**I was provided a copy of the book reviewed in this piece for free by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my unbiased work. Any links in this post are affiliate links to Amazon, simply meaning if you purchase this book through the link provided, I may receive a compensation from Amazon for referral, at no cost to you.**
Pope Francis is credited with saying, “To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war.”
Unfortunately, in my life, I have seen too many mothers bristle and balk at the concept of “unconditional and sacrificial love,” and want to maintain their own personal individualism – often to the detriment of their children.
Therefore, when given an opportunity to review Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace by Marge Steinhage Fenelon, I was eager to apply my clinical skills with an eye pointed squarely at whether or not I would use this with a faith-based client in a future clinical setting.
Ms. Fenelon shared deep, powerful, and poignant stories about her childhood in an effort to highlight some of the trauma she endured at the hands of her mother. At times, I wondered how other readers would be able to connect, if they had not survived similar physical or emotional trauma or, like me, experienced the aftermath as part of their professional lives.
Furthermore, it became clear in reading this book that, in order to use it as a personal or clinical book, the reader must be at a point in their experiences and life journey to be able to accept the words of wisdom contained within the cover.
Perhaps the most difficult part of Forgiving Mother centers on the reminder that every person’s mother, no matter how abusive, is still, “a child of God.” Ms. Fenelon acknowledges this may be a difficult concept to accept, but it is still an integral and important value for those who have suffered (or may continue to suffer) from an abusive mother approaching their own thoughts on relationships in adulthood.
Throughout Forgiving Mother, Ms. Fenelon weaves Church teachings on forgiveness, cites the Catechism, and devotes sections to the quotes of the saints. She reminds her readers that each one of us will have turmoil and struggle in life, yet also reminds readers that those difficulties are meant to polish us for our eternal reward – unification with those very teachers and saints who have already made it to heaven!
I once had a friend explain how she struggled with the concept of God as a “loving Father” when her own father had extreme shortcomings in the love and care department. While highlighting some of the author’s own experiences, the crux of this book centers on finding healing and peace with the reader’s past – by embracing a relationship with the Blessed Mother. Ms. Fenelon recognizes the difficulty that children who have abusive mothers may face when encouraged to embrace a relationship with the mother of God. She recommends readers meet themselves where they are personally at in their healing journey, whether it simply means asking God to grant them the desire to pursue a deeper relationship with the Blessed Mother.
Nestled within Forgiving Mother, the latter portion of the book contains a real prize – the nine day prayer novena journey, focusing the reader on healing from childhood trauma, and peace for the individual reader. Each day has a meditation and reflection based on Bible passages, questions to ask one’s self, and a prayer devoted toward a focus on healing. The emphasis on this section of the book appears designated for the reader to ask, “Where do I, as a child of an abusive mother, go from here? How do I grow with my experiences under my belt?”
In the past, I have heard a priest explain how an abused child can, “Honor thy father and mother,” but still reject and when necessary, report abuse. Showing that he, too, embraced the fact that every child (even an abusive parent) is still a child of God, the priest observed that the child should still “honor that which is honorable.” He also reminded his parishioner, however, that abuse is never to be condoned or sanctioned for any reason. He finally noted, even in the absence of anything else, “that which is honorable” could simply mean acknowledging that the abusive parent taught the child how not to parent. For her part, Ms. Fenelon uses her history to emphasize the power of prayer, but also the power that comes from seeking professional and spiritual support in facing trauma. Through her personal experience, the reader recognizes the benefit of having a spiritual director, who may at times, recommend limited or no contact with an abusive mother.
And, perhaps most importantly, I felt Ms. Fenelon exhibited the priest’s advice – to, “Honor that which is honorable,” in approaching her discussion of her childhood and adult experiences with her mother.
In closing, I firmly believe this book will make a tremendous addition to my clinical shelf. The book is written in a manner meant to empower the reader – reminding him or her that while childhood experiences may shape and mold us, they do not have the power to define the person we can become. Through prayer, a relationship with (and reliance upon the love and comfort of) the Blessed Mother, and wise counsel from a professional mental health worker and/or a spiritual director, healing and peace can be found as an adult.
I highly recommend Forgiving Mother for any clinician seeking to help their Catholic patient heal from childhood trauma at the hands of parents. It is also a wonderful book for adult victims of childhood abuse to read on their own. I would advise, however, that any former victims reading this book would be well-served to have a trusted confidant with whom to discuss any potential triggers or other experiences which may make the reader uncomfortable.
A story of hope and determination, Forgiving Mother is an apparent labor of love. Through a gentle tone, Ms. Fenelon encourages and shows ways in which the reader can find peace and comfort through the beliefs central to their Catholic Faith.