My mom spent 9 years at home full-time with my sister and I. We have photos of mommy-and-me play groups, swimming lessons, bedtime cuddles, birthday parties and lots of other happy moments. However, after my parents separated, my sister and I lived with my dad, but still got to visit my mom one weekend a month during the year, and longer times over the summer.
During all of these years, my mom would phone us, send us cards and letters, and made sure to end every visit with a hug, and every phone call or note with an, “I love you.” I had times while growing up when I wished that I could see her more, but I am thankful for the times we had together, and that my mom always pursued a relationship with me. Even now, we live on the other side of the country from each other, but we are friends, and I love her.
I can see even more now, being a mom myself, how much she must have done for us, loved us, sacrificed for us all of those early years. These past six years that I have been a parent, I am even more thankful for the gift of my mom (and my dad) in my life.
However, I get that mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. I get that, like any relationship, it takes work. It takes time, intention and lots of understanding.
Whatever your mother-daughter story is, I hope that these suggestions may help in growing and strengthening your relationship! It’s a REALLY important one! And for anyone struggling with the loss of a mother, heartache from your relationship with your mother, grief, loneliness, anger or strife in your relationship with your mom...please know that my heart is with you and I am praying for you. You are amazing and beautiful and brave and loved.
Here are a few things that my mom and I have done, that I have personally seen and felt the benefit from. I hope that you will too!
1. Ask to hear stories
The time my mom and I spent together in my early years, I don’t really remember. I was only 5 when my parents separated. But those moments still matter!
As kids, my sister and I loved to look through old photo albums or our baby books when we went to visit my mom. Since growing older, I still love to hear her share memories about time we spent together when I was little. It helps to put those missing pieces back into place. It helps to seal up places in my heart that were lost to my memory, but never lost to her. Those stories connect us. They connect our past and strengthen the bridge to our future.
I also love to hear stories about my MOM! As I grow to know her and her story more, it also helps me to feel closer to her. I can understand and even feel a compassion and pride for the girl and young woman she was, the challenges she faced and overcame, and who she was (and is) as a person, even more than just as my mom.
For you, maybe ask your mom to share some stories about when you were younger. You may get some funny or embarrassing ones, and you may get some heart-warming and really meaningful ones. Also, try asking your mom about HER. Maybe she will be open to share about what high school was like “waaay back then” (Haha), who her first crush was, what she dreamed of being when she grew up. Maybe she will want to share something else or maybe she will need some time to think about it. But don’t be afraid to ask and let her know you’d like to know her more. And photos are always a great help if she's got some to dig out!
2. Understand each other’s Love Languages
Okay, this is a pretty fun one! Have you heard of “The Five Love Languages”? It’s a book and a website by Gary Chapman. The idea is that everyone understands (receives) and “speaks” (gives) expressions of love in different ways, but that they can basically boiled down to five key areas, or “languages”. They are: Words of affirmation, Time, Gifts, Acts of Service and Touch.
A key to building any relationship is understanding our OWN love language (how we perceive expressions of love most, and how we show love to others) but also understanding OTHERS’ love languages…and then learning to “speak” in a way that the other person can understand best! This was huge for me, not just with my mom, but with my husband, co-workers, friends and even as my daughter grows up.
For example, imagine you are always buying gifts for someone, because that is your Love Language, but they don’t really respond a whole lot, or seem very thankful or excited. You will feel cut down, unappreciated, and maybe interpret that they don’t care. But that’s not true at all! It’s not a problem with love, but with understanding the other person’s Love Language.
With our moms, let’s put time into understanding how SHE “speaks” or tries to show love to us, and ask ourselves if we are being receptive to that. AND then take a look at how we are showing love to her. Maybe she is an “Acts of Service” person, and it would be SUPER meaningful if you helped her do some more chores around the house. Or maybe she is a “Touch” and needs a big ol’ hug every now and then! Let’s make time and effort to build up our moms, and fill their love tanks, too! We ALL need that.
Plus, understanding our own language, and being able to share that with others can be super helpful too! Then you can both work at making effort to intentionally speak and show love in a way that means the most for each of you.
Why not take this test together, and see if you can have a meaningful talk about how you can better show love to each other? www.5lovelanguages.com/profile
3. Find a common interest and have fun!
Another fun one! I know sometimes parents have to be the “bad guy”. They need to set boundaries and rules for us, say “No” every now and then...but that is part of their job to take care of us! However, it’s important to schedule (like, actually BOOK a date in each of your calendars) some fun together!
Think: What is something that you BOTH like to do? Going to the movies, getting a fun treat to eat, going for a walk, painting your nails, baking something at home...Talk to your mom about having a “girls fun date”, and brainstorm some ideas together!
Even if you’ve been feeling stress or misunderstanding in your relationship lately, that is all the MORE reason to make sure to connect by doing something fun and relieving some of the tension. Sometimes we get stuck in a problem and need to remember that our mom’s still have our backs, and that they really do want the best for us. It’s okay to come back to the serious stuff later.
4. Serve each other in times of need and stress
Speaking of times of stress, I think it’s important that we remember that our parents are humans, too. They have weaknesses, brokenness, fears. They get tired and sick sometimes. They have pressure at work or at home, or in their other relationships. We need to give our parents a little (or a lot) of grace, the same that we would want from them.
If you sense that your mom is stressed or going through a hard time, that is not the time to slam your door at her and shut her out. Instead, even as girls, WE can be the example, and we can choose to show love and understanding. Try reaching out and asking her if you can help with something practical around the house, ask if she needs a hug, or if you can pray for her. Imagine how much that could mean to her! Even just saying, “I love you”, or saying thank you for all that she does and is to you could be HUGE. (Note to self and to my mom: I need to do this more.)
On the flip side, if YOU are going through something stressful or difficult, that is ALSO not the time to slam the door and shut her out. Reach out to her and actually TALK about what’s going on. Ask her for help or to sit down and talk it through (I tell my daughter, “Use your words…”) when you need something. I know this is tough. I KNOW. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by our emotions, and just want to shut down and cry. BUT – if we are brave enough to let our moms in, it can actually be SUPER helpful, and can release a huge amount of weight, stress or shame from our shoulders.
Bonus tip! If you have something that is bothering you, something really personal or difficult, and you’re not sure how to get it out, try WRITING IT OUT! I’m better at communicating this way, and my mom and I have sent letters, texts and emails sometimes to share things that we hadn’t yet talked about in person, and that’s okay! Just getting the words out and starting somewhere is all that matters. My mom and I even had a journal that we wrote in and sent it back and forth to each other for a while. Maybe try starting a journal with your mom if she’s open to try it out!
Remember that your mom can’t fully help you, encourage you, or give you what you need if you don’t ask for it. Be brave. Be open. Be vulnerable. And let your mom into your stress and troubles. (I wish I would have done more of that.)
5. Seek peace and forgiveness
We ALL need forgiveness. And it is SUCH a powerful offering in any relationship! It is our gift in Christ to have HIS forgiveness, and to have the power to turn that around and to give forgiveness to others. It’s not easy, but it is ALWAYS possible.
If you and your mom have walked through, or are walking through, some tough stuff... make sure that you are not hiding away or holding on to bitter resentment. Take time to talk it through, if she is willing. Pray and cry out to God when you need it. Seek counsel from other trusted adults to help guide you through difficult conversations that need to take place. AND – if you need to ask for forgiveness from your mom to help to clear the tension, be open and humble enough to ask and accept it from her.
Your relationship with your mom is like none other (she literally pushed you OUT of her body!). You are connected, always, and it’s WORTH the effort to build or repair this relationship.
Before we wrap up, I want to talk to the girls who have a strained or distant relationship with their mom. Girls who have LONGED for their moms to notice or make effort to pursue them. The Bible says, “as much as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone”. Although there is ALWAYS hope, the hard truth is that some people have a really hard time admitting fault and being willing to change. For some of you, I know that your hearts feel broken because of this or the rejection you have faced or are still facing. My heart, and God’s heart, feels broken for you.
The truth is that we can only do so much, and we can only go so far to make peace with others. The other person needs to do their part. We can’t force someone into a close relationship, but we CAN forgive them for the lack of it – even if they never ask for it.
Whatever your relationship with your mom is like now, or however you wish it could be, make sure to do what YOU can to seek peace and offer forgiveness. She needs it. You need it. I need it. But, remember also that you are NOT responsible for how the other person responds. If you try some of these things and your mom doesn’t respond well, that is NOT a reflection of how AMAZING and VALUABLE you are.
Unfortunately, some parents have brokenness so deep that it spills onto their children. But that is NOT your fault. And that does NOT define your future as an amazing woman of God, and even one day perhaps as a mom yourself! (It’s amazing!!)
It will take some work and some time, and some help from other people and other healthy life-giving relationships to be able to walk through and fully accept this. But I want you to know that no matter WHAT your relationship with your mom looks like, or what it will be like in the future, YOU are still WANTED, CHERISHED, CHOSEN by God. You are WONDERFULLY MADE and you have a FAMILY in Christ that will ALWAYS be cheering you on!
So, girls, go for a deeper, more honest, and more fun relationship with your mom. Odds are, she is pretty awesome! And I just KNOW that you are too.