My mom had a birthday earlier this week; she turned 60-something. I can’t imagine life without my mom around. Occasionally, I pause from the whirlwind called life and reconnect with our inevitable mortality, and think about my mom someday being gone. The mere thought can easily knock the wind out of me, and bring me to panic like nothing else.
These days, my mom is one of my top favorite people, and I love living life with her. I love the ease of connection with her; I appreciate her invitation toward intimacy. I love that I get to keep growing and wanting to be a better person based on who she is.
I guess this wasn’t always the case. Many many years ago, I went to therapy and talked about my mom every single week. I was super mad at her for the weirdest stuff. She didn’t “get me”. She “crossed my boundary”. She didn’t “protect me”. Looking back, I realize that my poor mom was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t from every direction. And, I also see now that my phenomenal therapist gave me space to say what I needed so that I could grow; I could change. It was me who needed to shift my position in the world, not my mom. My mom did a pretty awesome job raising me – she was just imperfect.
I write this blog with many of my clients in mind. Inevitably, moms come up in therapy and not without a small twinge or giant expression of pain. These ladies who birth and raise us then disappoint and fail us. Why is that? We know our moms love us with unconditional regard, yet somehow the relationship feels tumultuous and confusing or just falls flat. More and more, I hear that my clients want more from their moms – something different, something safer and richer. But, how?!
I often feel inundated with fantastic resources and materials out there on how we can be better parents. I get that. But, I also wonder what us daughters can do to heal, repair, and re-connect with our moms in a thriving and new way.
Here are some (very subjective) reflections on this topic:
- Get better at directly communicating. Us women often hold back until there is an explosion. We find other avenues like our girlfriends or partners to vent to without addressing the real problem. When us daughters learn how to address conflict to our moms swiftly and directly, we often eliminate or reduce unnecessary “extras” such as aggressiveness, anger, snarky texts, or resentment.
- Gain insight on your patterns. Going to therapy can provide tremendous support in this area. How did your mom evolve into the person she is? What good and bad traits did she pass down to you? What surprising things do you appreciate about her? When we take a look at our side of the street as well as the unique side of hers, we are reminded of empathy. Empathy invokes compassion and love; compassion and love invoke healing and redemption.
- Find grace in her humanness. Your mom is allowed to mess up. And, she should because if she didn’t she would have a bit of a perfection problem. Our moms did not parent us perfectly. Often, they “helicoptered” over us or were nowhere to be found. Some of them even hurt us from their own unresolved pain. I think all of this is ok. It reminds us that even the most intrinsic love is not black and white. And, it convicts us to shed our shame and self-criticism in our own faulty parenting.
- Learn your mom’s “mom style”. Some clients share a desire to be best friends with their daughters. Others hold strong to a strict role as “parent”. And, often these moms styles change and evolve as us daughters grow up. I love being curious about learning what my mom is hoping for in our specific relationship at this point in time. It allows me to meet her there, and also express observation when my needs may be different in certain moments.
- Address past or present issues of enmeshment or “cutting off”. Often, when us women go to therapy to explore how to live out healthy relationships, the patterns of enmeshment or cutting off comes up. Clients share that they feel “uncomfortably close” to their moms and that this often leads to confusing tension or conflict. It also can create confusion and difficulty with our own nuclear family who may need to be a higher priority than they currently are. Other clients share a sense of terror in being too close with their moms and inevitably grieve that they pushed their moms away. Part of our work as grown women is to explore a “healthy closeness” that feels safe for everybody. Shifting the dynamic can feel awkward and is often met with resistance. It’s well worth it in the long run! (Note: this piece is not written for women who have cut off from familial physical or emotional abuse.)
- Grieve that which is not. Us women look around and we compare. We just do. We see better marriages, better cars and homes, cuter or more successful kids (or just having kids in general) and more successful status. And, we compare our moms. I know many are reading this and thinking, “at least you have a mom”. “At least your mom didn’t beat the crap out of you”. “At least your mom would have protected you from her own husband molesting you”. “At least your mom isn’t crazy”. “At least your mom actually wants a relationship”. “At least your mom is local”. I have heard all of these numerous times. I get it, it really is unfair. I believe it is critical to acknowledge what is missing and what cannot be repaired or fixed in our relationship with our moms. Often, our moms are not in therapy and are not interested in getting better. This call-to-action for grief recovery and reparative healing is on us, not them. If you have not yet done so, grieve what your mother is not and never will be.
As a woman, a therapist, and an advocate for life-long intimacy and connection, I believe that healed and healthy relationships with our moms who also have this capacity is a must. I believe the weight and responsibility for repair and improvement is on us and our own personal work toward authentic relational reconciliation.
Raise your hand if you’re ready to be a better daughter to your mom!