Recently, a new friend said to me, “It wasn’t always like this, but now my mother is my best friend.” I thought, “Wow, I love my mom, but that is not how I would describe our relationship.”
Not a day later, another friend plaintively asked, “How do I keep from turning into my grandmother?” … who was bitter and lonely at the end of her life.
The proximity of these two comments has me thinking about the spectrum of mother-daughter closeness and where I would like to be, both with my mother and my two daughters. I recognize that it takes intention, and a lot of years, and that individual personalities will have some effect as well, but I am determined.
Then I hesitate. I love my mom and I know she loves me, but tends towards negativity and has trouble expressing affection. So how do I do everything completely differently without invalidating the good aspects of my memories of childhood and my solid, if not best-friend-close relationship with her now? I know she worked hard to be a more fun and supportive mom than her mom was – so who am I to criticize? But I still have issues.
The question from my friend about not turning into her grandmother actually prompted the best answer for me. I told her I think you have to be someone who doesn’t judge. It has been my overriding interpersonal goal lately to not judge. It is a difficult practice and, as with yoga, Buddhism, or anything worth improving, perfection is likely elusive.
The effort, however, has already had a profound affect on my relationship with my mom. I’ve started gently calling her on negative comments, and pushing back, actually telling her that it hurts my feelings when she makes judging comments about me. I have noticed a change in the way that she approaches our discussions and, with consistency, there seems to be an actual decrease in negativity as she learns the new rules. This approach applies to so many mother-daughter discussions. When she tries to engage me in a discussion of my cousin’s baby weight gain, I firmly refuse to discuss it. When she makes an observation about my daughters’ eating habits – food and body image issues being one of the sorest of the sore spots – I remind her that I’m their mom and that it is none of her business. When she says things like, “Oh, I just want your sister to settle down and find a nice man to marry and move back here so she can be happy,” I gently point out that she may be perfectly happy living a social single life.
Now, how will this improve my relationship with my own daughters? Well, I work on not being a parent that kills self-confidence with judging comments. I try to catch myself before I say, “That was good but you can do better,” if I can. Or before I override their decisions.
More importantly though, I am practicing not judging myself, probably the hardest part, especially growing up with lots of “That’s great, but …” I know that in order to foster a more loving and durable relationship with my daughters, I need to model loving myself and not worry too much about what the neighbors think of my messy house.
Erika Jerram is an urban planner for the Town of Framingham. She is also the mom of two amazing girls ages 7 and 2, who astound her daily with their capacity for curiosity, humor, and sheer self-confidence. Erika’s days are filled with seeking that mystical place known as “Work Life Balance” and housework usually loses the battle for her attention. She works at not judging people and not sweating the small stuff and her relationship with her Mom is stronger now than it ever was.