From a young age I remember having a tumultuous relationship with my mother. I have memories of avoiding her, of feeling resentful toward her and being manipulated by her.
Our relationship wasn’t necessarily always bad, but we weren’t close at all. In young adulthood I made effort after effort to change that and improve our relationship, but my effort was often flung back in my face.
When I finally realized that she wasn’t going to change, there was definitely a moment where I felt hopeless. But then I recognized that I could be the one who changes. No, that didn’t mean acquiescing to her every mood and desire, but taking steps to protect my heart so that it wouldn’t get dragged through the mud every time we spoke. I did this in three concrete ways:
1. Only share “safe” personal details. Frequently I would share exciting or deeply personal life details with my mom, looking for support, help, congratulations or enthusiasm, only to receive doubtful or pessimistic comments. I’d end up deeply hurt, feeling like my heart got stomped on repeatedly. I realized that by censoring what I shared, I could control how much I let her hurt me.
2. Surround myself with personal support. I could control what I wanted to share about myself, but I couldn’t control the things my mom wanted to talk about. I made the decision that I wouldn’t talk about any of our “trigger points” without my husband in the room with me. Not only do I feel I need a witness, but the support of someone who encourages me to do or say the right thing even when it’s difficult.
3. Find other non-confrontational subjects to build our relationship around. If I’m not going to share certain things and refuse to talk about other things alone, then what do we talk about? For the most part we keep it to things such as how work is going, hobbies, the kids and other surface-level topics. I’ve found this gives us plenty to talk about. I’m still sharing my life with her, but now it’s on my terms.
While the steps seem simple enough, it took me awhile to get to a point where I realized that I needed to take things into my own hands. I feared it meant I was giving up on having the close relationship I wanted with her. But I realized that the issues my mom was dealing with were bigger than me. That it wasn’t just about fixing our relationship, but about her wanting to come to terms with the problems that plagued her. I can’t do the healing for her, and until she does take steps down that path I need to take care of my own emotional health as well.
Our current situation definitely isn’t ideal, or the relationship every parent and child dreams of. But I will say that even with my guardedness, my relationship with my mom is much better today than it was 10 years ago. We’re able to stay in conversation for longer periods of time and I can go to her for advice about trivial everyday things. I look forward to talking to her about what I can because I see it as an opportunity to form a bond. Our relationship still isn’t perfect, but for right now I’m content knowing I’m doing what’s best for me, my family and my mother.