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8 Reasons Why Your Relationship with Your Mom Is So Complicated

  • Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay
8 Reasons Why Your Relationship with Your Mom Is So Complicated

When you hear the word mother, what happens? Do you get a rush of love or a flare of anger? A pleasant memory or a painful flashback? Whatever your reaction, we can affirm that the mother-daughter relationship is momplicated—one of the most complex, yet sacred, bonds between two people. It is complicated, rich, beautiful, and sometimes painful. And yet it can be difficult to fully understand why they are that way. Why can’t we readily recognize the effects and identify what needs to be fixed? What might be preventing us from seeing clearly? Here are eight reasons why the effects of this important relationship might be obscured.

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1. Things are good between my mother and me at the moment:

1. Things are good between my mother and me at the moment:

One of the top reasons you may not see your past clearly is if your current relationship with your mother is good. Remember that your relationship with your mother has been lifelong. It is likely that your mother has changed since you were a child.

2. We are grateful for all the ways our mothers have gifted us:

The damage or hurt caused by our mothers is often obscured because of the many ways they have blessed and gifted us. Your mother may have hurt you, yet she gave you life. At times she may be your biggest critic; at others she may be your biggest fan. At times she may be cold and angry; at others she may be warm and nurturing. Mothers are complex human beings with histories, trauma, fears, and hopes. And mothers relate to their daughters out of all that complexity.

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3. We never stop longing for our mothers’ love:

3. We never stop longing for our mothers’ love:

Young children depend on their mothers for their very survival. They need their mothers to meet their core needs, to feed them, and to keep them safe. The thought of being without Mother is intolerable. A child cannot bear to question the goodness or stability of someone she needs so profoundly. Rather than facing the terrifying and chaotic possibility that her mother might be flawed, a daughter blames herself and assumes she is flawed or has done something wrong. The God-given impulse to go to our mothers for love and comfort compels adult women to keep at it. They continue to revisit that maternal well even when it is dry, hoping that this time things will be different.

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4. We have compassion for the difficulties our mothers endured:

4. We have compassion for the difficulties our mothers endured:

When we realize our mothers faced difficulties, we may think it insensitive to acknowledge our wounds. However, the fact that your mother faced personal trials does not remove the reality that your needs were not met. The goal is to be able to hold compassion for Mom, while still telling the truth about times you were hurt or affected negatively. We must honestly face reality and hold both truths at the same time—our mothers need compassion, and our hurts need acknowledgment so they can be healed.

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5. Some wounds do not seem like wounds:

5. Some wounds do not seem like wounds:

Some patterns that result from our relationships with our mothers impair us, but they don’t seem like wounds. A wound is defined as “damage, hurt, or injury.” If a daughter has been brought up with the belief that she is better than everyone else or entitled to special treatment, she may not feel hurt or injured, but she has still been damaged. A mind-set of pride, superiority, or entitlement will get in the way of good relationships with other people and God. It will, at some point, bring her pain. It can be hard to see that this, too, is a kind of wound.

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6. Some wounds come from too much “love” or too much involvement:

6. Some wounds come from too much “love” or too much involvement:

It is counterintuitive to think of wounding that is caused by too much attention from one’s mother, yet overinvolvement and doing too much for a daughter can harm her just as neglect can.

7.  We can’t remember our early years:

Most of us have spotty memories of our childhoods. Childhood amnesia—the loss of most early memories by the time we are seven—is a real phenomenon. Scientists are not sure why it occurs, but they theorize it has to do with how the brain is growing and changing. Even after age seven, memories tend to fade unless they are connected to deep emotions or have been revisited through photographs or family storytelling.

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8. We have a natural denial system:

8. We have a natural denial system:

We don’t want to think about painful things. Denial is the protective mechanism that allows us to tolerate the intolerable. When experiences or feelings are so difficult that we feel as if we won’t survive them, we seal them up and shut them off from our consciousness. In cases of extreme abuse, it is a blessing for children to be able to bury their memories. Sometimes God brings the recollections back when the child is old enough to handle them. Sometimes they never emerge, which may be best overall. It’s similar to a doctor deciding to leave a bullet in someone’s body rather than attempting risky surgery. However, God wants truth to illuminate our inward parts. In most cases, it is worth the pain of facing the things we have hidden from ourselves so we can bring them to God for healing and be free of their effects. Traumatic experiences can be stored in our subconscious minds, but God is powerful and can bring them to light and heal them in his time. If you have a history of serious abuse or neglect, pray that God would guide your healing. Pray that he would reveal only the memories you are ready for. Trust him on this. He is the best counselor, and his timing is perfect.

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Be Open Enough to Look To the Past

Be Open Enough to Look To the Past

Some women are very aware that their early relationships shaped them, while others are in denial about the way the messages of their past impact them today. And though we are not blaming our “stuff” on our mothers or on our pasts, it does serve us well to be open enough to look to the past, determining patterns of behavior and attitude that may have been formed there. 

The goal is to be able to move beyond our pasts into the future that God has designed for us. He is writing our stories. His signature is on your life and ours. It can be difficult to see how we have been hurt. But when we are willing to acknowledge what’s happened and how it has affected us, God promises to help us achieve emotional healing.

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About the Authors

About the Authors

Taken from It’s Momplicated by Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay. Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

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.
 
Photo Courtesy: Unsplash/Ashley Bean