How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Mom

Photo: Getty Images.
This Sunday is Mother's Day, and although it's meant to be a day to celebrate your bond with your mother, the day might not feel all gifts and greeting cards. Holidays like this often bring out some introspective thoughts about the way you are with your mother, including some things about your relationship that you'd like to change.
Mother-child relationships are incredibly complex, and constantly evolving, especially throughout adulthood. "It's always a struggle to create autonomy," says Esther Boykin, LMFT, a relationship therapist. "You want to be independent, and in charge of your life — and I think most of us also want to feel cared for by our moms." Learning how to navigate that transition in a way where you show love, care, and respect, but also recognize that the power dynamic has changed, can be difficult.
Going into Mother's Day, it's important to have compassion for your mom, and for your relationship, no matter what stage it's in. "We have to learn how to accept the fact that our mother is a flawed woman just like we are," Boykin says. "She’s doing the best she knows how to do." That doesn't mean you have to accept behavior that you'd like to change, it just means you have to recognize that you're both likely coming from a place of love. Given that, here are Boykin's tips for improving your relationship with your mom or the maternal figure in your life:

Talk to your someone.

If you have siblings, talking to them about your relationship can often be a smart starting point, because they're intimately part of the family dynamic, too, Boykin says. "They can see certain things," she adds. Or, if you're an only child, a family friend who has known you for a while can be a great sounding board for discussing mother-daughter issues, she says. A therapist, of course, is another person who may be able to provide insight into the relationship. These conversations should be deeper than just venting: "Practicing a conversation with somebody else, can help you be really clear and more intentional about how you approach your mom," she says.

Identify toxic patterns.

We get so familiar with certain patterns of behavior that it becomes difficult to distinguish what's healthy and what's toxic, Boykin says. "The core thing to think about, which is always true in any relationship, is do you feel worse about yourself when you’ve had interactions?" she says. If you notice you feel the need to drink around your mom, tend to pick a fight with people before or after spending time with your mom, or feel viscerally afraid of your mom, those are some clear signs that something fundamental about the relationship needs to change.

Have difficult conversations.

Going into any challenging conversation with your mom, it's important to have clarity about what you want, need, and are willing to give, Boykin says. "With mothers, it's very easy to slip into a pattern," she says. For example, if you grew up always rebelling against what your mom wanted for you, then you might be inclined to get rigid when your mom disagrees with you as an adult. Or, your instinct might be to say whatever you know will make your mom happy. Be mindful of these roles, and hold your ground.

Let yourself mourn a broken relationship.

Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, we all have an ideal scenario of what our relationship with our mom would look like now that we’re adults, Boykin says. And if you don't have the idealized Lorelei-and-Rory bond that you imagined, "you have to give yourself space to grieve the fact that you may never have that with the mother that you were born to or given," she says. The next step would be figuring out where you can get those needs met by other adult women who you admire and could serve as surrogate mother-figures. Instead, focus on cultivating those relationships and developing a "tribe of women," who build you up, she says.

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series