Mother-daughter relationships are classically dysfunctional. If you’re anything like me, your teen years were fraught with screaming matches, slamming doors, and more than enough tears. Things can get even more complicated in your college years when your mom is trying to hold on, while you’re running off to find yourself. (If you haven’t seen Ladybird yet, do yourself a favor and queue it up, pronto).
Since we no longer “need” them, we can be tempted to let relationships with our parents fall to the wayside in adulthood. For me, growing up and moving out meant that the relationship evolved in many painful, but beautiful ways. Though I’ve gotten it wrong plenty of times, my twenties have taught me a few things about this incredibly important relationship. Here are some of the things I’ve learned that help me love my mother well:
Take her advice (with a grain of salt)
“My house, my rules.”
How many of us have heard that one, time and time again? And while you may live in your own place now, sometimes it feels like she still wants to tell you how you should live your life. When I’m on the phone with my mom, it doesn’t take long before she starts a sentence with “What you need to do is…” (you can fill in the blank with whatever you keep hearing). Initially, this phrase always signalled the beginning of a fight. I would get upset about her still telling me what to do, she would fire back about only trying to help me — maybe this exchange sounds familiar.
But here’s the beautiful about being an adult: you can choose to follow her advice or leave it behind. As a teen, tension arises because you typically have no other choice than to do what you’re told. Once I realized that I had the option of graciously refusing the advice of my mother, it completely revolutionized how we talk to one another.
Listening to her advice doesn’t mean that I tow the line and comply with her every request, it just means that I respond in a new way.
Now when my mom gives me advice, I try to treat her in the same way I would a co-worker or friend. Could you imagine what would happen if you picked a fight with your boss every time they listed ways you could improve on the job? I’d venture to guess that you value your relationship with your mom even more than your supervisor, so maybe it would help to reconsider how you react to unsolicited advice — sometimes it’s actually pretty good.
Learn about her as a person, not just your mom.
From the second you were born, your relationship with your mother was about her giving and you receiving. For the larger part of your existence, she was probably the one packing lunches and doing your laundry so it can be hard to see your mother as anything else. As important as being a mother is, though, it’s only one part of her life.
Your mom may also be a sister, a daughter, a wife, an artist, a boss, a thinker, and a world of other things because she is a dynamic and whole person — and she is someone worth knowing. When you take the time to try and know your mother for all of the aspects parts of her life, it shows that you’re willing to invest in the relationship beyond how she can serve you. You may even be surprised by things you didn’t know about her!
Discover the ways you are equals.
My mom and I both work in education. Since I got my job, it has shocked me how much it has bonded us. When I visit home, I’ll often pull a barstool up to the counter while she cooks something and we’ll swap ridiculous stories and teaching advice (and maybe even gripe a little).
Being able to share this common ground takes away some of the pressures of hierarchy. She doesn’t feel like she has to be an example for me and I don’t have to feel like a subordinate.
Even if you don’t have the same career as your mother, it can be helpful to find those veins of similarity so you can shift the focus away from the ways you are vastly different. Whether it’s a shared love of a sport, artistic craft, or even a book you both like, enjoying the things you have in common can help bridge the gap and make you feel more like equals.
Accept that she might not “get” you yet.
There are some situations that I just can’t give you advice for. There will be times when your mother strongly disagrees with your career choice, who you’re dating, or how you see the world. But if your mom is anything like mine — and man, I hope she is — she loves you fiercely.
If your mother isn’t completely on-board with everything you’re doing in life, that doesn’t mean that the relationship is in trouble; it can actually be a sign of its strength. It’s much easier to love people we agree with all of the time; the real test comes when you and your mother lead disparate lives.
The most loving people are the ones who have the ability to say “I love you, even though I can’t understand you right now.” So try not to worry if you’re doing your best to communicate well and there is still friction. There will always be points of disagreement, and that’s okay.
Remember that you can only control yourself.
My mom told me something recently that brought me to tears. She said, “You’re teaching me, too.” And that’s important.
I wish I could say that I’m a master at relationships and single-handedly repaired mine, but that’s not the case. Half of the reason why I have such a close relationship with my mother now is because she was also willing to work toward it.
Relationships of any kind are a two-way street. You can only control yourself; your mom has to be willing to change, too. She has to be willing to admit where she was wrong, heal where she has hurt, and stick up for herself when you treat her poorly.
Don’t think of this list as an exhaustive list of ways to change yourself so your mother will love you more. I wish that every girl could think of their mother as their best friend, but that’s just not reality. If your mother isn’t in the picture, sometimes that love comes from a mentor, coworker, teacher, or sister. Whether you receive it from your biological mother or a mother of another kind, remember you have been completely worthy of that unconditional love from day one.
As adults, we spend plenty of time investing in relationships with friends, partners, and co-workers, but remember that improving the mother-daughter relationship is just as important. It teaches us how to love in the midst of conflict, how to extend grace, and how to stay fiercely committed.
Learning to love your mom well in adulthood may be the key to giving and receiving love well, overall.