When Your Relationship With Mother Is Painful

painful relationship with mother

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day when your relationship with Mother is painful? When even the word “celebrate” seems over-the-top for what’s realistic given your dread of the day and her?

The fact is, not all women who bear children want them or care to fake it. Some are critical, unaffectionate, partial, selfish, and unreliable. And it makes being their child a bit of a challenge.

You want to love your mother. God knows you want her to love you. But as you grow into adulthood, you begin to realize she is who she is and you’re powerless to change her. You also notice you’re developing a resentment about it.

So Mother’s Day becomes a conundrum. Do you do what’s expected a good daughter should do – going through the motions of honoring her with attentions, a meal, and gift? Yet, all the while feeling like a fraud and angry that you don’t stand up for yourself. Or do you take a page from her book and blow the day off? You won’t feel like a hypocrite, but you’ll still feel like a jerk. Because you’re not her.

My Painful Relationship

That was my perplexity for years. I remember looking for a Mother’s Day card to send my mother the first year of my own marriage (age 19). I discovered Hallmark doesn’t make a Mother’s Day card for women like her. Card after card gushed praise for mothers always there, loving and supportive, devoted and sacrificial.

They made me mad. So mad, I bought the most effusive one. The sentiment on the front read “I Love Living Life With You” and inside was dripping with compliments and homage. I couldn’t have written anything more sarcastic if I tried for a month. I signed and mailed it. Went full-on jerk mode.

I braced myself for the inevitable phone call. I just wasn’t sure if she’d be puzzled by the possibility my new husband had picked the card, or if she’d seethe because she knew I did. Turned out to be neither.

She was delighted with the card! Said it was the best one she’d ever gotten. She even read parts of it back to me on the phone. I was stunned speechless. The joke was on me. Of course, she’d seen what she wanted to see – like always.

From then on, I bought Mother’s Day cards that said practically nothing: “Hope you have the day you deserve.” (Seems they do make cards for women like my mother after all.)

I understand the dread of Mother’s Day and the dynamics that produce it. And although my mother has been dead for 10 years, I still feel a twinge when it comes around. I know, even though I no longer have to shop for a say-nothing card for her, I’m still going to see Facebook and Instagram lit up with mother-gushing. And it will still hurt. If you struggle with a complicated, painful relationship with your mother, that’s what I want you to know.

Our relationship with our mother doesn’t die when she does. It lives on in our hearts looking for resolution. Click To TweetOur relationship with our mother doesn’t die when she does. It lives on in our hearts looking for resolution. At first, I felt relieved when my mother died. She couldn’t hurt me anymore. Now I wonder what kind of broken toy I must be for never having cried over losing her. Not one tear. Stood over her grave and tried to force it. Nope. And I’m a big ‘ol movie crier.

Easing A Painful Relationship

It doesn’t add anything to the quality of life to be bitter and resentful. So here’s what I say to myself and to you as we look for resolution.

  • It’s futile to try to change someone else and painful to keep hoping they will on their own. Good grief, sometimes we can’t even change ourselves when we want to (still a sugar addict?) So pray for your mother while she’s alive. Ask God to soften her heart to love you and Him. Praying for someone else changes you, too.
  • Give yourself a dose of reality. Nobody gets through life without trials and pain. I remind myself I’d much rather have had this trial than, say, a physical deformity that prevented me from marrying and having my own children. My problems look good compared to what other’s endure so it’s time to end the pity party.
  • Look for ways to cut your mother some grace. I know my grandmother scorned my mother and showed painful, overt favoritism to her brothers. My mother simply couldn’t behave better than she knew. And she had her own hurts. Undoubtedly, your mother does, too. Do you know what they are?
  • Another way to cut her some grace is to acknowledge the good. No one is 100% bad. I remember the first time I made the honor roll in school, my mother told me she was proud of me and had it published in the newspaper. Still have the clipping. I also remember her giving me money – which was very tight for us – to go to the corner market and buy candy. Still love green apple Jolly Ranchers and Mallow Cups. Let the good parts of your relationship be “still” parts.
  • For Mother’s Day, acknowledge your mother as authentically as you can, with as much grace as you can. Don’t be a jerk like I was that first year. Not my most shining moment as a daughter and I regret it. Your mother’s inability to love is not your excuse not to. Be someone your children will be proud of. They’re watching you.
  • Finally, ask a friend for accountability and God for power, to help you be the mother your mother couldn’t be. Be the woman to break any generational pattern of dysfunction. Do the things that may not come naturally: restrain any mean-spirited criticisms instead of letting them fly, humble yourself and admit when you’ve wronged your child, give affection and encouragement.

If you can add grace to your painful relationship with Mother and allow her wrongs to be motivation to do it right yourself, there’s a silver lining to that cloud. Most importantly, your children will not dread Mother’s Day.

(I wrote more about my personal story here.)

relationship with mother is painful