Mother's Day is a day to honor and celebrate moms. But not all adult children feel compelled to do this! I have had more than one client rant about feeling obligated to honor their mothers simply because of cultural peer pressure.
I remember Viktor, a successful businessman in his late 40s, who was working through old resentments from childhood, particularly toward his mother, who often made him feel guilty then and even now. During one therapy session he told me, "My mother still expects a phone call and a card on Mother's Day -- after all these years! I go through the motions, but frankly, the ritual feels forced."
Whether your mother was more like June Cleaver or Mommy Dearest, chances are she played a critical role in who you became. And this is what I told to Viktor. Your mother is the reason you are here -- talking, laughing, crying, feeling, loving, excelling and learning. You don't have to be her best friend, but as you grow older and so does she, there are some simple ways to strengthen your bond with her that have benefits for both of you.
For those of us whose mothers are still alive, there are times when the relationship can be filled with conflict, anger or disappointment. So, whether you want to maintain your connection with your mother or need to repair it, here are some tips on how to improve that relationship with your mom.
Embrace what's positive.
In any relationship there are going to be ups and downs. Instead of focusing on what your mother does wrong (from your perspective) or the struggles you have with her, shift your attention to all that she does right and what's good about your relationship. This year, make a list of what you love about your mother and read those qualities to her, or write them in a card. Your true feelings are as good, if not better, than any card from Hallmark.
Respect your differences.
Each of you was born and raised in a different time with distinct values and ways of living. You probably don't agree on everything, even the important things in life. That's OK. But you can learn to acknowledge and respect her thoughts and feelings. There are many people who have been angry with their mother for years. Those are wasted years, and life is too short. This year, resolve to let the differences slide off your back. She never picks up the phone because she doesn't want you to spend the money? Fine. Tell her you like it when she calls you. She chastises you for divorcing? It's OK. Tell her you value her opinion. You're not going to change her, so accept her. Once you do, some of her annoying quirks will seem funny to you, and you'll feel as though you relieved a pressure valve.
Share your real self.
As adults, we don't spend much time talking to our mother about important topics in life. Think to yourself: Does she know my personal goals and fears in life? Strengthen your relationship by opening up new lines of communication between you and your mother. Too often we make small talk with our mothers. Try asking her for a piece of advice. Or tell her about something that has been stressing you out at work. Deepening the conversation with your mother is a way to share your real self. You might even discover that she is not only older than you, but wiser in some ways.
Get to know her.
Do you know what your mother's days are like? Who are her best friends? How does she feel about the events unfolding in the world? What does she love to do? What keeps her awake at night? These are the kinds of questions we forget to ask our mothers. You may have gotten into a superficial pattern of chatter with your mom that goes both ways -- you don't really share your inner life with her, nor she with you. Break the pattern! Many people discover new and interesting aspects of their parents at the very end of their life -- when they're dying and suddenly become very open. Don't wait till then. Start deepening your knowledge of her and your bond now.
Do something new.
I had a client who took her mother for her first pedicure, at age 75. This Mother's Day, resolve to make a date (it doesn't have to be on Mother's Day) to do something new with her. Go see a movie. Take her on a scenic car ride. Read the same book and discuss it. Go bowling. As in marriages, one of the best ways to strengthen bonds between people is to get out of the relationship rut by gently knocking them off balance. When you do this with your mother, you might be surprised by how changed the quality of the conversation is, or how differently she responds to you.
Respect each other's privacy. Limits in what you share with your mother (and what she tells you) are fine. Always remember that even when you try your hardest, there is still the possibility that she will be disappointed or you will not meet her expectations. These are the realities of any relationship. By setting boundaries, you are protecting yourself and the relationship. Telling your mother, "This is what I can do for you, and this is what I can't" will help set realistic expectations and hopefully increase her respect for you and your behaviors.
She may be Mom, but your relationship still takes work. If things have been difficult or problematic, don't expect change to occur overnight. Keep working at it, because the rewards are well worth the effort.