Make Peace with Your Mom
- 2007 17 Feb
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of H. Norman Wright and Sheryl Wright Macauley's book, Making Peace with Your Mom, (Bethany House Publishers, 2006).
Your relationship with your mom has more power than any other to impact your emotional health. Whether your relationship with your mom is currently close or distant, it can always use improvement. Any unresolved issues between you will hurt you unless you make peace with her.
Here’s how you can make peace with your mom:
Evaluate your relationship. Consider your past and present relationship with your mom by asking yourself some key questions: “How would you describe your relationship with your mom?”, “In what way was your mom there for you?”, “In what way wasn’t your mom there for you?”, “Describe how your mom has influenced or shaped your life (either negatively or positively).”, “If your relationship was lacking, what have you done to overcome this?”, “What do you appreciate the most and the least in your mother’s involvement with you?”, “If your mother’s interaction was missing in your life, how did you fill this void?”, “What are three rules your mother taught you about life?” and “At this point in your life, what would you like to be able to say to your mother?”.
Reflect on your memories. Think about your memories of your mom and how they affect your life today. Notice your feelings when you ponder memories such as: your first memory of her, your last memory of her, your best memory of her, your worst memory of her. Also remember times when something especially memorable happened in your relationship, such as: when you were most proud of her or when she was most proud of you, you were most upset with her, you laughed the hardest at something she did or said, you discovered a secret about her, you said something to her you wish you could take back, and you first shared a spiritual experience together. Consider what these and other memories tell you about your mom. Keep in mind that God loves both you and your mom in spite of the flaws you each have. Find photos of yourself at various ages growing up, and think about the quality of relationship you had with your mom at each age as you look at the photos. After doing this, write a summary statement of your childhood. Think about who you were, who you could have been, and what you can do now to move forward with your life.
Respond wisely to your mom’s voice. Listen to your mom’s voice that you hear in your mind, reminding you of the messages she’s given you in the past. Pay attention to what she says in your current conversations. Realize that, although you can’t control what she communicates to you, you can choose how to respond to her messages. Pray about unhealthy messages from your mom, asking God to renew your mind and help you discard lies (such as an assertion that you’ll never amount to anything) and replace them with truth (such as the reality that you’re valuable to God and that your life has a great purpose). Don’t let your mom’s voice resonating in your head control your life. Understand that issues that frustrate you about the way your mom interacts with you can be resolved if you set proper boundaries with her. For example, you can ask her to call before visiting rather than just showing up unannounced, and if she still comes by without calling, you can politely yet firmly let her know it’s not a good time to visit.
Know that if your mom labels you in a way that upsets you, you don’t have to just accept that negative label. Instead, you can put it into perspective by asking yourself: “What indicates this belief is true? Where is the evidence? If I were to ask three friends if this is true, what would they say?”, “What’s another way of looking at this situation? What’s an alternative response?” and “If there is truth in this belief, what do I want to do to correct it?” Think about the rules (both spoken and unspoken) your mom taught you about life, such as: which subjects should be discussed and which should be off limits; when it’s appropriate to discuss certain subjects and when it’s not; who to associate with and who not to; what your family would or wouldn’t do; how you’re supposed to act around the opposite sex and friends of your same gender; how you’re supposed to act at church; and how you’re supposed to feel about yourself, school, and work. As you consider these rules, think about which of them you’re thankful for, which you wish you’d never been given, which rules are still guiding your life, and which rules you’d like to give up following now. Practice changing any unhealthy messages your mom gave you to healthy messages that reflect your own decisions as an adult.
Resist criticism and control. Stop worrying about trying to earn your mom’s approval. Realize that the only approval that ultimately matters is God’s approval. Recognize that your mom’s personality and parenting style may be drastically different from your own. Understand that it’s futile to try to change her; decide to accept her for who she is. If your mom hurts your relationship by criticizing or trying to control you, choose to either leave the situation, ignoring her, anticipating her moves and changing the subject, or honestly discussing your concerns with her in a firm yet respectful way. When talking with her about behavior that bothers you, seek simply to convey information rather than condemning her. Be specific and make it your goal to try to resolve the issue. Whenever your mom criticizes or attempts to control you anyway, don’t get defensive or counter attack. Instead, remain confident and calm. Simply agree with any truth in what’s she’s saying (or the possibility that what she’s saying is true), without offering her any response beyond that. Just repeat your same statements if she pushes the conversation further. Give up arguing with her. Remember that if you’re at peace with yourself, you can deal with your mom well and confront bothersome issues without alienating her.
Manage anger well. Face any anger you have toward your mom instead of denying it or apologizing for it. Think about the reasons behind your anger. Ask God to help you identify the root causes of your anger (such as fear, hurt, or frustration). Consider how you express your anger – in healthy or unhealthy ways. If you have a habit of expressing anger in destructive ways (such as by yelling, blaming, or attacking), seek healing from God to learn how to direct your anger toward constructive outcomes.
Use anger to change situations for the better. Be honest, willing to listen to criticism and challenges as you discuss issues, and willing to take responsibility to do your part to resolve them. Recognize when your expectations for your mom are unrealistic, and lower them when necessary. Accept her faults. Stop trying to constantly earn your mom’s approval and be at peace with the fact that you can’t always please her. Rather than simply reacting to the anger you feel, proactively choose how you will respond to it.
Ask God to give you wisdom and patience. Then make a list of your options, keeping in mind what type of relationship you would like to have with your mom (instead of what your current relationship is like). Write a prayer describing your vision for dealing with anger in better ways, and read this prayer at least once a week to remind yourself of your vision. Choose to forgive your mom whenever she hurts you, relying on God’s power to help you. Choose to forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made in your relationship with your mom. Remember that both you and your mom are worthy of God’s love and forgiveness, and He wants you to love and forgive each other as well. If you’ve been estranged from your mom, do whatever you can to reunite with her. But if she’s unwilling or unable to reunite (such as if she’s deceased), release your past and mom to God. If she’s still alive but doesn’t respond to your reconciliation efforts, never give up praying for her.
Face your loss. Reflect on ways in which your mom was absent from your life growing up, perhaps through death, divorce, abandonment, or being physically present but not emotionally there for you. Ponder how her absence has made you feel, and why. Consider how her absence affected your life. Then pray about your thoughts and feelings, asking God to help you discover what is true about your mom and what isn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on your quest for information about her. If your mom is available, try to interview her. Talk with your mom’s family and friends about her. Once you’ve discovered all you can about what you’ve longed to know about her absence, talk about your feelings with a close friend, counselor, or pastor. If your mom has passed away, think and pray about what you were and were not able to do to help her and what you miss most about her. If you weren’t able to say goodbye to her in the way you would have liked, write her a goodbye letter and read it at her grave, to an empty chair, in prayer, or in some other way that helps you express yourself. No matter what the cause of your mom’s absence, identify all the things you lost because of it and make time to grieve for each one. Then say goodbye to those things and move on with your life in peace, trusting that God will lead you into a good future and help you every step of the way.
Build a new relationship. Know that, although you can’t change the past, you can change the present and future in your relationship with your mom. Think and pray about specific ways you would like to see that relationship improve. Then focus on one change at a time and approach your mom about it. Check your motives to make sure you’re not approaching her to punish her for her mistakes, but to truly try to improve your relationship. If possible, request a change in writing (such as through a note or letter) to give your mom time to think about it before you both discuss it. Focus on the desired behavior instead of on what your mom has or hasn’t done in the past.
Be patient; don’t expect your mom to respond to your questions immediately. If your mom tries to argue with you, be calm, definite, positive, and persistent. Simply repeat what you have to say in a respectful tone of voice until she begins to listen to you. If your mom is determined not to change, choose to accept that and be creative about setting healthy boundaries in your relationship with her. As you discuss hot-button issues between the two of you, remember that both you and your mom’s perspectives are valid. Honestly try to learn what you can from her point of view. Have the courage to fully express yourself, no matter how she responds, so you don’t have to regret your silence later. Get whatever is bothering you out into the open so you both can deal with it. Always keep in mind that peace and joy together are possible if you’re both willing to make the effort.
Adapted from Making Peace with Your Mom, copyright 2006 by H. Norman Wright and Sheryl Wright Macauley. Published by Bethany House Publishers (a division of Baker Publishing Group), Bloomington, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com.
H. Norman Wright is a licensed marriage, family, and child therapist, as well as a certified trauma specialist. The author of more than 70 books, Wright has pioneered premarital counseling programs throughout the country and conducts seminars on many subjects, including marriage enrichment, parenting, and grief recovery. His current focus is in crisis and trauma counseling and critical incident debriefings within the wider community. He and his wife, Joyce, live in Bakersfield, California.
Sheryl Wright Macauley previously teamed with her father, H. Norman Wright, as the illustrator for his books The Perfect Catch and That's a Keeper. Making Peace With Your Mom is the first book they have written together. Sheryl and her family live in Bakersfield, California.