Sex & Relationships

Ask an expert: Mom's the word

How to make the best of your bond

My mother and I have never had an easy relationship, but as she gets older, I realize that we don’t have that much time left together. I don’t think we can be best friends, but how can I make the most of our bond?

It’s not unusual for moms and daughters to share relationships that are tinged with conflict. Mom has a way of getting under your skin like nobody else because she knows you so well – not only your strengths but also your weaknesses and fears.

Make the best of it

By now I’m sure you realize that you can’t change your mother in a fundamental or radical way, but you can make peace with her and reduce your stress, conflict and disappointment levels. Here’s how.

Understand where she’s coming from

Sometimes mothers have trouble relating to their daughters as adults. If your mom is still trying to run your life, she may be having a hard time letting go of her role as your parent and decision-maker.

When you were little, having your mother tell you what to do usually made you feel secure. But when she tells you what to do now, it probably feels as if she’s criticizing you. The first step in dealing with unsolicited advice or comments is to realize that they might come from a caring place, not a mean or threatening one.

Consider your mom’s baggage

We often interpret behaviour personally when it is simply a display of the emotional baggage that our mothers are carrying with them, often from their own childhoods. I had a client whose mother smothered her emotionally, asking her to call home whenever she arrived at any destination. A few years ago, my client found out that when her mother was a child, her grandmother left home to go shopping and never returned because she was picked up and taken to a concentration camp. So, when my client leaves her mother, even for a short time, it triggers that awful memory. Knowing what lies at the root of her mother’s controlling habits helped my client realize that her mom’s behaviour had nothing to do with a lack of trust in her.

Send a message

E-mail is a marvellous invention for impaired relationships because it allows for brief exchanges, enabling you to keep in touch without too many stressful telephone conversations. You can also try using e-mail to solve problems: for example, the next time you have an issue with your mom, send her an e-mail letting her know how important she is to you and how much you want to have a good relationship with her. Then wait for her reply. In your next e-mail, outline the problem you have with her behaviour in terms of what you need. Instead of writing “I hate when you criticize my cooking or say I don’t prepare enough food for family dinners,” try “Mom, I know that you are a great cook and you like to serve lots of food, but I’m different from you. If you would not criticize a friend’s cooking, then please don’t criticize mine.”

Revamp your response

If your mom doesn’t respond to your tactful but direct requests that she give you a break, look for ways to shield yourself from her difficult behaviour.

Let’s return to the family-dinner example: instead of feeling defensive or asking your mom to change, agree with her and ask her to bring extra food to the next gathering. Or, better yet, suggest that, as the true gourmet of the family, she should be the one to host the dinner!

And what if your mom likes to lay on the guilt? Remember that no one can make you feel guilty. Try laughing and making a joke instead of defending yourself.