It's Momplicated: 5 Tools for Fixing a Broken Mother-Daughter Relationship
Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay are co-authors of the new book It's Momplicated, which released September 5, 2018 from Tyndale.
“Mom, you’ve got to be kidding! You remember everyone in the family but me and my kids. I’m sorry it bothers me, but it does. It hurts my kids. They can’t understand why Grandma is so connected to their cousins and not to them. Help me understand you!”
The conversation between Emily and her mother quickly became heated after her mother announced that she couldn’t stop by because she had to go to her other daughter’s . . . again. This wouldn’t have mattered, but it was the third time this week her mom had gone to Emily’s sister’s house, while she had not visited Emily’s family for more than a month. Anger grew in Emily as she thought about this imbalance, yet she still longed to heal things and be closer to her mom.
Maybe you have a similar rift between you and your mom. Sadly, when things go downhill with our mothers, it is painful and hard to sort out. Perhaps the following tools can help you repair your relationship.
Identify the issue
Is it hurt and unforgiveness over a specific incident? Or is it a deeper hurt that results from a longstanding pattern of criticism, control, abuse, or neglect? Be open to identifying broader themes in your relationship. Is Mom just this way with you, or is it a pattern of relationships in your family? What is Mom’s part in this, and what is yours? Have you said or done hurtful things? Are you too quick to take offense? Are you taking the blame for things that really are your mom’s responsibility? Sometimes just defining the problem is the first step toward solving it.
Initiate a healing conversation
As hard as it is to get real in the middle of hurt feelings, there is no healing without honestly talking things through. Don’t wait for someone else to make this happen—ask your mom if you can get together. Come prepared to share your heart with her. Do not start with blame and finger-pointing, but share your own experience and emotions. Ask her if there is a reason she treats you the way she does. Then be open to her answers. Listen to her. Refuse to defend or argue. You might find that her relationship with you has been impacted by her own story and her own pain. In your listening, be mindful that God is with you both, and pray for healing, compassion, and understanding.
Extend grace and forgiveness
It would be nice if every conversation intended for healing was serene and beautiful, but that is not the case. You are opening yourself up to hear things you might not want to hear. You may endure a little more hurt because of the conversation, but once things are out, ask God to help you see the story through your mother’s perspective. She is a person. All people deserve love, grace, and forgiveness, but only through Christ are we able to extend this once we’ve been offended.
Set appropriate boundaries
Healthy boundaries are essential to a loving adult relationship. If your mother tries to tell you how to think, what to feel, or what to do, she is overstepping your boundaries. If she does overstep, it is important that you kindly, firmly, and clearly set a boundary to prevent further hurt in your relationship. A boundary may simply be a “No,” or it may be a statement such as “Mom, please do not give my children candy.” Sometimes it may be an action such as not allowing her to have a key to your home. Healthy, clear expectations and boundaries will go a long way toward preventing arguments, resentment, and broken relationships.
Accept the things you cannot change
Many women have the expectation that mothers are supposed to be a never-ending fountain of love, encouragement, and support. Yet most of our mothers have let us down in some way. Give your mother the grace you would give a friend. Allow her to be human. Despite her conversations with her mother, Emily’s mother didn’t change, which then presented Emily with a choice: She could remain hurt and bitter, cutting off the relationship, or she could appreciate the time she did have with her mom and look to God to help her stay focused on the good they did have.
Debbie Alsdorf for the past twenty-five years, through her speaking and writing, Debbie Alsdorf's mission has been to help women live a better story by leading them to the heart of God's love and the truth of his Word. Debbie is a biblical lay counselor, a Christian life coach, and the founder of Design4Living Ministries. She and her husband, Ray, have raised a blended family of four adult children. Today Debbie's favorite role is being a grandma to ten little ones.
Joan Edwards Kay is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the East Bay of San Francisco and has been an adjunct professor at Western Seminary. She received her bachelor's degree from Vassar College and her master's degree from Western Seminary. She is happily married with two adult daughters, four stepdaughters, and five grandchildren.