I didn’t always love her even though she was my mother. She wasn’t there when I needed her, and we never seemed to connect when she was. As a kid, when I was told I looked like my mother, I’d cringe with pain at the thought that we were cut from the same cloth. At eighteen, I ran away from home. I would have left sooner, but she could bring me home when I was a minor. And I didn’t want that. So I grudgingly waited until that magical birthday—and I left. We only talked during the next ten years when I needed something. It’s a sad admission, but it’s true.
For the first two years of my recovery, I was grateful for the women who dared to talk about how they didn’t like their mothers and how their mothers had, in some way, impeded their growth and success. Their presence made me feel less alone, like other women. That need to connect with people who hated me as profoundly as I did worked—until it didn’t.
Over time, my perspective changed as I did the inner footwork required of healthy, recovering people. Luckily, I started listening to people who practiced the principles they learned in all their affairs, particularly with family. They showed me, by example, that I had a choice: I could continue to blame my mother for the life I had, which I hated, or I could clean up the debris and move on, taking some responsibility along the way.
Some of you will say, “But you don’t understand. My situation is different.” Your mother may have abused you or let your father use you. Maybe she was a drunk or a junkie, was never home, showered you with money but never love, was too controlling, made your father go away, or had many other problems. And please know I do not deny that you are right, whether you’re talking about your mother or father. But making peace with your parents is not about them feeling good; it is about helping you live comfortably in your skin. Regardless of how much we deny it, many of us are incapable of having a genuinely open, honest, respectful, and intimate relationship with anyone, man or woman, until we get clean with our parental relationships. How true a statement I have found that to be!
Many women have kids long before they are ready or just be- cause they think they should. They are ill-equipped to be mommies. And sometimes, they make horrific, irreparable mistakes in the learning process. But one thing I learned for myself is this: we all have lessons to learn. My mother was not perfect. She made lots of mistakes. But today, I know she did her best with what she had. And once I got that, I became the beneficiary of so much goodness, abundance, and love. Indeed, I had to walk through the pain of my feelings and my history; I had a responsibility to truly let go.
Here are some suggestions based on my own experience making peace with my mother and other family members:
- Believe they did the best they could with the skills they had. My mother learned from her mother, who learned from her mother, who learned from hers. I can’t imagine any woman is totally and wholly equipped for motherhood. They do what they can with what they have. Ask yourself, “Could I have done better? Am I doing better?” Maybe and maybe not.
- See them as human—imperfect, just like you and me. We all make mistakes. And we all want to be forgiven for our mistakes. When I stopped being so hard on myself, I could be less hard on my mother. What about you?
- Know we have the tools to get through anything. The tools are available to work through relationships. All we need to do is ask for help.
- Identify the payoff to holding on to the anger. Why do you want to hold on to the offense? Understanding the answer to that question will unlock the secret for you.
- Identify the benefits of making peace. What’s the payoff to resolving those hard-fought-for resentments?
- Consider something good in your family members or something they did for you. My mother did so many good things for me, and when I became willing to appreciate them, I started to focus less on what she didn’t do and more on what she did.
You may think, “What do I do if my parents die? How do I make peace when they are no longer here?” In truth, there is no simple answer because when they are gone, they are gone. I urge you to do the work while they are alive. If that’s impossible be- cause they’ve died, consider writing a letter. Think carefully about what you write, being particularly mindful of saying what’s in your heart. Don’t let fear stop you from saying what you mean. After you’ve written the letter, sit with your feelings for a while, then ask to be released from the bondage of old wounds. This process may need to be repeated several times, and you may need to force your- self to be still and feel the feelings. It’s worth the effort.
This week, I invite you to make peace with someone who needs your prayers.
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