How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Aging Mother
How to Handle Hurt Feelings
By Laurie Newkirk
My Mother hurt my feelings so much a few weeks ago that I started yelling at her. I thought I was now past that but it seems she pushed a button of mine.
Okay… so my mother really hurt me and I acted badly, now what do I do?
Forgiving her and myself seemed like the right answer and I wanted to do that but it was going to have to wait until I figured out how to deal with the emotional pain that was pinballing around inside me! I really needed to stop the pain before I could even get to the forgiveness part (almost like having to stop the bleeding before you can focus on healing an injury.)
I decided to do research and came across a lot of good information on healing hurt feelings. Something that really resonated with me was to not let hurt feelings fester, quote: “Don’t stuff hurt feelings or, like leftovers in the back of the fridge, they will start to rot.”
I liked that a lot and it validated that I was on the right path but it didn’t quite answer the question of ‘how’ to handle the hurt.
Many sources emphasized to look at “why the person did it.” This sounded reasonable, so I took a deep breath and looked at the situation. From my mother’s perspective she did it out of caring. Realizing that did help, but it wasn’t enough to fully stop the hurt since this is an ongoing issue. No matter how often I ask her not to give me advice in a certain area she does it anyway and I feel unheard.
The next most prevalent piece of advice was to “not take it so personally.” I have to admit when I read that, I thought they were nuts! How can I not take what happened personally??? After all, it happened to me! But I guess it’s true that just because I got hurt, it doesn’t mean the hurt was intended.
How do you heal 30 years of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship?
This year, I was finally able to appreciate a gift I had received at birth but had never unwrapped. I transformed my relationship with my mother.
My mother and I were at odds ever since I was a little girl. Blame it on personalities --she's an organized neat-freak and I'm an artsy creative type, or on her strained marriage exacerbated by my smart-alecky tendencies. Whatever it was, there was never any love lost between us because there was never any love.
My teenage years could be summed up by one hallmark sentence: "Clean your room!" but the dysfunction went deeper than that. Due to other dynamics in our family, there were several factors at play which severely undermined my relationship with my mother until the two of us were almost strangers -- only worse.
I grew up feeling that I had no mother; she resigned herself to the fact that her eldest daughter was lost to her. Over the years we stopped the cattiness and wars and settled into a kind of cold artificial politeness. She occasionally came to visit me, albeit with clenched teeth, and I forced myself to visit her, white-knuckling the whole trip.
When I got married, you can be sure my mother was not in the picture. Instead, I eagerly embraced my mother-in-law as a surrogate. It was she who went shopping with me for my dress, helped me pick centerpieces and menus, and shared all the trials and tribulations of making a wedding. My mother showed up as a guest, cordially invited yet coolly welcomed. She watched from the sidelines as I married the man I had chosen as my husband and I made no attempt to hide my satisfaction at finally being free of her apron strings. She would never tell me to clean my room again.
If our mother-daughter relationship wasn't sorry enough, the grandchildren end of things was enough to make you cry. Because I deeply resented my mother, I unconsciously withheld her grandchildren from her. Other than a once-a-year requisite birthday phone call, her long hoped for nachas didn't seem to be a real prospect on the horizon any time soon. She would smile bravely when asked by friends and co-workers about her newest grandchild. "Adorable! So precious!" she would tell them, beaming with the talent of an Academy Award-winning actress. But it was all a fake, and we both knew it. She didn't know my children and they barely knew her. With each passing day, I was passing on my entrenched anger and resentment to the next generation, giving my children subtle vibes that their grandmother was really nothing special.
My husband, too, absorbed my poisoned perspective. He knew my mother only through my cynical eyes. Very soon he became weary of our endless bickering, my condescending view of her character and her ideals, and the persistent pain of our relationship, and he withdrew from her as well. She was a persona non grata in our home, and although she made sure to heap on Jewish guilt over wanting me to visit more often, she didn't much enjoy having me in her home either.
Our favorite, time-honored tradition together consisted of getting into an argument, then analyzing our dysfunctional relationship, crying together, vowing to reform, and then blowing up at each other anew. Most of the time it was best not to have anything to do with each other at all. But she never gave up hope that one day I would come back to her and give her the pleasure of allowing her to be my mother in more than just a figurative sense.
How do you handle a situation in which you say something hurtful or inappropriate to your spouse orchild? When you are off base in how you react to your child even if provoked? When you receive an insincere apologyfrom a family member?
We all at one time or another behave inappropriately or in a hurtful manner toward people we love. We may also be on the receiving end. Generally, these actions are not intentionally meant to harm the other person.
There may be temporary lacks in judgment that are not truly representative of how we, or the other person, feel. Communication between family members can then become emotionally charged. Relationships that hold many negatively charged feelings, with no repair, can become toxic and distant.
The good news is this part of growing and learning. When we feel regret for our misdeeds, we can take what was once wrong and make it right again.
This subject of apology came to mind recently when I was speaking with a mother who told me how her daughter revealed how she had been hurt by her. The mom lied to her daughter, saying she didn't remember the situation where she had been judgmental and dismissive of her daughter's school performance. The mother felt stuck.
She had remembered what happened and had to grapple with how to apologize for her critical tone without hurting her daughter further. It was also important that mom own up to the lie she told her daughter, which was made out of a wish to protect them both. I appreciated this mother's struggle in several respects. Her daughter's hurt and resentment had increased an emotional distance that already existed between them. It was similar to this mother's cool relationship with her own mother. A part of mom wanted to change this generational pattern of distance; another part of her wanted to let things be. A third part felt genuine guilt for hurting her daughter years ago and wondered what other hurts might be festering.
Family members who apologize to each other create a foundation of trust, safety and being able to clean up wrongdoings. This is necessary for marital partners, parents and children as well as for siblings.
A genuine apology not only has great power to undo harm, but it can also give away awareness as to how to avoid or deal with future conflicts. When spouses are able to take the necessary risk and apologize to each other for misdeeds, the relationship can move on. When children experience apologies first-hand from their parents, they feel better because their feelings matter.
Remind yourself of all the good things you have done as a parent including your well-made and well-meant apology. This may include forgiving yourself. When apologies are part of your family's foundation, you are setting a positive and healthy tone with the people you care about most. Indeed sometimes love means having to say you're sorry.
Glenn Wolff is a licensed clinical social worker with Family Centers in Connecticut. Servicing Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan and Westchester County, NY, Family Centers is a United Way, New Canaan Community Foundation and Community Fund of Darien partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families. Visit www.familycenters.org for information.
To avoid an argument before it starts, don't participate. This may sound obvious, but it isn't. Otherwise we would never argue. Most arguments involve personality conflicts. Both personalities involved in the argument feel they have something to gain or lose in the outcome. According to this perspective, someone must win and someone must lose. In reality all arguments are losing situations for those involved.
Arguments create a loss of peacefulness and harmony. When people argue, an exchange of negative energy occurs. For some people, arguing is the primary method they connect with others. Sometimes, a person becomes an argument magnet, seeking out and attracting conflict because arguing gives them an artificial sense of power. Argumentative people may appear confident, but in reality they are feeling powerless. They do not recognize that power is internal, not external. Rather than working within themselves to understand their emotions, argumentative people seek gratification from proving they are right. A balanced person can choose not to participate in an argument. Emotionally balanced people have no purpose in arguing since balanced people are connected with their own personal power of love. Being at peace with oneself in a loving space eliminates the need for personality conflicts. Personality conflicts come from a need for control, which originates from non-loving emotions.
In my duties as a hospital chaplain, I met a mother and daughter who argued constantly. The daughter's infant son had been admitted to the hospital for a severe respiratory infection. The baby's grandmother and mother argued over how many bottles he had consumed, the exact hour he was admitted, what his temperature had been at the time of admission, etc. This mother and daughter had shared an emotional ordeal with a very sick baby, who was now recuperating. Rather than focusing on their love for the baby and each other, they chose to argue about trivial matters. The grandmother, who started most of the arguments, asserted her personal power in the only way she knew, by arguing. In the uncontrollable and stressful hospital environment, the grandmother exercised her control through arguing. This probably followed a pattern in the way mother and daughter related to each other day to day. Arguing prevented this mother and daughter from connecting with each other in a more loving way because personal power issues got in the way.
Every parent remembers the developmental stage labeled the terrible twos. This is the age when children throw tantrums and their favorite word is NO. During this developmental stage, children assert their power in an environment where they feel powerless. Adults control the lives of two-year-olds. Yet, an argumentative two-year-old can bring the lives of the adults around him or her to a temporary standstill. The next time someone attempts to argue with you, consider that this person is like an unreasonable two-year-old trying to assert power. Argumentative people usually feel a need for control in a world that is not in their control. We have no control over the emotions of other people, who choose to argue with us. We can control our responses in confrontational situations.
Whenever you are tempted to argue with another person, stop and reflect inward. Ask yourself why this issue is so important to you. Where is your anger coming from? Why are your emotions surfacing? The other person has triggered a response in you. You can choose how you will react to this response. Most people who argue are focusing on the other person, rather than themselves. Potential arguments offer you a golden opportunity to learn about yourself.
When another person triggers an emotional response in you, this reaction comes from memories of past experiences that are surfacing in the present. These memories of past events and experiences dredge up unresolved emotional issues. For most people this dredging up of old emotions is an automatic response. Automatic responses that originate in the past do not belong in the present. Acknowledge that other people trigger your emotional responses, but admit to yourself that these responses belong to you. Ask the Loving Universe to help you move with your emotion into a loving space in the present moment. By choosing not to be emotionally dragged into the past, you are choosing to be loving in the present. Feel love for the adult, who acts like a two-year-old in order to gain a false sense of power. Remind yourself that the most powerful force in the world is love. All it takes to avoid an argument before it starts, is love and self-understanding.
Cynthia Tierra is a Holistic Health Practitioner/Reiki Master Teacher and the founder and proprietor of Healing From The Heart in Sedona, Arizona. She assists people on their journeys towards healing and self realization. Visit her web site http://www.HealingOne.net
A great many mother daughter relationships feel about as healthy as a swig of beer coupled with a joint after downing some cough syrup with codeine. They are terribly strained for years, and end up resolving themselves to a chronic stand off usually during the daughter’s thirties or forties, where the relationship can remain steadfast and indignant for the rest of either one’s natural life. How depressing.
The much less depressing news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. In some cases, it takes a lot of effort, but not always. Sometimes just a few simple changes can completely turn around a skewed and ailing relationship between the women of the family. The bottom line ends up being pretty simple. Most mothers truly love their daughters. And most daughters truly love their mothers. It’s just that between all that love there is a great big heaping helping of demolish me stew and a side order of not quite good enough carrots.
History and the research provided from years of therapy couches have proven that in many cases, mothers are much more critical of their daughters than their sons, at least openly and visibly and certainly audibly. This is most obvious in households with only two children; one boy and one girl. Of course, mothers can be critical of anyone, it is part of their job. But in a recent survey, 68% of women between the ages of 18 and 35 felt their mothers resented them for not being a specific way or worse, a specific person while 36% of women between the ages of 36 and 56 felt this way. Only 23% of women over the age 57 felt their mothers resented them for their life choices and their person. However, this statistic only takes into account the participants of the survey, which included a high number of people in therapy. The numbers could be a little off, but probably not that much.
Why? Why is the mother daughter relationship so incredibly and unreasonably strained?
Building a Better Mother-Daughter Relationship www.jwmag.org
Today, young women have many more options than their mothers and grandmothers. They can become professionals or stay at home moms; choose to marry or not; become moms or remain childless. Inevitably, these choices are difficult and often accompanied by self-doubt and regret. But just when they need all the affirmation they can get, their moms, the woman whose support and approval they crave above all others, turn critical and questioning, often leading to tension and tears. A desire to understand this phenomenon inspired freelance writer Julie Halpert to join forces with Rutgers sociologist Deborah Carr, Ph.D., to write Making Up With Mom: Why Mothers and Daughters Disagree About Kids, Careers, and Casseroles (and What to Do About It). They interviewed nearly 100 moms and daughters from all walks of life, focusing on three core issues—dating/marriage, career and child rearing. Tips and observations from more than two dozen therapists they consulted are woven throughout the book. Jewish Woman spoke recently to Julie Halpert.
Q: Why did you decide to write the book?
A: When I had children of my own and started looking at my life and realizing how different it was from my mother’s. I’m juggling a lot between working and raising children. My life is far more chaotic than hers. She would come in and be critical of things -- from how I decorated my house to the food I hurriedly prepared. She felt I should be more firm with my children and that they were often running amuck. It was stressful! It made me think: Are other women going through what I’m going through with my mom? I found that I was not alone. This is definitely a generational issue.
Q. Do you think the mother daughter bond is the closest relationship we experience in our lives?
A: I really do. In many ways it’s closer than the father daughter bond. I think mothers see in their daughters an extension of themselves and want their daughters to be a lot like them. Daughters often turn to their mothers for advice and look up to them. There’s a lot of passion attached to that relationship. Also women tend to communicate their feelings more in a way men often do not. There’s that whole dimension to it. It’s definitely a very tightly knit bond, which makes this issue more complicated.
Q: Haven’t moms and daughter always had areas of disagreement. How is it different today?
A: It’s different today because it’s a unique point in time when the lives daughters are leading today are so different from the lives their mothers led. For example, the advent of the birth control pill gave women the choice of when to have children, how many children to have. The incredible advances in the workplace gave women choices today that their mothers couldn’t have dreamed of. That has also evolved into marriages that are more like partnerships, where men take on far more domestic responsibilities than they used to. Children are raised in affluence as a result of both parents working. There are so many situations that make women’s lives today so different than their mothers. That creates an issue because the mothers often can’t relate to their lives. Daughters often feel the mothers can’t empathize with them so they tend to shut them out. They are also trying today to do everything and do it well so when their mothers try to be helpful and offer advice, they will often snap back “You just don’t understand,” and interpret it as criticism.
Q: What is most surprising thing you learned in your research?
A:A few things. The main thing we learned, is that even in the most contentious relationships mothers and daughters crave nothing more than each other’s respect and are often frustrated because they don’t know how to get it. What underlies all of this is that women want their mothers to love and respect them and honor their choices and mothers really want to feel needed and loved by their daughters. The other thing is, which is kind of surprising for us, on the work front, we just imagined that women who stayed home a generation ago to raise their daughters would automatically want their daughters to do the same thing, but we found that in many cases quite the opposite. Women who stayed home now want their daughters to take advantage of all the opportunities that there are in the workplace. If a woman today made a choice to stay home or have a more laid back career, their mothers often were not happy with that. They felt that their daughters were taking these new opportunities for granted. Even when the daughter did work but didn’t necessarily have a high-paying career, the mother wanted her to do something more prestigious or lucrative, so she could support herself and not have to rely on a man, the way she had to.
Another interesting thing we found out is about women and their mothers-in-law. Typically the mother-in-law has been demonized. These days what we found is that often, when a woman had a contentious relationship with her own mother, the one with her mother-in-law was warm and supportive, probably because it didn’t come with the emotional baggage.
Immigrant daughters, especially, often had big divisions with their mothers because the mothers were raised in other countries and came to the United States. We found that if the daughter was married to an American she had an easier time relating to the American mother-in-law than her Old World mother.
When I Married My Mother: Jo Maeder was an ambitious DJ in NYC when she did the unthinkable: she moved to the Bible Belt to look after her frail, estranged mother. Though often rocky, their “marriage” was a triumph that taught her about life, faith, and what really matters.
More Repairing the Relationship Videos
Anger Styles and Management:Video on the four different ways people deal with anger. Discussion includes what the best way to handle anger is for your health and relationships.
How to Outwit the "Mom Gene": Relationship counselor, Sandra Reishus, talks with the Today Show's Ann Curry about her book, Oh, No! I've Become My Mother.
Manage Your Mother: End mama drama - and develop a good adult relationship with the woman who knows you best. By Aviva Patz, MyLifetime.com
29 Rules of Fair Fighting: Some dos and don’ts for fighting “fair” when things get out of control. These can keep anything terribly hurtful from being said and may even lead to some kind of productive resolution.
My Mother and Me:Mother-daughter relationships are often filled with conflict. The good news is that within every mother-daughter relationship there is potential for growth. By Mary Friedel-Hunt
Mom is a Girl's Best Friend? Authors Say No:Mothers and daughters often have a complicated relationship, so when the two are close as adults, everything is great, right? Not so, say co-authors of new book, Too Close for Comfort? Questioning the Intimacy of Today's New Mother-Daughter Relationship. Article by Sharon Jayson, USA Today