My mother and I do not get along. She left when I was 3-years-old to pursue a career and her own life while I stayed behind with my grandparents. I would go visit her during the summer months as a child, but most of my memories involve being left alone while she went out, or being put on various diets and exercise regimens.
I’m a 20 year-old college student now and as I’ve gotten older, the nit-picking at my body has morphed into other criticisms. She always believes I’m lying or hiding something when I’m telling the truth; if I become too sensitive on a given topic, she calls me a “bitch.” And today, when I shrugged her away because I did not want her hugging me after she made me cry in a restaurant full of people, she proceeded to give me the silent treatment and then when we finally arrived home, she told me that I was “not the only person who could be hurt by words” and that I needed to stop “acting like a wounded victim.”
The thing is, I should be used to this by now because the 3-4 times a year I visit my mother, she yells at me for something I’ve done or said even though I typically bite my tongue and hold back what I really want to say to her because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I’m seeking help for my Mommy (and Daddy) issues, but despite those issues I still love my mother and I want to get along with her! What should I do? — Mommy Issues
Of course you love your mother and want to get along with her; She’s your mom! And that only makes it harder to accept the way she’s treated you your whole life. But one of the biggest, most important lessons people can learn — and one you’ve likely had a head start embracing — is that our parents are only as good at parenting us as their own issues and limitations allow them to be and those limitations in no way define their love for us. Obviously, your mother has had a lot of limitations she either could not or chose not to push past to do better by you. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you enormously, and I’d bet there’s a part of her that’s as frustrated with herself as you are for her inability to mother you the way you deserve to be mothered.
So, what can you do to foster a better relationship with her now that your childhood is over and you’re moving into your own adulthood? Well, you’re already doing one great thing by seeking help to deal with the issues she’s passed on to you. That’s a wonderful start. The next step is to forgive her. You don’t have to express the forgiveness to her; having it in your heart is enough. Forgive her for the mistakes she’s made and continues to make and realize you are utterly powerless to change them. The only think you can change is your own behavior. So if the way you have been reacting to your mother only fuels the flames between you, change the way you respond to her. If your tendency has always been to repress your feelings when you’re around her, quit repressing them and start expressing them. If expressing them in the past has only made her blow up at you, then save your outbursts for your therapist. Basically, act the opposite of how you have been behaving and see how that changes the dynamic between you.
Finally, accept that you may never have a great relationship with you mother. That sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world. You can still get the love and attention you miss from her from other relationships in your life — from your grandparents, for example, and from other close relatives and friends. You won’t ever find a replacement mother, but you can befriend older women who can impart the wisdom you never received from you mom. There’s a role in all of our lives that a mother-figure fills, but that role doesn’t necessarily have to be filled by our own mothers for us to reap the rewards. And even if it’s never filled at all — or if it’s filled a little bit by one person and a little bit by another — it doesn’t mean we can’t be just as happy and fully-functional as someone who grew up with a “perfect” mom.
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