May is the month when we remember our mothers, who are our first significant relationship in life.

When we are in the womb we are attached to her with an umbilical cord. After we are born, how securely we are attached to her in childhood has a lot to do with how we see ourselves and the quality of the relationships we forge with others throughout our lives.

If Mom meets our needs and shows us love and caring in early life, it is easier to value ourselves and believe in our abilities and strengths.

Knowing we are loved helps us go out into the world and give and receive that love to others. We model her behavior.

But what if the person we called “Mom” was unavailable to us because of her own issues with depression, addiction or relationships? What if she was dismissive, critical, abusive or absent?

What if our arrival into this world was met with abandonment or rejection?

In these sad instances we often spend decades trying to repair the emotional scar and believe in our own worth and lovability.

When we have an emotionally unavailable mother, as adults we might be attracted to people who will abuse or reject us.

Without that early experience of secure attachment, we might enter into relationships in a needy or clinging way, looking to a partner for the love we never got and fearful of that partner leaving.

Or we might be distant and cold ourselves and unable to have loving feelings for those closest to us. When the one person who was supposed to love us the most did not, we might have difficulty trusting that others will be there for us.

In severe cases, having a depressed or addicted mom might result in the child being the caretaker for the mother. These “parentified” children are robbed of childhoods. Some remember having to prepare food, do laundry and care for younger siblings when they were as young as 5.

If Mom was narcissistic and made everything about her, we might struggle with knowing that our needs are important. We might have episodes of depression and low self-esteem.

Whether our mothers are living or deceased, the legacy they left us, for good or for bad, continues. This month is a wonderful time to celebrate the gift of having a good mother, or to resolve to heal from the wounds of not having one.

“My mother gave me life and for that I am grateful,” a client once told me.

To my deceased mother, my mother-in-law, and to all the good mothers out there, thank you for being you. Happy Mother’s Day.

Mary Bieda, MS, LPC is a licensed professional counselor and pastoral counselor who has a private practice in Old Town Bluffton.