Dear mom, 

I got the boxes of gifts you sent for Christmas. The ones I asked you not to send right before I blocked you. We both knew you would send them anyway. Gifting is one of your love languages. One of about a million of the traits I’ve inherited from you. I’ve already gone overboard with the gifts for my family neatly stacked under the gigantic tree, compensating not for their blended family life, but for the fact that we wouldn’t be celebrating with extended family this year since we went no contact a few weeks before Christmas. My family of origin is falling apart, at least it is for me. Even though it’s lonely being the one to draw boundaries placing me somewhere on “the outside” and everyone else together and right before the holidays to boot, it is my choice. I remind myself of this often, not to suffer, but to remember I HAVE a choice and I didn’t arrive here lightly. I avoided making the choice for far, far too long. Of course, no one really has a choice when they’re abused before age 10. But I think deep down inside, since I left your home at 17, I knew it would come down to having to choose myself over you, someday. I think deep down I knew that I would have to say goodbye to you someday unless I wanted to stay in contact with my abuser for the rest of my life. And some day has arrived. Just like these big boxes sitting stacked in my office.

You addressed them using both our last names, and this small gesture is so meaningful to me, having worked so hard to blend my own family the last few years. As a stepmom yourself, you understand the importance and how much it weighs on my heart to build my strong family culture. Tears spring to my eyes and I, an unwilling participant, feel at war with myself. As I have often these last few weeks, I feel at war with myself. But really, I am at war with you, Mom. Why are you making me choose?

It’s your job to do the hard stuff. I know because I am a mom too, and I do the hard stuff, so my kids don’t have to. I know I can’t protect them from bad things, and I never expected you to, either. I’ve never even been mad at you for the choices you made back when I was 10. I get it. I get it so intimately because I have let my own standards and boundaries be violated for far too long by my own (ex)husband. I, too, have struggled to find my self-worth and to stand on my own two feet. I, too, have felt like I wouldn’t be able to withstand the things that life threw at me, one after another, in rapid succession, with this reprehensible feeling lurking underneath it all that somehow, I deserved whatever happens to me. I know what all of that is like because I have walked barefoot through the hot shattered glass of abuse and divorce and illness and death and loss and grief and pain. The year I will spend “celebrating” the last of my third century ushers in this strange new era of womanhood- one marked by sacrifice and burden. I bear the scars that you bear now too. I understand the multitude of ways life can leave us all feeling broken and purposeless.

And yet.

Every time I look at my daughters, there’s this little fire in me that reignites. I hear their laughter and joyful expression of LIFE and my belly ignites like a sparkler on the fourth of July. Every time I hear them use terms, in context, like gas lighting and consent, the fire is stoked. Every time I hear them form an intelligent opinion, an informed and well thought out theory, the fire grows. And even when they come to me and tell me how I’m hurting them so that we can (and we do) repair, my heart swells with pride and that fire engulfs my entire being. And I know I will do whatever it takes to keep that fire going- because that’s their fire too. And my heart breaks, Mom, because I know this fire is in you too. I know it is because I got it from you. Every bit of it comes from you. So why can’t you feel yours now?? 

I think I know why because I share that with you too. Even as I sit here and write about how I share a relationship with my daughters in which there is safety and trust enough for them to tell me I’m hurting them- I felt a sliver of that fire blocking darkness creep in- I felt shame. And grief. I am no better than you Mom and I’m not trying to preach to you. There are days where I am consumed with my grief and my shame. Sometimes on the days my fire is dim, I’m not sure where the shame ends, and the grief begins- I just know that it feels like if I soften for even a second- just half of a second- all of it would consume me and I’m not sure there’d be any “me” left. I felt this way when I lost my baby right before becoming a kidney donor during a pandemic. For weeks, months, time all blurred together. Grief because I wanted her and shame because I hadn’t. I felt this way when I admitted that I couldn’t save my marriage- and that it was largely in part to what I contributed. Grief because I wanted that perfect family so desperately and shame because I knew I had never been perfect, ever. And now everyone else knew too. I felt this way after getting sick and not being able to function and not knowing if it was my body or my mind that was really betraying me. Grief because I was afraid that I was dying and shame because part of me thought it would be easier than living forever in pain. Even when I had babies to live for. I’m convinced it was only them that kept the tiniest little spark going when those dark endless pits consumed me. So, I think I know why you can’t feel your flame. 

But I know that fire is still there. Because you addressed the packages to our blended names. And you know how meaningful it is, how meaningful it would be to me. You do know me so well because I’m so much like you. I can’t tell my story without telling yours and that has kept me silent for so long. I can’t, no- I will not- be silent any longer. I hope you know there’s a part of me that is doing this so that you are reminded of the same fire that springs up every time I see my girls do something I think I never could have the power to do. I hope my choice to never be silent again stokes that fire in you, Mom. Because I’m just like you. I don’t want to be at war with you because I don’t want to be at war with myself. I don’t want to be at war at all.

We both know I’ll put the gifts in those stupid boxes stacked in the corner of my office under the tree.  Merry Christmas. It’s bittersweet for me, though because my girls know the truth, too, Mom. With every gift that is under that tree, perfectly picked for each kid, wrapped in shiny paper with sparkles, bright, cheerful colors and words of things I certainly don’t feel right now- like peace and hope- splayed all over them, within those gifts is something else too. We’re passing out parts of this generational line of shame and grief. They’re going to feel it too Mom, and they’re going to help us carry it now, whether we like it or not. Does that break your heart the same way it breaks my heart, Mom? Does it make you want to collapse and lament the generations of women who have been abused at the hands of the men who were supposed to love and care for them, lifetime after lifetime being swallowed up by the darkness that come with abuse? We’re all more than part of the Me-too movement! Not talking about abuse won’t protect them from having to carry the shame and the grief- we know the opposite to be true. I am one of many people who post statistics weekly on social media about childhood sexual abuse. The statistics aren’t a secret- they’re in plain sight for us all to see and DO SOMETHING. And that is where I truly am lost, Mom. That you won’t DO SOMETHING.

I have to do something. The girls are watching me, Mom. They’re watching all the ups and downs of my life and learning from me. We are teaching my girls how to navigate what life brings, and they’re doing ok. A lot better than we did. They’re stronger and more powerful and more informed and entitled to take up space than we ever were. And we did that. Me, you, Grammy. We did. Even with all of our many human mistakes- and I’ve made more than my fair share, too, Mom. Somehow, the girls have learned from us without having to go through what we did. Those girls are a testament to the power that is in me, and in you. We made THEMThey are the fire.

They love you and they deserve your gifts, even if I don’t feel good about it. And I do too, Mom. I love you. I just can’t talk to you right now. Thank you for the gifts- I know the kids will love them. And also, it’s still hard. I’m writing this knowing I’m not sharing any of this with you, and I don’t know if I’ll share another Christmas with you again. Or maybe I already do know. I hope someday we can repair, AND I have had to accept any of the possibilities. Which means right now I’m still deep in grief, and sometimes, I don’t know where the grief ends, and the shame begins… but it’s Christmas time and I have things to do. That is what moms do. Pick themselves up and search for that fire, even the tiniest little spark, to keep them moving forward. Yours is still there. I know it is, but I can’t stick around to help you find it. It’s too much to ask, and I’ve gotta put these gifts you sent under the tree for the kids…


  • Ashley Gerhard fell in love with writing at a young age, yet life had a few things to teach her before she would pursue writing full-time. A mom and bonus mom of 7, Ashley is an emerging author who writes the hard stuff she wishes she had read as a young mom. Today Ashley is thriving, having returned to school post-divorce to study psychology, neuroscience, and the evolving research on psychedelics for trauma. She writes and speaks passionately about all things moms, meditation, and mushrooms. She doesn’t often have free time but when she does it is spent reading, writing, hiking, doing yoga, and spending time with her partner and big blended family in the Northern California Bay Area. Ashley can be found on her website and on Instagram (@phxtransformationswellness) and LinkedIn (Phoenix Transformations).