Im a Mom, Shes a Mom: Being an Adult with Your Parents
On one of her quarterly visits to see her grandson, my three-year-old son, my mother ignores the available front seat of the car, crowds into the back next to the car seat and promptly unwraps a lollipop. Feeling the tension rising, I recall the numerous conversations where I so proudly tell my mother how I keep sugar away from my son. "Mom, what are you doing? Haven't you heard a word I said?" And so it starts. The struggle of being an adult with my parent.
So much is written today about taking care of our parents as they age. Monitoring medical care, determining living arrangements and providing emotional support are the new roles that we have taken on to help our parents age gracefully and with dignity. We are the "Sandwich Generation," the growing number of adult children squeezed between the needs of an aging parent and the demands of our own children, spouses and careers. But not much is written about the stage prior to this phase. That time when our parents are still healthy and active and still very much involved in our own lives. I am talking about that period of time when you, yourself, are an active adult, with a family and a husband and life of your very own. That is when the struggle to be an adult with your parents begins. So, which Mom really knows best?
As a Relationship Coach, I often hear, "My mother can get under my skin in less than 10 seconds." After all these years, your parents can still find ways to throw you off-balance and resurrect old habits. They are your biggest fans and your harshest critics. And, whether we like to admit it or not, we continue to want their approval no matter how old, how independent or how successful we are. In short, your parent's opinions remain extremely important. We want our Moms to respect our choices and admire the lives that we created. After all, isn't our success a reflection of their efforts as a mother? But sometimes, they seem so quick to criticize. So what can we do?
Find New Ways to Connect
As a fellow mother and wife, we assume that the best way to connect with our mothers is on issues of parenting, family and marriage. However, these are often hot-bed issues which lead to unwanted advise. Discover other mutual interests to talk about and share. Talk about politics, take walks, meet at the gym, garden together, go to the movies or theater, bring your Mother to your job so she can see where you work and meet colleagues, join a book club. Enrich your relationship by finding other ways to connect and other issues to talk about.
We have all heard this, but what exactly does it mean? In an effort to be closer, we sometimes offer too much information. A small detail becomes a point of scrutiny. It is all right to answer our parents' questions with limited information. Be proactive. Offer information about something you know your mother will ask about before she asks. This puts the communication in your hands. Be clear with your mother. Do not expect her to know which areas she can comment on and which areas are off limits. It is your job as the adult child to define the limits.
But be careful, here. You cannot go both ways. You cannot tell your mother that she cannot comment on your husband and then call her when you have a fight with him. Call a girlfriend. Find another network of support for that area.
Validate Feelings and Beliefs.
Your new ways of doing things may feel like a threat to your parents. Without intending to, your way may seem like a personal attack against the way you were raised. Feeling offended, your mother may try to influence you either to retaliate or to create a comfort level. It is important to share with your mom that, as an adult, you have taken all that she has taught you to create new ways of doing things with your family. You have needed to compromise and synthesize everyone's ways to create a new way that works for all. Recognize that you and your mother have a right to your own opinions, even if they are different from each other.
Get a Guide
There is such a stigma in asking for help, especially for woman. However, a third-party perspective can make all the difference in how you communicate with your parents. This does not mean therapy or counseling. Find a Coach, a guide or even clergy who specializes in relationship issues. Be sure your Coach helps you both to focus on your goals for the relationship. In other words, what do you want your future with your Mom to be like? Do you really need to hash out and analyze the past or are you ready to learn the skills to move forward? Also, make sure your Coach can offer immediate tools to use to help you diffuse potentially contentious situations.
"Why do you ask?" "How does that make you feel when I do that?" "Why would you do it that way?" What is your mother's real intent when she does something that gets under your skin? If asked, she would probably be shocked that she hurt your feelings. Her intent was to help, not hurt. What is behind that seemingly critical statement or probing question? You may be surprised to find that she has her own agenda that is separate from what seemed like a criticism. Before you react, ask genuinely interested questions. This also takes the focus off of you and onto her.
As my mother offered my son the lollipop, I choked down my frustration and sincerely asked her why she gave him the candy. Her answer caught me off guard. She expressed how hard it was for her that she lives so far away, that she could not help raise him and that she feared he would forget her from visit to visit. She explained that in her limited time with him, she wanted to bring pure joy and excitement and make him feel special. As I listened to this, I recognized that to my mother, all of that was represented in a lollipop. And what kind of mother was I to deny my son all those wonderful feelings? I also recognized that I could be true to my way of doing things and still love and respect my mother.
© 2004, XY Outlook, Inc.
Mimi Azoubel Daniel, MS, CEC is a Certified Life Coach specializing in Relationship Coaching. She works with individuals, couples and businesses to create strong healthy and satisfying relationships at home and in the workplace. She conducts several workshops and is frequent guest speaker. Specifically, Mimi offers the Lasting Marriage Program and The "Y" Workshop, a non-denominational, premarital workshop. For more information, visit http://www.xyoutlook.com.
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