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Making Peace With Your Mother

Aug 17, 2007
It's hard enough on us when we're at odds with our mother when she's alive, but it's even more difficult if she passes away. My client recently left me a message letting me know how important it was to her that she had made peace with her mother and had no regrets when her mom died.

A Client's Story:
"My mother passed away this past week. and I was just thinking to myself how happy I am that I don't have any regrets. I wanna say thank you for the help you've given me over the past few years with trying to work through my anger and my frustration with her.

Being there for her at the end was really nice. I was with her when she died. I was the only one of us 3 kids that rushed to be there by her side, and I'm glad I went when I did. It was an amazing experience. We were able to tell each other we loved each other.

She told me I was her best friend. And then my dad told me he was really glad I was there. Of all of us 3 kids, he said that I had been the most helpful. It feels so good to have things cleaned up with my family.

The other thing is that I had a talk with a girlfriend and told her she should call you and come in to see you. She had a close call with her dad recently in that he had a heart attack (and is only in his 60's so that was really scary for her). It happened about the same time that my mom had her heart attack.

My friend has all the same issues with her mom that I did. Her mom won't communicate and be direct with her or deal with stuff about her dad's health.

Like my mom, she is being very manipulative and controlling through her dad's crisis. I was able to share with her how I had gone through all of that and why I first went to you and some of the things I learned from you. I hope she'll come and see you. C.S.in Denver.

Handling Difficult Mothers
As Mother's Day approaches, we think about our mom's and what gift to give her and what to say in our card to her. We often wish we felt closer and warmer than we do. Instead, many of us have felt hurt, rejected, manipulated,or controlled by our mothers. We feel a sadness or even anger when we read all the cards about "supportive, loving mothers." These are cards we can't send.

Whether you're mother suffocated you or was barely there, you can work through your issues with her. Resolving your issues with your mom will not only help you make peace with her but also will help you in your relationships with friends,lovers, bosses, etc.

At some level, we all seek the approval of our parents. And when we feel we don't get it (for whatever reason), we feel rejected and subconsciously assume that we're to blame and are not good enough in some way. This sticks with us and affects our self-esteem and affects all of our future relationships.

A mother is the first person to help us create high self-esteem and give us a sense of security. But she also has the power to do the opposite as well. Because of their own insecurities and problems they never resolve, they often hurt us (usually thinking they are protecting us).

As we become adults, we need to realize that our mother's behavior toward us is usually less about me and more about her. Her own personal problems have accidentally affected us. This only means that her criticisms and judgements about us are likely not true, but not that we excuse her bad behavior.

It is our job, however, to stop her from treating us badly.

What Makes Her a Difficult Mother?
-she avoids and denies my emotions
-she doesn't give me unconditional love, accepting me with my imperfections
-she still tries to control me, if not directly, then through guilt
-she doesn't speak up and tell me what's really going on and instead plays martyr or some other game
-she doesn't support me in my risktaking and growth to move ahead in life
-she criticizes me and makes me feel like I'm not smart enough to make good decisions

What To Do:
1) The key to resolving issues and making peace with our mothers is separating ourselves emotionally from them so that we see their hurtful behavior simply as "bad" behavior instead of taking it so personally; and then holding our mother's accountable for that bad behavior.

2) Take mom off her pedestal. She doesn't know what's best for you anymore; she just knows how to push your buttons.

3) Don't edit your conversations when you around her. Be yourself with her, not who she wants you to be.

4) Stop her if and when she starts criticizing you. Tell her to stop and then leave her presence or hang up if she continues.

5) Write her a letter letting her know that her judgement of you is wrong. Tell her how you are different from her and that you choose to be different from her. Let her know she can no longer judge or critize you, and that if she does, you will let her know some of her own faults. Tell her how you expect her to treat you in the future.

6) Prepare in advance for every interaction with her and set up boundaries to avoid incidents,
i.e. "Mom, you know I'm only going to stay for an hour, so don't be upset when I get ready to leave."

Or, "If you judge me about that, I won't share anymore information with you. I need you to stop talking to me like that now or I'll have to leave."

Or, "I know you won't approve, but I'm not asking your permission, so please just listen and support my decision."

I taught this information, and more, to the client who thanked me above, and I helped her find peace with her mother before she died.

Luckily my own mother is still alive and doing well. I told my mother that her fights with my dad gave me a negative view of men and made me feel sorry for her. I then mothered her when I needed to be mothered myself. I told her how that has affected my life.

After she heard me and we worked it out, my heart warmed up so much that I had something else to tell her: "Mom, something good did come out of it all: playing therapist to you and dad made me the best relationship therapist ever! Afterall, I started at age 10."

So should you start all of this with your mother on Mother's Day? That's up to you. It may sound negative and she may not like what you have to say at first. But trust me, once you start speaking the truth with her and being yourself and stopping her from hurting you, you, like me and my client above, will warm up to her and be able to have a much closer relationship -- one like both of you have always wanted.
(A poem by a client)
I've met my maker - what a sight to see.
My maker's my mother - what a woman is she.
My mother's my mirror - I see my reflection.
My mother's my vision - despite my objection.

In some ways she's generous in her show of affection.
She has countless ways to express her rejection.
By my maker's hand, have I turned out to be,
more of her than who I thought was me.

It's a scary thought - to be her clone.
There's more of her than I want to own.
I have worked too hard to be my own person.
Only to come full circle to learn the lesson.

No matter how hard I try to dispell the notion.
I am woven by the threads of her commotion.
Here I am - my mother's daughter.
Swimming in circles in her stormy water.

In this calm of the storm I can hear a voice
that assures me that I do have a choice.
I can try to escape and drown with exhaustion,
or I can use this truth as my internal combustion.

I can kick and stroke to escape her sea
or within its bounds be the best me I can be.
About the Author
Carolyn bushong, a Denver therapist, helps couples & singles: in her office, on-line, by phone. Author of: The 7 Dumbest Relationship Mistakes, Loving Him Without Losing You, Bring Back the Man You Fell in Love With. Has appeared on Oprah. 303-333-1888 http://www.carolynsays.com.
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