Sitting with women friends at coffee one day, the conversation turned to the topic of mothers and daughters. There we sat, discussing how to feel like grown ups around our moms. Visits home often left these women feeling like they were ten-years-old again. At one point, they all turned to me and said, “Ok start dishing out the advice. You wrote a book on mothers and daughters. Give us some help! Mothers Day is coming!”
It’s true that no matter how old we are, when we spend time with our mothers, we often revert to childlike states. You know the feeling, “I love my mother but…she drives me crazy!” By the time most of us reach the driveways of our family homes, we are already feeling those old insecurities. Years of unresolved interpersonal baggage begins to swirl in our heads.
Is it because we sleep in our old bedrooms?
Or because nothing seems to have changed in the past 15 years?
Whatever the reason, we return from our mother-daughter visits stressed, fatigued, and way too self-reflective about past failures. Guilt seems to be the prevailing emotion. We are guilty for behaving badly, for not being more tolerant, and definitely need to work on staying calmer. Why did we get so upset when mom repeated the same story for the fifth time? It was only a story!
We love to fantasize a more Brady family-like reunion in which we sit around a cup of coffee sharing stories. There will be great talks, intimate times and fabulous memories. The acceptance and approval we long for will be given. Then, this momentary dreamlike trance is broken by her familiar voice, “Are you ever going to settle down with a real job and be like your sister?”
Unless your family has been in intensive therapy all year, probably not much has changed. And unless they begin that needed therapy now, not much will be different next year. But you can change. It begins with this. “I can’t change my mother. But I can change my reaction to her.”
If you want to be a grown up, you have to let go of idealistic pictures of family life. Mothers aren’t all knowing, all powerful and all-accepting. They don’t anticipate your every need and make every effort to meet it. That doesn’t make them bad, evil or even dysfunctional. It makes them human. I know this because I am a mother and had a mother! And I’ve learned, after 30 years of conducting therapy with mother-daughter pairs, that “change” has more to do with me than her.
It’s too easy to blame mothers for all our problems and harder to change our own behavior. And just because intellectually we know that mom can’t be the perfect nurturer, this rarely stops us from trying to make it true.
Maybe we daughters should try a little more patience, forgiveness and self-control when it comes to our moms. Perhaps we should consider the concept of honor. Even in the worst situations, we can honor a mother for giving us a chance to walk the planet.
Here is my advice: Next visit, don’t wait for mom to change. She is who she is. You take the first step by changing your reaction to her. Make it loving. Stay a grown up. Work on you and see what happens.
Check out Dr. Linda Mintle’s book, I Love My Mother But..(Harvest House, 2011). She is also the author of 15 books, a news contributor, and professor. Visit her website, www.drlindahelps to find out more.