As we mentioned, we are proud to be featuring our brand new monthly column "Ask Shelby" featuring expert advice from Chester County based Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley. Here is our installment for May!
I don't know what to do. Mother's Day is coming soon and I have a complicated relationship with my mom. I love her, but we don't get along well, and right now we're in a big fight and we're not speaking. Do I give her something for Mother's Day or do I ignore her because I'm still really hurt? I'm a grown woman--I hate to not know how to handle this!
Signed, Mad at Mom
Dear Mad at Mom,
I just had a client in my office last week who said, "I'm 52 years old and I'm sitting here whining about my mother." A lot of people have issues with one or both of their parents, and that doesn't always change just because we grow into adults. Relationships are complicated...relationships in our families of origin can be REALLY complicated.
The most important thing I hear from your question is that you love your mom. I love that you can be mad at her and stay connected to your love for her. It sounds like there is a part of you that wants to reconnect, a part of you that is still hurt, a part of you that is angry, and a part of you that recognizes your relationship is complicated and this fight isn't new or different for the two of you. It's okay to have good boundaries and protect yourself and still be open to showing your mom love. Think of it as a door to a room: you probably aren't going to close that door completely and cut her off, and you probably don't want to have that door wide open, because that would leave you open to more conflict and pain. You want to have the door open enough to give and receive love, and closed enough to protect yourself. That door can be cracked and slowly swing more open as you and your mom work on your relationship.
(Sometimes cutting off completely from someone is the right choice. If you are being physically, sexually or emotionally abused by someone who is unwilling or unable to change their behavior, complete cut-off can be the only thing that keeps you safe.)
Having good boundaries with difficult people means finding a way to be in relationship with them without making yourself available to be hurt over and over again by them. A therapist can be a great resource to help you figure out how to navigate your relationship with your mom in a way that feels healthier. There are also some great books...Extraordinary Relationships by Gilbert is one that I would recommend you read.
As for Mother's Day, if a phone call seems like it might ignite into another fight, and a gift feels inappropriate given the state of your relationship, acknowledge your love for her with a card. Speak from the part of you that feels love for her. Keep it simple and short. Don't let the angry part or the hurt part have a turn. Simply remind her that you love her and that you wish her a happy Mother's Day.
Good luck to you, and remember-- you are not alone. Lots of people will be struggling to decide how they want to handle Mother's Day and Father's Day. I'm sure you will find something that works for you,
**Remember to check out Shelby's website, Family Help Today, for a variety of useful information for couples, individuals, families, and kids. You can also find out more about Shelby's AWESOME e-books on her site.