I’ve had a complicated relationship with my mother since childhood. I’m now married with two young children and dread whenever she comes to visit. She seems to have little interest in my grandchildren, and even less in mine. Yet she nearly always says something cutting — usually a comment on my appearance. Although I would like to end the monthly visits, I still love my dad and would not want to offend him. What can I do to stop the monthly visits?
The shelves are awash with Mother’s Day cards evoking Disney-like bonds between children and their mammies. As an adult, it can be difficult to see that your relationship with your mum is different from the one you see on your local shop’s cards.
It is a terrible situation. Your mother’s experiences have been difficult. This may have affected your mental health. It is smart to set some boundaries around your mother’s visits. When we have healthy boundaries, it’s easier to respond calmly and in ways that are in keeping with our own values.
You might limit her visits to the house, or restrict the amount of time she spends there. Or you may decide to ban certain topics from the house. These new boundaries will require open and honest conversations. If she is hurtful, be clear and redirect the conversation towards a more innocent topic. It might be a good idea to have a practiced line in case she makes comments about your appearance.
A response that does not fuel the discord but instead is conducive to a healthy exchange might go, “I hear your concern, but I am comfortable with my appearance and I would prefer if we could take this time to bring you up to date on the children’s activities and achievements.” Consider enlisting the support of your spouse and father (if he is amenable).
While it may seem awkward initially, you’re trying to change a long-standing behavior pattern. Even if the pattern is not healthy, sticking with it can be tempting. It is difficult to change a family dynamic. Recognizing the need to do this is an important step. However, you might need the help of a registered therapist. Your mother’s behaviour is not something you can control but your response to it is.
Talk to your friends and therapists about your strengths and other resources. Negative comments can be handled by tapping into your strengths of resilience and courage. You may have childhood friends who are familiar with the family dynamics of your family and can offer you healthy and innovative ideas to help you deal with it.
You can take time to improve your emotional self-regulation skills. There are often a number of signs that we are getting anxious or frustrated and if recognised early we can employ a range of strategies that ensure we don’t become overwhelmed by the emotion. Unkind behaviour can be mitigated by having a variety of positive coping methods.
It is possible to be prone to spend too much time worrying about unhealthy relationships. This causes an imbalance and can cause us to feel, incorrectly, that the unhealthy relationship is heavier. It may help you to remember how supportive your father has been in your life. Spend time with your father to share the good times and the happy memories. This will allow you to have a more balanced view and improve your overall well-being.
Your father might be able to help you talk to him about the problems you are having with mother. You might be able to get an insight from your father about the fears that underlie her behavior. Understanding her struggles and how they may affect her interactions with your children and you can help you to approach these visits with compassion and empathy while still setting boundaries that protect your family.
Mindfulness is often a helpful tool because it helps us stay present in the moment. During the practice, you may become more aware of your thoughts and physical reaction to your mum’s comments or communication patterns. It is possible to be curious about your mom’s responses without judgment by bringing them up in your awareness. You can become more curious and start to look at a wider range of responses, even ones that align with your values and well-being.
New communication patterns will be possible when you make decisions based on your values, not your fears. The journey may not be smooth, and you may conclude that your and your family’s wellbeing is compromised too much. If this happens, you should acknowledge your loss. It is possible that you will discover that your grief can lead to new opportunities. Like Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek, who despite her unapologetic resistance to traditional demonstrations of motherhood, your mum too, may become her daughter’s greatest champion.
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