Bonding with a Difficult Mother

Growing up, I knew my mother and I were very different. We had contrasting likes and dislikes, but beyond than that, our relationship lacked chemistry and depth. It felt more like a business arrangement than a loving, mother-daughter connection.

My parents divorced when I was young, so I was split between two homes. I was a daddy’s girl. I had a warm relationship with my father, but my mom and I always butted heads. We both have strong personalities, so our relationship only got worse when I became a rebellious teenager. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve worked to have a better relationship with her.

I haven’t lived with my mom for more than twenty years but our relationship continues to have its challenges. Recently she came to visit for a few days. On her first night in town we stayed up late catching up on life, and I shared some of the struggles our family is currently going through as we navigate the challenges of raising a child with special needs and the secondary trauma we were dealing with as a result.

Unexpectedly, she interjected that she just didn’t understand what secondary trauma was. She said people just need to “get out of shitville and get on with their lives.”

I was taken aback by it, and simply asked her to clarify what she meant. Her only explanation was that everyone she knows has been through something difficult in their life. To her, secondary trauma wasn’t a valid diagnosis or even struggle. She thought it was an excuse.

I was hurt and dejected by her comment. It felt thoughtless and cruel, not only because she was dismissing our struggles, but also because it seemed directed at one of her grandchildren, whom I know she loves deeply.

In my rebellious teenage years I likely would’ve taken her comment as a challenge and responded confrontationally. I would have taken it very personally. But I knew my mom, regardless of our differences, has always been loving and caring towards me. She has always done her best to be the best mother she knows how to be. So I knew her comment that evening was not meant to hurt me. I realized my mom’s response has less to do with me or the situation at hand and more to do with her. I decided to let that go for the moment and to direct the conversation to a less contentious topic.

My own motherhood experiences have allowed me to see my mother for who she is: a person with her own struggles and challenges, faults and failures. That doesn’t mean that I have to accept everything she says and does, but it does mean that I can treat her with more compassion than I did when I was younger.

Time, maturity, and our shared experience as moms have helped me to love my mother despite our differences. I am now free to love the parts of her I see and understand and the parts I do not. I can respond with compassion and forgiveness when the veil of her life is briefly lifted and I see her own humanity and not just our clashing differences. We are all on a journey, but none of us have arrived.

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