It's Momplicated: Hope and Healing for Imperfect Daughters of Imperfect Mothers

It's Momplicated: Hope and Healing for Imperfect Daughters of Imperfect Mothers

by Debbie Alsdorf, Joan Edwards Kay


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496426574
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 127,506
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Debbie Alsdorf has spent the past 25 years as a speaker and writer whose mission is to help women live a better story. She is a lay counselor, a Christian life coach, and the founder of Design4Living Ministries. Joan Edwards Kay is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the East Bay of San Francisco. She received her bachelor's degree from Vassar College and her master's degree from Western Seminary, where she has also served as adjunct professor.

Read an Excerpt


every woman has a story

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.


"Debra, stop whining or I'll give you something to whine about. You aren't sick; you're just hungry."

"No, Mama, I'm not hungry. My tummy feels like it's stabbing me."

The arguments over my stomach pain went on for months. Even though I made frequent trips to the school nurse, my mom wasn't convinced that something could actually be physically wrong with me. She brushed it off as my need for attention.

Finally, she relented and took me to the doctor. Tests confirmed that I wasn't suffering from mere hunger pangs or trying to get my mom to notice me. It wasn't something I imagined in my head. In fourth grade, I was diagnosed with ulcers.

For my mother, this wasn't acceptable.

"You are sick all the time just like your daddy! If you weren't so nervous, your tummy would be fine. Why are you so afraid? What's wrong with you? You are dramatic and making yourself sick!"

What does a ten-year-old say to that?

I didn't know why I was sick. I didn't want to be cooped up in the office with the school nurse instead of playing outside at recess with my friends. Mom accused me of being weak because I had stomach issues. She didn't do weak, and she prided herself on being healthy and strong. She ruled our roost. As the saying goes, if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

* * *

When I think of growing up with my mother, there are three words that come to mind — distant, cold, and angry. And a fourth: longing. I longed for her love. Although she was well liked by her coworkers and friends, her daily criticisms of me — from the way I looked to how I acted — became the way I learned to view myself. She worked the night shift and slept during school hours, but in the short daily moments we were together, she seemed irritated, distant, and uninterested. I grew up thinking I was a nuisance.

As soon as my mother heard the doctor's diagnosis, she seemed to start picking me apart about everything. It began with the ulcers, then landed on a recent portrait of me that a family friend had taken.

"What's wrong with you in this picture?"

I hesitated, frozen by her disapproving tone.

Finally I said, "I guess I'm ugly?"

My dad usually didn't get involved when my mom was mean to me, but this time he jumped in. "You are always criticizing her. Can you lay off? Just give the kid a break! She looks fine in that picture."

As much as I appreciated my dad's attempt to be my advocate, it was like adding gasoline to a fire. Mom's ranting escalated until I couldn't take it any longer. I ran out of the room, holding my hands over my ears to muffle her yells.

"Go ahead and get out of here. Your father always makes excuses for you. Why don't you just go play on the freeway!"

It wasn't the first time I had heard that last flippant remark. We lived in a tiny two-bedroom house in a beach town close to Los Angeles. There were freeways nearby, so in my little-girl mind I translated my mom's directive as "Just get lost or get hit by a car."

I had no idea what I had done to enrage my mom. I just knew I must be bad, wrong, weak, ugly, and a bother. As my parents continued to argue, I tried to make myself as small as possible on my bed in my room, hugging my knees to my chest.

When things quieted down, I snuck out without them noticing, crossed the busy four-lane street we lived on, and sat on the bench at the bus stop located across from our house. The sound of the passing cars gave me relief. I watched as people drove by and found myself thinking, What would it be like to have a mom who liked me and didn't yell at me so much? A mom who held me when I was sick and told me I was pretty?

I didn't have money to take the bus anywhere, but I wished that someone could take me away to a place where I would feel wanted. My stomach was churning and the tears fell freely as I kept thinking, What is so wrong with me that even my mom and dad fight about me?

I wish this weren't my story. These kinds of life-shaping wounds go deep. My mother left her imprint on me, and it shaped me. And though it wasn't all bad, I have spent years understanding the impact and unraveling the pain. But despite the pain, the mother-daughter relationship is deep in loyalty, even in the midst of confusing signals. My mom, the only mother I will ever have, the woman whose aloofness and criticisms hurt me, was still the woman I loved and longed for. She wasn't perfect, but she was mine.


Every daughter's story with her mother is unique. As I (Joan) read Debbie's story, I find myself comparing — noticing all the ways my mother was different from hers. I don't remember my mom criticizing or yelling at me. I wasn't afraid of her. She never told me to go play on the freeway.

No, my story with my mother is not the same as Debbie's. When I think of my mother, my stomach clenches and my throat closes. I'm aware of sadness, anger, longing, regret — a whole jumble of emotions. And there is guilt. How can I have these feelings about my mom? She did so much for me. How can I be so ungrateful?

I quickly search for positive memories to prove that I do love and appreciate my mother, and they are easy to find. My mother was a 1950s housewife. She loved to cook and prepared a delicious, balanced dinner every night. Every week she did my laundry and placed neatly folded clothes on the stairs that led to my room. We lived modestly in our 1,500-square-foot suburban home in the Midwest, but it felt abundant. I freely roamed the neighborhood to visit friends and rode my bicycle to the park. If I fell and scraped my knee or was frightened by a dog, I could run home and my mother would comfort me.

When my mother wasn't busy with a project — creating a new watercolor, planting flowers along our garage, or refinishing an old chest of drawers — she would gravitate to her favorite chair, where she sat reading for hours. During the summer, my mother took my sister, my brother, and me to the library every week so we could each get a fresh stack of books to read.

The neighborhood kids often gathered at our house because my mother allowed us to spread out and make a mess. We could turn the large room at the back of our house into a school for our dolls. We could pile the patio furniture on the lawn to build a fort. Lake Michigan was a mile away, and my mother regularly took us to the beach. In the early days, my mother seemed happy, and I felt the same way — until the year I turned nine.

* * *

It was March 22, 1961. It seemed like any other school day as I came downstairs to make myself a bowl of cereal. My grandmother was standing at the kitchen sink. She had been with us a lot recently so our mother could visit our dad in the hospital. He was there, our mother had told us, because he had an "ulcer."

My grandmother inhaled sharply when she saw me. Her usually kind face looked strained and exhausted. "Your mommy wants to see you."

I walked down the short hall to my parents' bedroom. On the bed, my mother looked disheveled in a crumpled, sleeveless nightgown, her short brown hair sticking up from the back of her head. My six-year-old sister, Annie, and four-year-old brother, Johnny, were on the bed with her, but I focused on my mother's red eyes.

"Joanie," she said, "come here. There's something I have to tell you." I warily approached and sat down.

"Last night Daddy died."

She blurted out the words, hid her face in a wad of Kleenex, and sobbed.

I went numb. Daddy died. I mentally repeated the words, trying to make sense of them. My dad — his warm hugs, his prickly whiskers, his twinkling eyes and half smile when he teased me — what did that mean, he had died?

I looked at my mother, hoping for understanding or comfort, but she offered nothing. She looked at me with wide, pleading eyes as if I could somehow help her. I had never seen her like this, and it was terrifying. Johnny was crying now too, and Annie's face was frozen, expressionless. I felt completely alone.

During the days that followed, I wandered, dazed, through the rubble that remained of my life. Everything was different. Our grandmother became our mom, cooking and doing laundry and making sure we got on the school bus. People continually came to our front door, where my grandmother or aunt would graciously thank them for the card or the food they had brought and tell them my mother was "sleeping." My friends were kind, but they wanted to play, not realizing that I couldn't turn away from the never-ending, screaming pain inside me. On the school playground, groups of kids huddled, whispering and looking at me. I felt achingly alone. It seemed that no one could enter my world — no one could understand. My sister and brother were too little, my aunt and grandmother were busy, my father was gone, and my mother was a stranger sitting in a green armchair, staring out the window, smoking cigarettes.

Every family and every culture has unspoken rules. My relatives approached hardship with a "stiff upper lip." The rules were "Don't talk about your pain. Don't talk about your feelings. Don't touch. Be strong and go on with life." No one held me or sat and talked with me. No one invited me to pour out my pain. It was as if I were supposed to pretend I didn't remember or care that my dad ever existed.

* * *

As spring became summer and then fall, life took on a new normal routine. My aunt went back to New York, and my grandmother returned to her house in a nearby town. However, part of our new normal was a growing awareness that Johnny was sick. I have flashes of memories — his chubby cheeks from the cortisone treatment, his wheelchair, the nosebleed that wouldn't stop — but no one said the words cancer or leukemia. I was oblivious. Annie and I were immersed in school, piano lessons, ballet classes, and friends.

By December, my mother was at the hospital with Johnny most of the time, and my grandmother came to stay with Annie and me. She made sure my sister had a birthday party when she turned seven, but Annie grieved that our mother wasn't there.

On January 29, ten months after my father's death, I got off the school bus and immediately knew something terrible had happened. There were cars in the driveway, and through the front windows I could see people in the living room. My mother met me at the door.

"Joanie, Johnny died today." The way she blurted it out reminded me of when she had told me about my father. A cold, icy rage gripped me. Anger at her, anger at the situation, anger at all those people in the living room.

As an adult, I am horrified by all my mother had to bear — losing a husband while having a terminally ill son — and I have compassion for her. But as a ten-year-old, I didn't understand. Why couldn't she make things better? I held her responsible for allowing this chaos and pain to enter my life.

I felt abandoned by her. I hadn't understood why she focused so much time and attention on Johnny in the months after our father died, but not on me and my sister. Johnny was sick, but weren't we hurting too? It makes sense to me now; what mother wouldn't spend every possible moment at the hospital with her dying son? But at the time I believed she didn't care about me, and it hurt. And over the top of that hurt, there was anger.

I punished her by pushing her away, even when she tried to be more present to me after Johnny died. The more I rejected her, the more ingratiating she became to try to win back my love, like a puppy begging to be petted. When she groveled, I rebuffed her more. I became the "alpha" in the relationship, and I hated it. I wanted her to be stronger than I was and to stop me from hurting her.

Writing about my mother is hard, yet I know there is value in honestly looking at how she continues to influence me today. She left me with countless gifts. My early years gave me a strong foundation. I was given core beliefs that I am lovable, valuable, and capable. Through her I learned the love of art and books and gardening. But she also left me with wounds.

Her emotional abandonment imprinted me with a way of approaching life and relationships that says, "You are on your own. You have only yourself to rely on. Let people get close, but not too close. Don't ever give anyone the power to hurt you by abandoning you." These messages are getting fainter and God's voice is getting louder as I walk the path of healing, but the imprint is deep in my being.


All of us have a story, a path, and a process that have led us to this point. Some women are very aware that their early relationships shaped them, while others are in denial about the way the messages of their past impact them today. You may not have experienced anything as traumatic with your mother as we did with ours. But if you are honest with yourself, we think you might admit there may be momplicated issues. And though we are not to live blaming our "stuff" on our mothers or on our pasts, it does serve us well to be open enough to look to the past, identifying patterns of behavior and attitude that may have been formed there.

The goal is to be able to move beyond our pasts into the future that God has designed for us. He is writing our stories. His signature is on your life and ours. Ask him to give you wisdom about why you get reactive or get stuck in ruts that are hard to get out of.

For the two of us, the path to healing has been fragmented and has come in seasons. There was never one explosive aha moment to healing and change. This healing journey with the Lord is a beautiful path to freedom that happens as he unravels it layer by layer. We are sure we will still be growing until the day that we take our last breath on earth.

As we look at our lives now, we realize that God has been shaping us since day one. He was with us in our less-than-ideal moments and in our pain. Once we could grasp that truth, it became much easier to give the pain to Jesus for healing.

He knows our hot buttons and the things that trigger our insecurity, shame, and fear. While we came from different families, we both learned dysfunctional patterns when we were young. These unhealthy patterns led to people-pleasing, compulsive overachieving, and running to food and other distractions to numb our pain. When we could look honestly at those behaviors and realize that Jesus understands every bit of dysfunction and desires to make us whole, we were able to begin our journeys to freedom from negative imprints. There has been much healing since, and there will be much more to come.


We've told you part of our stories; what about you? Take a moment to think about your mother. What comes to mind as you think about your relationship with her? What memories surface? What desires, concerns, or regrets? How do you think your relationship with your mother shaped you? It never ceases to amaze us how helpful it can be for women to address their mother relationships.

Staci wanted to meet to talk about life, spiritual growth, and mentoring, but the conversation turned to the subject of her mom. Though they had a loving relationship, Staci admitted it was strained. She had no idea how deep her daughter pain actually went until she was asked to do a presentation for her mother's sixtieth birthday. She tried to write something that would be honoring and tell the story of an amazing mom. After all, wasn't she amazing? Everyone else seemed to think so.

But Staci couldn't pen sincere words no matter how hard she tried. As she sat with her open journal in our counseling session, tears rolled down her cheeks. She went home, and when she began writing, she filled the blank pages with words that revealed all the hurt in their relationship.

The truth was that her mother had been a constant source of pain, confusion, and hurt — for years. Her mother was cold and unaffectionate. The critical spirit in which she approached everything about Staci had deeply wounded Staci's self-confidence. Naturally these cathartic realizations were not spoken at her mother's birthday party, but they were used by God as Staci began to journal, for the first time, about the effects of their relationship.

Rather than making her angry and bitter at her mom, the more Staci wrote, the more pain was released, and the healing between the two of them began. Staci became clear on what she needed to ask God for — healing from the effects of her mother's criticisms.


Excerpted from "It's Momplicated"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

introduction: my mother — my heart, xi,
how to use this book, xvii,
1. every woman has a story, 3,
2. every woman has an imperfect mother, 17,
3. every woman carries her mother's mark, 41,
4. every woman can live a better story, 59,
5. mom, where are you?, 79,
6. mom, will you keep me safe?, 99,
7. mom, will you teach and guide me?, 117,
8. mom, will you celebrate me as a unique individual?, 131,
9. healing starts with facing reality, 153,
10. healing continues by living in the truth, 175,
11. healing can happen in your current relationship, 195,
12. changing the legacy you leave, 223,
q&a with Debbie and Joan ..., 241,
acknowledgments, 251,
notes, 257,
about the authors, 261,

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It's Momplicated: Hope and Healing for Imperfect Daughters of Imperfect Mothers 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
JLYoung 10 months ago
Everyone has a mother in some shape or form... whether she was around and loving, around but distant, hardly around, or never around. Our relationships are different but since no one is perfect, we are all sinners, there are bound to be thorns among the roses. This book is for everyone! It's Momplicated addresses many situations but doesn't speak in a negative condescending tone. It's one of grace and forgiveness. One of healing and beautifying. The thought provoking questions at the end of each chapter can be done individually or with a group. They cause the reader to really dig into their past and deal with it instead of just tossing it to the side thinking that that alone will remove it from their life. There are so many examples! I loved the way the book didn't leave you to stew in your hurt but gently guides the reader through examples, scripture, and encouragement towards restoration. There are practical ways we can relate to our moms and accomplishable next steps. It's hopeful and realistic but not in a fake impractical way. I can't wait to go back through this book slowly and allow God to use it to change my life. I received a copy of this book from CelebrateLit. This has in no way influenced my review. All thoughts are my own.
Ourpugs 10 months ago
It’s Momplicated I love the name of the book, of course, a made up word but so true with mother/ daughter relationships. The makes you think about your relationship with God, with your mother and with your daughter. Brings back memories from my childhood and my daughter childhood. The book has lot of useful information, at the of the chapters has questions to make you think and answer. A lot of examples from the authors with their relationships. I found the book very interesting. Love the chapter when comparing to the Serenity Prayer and how to use that for healing. I received an complementary copy of the book from Celebrate Lit. I was not required to write an positive review.
Virginiaw 10 months ago
This is an interesting nonfiction book that goes in to what different types of relationships we have with our moms. They have a few interesting ideas that were interesting to read. This does try to lead to giving hope to mothers and daughters that have complicated relationships. This was a complex read. I received a copy of this book from Celebratelit for a fair and honest opinion that I gave of my own free will.
5643437 11 months ago
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review this book. Throughout my life, I have had an excellent relationship with my mom. She has been and still is my best friend. However, in reading the book and talking to friends in real life, I know that not all women are fortunate enough to have that type of relationship. The struggles and pain are real. Almost sixteen years ago, I became a mother to a daughter and I hope and pray that by reading this book, I can strengthen our relationship. Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay do an excellent job of examining and discussing the relationships between mothers and daughters. The book truly is meant to provide hope along with healing to those of us who recognize we are imperfect daughters and want to strive for more.
RealWorldBibleStudy 11 months ago
No matter how great your mom is, mother-daughter relationships are complicated. Or, as Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay say, they are “momplicated.” Those ways you are anchored to your mom for life. The ways you rub each other the wrong way and hurt each other, sometimes completely unintentionally or even unknowingly. Relationships with our moms are complicated. Or should we say "momplicated?" + enter the giveaway! - It's Momplicated walks through some of the ways our relationships are momplicated: the full spectrum from situations of abuse or neglect to innocent miscommunications or childhood misunderstandings. While reading this book, I was reminded of an incident with my little sister when we were 6 and 8 years old. I was reading the side of a cereal box, out loud to myself, and when I read the words “total fat,” she thought I was talking about her! (There was nothing fat about my sister, by the way!). She let me hear it – she called me a “meaniestatic” – and the name has jokingly stuck around since then. But just like my sister misunderstood, sometimes our little girl minds and hearts (or even our big girl minds and hearts) just don't get it. 3 Things I Loved About It's Momplicated #1 NO MOM-BASHING Even while this book gave us all permission to examine our hearts and our memories to expose where we may have been hurt and need God's healing touch, there was no mom-bashing here. This was surprisingly true even for situations that might have truly merited it. The authors were full of grace (not excuses) even for moms who had completely dropped the ball in big scary ways. There can be room in our hearts to have both grace and boundaries. #2 THE FIX IS LESS ABOUT MOMPLICATIONS AND MORE ABOUT ME + JESUS The authors recognized that regardless of “whose fault” it is that our relationships and perspectives get so tangled, we + God are in control of what happens next. Each chapter walked us from a place of understanding what might need God's touch in our lives to inviting that touch, not blaming Mom. There was one chapter at the end about resolving issues with your mom. But most of the book discussed how God wants to heal and restore you. It's Momplicated is less about you + Mom, and more about bringing your history with Mom into God's safe, healing hands. It's more about you + Jesus. That means that if these complications maybe took place in a different relationship, not a mother-daughter relationship, you can still apply the principles and journal reflections to invite God to restore you. #3 GOD IS THE ONLY PERFECT PARENT Our moms aren't perfect – even great moms like mine! But each chapter of It's Momplicated brought us face to face with how God fulfills our needs perfectly. He parents us the way mom or dad never could. This part of the chapter brought me to tears almost every time. I know this stuff. I grew up in church, I'm a licensed pastor…but sometimes we forget that that's really how God feels about me. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? Yes – if you are ready to grow, to take ownership, and to be challenged. Don't read it in a few days. (I did, because I goofed up my dates on this review!). Take your time. I'm going to go back and spend some time on the journal prompts. It's going to require some wrestling. You and Jesus will need to decide if this book is right for you in this season. You probably won't want to read it with your mom, although I'm going to encourage m
lolly-pops 11 months ago
I am probably not the best person to review IT'S MOMPLICATED, but I signed up for it anyway. I had a very good relationship with my mother. She wasn't perfect -- who is? But she was my best friend when I grew up. Was, because she's gone on to glory. And so far I have a really good relationship with my children. It was quite sad and startling to read through the pages of IT'S MOMPLICATED to find out that some real life mothers were not as good as mine. I went through the self-checks and my mother never did well, most of the things listed. She did make an occasional comment about my looks (I prayed you wouldn't look like my mother-in-law.... I do. Enough said.) But anyway, if you are someone who has been hurt by your mother, either as a child or an adult, or if you are a mom who hurt your children verbally or physically or unintentionally, then maybe IT'S MOMPLICATED will be a good book to consider. It is written by professionals and has a scriptural base, and it might help to bring healing to your emotional relationship with your mother or children. This would be good to study through on your own or in a small group setting of trusted friends. Recommended for counselors and preachers as well. I was given an Advance Reader Copy free. All opinions are my own.
Deana0326 11 months ago
The title of the book grabbed my attention right away. A book about relationships with your mother is not something I wanted to read. I will say that the authors do a great job of sharing their stories and helping readers understand the dynamics of mothers. I grew up in a very violent and abusive home. I have no idea what it is like to know that your mom loves you. That word was never spoken to me, and oh how I longed to have a mother who was proud of her daughter. After all these years later, the pain of rejection and abuse is still there. This book is a powerful tool for everyone who has a good or difficult relationship with their mother. I really like the section at the end of every chapter that has questions you can answer to help you understand the reasons why your relationship you have had with your mother is good or needs work. I appreciate how the authors go into details about how we may have believed things said to us that stayed planted in our minds throughout the years. Missing in my childhood was the protection and security I needed. The book helped me understand that the fear I have lived with stems from not being able to trust anyone. The stories shared by others in the book are emotional and healing at the same time. When I had my three sons, I wanted to be the perfect mom. There is no such thing, but I was determined that my boys would know that they were loved. I might have overdone it a bit with being overprotective, but the greatest joy I get is hearing my sons say without hesitation, " I love you mom." I am thankful that I read this book and even though it was hard to get through, I have a better understanding of how much healing I need to overcome my past. My mother told me I was stupid, ugly and would never amount to anything. I will never get to experience what it feels like to be loved by parents, but " The Holy Spirit will replace the lie I have believed with God's truth." I encourage everyone to get a copy of this book. For me it was an emotional journey that I was afraid to take. The book is filled with scriptures that give you hope, heals you and directs your heart to forgive when needed. We were all given parents whether they were good or not. I have never forgotten the commandment that says to , "Honor your mother and father." In my mother's final months she became quite ill and my father asked me to help take care of her. I did without hesitation. It didn't matter about the past, only that I was given a chance to show my mother that I honored her. I was with her when she passed away and although it was hard, I'm glad I was given the opportunity to be with her at the end. I love you mom. " You are not defined by your mother or your past or even by yourself. You are defined by God." I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.
dSouthernGal 11 months ago
There isn’t a women I know who hasn’t had some type of Momlication in her life. Whether it was all good, all bad, or somewhere in between, it’s leaves a lasting imprint on our souls. In this book, “It’s Momplicated” both Debbie and Joan discuss their relationship with their Moms, along with examples of others with theirs. They show how any mother-daughter relationship can always use a bit of reflection and healing along the way. I recommend this book to all Moms and daughters, because I know being a daughter and a Mom, how complicated the relationship can get. #netgalley