I’ve had a difficult relationship with my mother for as long as I can remember. And it seems from speaking to all my women friends over the years that I am not alone. I’m not a psychologist (although I did major in psychology in college) so I can’t give you all the reasons why mother/daughter relationships are so challenging, but there are certainly plenty of articles and books out there on the subject. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we’re the same sex (so there’s competition or jealousy involved???) or too alike? I just know that many of us learn to push each other’s buttons from a very early age and it doesn’t seem to stop.
Admittedly, I was probably no joy to deal with as a teenager, but isn’t that the “job” of a teenager??? Aren’t we supposed to exert our independence and break away from our parents? Of course, it’s hard for them to let us go. Maybe that’s not really so different from when we become adults…we’re still trying to break away from our mothers and become our own person with a career, family and our own life, but our mothers are still trying to hold onto us! And then things get even more complicated as our mothers age, maybe become widowed and alone, and face their own declining health and eventual mortality. Often the roles then become reversed as, frequently, the daughters become the caregivers. The daughters are still trying to handle their own lives while helping their mothers and the mothers are feeling vulnerable and like they’re losing control so they try to hold on even harder. It’s a recipe for some very difficult times indeed.
My father died a few years ago and since then I have become my mother’s new “husband.” I’m unmarried with no family of my own and live locally, so it made sense that I would be the one to take on this role. I want to be there for my mother as she was always there for me growing up (even if not always in the way I wanted) and I love her, but sometimes too much togetherness is not a good thing. I’ve been struggling over the years with how to handle this relationship in the best way possible.
There are times when there just seems to be no solution and we both drive each other crazy (while I’m the one writing this, I’m sure if you asked my mother, she’d say I am difficult too!) and just can’t seem to get along. And then there are other times when things go much more smoothly. But is that because she’s more rational at those times or I’m more patient and tolerant…or both? In any case, it would be so much nicer to have those times be the norm.
When you’re in the throes of a fight with your mother, though, and you feel she’s being critical, judgmental, argumentative, controlling, anxious, or any other number of feelings, it’s hard to think that there is any kind of solution. But in quieter moments I have tried several different strategies which I have found helpful for me.
I once read a self-help book that suggested that you write a letter (not to be sent) to your parent (in this case mother) telling them what you would have liked to have told them as a small child and then to also write a letter to yourself as an adult talking to your child self. This may all sound silly, but I actually found it helpful. Your mother may not have been the mother that you wanted or needed when you were young, but you can now “mother” yourself. The key is trying to heal old wounds so you can move forward.
The book also suggested trying to look at your mother as a person and not as your mother. What challenges has she dealt with in her life? What was her own mother like? After all, that’s where she learned how to mother. What difficulties might she have been dealing with when you were small? She might actually have been doing the very best she could do at the time and in those circumstances. In fact, she may still be doing the very best she can. Taking the time to understand who my mother is as a person and what journey she has taken to this point in her life was helpful to me in looking at our relationship as a whole.
Another thing I have found helpful is constantly reminding myself of how lucky I am to have her in my life. I know plenty of women who have lost their mothers many years ago or just recently and I feel grateful that at the age of 50 I still have my mother around and at the age of 88 she’s still pretty healthy and vibrant. There was a time many years ago when our relationship was in pretty bad shape and I often looked ahead to the future and was scared of how I would feel when she died. I was terribly afraid of being left with regret, guilt, all kinds of feelings. Now I’m more afraid of the loss itself…of not having my mother here anymore. I got a taste of that feeling when my dad died…there was something very profound about losing my “daddy.” I no longer had a father and was no longer a dad’s little girl. I felt like I had lost my childhood and innocence as well as my father.
There’s something very special about family and the fact that they are the only ones who knew you when…as far back as you go. So, I remind myself that this time that I still have with my mom is precious and I try to be less impatient and less annoyed and more grateful. Do I do it all the time? Of course not! That’s just not possible. But as my boyfriend often reminds me, “The grace is in the trying.” And to me, it’s worth it.