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Making Peace with the One Woman Who can Push Your Buttons, Make You Cry, and Drive You Crazy
By Denise McGregor
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 1999 Denise McGregor
All rights reserved.
The One Woman Who Can Push Your Buttons, Make You Cry, and Drive You Crazy
Our mothers ought to know how to push our buttons — they were the ones who installed them. — LynEllen
There is nothing like a visit from your mother to push your buttons. To say the least, it's an endurance test dodging the bullets of guilt, criticism, and control.
At first you look forward to seeing her. You fool yourself into believing this time things will be different, and she will somehow mysteriously become the mother you always wanted. You tell yourself you really have missed her and secretly hope to find your fantasy mother, a nineties version of June Cleaver, waiting by the curbside.
Then reality hits you like a cold shower when you pick her up at the airport and all she can talk about is how late you are and how long you made her wait with her luggage. She reminds you she's "an old woman now," and you shouldn't make her suffer in the heat and humidity. Shame on you for almost killing your mother.
"Be careful with that bag," she scolds, "I have all my cosmetics in there," as if you've never traveled yourself and schlepped your cosmetics anywhere. Then she gives you the look, that stare that only she can do, that makes you feel eight years old again, and tells you, "You look pretty good for a middle-aged woman. Is that a new hair color you're trying?" All this before you've even loaded her luggage into the car.
If you manage to get calmly in the driver's side and not look in the rearview mirror at your hair, you have more strength than most of us. But wait, this is just the beginning.
She no sooner steps foot in the door when she comments, "Your house looks good for a change." Ok, so you're not Martha Stewart and have never claimed to be. What does she mean by that comment? you wonder. You shake it off and tell yourself it doesn't matter, when your two-year-old daughter comes screaming stark naked from the bathroom followed by the dog, who has somehow managed to jump in the bath with her. "You better get control of that girl," she warns you. "Today it's rebellion in the bathtub — tomorrow it's wheelies on the front lawn." You think, Thanks, Mom, for sharing, and set off in search of the baby-sitter you thought you hired so you could calmly pick up your mother and avoid this chaos.
You check your messages only to find that your husband, bless his heart, has decided to take a "boys' night out" in honor of your mother's first night in town, so you and your mother can have "quality time" together, a lame excuse if ever there was one. At this point, you pour yourself a glass of wine, open a bag of party mix, and begin munching, just as the baby-sitter comes into the kitchen. You decide to forget the bath episode and beg mercy for extra hours so you don't have to be alone with your mother. You take another sip of wine, glance over at the calendar, and think, Only six more days until she leaves.
You don't have any relief from this ongoing drama until that evening, when you see your mother cuddling with your daughter, stroking her hair, reading her a bedtime story, and singing her the same lullaby she sang you. It's the first time all day you took a good look at her as a woman, as a grandmother, and saw her as someone other than the one person who can wreak havoc with your life. You begin to cry, as you understand that there's more to this mother-daughter stuff than you ever realized. If you had stayed in the kitchen and polished off that second piece of cheesecake, you just might have missed it.
You well up with all sorts of mushy feelings and realize that you can't blame this on the wine — you're genuinely having one of those moments, those epiphanies that cut through the drama and remind you there is something redeeming about your mother after all. "Gosh, I love this woman," you think. "Why can't it be like this all the time?"
So you decide to try something bold, to curl up on the couch and listen to your mother, to exchange stories like girlfriends and see where that leads, to surrender and enjoy her no matter what she says, no matter how scary it seems. Maybe you'll even try this without your hand in the M&M jar.
Even if this bold new move doesn't immediately get you the relationship you want, it is a step in the right direction. It is seizing the fleeting moment of intimacy you saw your mother and daughter sharing, and making it your own, by sharing your own special moment with your mother.
When it comes to a relationship with our mothers, we may find ourselves choking on the drama, but wanting so much more. We cannot force our own personal epiphanies, but rather must remain open to them happening along the way. And when they do happen, we can take full advantage of the openings they create to get us closer to the relationship we want.
We would like our mothers to have the magical insight first, so they would somehow make our job as daughters easier. But chances are that won't happen. If we are the ones with the insight, then we must do the changing by attuning ourselves to that insight and setting our course from there. When we create the place for the relationship we've always wanted, our own miracles can drop in.
What Is Mama Drama?
Can your mother make you feel guilty in thirty seconds or less?
Do you feel that whatever you say or do, you're still not good enough for her?
Are you coping with your mother by feeding your face or dieting with a vengeance to avoid looking like her?
Are you putting your life on hold to live your mother's dreams for you instead of your own?
Do you act like a grown-up in the real world but become eight years old around your mother?
Are you letting your mother interfere in your marriage?
Are you and your mother sounding just like your mother and grandmother did when they fought?
Are you passing on the same sense of drama to your children?
Are you caught in the dilemma of fearing your mother's death but not knowing what to say to her in the meantime?
Does your mother push your buttons so much that it's hard to find anything positive about her?
If you can answer yes to one or more questions, you are experiencing mama drama, the ongoing conflict with your mother that never seems to go away and is often perpetuated from generation to generation.
Mama drama has an element of addiction to it: you may find yourself attracting both women and men in your life that can give you the same "juice" your mother did. Mama drama has an element of isolation to it: you may somehow feel alone in your conflict, convincing yourself that your mother is worse than all the rest. Mama drama has an element of pervasiveness to it: it can spread to all your relationships, to your spouse, your children, your father, even your coworkers and friends. Mama drama has an element of resentment in it: you may resent others who have good relationships with their mothers and appear to be living their lives more calmly. Mama drama has an element of hopelessness in it: you may feel drained and trapped in a downward spiral, with no hope of creating the relationship you want.
Ironically, there is an overwhelming sense among us that this is simply what mothers and daughters do. So we find ourselves stuck in conflict not only with our own mothers but also with the negative patterns perpetuated by our grandmothers and all the mothers in our family tree. And until we realize this and take steps to live outside the drama, we recreate mama drama with our own daughters, living out life scripts that were written long before their births.
* * *
Nike picked up on this generational dysfunction in one of their ad campaigns:
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE YOUR MOTHER unless she is who you want to be. You do not have to be your mother's mother, or your mother's mother's mother, or even your grandmother's mother on your father's side. You may inherit their chins or their hips or their eyes, but you are not destined to become the women who came before you, you are not destined to live their lives. So if you inherit something, inherit their strength. If you inherit something, inherit their resilience. Because the only person you are destined to become is the person YOU DECIDE to be.
The message in the ad underscores the importance of understanding just what it is that we want to inherit from our mothers and grandmothers before us — the drama or the strength?
I'm part of the Baby Boomer generation and we Boomer daughters have grown accustomed to bucking our mothers. They were, after all, part of the Establishment. But we have become painfully aware that unless we alter our own paths, we will pass on the same legacy to our daughters, and since we like to think we've done everything better than the generations before us, that simply is not acceptable. We didn't fight for liberation only to enslave our daughters further. It's time we wake up and seize the destiny Nike refers to and create the relationship we've always wanted.
Stuck in Dead-End Solutions
I was once in a seminar with Tony Robbins when he defined insanity as "doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results." That's exactly what happens to us when we keep on trying the same old tired tactics with our mothers, naïvely hoping for different results. We may stay on the phone with her for hours, thinking that she will surprise us and magically change. But then she hooks us with one comment and we're back in high drama, fighting with her again.
So instead we may turn to our favorite radio talk-show psychologist and ask for some tough advice about how to cope with our mother. That tact prompts us to invite her to lunch and talk lots of psychobabble to her, to which she replies, "I never tried to change my parents, and you're not going to change me." How do we argue with that?
Next we try telling our mother what we don't want in the relationship, only to to get more of what we don't want. In desperation we try something that worked for one of our girlfriends only to find out that it flops miserably with our own mother. Before long we are more frustrated than ever that our efforts aren't moving us in the direction of the relationship we truly want. That's when it dawns on us that we must stop trying the same dead-end solutions and find some new options.
We realize we can't get stuck on one right answer or what might have worked for some other woman. Instead, we must focus on the relationship we want with our mother and build it in small steps, while remaining open to those experiences that drop in. They may indeed be miracles as some of us have experienced them, but they may also seem more like small blessings. They may come to us through another person or a special passage of words that speaks just to us. They may come to us as a feeling or action led by our intuition, or in some other form altogether. If we stay committed to the belief that we can have what we want, we will find our own best solutions.
One woman found peace in interviewing her mother for a class assignment. She had to go to great lengths to track her mother down, as they had been estranged from one another for years. Yet this simple, nonthreatening interview was the basis for her feeling true compassion for her mother and creating a new relationship with her.
Sitting with the Question, "What Kind of Relationship Do I Want with My Mother?"
The more we try to force a solution, the more it may escape us. In martial-arts training, we learn a concept called sitting with the question. It means: Instead of rushing in with the mind to find a solution, we ponder the question and allow multiple solutions to come to us.
Certain questions can take us down a dead-end path. If we are stuck wondering, "Why can't my mother change?" or "Why can't my mother love me?" we may never find our way out, because the focus is on her, not on us and what we want. At this point, we have to realize that we can't change our mothers and must stop trying to fix them.
That is the problem with some forms of therapy that keep us stuck replaying the past and analyzing our mothers through psychological classifications. How does this really help us with the day-to-day relationship with our mothers? History is incorrectable — we can only deal with the here and now. Therapy has its place, but we can spend a lifetime and thousands of dollars trying to find closure on the past with our mothers, only to discover it would have been more productive to create what we want now one step at a time. One of my friends put it this way: "I started to go to a therapist — it was expensive, and I didn't want to commit the money, because I thought I'd be marinating in the problems and nothing would get any better." Most of us have marinated in the problems long enough. It's time we ask the right questions that will lead us to the solutions that work for us.
What are the right questions? The ones that get us what we want. We can't hit a target until we know what the target is. So if we sit with the question "What kind of relationship do I want with my mother?" our subconscious will begin to reveal insights and solutions to us. If we will allow it, those solutions will come to us like beautiful shells tumbling and dancing in waves of unconditional love until one day, we are finally ready to let go, to stop blaming our mothers for ruining our lives, and create something better for ourselves and our children.
If we begin with this end in mind, that we want to create the relationship we've always wanted and the peace that comes with it, the right solutions will present themselves to us. It may be as simple as a Hallmark card that opens up the floodgates of forgiveness. It may be staring back at us in the form of our own daughter's eyes.
Creating the relationship we want with our mothers is one of the most important rites of passage into full womanhood, right up there with giving birth to our own children. We will never be all we can be until we cross the threshold of fear and face who we are in relationship to these incredible women who have had such lasting input on our destiny.
In this regard, we are our own gatekeepers, the ones who hold the keys to our destiny. Will we hold back, stay outside the gate, and fearfully wait to confront our relationship? Or will we boldly step through? The choice is ours.
It's our journey, one that only we can take. Once we pass through and reach the other side, we may wonder why we waited so long. It doesn't matter if you're a teenager hating life with your mother or if you're a woman who's lived your whole life in your mother's shadow — the relationship you want is already there waiting for you. You just need to come forward and claim it.
There is plenty of "how to" in this book, and yet what I sincerely hope is that my suggestions for a better mother-daughter relationship will guide and inspire you to find your own soulful solutions, solutions born of joy and pain that make sense for you, solutions that truly work, solutions that are consistent with who you are.
Mama Drama Guides You in Creating Your Own Soulful Solutions
Healing mama drama is different for every woman. The solution doesn't come in the busy hectic lives you may lead, but in the quiet moments. In the words you leave unspoken. In the flashes of true compassion for this woman you call Mother, Mom, or Mama. In the boldness of letting go. In the shared ritual of a lullaby or a bedtime story or the silence of sitting at your mother's bedside and facing her death.
To guide you in creating your own soulful solutions, Mama Drama provides several approaches: "Try This" exercises, real-life scenarios and suggestions for handling your mother, Mama Drama Minutes, confessions from your author that give insight into the drama and the peace, interviews of women sharing their direct experience of resolving mama drama, techniques from hypnotherapy, and principles from the martial art aikido.
Excerpted from Mama Drama by Denise McGregor. Copyright © 1999 Denise McGregor. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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