7 Ways To Repair A Strained Relationship With Your Mom
As Mother's Day approaches, you may be thinking about your own relationship with your mom. Despite existing tension or past arguments, you may be ready to repair a strained relationship with your mom—but where do you begin? Here are a few tips for reaching out and starting to strengthen your relationship with your mother:
1. Just reach out.
Before you can begin the process of repairing a strained relationship, it's important to open the lines of communication. "Given our current health situation, meeting in person may not be feasible," psychologist Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP, tells us. "But a phone call or a card that says 'hi, I'm thinking of you' is always a good beginning."
If you're already in touch with your mom, but you've been avoiding the subject that leads to tension, consider setting up a time to talk. "Don't get pressured into disclosing the subject before you are prepared and ready," Hallett says.
2. Be compassionate.
Have compassion for both yourself and your mom. "I like to remind myself (and others) that we are all doing the best we can, with what we have, in the moment," Hallett says.
Showing compassion doesn't mean you have to completely dismiss past hurts or difficulties, she explains. It does mean, however, that you recognize not everyone has the same inner resources to make decisions you think are best.
One way to really start to understand your mother better is to ask her questions about her upbringing. This may give you a better sense of her motivations and the way she responds to conflict. Some people, especially from older generations, may be reluctant to talk about their pasts, especially if they were hard. Let your mom know that you simply want to get to know her better and understand your history.
3. Be open-minded.
"There is no objectivity in relationships, just subjective experience," psychoanalyst and emotions educator Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, tells us.
In fact, "there's a strong likelihood that you and your mother see things from a different perspective," Hallett adds. This doesn't mean either of you is necessarily right or wrong, but sometimes when it comes to our parents, our familiarity and many years of experiences together can make us feel more willing to be unyielding in a way that we wouldn't be with other people.
Be open to understanding your mom's perspective. Even if she doesn't understand yours, having an open mind can help you begin to move forward.
4. Actively listen.
"Too often—especially in conversations with people we know well—we stop listening and start preparing our response while the other person is still talking," Hallett explains.
Active listening is the opposite of that. When you're in a conversation with your mom, clear your mind and focus only on listening to what she's saying. Don't think about what you're going to say next, why she's wrong, or judging her for being the way she is. Try to understand her side of the story, even if you don't agree with it.
"Active listening strengthens your understanding of what she's actually communicating, increases a sense of connection, and offers an opportunity for a new type of interaction," says Hallett.
5. Create realistic expectations.
People often have idyllic expectations of their mothers and what the mother-child relationship should be like, but when neither of you is able to live up to those expectations, it can lead to conflict and sometimes resentment. "It's very important to have lower and realistic expectations to mitigate disappointment and anger," Hendel says.
Try to avoid comparing your relationship with your mom to those you see on TV, to your friends, or to anyone. All parent-child relationships are unique. Just focus on how you can improve your particular relationship with your mother.
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6. Be forgiving when you can.
Yes, your mom made mistakes while you were growing up, and she's probably still making them today. Try to remember that you've made plenty of mistakes along the way, too.
If your mom has listened to you, validated your feelings, and apologized for her actions, be willing to offer forgiveness.
7. Accept that not all relationships can be repaired.
"It takes two to make repairs and to connect in a healthy way," Hendel says. You can figure out whether you're the only one wanting to make amends by asking her these two questions: "Are you willing to work on the relationship?" and "Are you willing to be accountable for your hurtful actions?"
If all you receive is blame and attack, then it will be nearly impossible to have a good relationship, Hendel explains.
Furthermore, if a relationship is abusive in any way (physical, emotional, verbal, etc.), Hallett recommends cutting off contact completely. "We are allowed to...take a break—or end—a relationship that is toxic."
The bottom line.
"It's natural for us to be defensive, or want to 'prove our point' if we feel we have been treated wrongly or unjustly," Hallett says, "but patience, calm, understanding, and openness to differing views will help with repair."
If you've yet to repair your relationship by the time Mother's Day approaches, show yourself compassion. These holidays can be challenging for people who don't have the desired relationships with their parents. Acknowledge that, and then make plans to connect with friends, family members, or someone who has acted like a mother to you.
"You can also try to remember times with your mother that were positive," Hallett says. "Accept that you may have mixed feelings, and that is totally OK."
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