Hi everyone, and welcome to the second instalment of #ProblemShared, my exciting new monthly problem page with my friend, renowned TV Psychologist Emma Kenny (and founder of wellbeing site SWITCH).
In this feature, Emma answers one of my reader’s problems (I add my thoughts at the end too), helping to ease one woman’s anxiety on how a strained relationship with her mother, is affecting her own parenting.
If you have a problem of your own and would love to hear Emma’s advice along with mine, then simply email me firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, and one will be chosen to be answered each month. I can of course publish anonymously if you so wish too.
It is a privilege to have Emma, a qualified psychologist to help with your problems. I am not an expert with vast experience and expertise like Emma, so my views are simply my own personal thoughts.
Now over to this month’s problem…
My Relationship With My Mum is Affecting My Parenting. What Can I Do?
Image from Flickr
Dear Emma and Vicki,
My head is literally fried with anxiety over not wanting to turn out like my mother. We’ve never been close, in fact I found her very distant and dismissive growing up. Every little action in our day would be complained about.
Naturally this means i do not have any desire to be around her, yet like some strangely British stiff upper lip action, I grit my teeth and still have her in our lives. My parents never talked about things like this, so I cant approach it with her, nor would I want to. I’m fine with her at arms length on the other side of the country. However I am plagued every minute of the day with making sure I don’t say or do something that she would have done.
It’s like wanting to be the perfect mother, but super-sized, I’m so stressed by it and it’s wearing me out. I will accept whatever relationship I end up with with my daughters, but I want to know I at least tried my hardest.
First let’s hear from Emma…
OK so first things first! Every single human being has parents and with that comes a certain amount of blueprint programming, mixed with a genetic code, which means at times we automatically replicate behaviour patterns.
This means that no matter how much you try to avoid your mother’s influence, inherently there will be whispers of her within your parenting.
This doesn’t mean that you will treat your children as you feel you were treated, it simply means you will be aware at times of thought patterns and actions that remind you of her. In your case this leads to a sense of panic that your kids will grow up resenting you in the way you resent your mother.
OK, so now it gets a little bit tougher! The only way that you will lose these fears is to forgive your mother. This doesn’t mean ignoring the pain that she may have caused you, it simply means understanding that she did her best, now that best may have fell short of what you needed, but it was all she was capable of at the time. You see that’s the hardest lesson to learn in life, the recognition that very few people ever try to harm us, but ultimately because they lack certain resources they do.
If you allow yourself to breathe in this acceptance and to focus on whatever positives she may have offered you (even if all that amounted to was making sure you had food growing up), you will be able to begin shifting the focus that you currently have on the constant negatives in your relationship.
Now onto your perfectionist parenting problem! If this is your mindset then you have already failed and that’s a real shame. You are not perfect, you will never be prefect and more importantly you should never wish to be.
You are human, you are flawed and you will make mistakes in every aspect of your life, and so you should. It is through these mishaps and misadventures that your will truly flourish as a woman and as a mother.
Your children will in their private conversations tell their friends that you are cruel, unfair and stupid and probably at times that they hate you.
This is their right, they are entitled to these unfair and untrue assertions because they are yours, you breathed life into them and you are inextricably linked to them forever.
More importantly however you will also be the woman whose arms they crave in the dark times, whose words will soothe their failures and whose love will make even the most desperate of times less bleak.
You need to stop fearing your power as a mother; instead you need to start trusting yourself and the way you feel about your children. It’s abundantly clear from your message that you adore your children and that you remind them of this constantly in your actions and your words.
You need to start being proud and fearless in your parenting, always doing it your way, not the ‘right’ way, whatever you think that may be.
As a young woman I felt that my mother was cold and constantly disappointed and yet I longed for her so very, very much. When as an adult (and after a few years of therapy) I started to write letters to her from where I was living.
Over two years of correspondence I had got to know the woman, not the title she was given when she gave birth to my siblings and me. Through this catharsis I was able to have the ‘difficult’ conversation about how I felt as a child. What was most compelling was how different our views were. My mother never realised that my experiences were painful; she was to busy making ends meet.
You see that’s the other thing about modern day motherhood, our expectations of relationships have changed. The modern mum communicates with their child, openly and reassuringly loves and prioritises their offspring at all times. For many of us, our own upbringing fell short of this.
If you wish to move forward you first need to accept that you are perfectly imperfect and this makes you good enough. Ideally you need to accept your mother as she is; accept that she hasn’t the intrinsic gifts and qualities that you have and her penance for this is that she will never be loved as you shall be by your own children.
Finally you need to start fully trusting in yourself, because as long as your children know they are loved, and that your door will always be open no matter what, then I promise you they will feel blessed.
Emma’s incredibly wise and touching words have brought tears to my eyes- thank you Emma. It is so important we all, as parents, try and remember the positives of our own childhood where we can, and accept what might have been deemed as failings by our humanly flawed parents.
I do think all parents, mine included try to improve on the parenting of their own, and this baton of improvement is passed through the generations. My own kids will no doubt want to improve on aspects of mine and my husband’s parenting, with their own kids.
I think it is so important too, that by practising being confident with your parenting of your kids, recognising and embracing that you are doing a great job, and not being so hard on yourself, you allow you to grow in confidence.
I have found at times when I might beat myself up over a tough week (3 year old tantrums, work/life stress), that writing a diary of all the positives each day, ‘Getting the kids to school on time to baking biscuits on a Friday evening’ means that by the end of the week, however tough it’s been, I’ve got reminders of the so-easily forgotten good times to reflect on. A type of parenting gratitude diary if you like.
I hope things improve for you, you deserve to feel like the wonderful mother that you are.
Wellbeing Take Away Tip
Forgive, for yourself as much as the recipient. It is the easiest, most emotionally sound way to help you deal with the past and thus, be able to move on. Acknowledge it is natural as parents to reflect on our own childhood, the good, and the bad but to take note we are NOT our parents and have the power to parent how we wish. Keep a parenting gratitude diary and remind yourself of your strengths.
If you missed the first #Problemshared post on ‘How to switch off’, read it HERE.