When you grow up and start making your own toast, doing your own laundry and figuring out for yourself which toads won’t turn into princes (no matter how many times you fuel yourself up with sparkling wine and kiss them), where does that leave your mother?
As we get older and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, a renegotiation of the relationship we have with our mother is sometimes required – and learning to relate as two grown women, instead of a caregiver and dependent, isn’t always easy.
So where do you start?
Sally Brampton, writing in the Times, tackles the issue of how to relate to your mother once you’re all grown up by forgiving the unintentional wounds and antagonisms of your childhood. Most moms try to do their best, she says, and if they make mistakes (as they almost all do), holding onto those injuries will only burden you both.
Brampton offers some practical tips on how to manage what can be one of the toughest, most emotionally draining, most guilt-laden, and most complex relationships a lot of us will ever have:
1. See your mom as human – even if you don’t want her to be. Like everyone else, your mom makes mistakes. It’s likely that she’s not the exact person you want her to be, but she’s probably trying to be the person she thinks she should be. When you find yourself overreacting in her presence – likely because of some decades-old emotional trigger – try supplementing a little patience and compassion. It’ll make both of you feel better.
2. Free yourself from guilt by accepting that you are not responsible for your mother’s life. You are only responsible for your own. Holding onto things that happened in your childhood means that you’ve left power in your mother’s hands. Of course, that doesn’t mean that your mother won’t still be able to trigger certain undesirable responses – maybe when she’s late for lunch you start to fume as you recall that she never picked you up from school on time – but try to disarm them with humor, good nature, and a little grownup perspective.
3. It’s OK to set boundaries. Learn to use the word “no” to protect your own sanity. If your mother’s daily phone calls extend far beyond your comfort zone, don’t be shy about letting her know. You don’t need to provide an excuse or apology – even if she pleads with you, scolds you, or reverts into a classic maternal passive aggressive stance. (“Well, maybe I’ll call your brother instead. He always manages to make time for me.”) Be firm, but try to have sympathy, as well. When children grow up and assert their independence, mothers sometimes feel displaced and unappreciated.