibility is when the mother makes the daughter feel responsible for her unprocessed pain and blames her when she takes into account how she has suffered because of it. Our mothers may never take full responsibility for the pain they unconsciously placed in us in order to relieve themselves of the responsibility for their own lives. But the most important thing is that YOU, as a daughter, fully own the legitimacy of your pain so that you can feel empathy for your inner child, freeing you to finally heal and move on to a life that you love and deserve.

Deb S

(art credits in order of appearance: Mary Cassat, Evelyn Williams, Paul Hermann Wagner, Dorothea Lange, Antanas Sutkus, Stephen Cefalo, Sculptures from Vigeland Park in Oslo, Our Lady of Sorrows in Church in Valladolid, Spain, Patrick Palmer)

© Bethany Webster 2014

I teach a course on healing the mother wound. See Events page for upcoming dates. If you are interested in bringing a workshop to your area, please send an email to

Please stay tuned as I’ll be announcing new, upcoming opportunities to work with me personally on healing the mother wound!


Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below. Were you a parentified daughter? 

Does this article resonate with you?  Sign up here for a free 30-minute “Healing the Mother Wound Clarity Session” with Bethany to learn about her private coaching on healing the mother wound. 

Ways to work with Bethany: 

Click here to download my FREE e-book on “Transforming the Inner Mother” and sign up for my newsletter.