What If You Don't Like Your Mom?
By Matt W Sandford
Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to honor mothers. For the most part, mothers have impacted us all in the most profound ways that last a lifetime. Our Moms fed us and clothed us, wiped our butts and noses and kissed away our boo-boos. Our Moms believed in us, cheered us on, helped with our homework, drove us all over creation, taught us right from wrong, forgave us when we did wrong, and supported so many of our crazy ideas - or at least pretended to. Sure, we should honor the Moms.
What if you don’t have only pleasant, uplifting memories of your relationship with your Mom? What if your Mom wasn’t always supportive, didn’t always very magnanimously forgive you, didn’t show support, or wasn’t very available? Maybe your Mom was critical or a nag or sort of the tough “knock-it-off-of-I’ll-give-you-something-to-cry-about” type? Maybe your Mom was well-meaning but for some reason wasn’t able to be very emotionally engaged? Maybe your Mom could have used a parenting class? Maybe your Mom got divorced and had to do it on her own? Maybe your Mom was stuck wrestling with a dysfunctional husband or ex-husband? Maybe it was financial difficulties or chronic illness?
Whatever it was in your house, maybe you and your Mom didn’t always get along so well. And maybe you have more memories of conflicts, hurt, dysfunction, or disappointments than you do of affirmation, affection and love, so Mother’s Day isn’t such a pleasant walk down memory lane. If so, here are a few things to consider:
1. First of all, you sure aren’t alone. What I know is that even the great Moms made mistakes and the good Moms sometimes were hurtful, impatient, and forgetful. I really don’t believe that anyone got everything they needed growing up. It is a fallen world and no one escapes being affected or wounded. Mother’s Day can make someone feel like the proverbial poor kid looking through the window of the expensive restaurant with longing, but I want you to know that that perspective is skewed. Comparison is a dead end and will lead to feelings of self-pity and bitterness. Seek a balanced perspective that knows objectively that some have had it better and plenty have had it worse.
2. With that said, you do have reasons for feeling the way you do. Your Mom did hurt you. You don’t have to deny your feelings or numb them. With courage you can explore them, maybe with a safe friend or counselor. Choosing not to avoid them or suppress them will enable you to learn, grow and heal. That way, they won’t trouble you the way they do, or lurk in the background, showing up at inopportune times and affecting your other relationships.
3. Part of the process may involve dealing with your Mom – if she is still living. Is your relationship with your Mom in many ways still dictated by the same dynamics as when you were a kid? Are you harboring resentments? Do you avoid her, or, in subtle or not so subtle ways, get back at her? If so, I would encourage you to explore your feelings (point 2) and write to your Mom what you want to express to her. This could simply be a therapeutic letter that never gets delivered. In the process, you may feel led to express some or all of your feelings. Write the letter out just raw as could be, but then maybe ponder it and re-write it a few times, from different angles. Share it with a trusted friend and get feedback.
4. Review your goals for your relationship with your Mom. There are situations in which the healthiest option truly is to distance yourself from her, such as in cases of continued verbal or emotional abuse. However, search your heart. Do you have a hope for reconciliation, for your Mom to listen, understand you and offer apologies? For her to be able to treat you with respect and to show love? So often, folks decide to protect themselves from further hurt and so they dissolve relationships without trying the difficult process of reconciliation. Yet, God is the God of reconciliation. He bridges chasms and mends the things that seem beyond repair. That is in fact the Gospel.
I don’t know your situation. Maybe you can’t work things out with your Mom, or you are confident that she would not respond favorably. I believe you can still work through the hurt, resentment, and loss in your heart. I believe what we are talking about involves the process of grieving, and that begins by giving yourself permission to feel your negative feelings. But don’t struggle with those feelings alone - connect with a safe person. Connect with God as well. Bring to Him your anger, frustration, hurt and loss. He understands that you did not get what you needed and it hurts.
Entering into those feelings can seem scary and depressing, but don’t seek to escape them; seek to be comforted and loved in them – by God and others. This kind of emotional work is hard but freeing. In being vulnerable, you open yourself up to being comforted by those who are mature. And in experiencing that, you are able to receive some of the nurture and comfort that you had missed from your mother.