When we invited Stylist readers to write an open letter to their mum – to be shared on Stylist.co.uk in advance of Mothering Sunday - we hoped there would be a powerful response. However we didn’t anticipate quite the level of candour and honesty that our clever, wise readers would pour into their notes. From Gabs, who wrote to tell her absent mum all she hadn’t had a chance to say, to Maxine, who wanted to thank her step-mum for challenging stereotypes, these letters speak to the power, complexity and intensity of the relationship between a mother and her little girl.
“If you still exist in my mind and my heart, then to me you’re still alive.”
Gabrielle Taylor, 29, was forced to say goodbye to her mum, Stephanie, too soon - aged just 22. Here, she writes to tell her mum all that she never got to share.
It’s not that I don’t want to speak to you every day or tell you every little thing that happens, it’s just that I choose not to. So I save it for the odd update that I know you’d be really into – someone’s hen do drama or a beautiful dress that I can’t afford that I know you’d encourage me to buy anyway.
I decided a few years ago that I might not physically be able to communicate with you but if you still exist in my mind and my heart, then to me you’re still alive. I decided that it just wasn’t acceptable that you had to stick around in 2007 and not come on my journey. So now and again,I have a quiet moment where I have a little chat with you in my head, or I just think to myself, ‘mum, you’d LOVE that!’ and weirdly, I feel like you’ve heard me.
Sometimes I even let myself imagine you coming down to visit me in London, lunching in my favourite haunts and you complaining about how far we have to walk and insisting on a black cab.
But you don’t even know that I moved to London, that I have a job that I love at a cancer charity and live a happy, fulfilled life, surrounded by wonderful friends, all made possible by the belief you constantly instilled in me that I could do anything I wanted. I hope that by my mental updates, you somehow know that I try every day to grow into the woman you brought me up to be.
Eight months after your diagnosis, the day after your 54th birthday, the present you - my beautiful & vivacious mum - gently slipped away from the real world into our hearts and memories.
I don’t visit your grave as I want to remember you being alive, not dead. I want to remember your sparkle, wit and strength every day, not go back to the place where Alexa and I had to hold dad up as his heartbreak was so physical that he struggled to remain standing.
I know it's a cliche but I worry that I didn't tell you I loved you enough (I get SO cross when people complain about their mums!) or that I didn’t appreciate everything you sacrificed for me.
And now I have your values to live by, and the internal dialogue with you, and for the time being that's how our remarkable relationship exists.You and me, me and you, our own relationship that was ‘real life’ and so special for 22 years, but is now in my head. All I can do is be grateful that I was lucky enough to have you in my life at all.
Here’s to making the you that now lives within me proud.
Love always and every day mum,
“Thank you for giving me the self-belief that I can achieve whatever I dream”
Natasha Daniels, 23, quit her role in social media to build a dream career in fashion. She says it's thanks to the resilience and independence of her mum Marie, 42.
I know that we’re not really the type to send each other poetry (although if I hang up without saying ‘love you’ then we both know I’m in the doghouse). But I just wanted to say that not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for everything you have done and continue to do for me.
When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate the sacrifices you made to have me so young, to bring me up on your own, to work every day to make sure I knew that nothing was more important than education (from being able to recite Meg & Mog from memory, to surrendering the dining room to drown in post-it notes and art collages during coursework time). It’s terrifying to think that when you were 23, as I am now , you had your own house, a full-time job and a child that was going to school. You gave up so much to give me everything. You are a wonder.
Not a day goes by where I don’t think about what you drilled in to me -
‘Work so hard that you never need anybody else to take care of you’
Well, I think I’m almost there. Although I wouldn’t have been had you not have taken care of me. So I just want to say thank you for making me the person that I am today and for bringing me (and Libby) up into a world where we have the self-belief that we can achieve whatever we dream. You don’t get enough credit. One day I’ll buy you that convertible I promised in 1998.
“It took me being countries apart from you to realise just how much you did for me”
Cat G grew up in Thailand. Aged 15, her father left their home and never came back. Now at 28 and living in the UK, Cat wants to thank her single mum Pathila Supamorin, 54, for everything she has done.
When I was 19 I couldn’t wait to get away from you: I saw you as difficult and controlling. As a headstrong young woman I was convinced you were keeping me from living my life. Nine years on and 5,919 miIes apart, I now realise how hard it must have been for you to raise a teenage daughter (pretty much) on your own, and how much strength it took for you to let me go.
At first I loved the freedom, I loved being to do whatever I wanted without you telling me how I could do it better or what I should be doing with my life. Now I miss the comfort and reassurance you gave me. Unlike my friends here in the UK, I can’t pop round yours for a cup to tea and a self-pitying moan. You can’t pop round when I’m sick and bring me things to make me feel better. They can do all those things because their mums are here, whereas you’re on the other side of the world. It’s a fact that hammers home hard for me – everyday.
I miss your cooking and watching you chop things with expert precision. I miss your near-neurotic obsession with cleaning and folding clothes. I miss watching you sing really badly at karaoke (and totally not caring).
I miss you, and it took me being countries a part from you to realise just how much you did for me and how much you sacrificed for me. If I can become even half the poised, strong and savvy woman you are, I’ll be proud.
“You lost your mum too young and mine was scarcely around so thank goodness I married your son”
Debbie Collins, 39, tells her mother-in-law Maxine Collins, in mid 60s, how much she means to her.
We're both only children so we know how it feels to be surrounded by family to fulfill each of our needs. You lost your mum too young and mine was scarcely around so thank goodness I married your son. Each other, we found.
Wishing you the best Mother's Day. A special year is ahead for us, filled with truly wonderful celebrations.
Love you very much.
“I just hope one day you can overcome your jealousy”
Eight years ago, Jessica Brown's parent separated. Now at 25, she asks her mum Susan Brown, 54, to finally let go of the past.
You tell me you had a horrible dream last night. Your spooked-out tone reverberates down the phone, and I feel that familiar chill of waking up after one of those nightmares that blurs the boundaries of reality.
“So what happened?” I ask.
“It was about you and your dad. You were saying how nice he was, how he’d given you loads of presents.”
I dutifully laugh, telling you that’s ridiculous.
Later on in the conversation, I take a deep breath and tell you Dad’s invited me on holiday this summer. There’s a pause, and I fill it with the usual downplaying: “oh, but I’ll only go for a few days, might as well, since it’s free”.
Your tone lightens, but I know it’ll linger on your mind. You ask if I’ve heard much from him, like you always do. I humour your more-involved-parent smugness that follows, because I know it would kill you if I contested it. I wouldn’t want you to remind me of the past again.
I just hope one day you can overcome your territorial jealousy and understand that loving you both equally isn’t a rational choice, it just is.
“Your bright hair dye and postbox-red lipstick meant I could spot you instantly in the otherwise grey school-run crowd.”
When Emma Batstone's sister Rosie was diagnosed with a rare germ cell tumour their stay-at-home mum Debbie rallied to keep the family strong between hospital visits and school runs. Later, when Rosie was on the road to recovery, Debbie pursued a career in social work and - aged 40 - earned an Honours degree. Emma, 27, toasts her incredible mum.
I don’t think I understood how lucky I was to have a mum like you until I grew up. As a child I assumed everyone’s mother was like mine and that everyone felt safe, felt loved and understood how limitless the possibilities of life are. It wasn’t until I got older that I realised I was one of the lucky ones.
Throughout my entire life you have been a relentless source of support, there for the trivial and the agony. Everything from my struggles with my sums as a kid, to falling in love for the first time as an awkward teen. As an adult, my confidence and self-belief stems from the quiet assurance that your love follows me throughout my life.
When every parent’s nightmare came true and two-year-old Rosie got sick, you and dad showed us strength that as kids we couldn’t even fathom. Endlessly ferrying between the hospital and home, joking with Rosie that the goo in her feeding tube was actually a blended up Happy Meal. Life was a blur of doctors and sterile needles, but we never felt like anything less than a family.
It took so much courage for you, a stay-at-home mother of three, to turn the tables and pursue your career in social work in your mid-thirties. It can’t have been easy to juggle studying with the demands of motherhood. It showed me that it’s never too late to change your life drastically and to chase your dreams. As an adult, I know that I can switch careers later in life if I want to because my mum showed me how.
You were so proud when you earned your First Class honours degree, and so you should be. All those hours you threw into studying, covering every conceivable surface in flashcards and textbooks. But you still always found the time to cook us our tea, or drop us at whichever after school activity we were trying at that time.
Alzheimer’s might be slowly stealing your own mother from you, but your patience and resilience prove you’re ready for the fight. You’re mercilessly battling for the right benefits, the highest quality care, the best for your mum, but you’re still there to hold her hand when she can’t find her shoes or stroke her hair as you remind her that, as a woman in her mid-seventies, her parents both passed away long ago. “I will never get like that Em”, you promise. And I believe you, but I wouldn’t even hesitate if you needed me to do the same.
When I was a child, I knew that you weren’t like the other mums.
Your bright hair dye and postbox-red lipstick meant I could spot you instantly in the otherwise grey school-run crowd.
I know that I once broke your heart because I told you I was embarrassed, that your make-up was too strong and your hair too orange. We laugh about it now, but I know it devastated you then. My five-year-old self was just too young to appreciate your colour, your vibrance. I just wanted my mum to fit in like everyone else’s.
But now, I can’t imagine anything worse.
"Other mothers hid sweets, you tore open the packet"
Eleanor Jones' mum Jennifer Pratt, 51, moved to New York last year to marry and live with her second husband whom she met online. Now the mother-daughter duo only communicate via email and Skype, but Eleanor, 24, wants her mum to know she doesn't resent her one bit.
When you moved away last January, I didn't cry. I watched you walk through the gates at Heathrow and knew I didn't have £1000 in my account to visit (thanks, handsome journalist's salary), but I honestly wasn't sad - because I knew you were leaving to make yourself happy again.
Moving to America for a man you've only met face-to-face once before sounds crazy on paper, but there was nothing left for you here, among the grey faces and weak breakfast tea. When I tell people our story, they just don't get it – ‘what about you?’, they wail dramatically - but I'm big enough and ugly enough to take care of myself now, and I always knew you were never a conventional mum anyway.
At first it was just little things. Other mothers hid sweets, you tore open the packet; they banned 15-rated movies; you snuck us into the screen – a secret type of naughtiness that is every child's dream. The older I got, the more rebellious you became, my typical teenage embarrassment going into overdrive as I struggled to explain why my mum liked drinking and dancing and could use Facebook better than me.
Now I'm in my twenties, I know exactly why. You were putting together the life you'd always wanted in yours - and America was the final piece in the puzzle.
I inherited every ounce of sensible that you shed and my dreams centre on a white picket fence, but I realise now that yours didn't, and I'm so proud of you for following the alternative, even when everybody told you not to.
Skype and sporadic emails aren't a conventional set-up, but hey, why break tradition? It's what we've got and it works for us. You only get one mum, whichever side of the Atlantic you're on – and I'll always be grateful for mine (even if you did tag me in those godawful Facebook pictures when I was 17).
“You have been there every step of the way”
In 2011, Claire Kelly, 24, found out she has Crohn's Disease. Her mother Jean, 58, was there on the day of the diagnosis and has been by Claire's side at most hospital appointments since. She pens a heartfelt thank you note to her mother.
I know sometimes we have our differences and that we can rub each other up the wrong way, but I know that without you I wouldn't be half the person I am today or be able to cope with all the struggles I've faced. You are my rock and the best friend a girl could ask for.
These last four years have been really tough since I got ill, I know for you just as much as it has been for me. I can't tell you enough (at least without there being tears) of how much you have helped me through each pitfall and all those times when I could have just given up. You have been there every step of the way, from my endless hospital and doctors appointments to helping me get through a bad spell and being my one-stop-shop for advice.
There probably aren't enough numbers in the world for how much I owe you in money and in time, but for each moment you've been there, the stronger I feel. Even when life has seemed a bit too serious, you've always been able to put a smile on my face and on quite a few occasions, have me crying with laughter!
Every minute spent with you is one I cherish and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Claire (the beautiful one)
“You’re always so busy, I worry you’re missing out on sitting back and enjoying it all”
Diana Yates, 49, works as a qualified aerobics teacher, life coach, business woman and runs a busy household of her three children, a husband, two dogs and a cat. Her daughter Lauren Elisabeth Yates, 24, asks her mother to slow down and enjoy life.
Find peace. You’re always so busy, I worry you’re missing out on sitting back and enjoying it all (ironically you have a quote emphasising exactly this up in your house). I know you like being busy and your brain moves faster than Hussain Bolt, but I would love to see you in your studio, reading with a peppermint tea in hand; not a care in the world. And I would love for you to see yourself through my eyes, for the amazing, strong and beautiful woman you are. Maybe then you’d understand.
“I miss that closeness so much”
Amanda Francis, 29, lost her mum to cancer two years ago. This Mothering Sunday marks Amanda's 30th birthday and she wrote to thank her mum for making her the woman she is today.
Writing this letter to you reminds me of all the notes I used to write to you when I was little- remember those? I can’t believe you kept them all.
It’s been nearly two years since we lost you to cancer, but in some ways I feel that our relationship is stronger than ever. So much has happened and I have imagined you cheering me on at every turn. I am making positive steps in my career, and I have good friends around me, a lovely boyfriend, I am in good health, I did another 10k run last year in your memory and I went travelling from a month, just like I told you I would.
Everything I do is marked with the thought of you which spurs me on every day to try and achieve good things. As painful as it still is without you, you always said to me “do your best” which is what I keep in mind every day.
You knew me inside out. Even if I tried to hide something from you, you could instantly tell something was up, just by the sound of my voice. I miss that closeness so much. You were just wonderful - you were kind, funny, soft, stubborn, caring and fiercely loyal. Above all you were brave; you lived with cancer for nearly 13 years and strangely it became a normal part of our lives and you never complained. You were one in a million and I am eternally grateful for having had you.
As I told you at the end; I’ll love you forever and I am so grateful for the mother that you were to me.
Happy Mothers Day,