A week after my sixteenth birthday, my mother cornered me in the kitchen and announced, “I’m leaving tomorrow- I’m done, I’ve given your father and you sixteen years of my life and you’re big and ugly enough to take care of the dog, your father, and yourself.” Actually, the dog arrived when I was eight, but that’s fifty-six years in a dog’s life, so she clearly loved the dog more. Time had erased, that Mother had singlehandedly run a business, “artfully” inherited a number of houses and now wanted her independence back. She walked out on us, leaving me to pick up the pieces.
I was caught in a ball of confusion and hurt, split down the middle, as I teetered between the convenience of her next door and the inconvenience of witnessing her unapologetic abandonment, each time I exited my home.
I’ve always and still refer to my mother as a complex, unapologetic, colorful character …yes, even narcissistic. But, I believe how we choose to frame our relationships with our mothers, the words we use, matter! Many use the word “toxic”, but I never have.Toxic is such a harsh word, one that poisons our memories and is harmful to our own wellbeing and core relationships. I choose not to dwell in the negativity of the past, a past I have faced, but cannot change. Instead, I have used the lessons learned and experienced to be the best version of myself to my own daughter.
Here’s how we can begin to break the cycle of the complex of mother daughter relationship:
1. Dig deep. When we dig deep we better understand what impacted our mothers lives and that their actions towards us, however painful, was based on her life experiences not us and the fact they never faced them … but we do have a choice and that is to change the pattern and in doing so reflect on how that has impacted your own life. This will refresh your perspective.
2. Accept limitations. I know what it feels like when a mother makes a promise to boost her own image in the moment and continually lets you down. But I also came to know and accept her limitations, not my limitations and managed my expectations. At a young age I recognized and accepted mum’s limited capacity to show affection because I knew something was lost, that she loved me, but couldn’t express love the way my father did.
3. Encourage trust & evolution. For mothers, children need to know and trust that you’re willing to be fully engaged when they need you. Engagement where we hear and see our daughters and are open to what they are trying to say and contribute.Honest engagement is the foundation of any relationship enabling trust, clarity, and evolution.
Continued evolution together through the ever-changing phases of our mother daughter, relationship, as well as individually is paramount.
4.Honoring dreams & time. Honoring my daughter’s dreams and my own makes us feel whole.I made that decision at the tender age of 16 to be involved in my child’s life, but not to control it …I have worked to create a deeper more connected relationship by spending time with her, cooking together sharing a meal, the day to day things and traveling somewhere beyond our day to day comfort zone together. It doesn’t matter what happens in the world she can trust that I will always make time and be the safe place she can come to for love, honesty and advice.
5. Stop judging. What I know is “even a mothers love can be imperfect”, we can’t judge our mothers by the worst things they’ve done, but by the good…even just bringing us into the world is something I’m grateful for. I survived my mother leaving and turmoil because I had a strong foundation in those early years, she toughened me up for the world and…as my daughter phrases it “I looked to the love.” The love my father had always given me, my sister, my close friends. I didn’t always like it but accepted she was flawed, crazy and somehow I also knew she just couldn’t help herself …she wanted to be number one.
My childhood shaped the person I am today. I learned to listen to both sides of a story, to have an open mind so I could navigate and flourish in the pure absurdity and beauty of life and people, while finally understanding I can’t fix everything and the importance of setting boundaries. Ultimately, our mothers are flawed just like the rest of us, but for all the pain mine caused, she also gave me the gifts of acceptance, resilience, and the courage to honor and write my own story.
Breaking the cycle of a complicated mother-daughter relationship is possible, but first you may have to look at the story from your mother’s point of view, and if possible ask those sometimes uncomfortable questions of who she was, is, and perhaps yet to be. And then, hopefully you’ll find a greater capacity for compassion, love, and forgiveness—the root of our humanity.