How I Cope With My Mother: Lessons Learned From My Most Challenging Relationship

mom
Gawd, You'll never get anywhere singing like that!

Welcome back to my friend Razwana! Take it away amica mia

Sometimes whatever you do, it’s never enough.

You could sacrifice everything for your family, but it wouldn’t even scratch the surface.

The demands never end.

When my (clichéd) arranged marriage was over and I finally decided it was time to live my life, I announced to my mother that I was moving to London.  Now, the first generation British-Pakistani community do not care for women living independently.

A woman living alone means one of two things – you are either hiding something, or you’re a whore.  I fell into neither category. But the truth didn’t matter so much.  It’s what my actions appeared to say that was the problem.

So I had a decision to make.  Do I do what I want, or do what my mother wants?

I decided to use a bargaining chip so we both get what we want.

‘OK, mother. If I don’t move to London, I will move out of your house and live on my own, but in the same city.’

Only, that’s not quite what I did.

Yes, I moved to a house a couple of streets away so it was just close enough so that she wouldn’t feel too lonely. Was I right in doing that? No.

Then, I would go to my mum’s for dinner 5 nights a week. Was that enough? Never!

So I sacrificed seeing friends so I could spend time with my family. Did I gain acceptance? Nope.

Surely she could see I was trying to make her happy, right? Wrong again.

The worst part was that the circle of misery was going round and round – seeing her disappointed was making me unhappy, so the more I did, the worse it became.

It was decision time again.  This time I did make my move to London.  And it was magical.

I’d love to say that this was the catharsis that transformed our relationship, Hollywood movie style.

It wasn’t.

Over the years, I’ve accepted my position as the eternal-disappointment.  This is perhaps one of the most trying, emotional, destructive, difficult, time-consuming relationship, ever.  But it has evolved, and taught me a few things along the way….

When it’s all over, they are still family.

That blood that you share?  It’s there forever.  They are your family; the one’s you didn’t choose, but the ones that raised you. They fed you, they clothed you, and were there when you didn’t even know you existed.

This doesn’t mean you must now sacrifice everything for them, but it does mean respecting the fact that you have a history.  This may be the only thing that keeps you together, but if you were going to leave them, you would have done so by now, right?

What will other people think?

Yes, dearest, what WILL those people think?  Do you care?  Do your parents care?  The two perspectives are very different.

Know that when your parents ask what the neighbours will think of you, they are simply projecting their issues onto you.  THEY are scared of what the Iyer’s down the road will think of you.  They want the Khan’s next door to respect you because what you do reflects upon on them.

But it is not your problem.  It’s their problem.  Let them deal with their problem. 

Look forward like you’re looking back

Consider your life in 20, 30 or 40 years. How will it play out if you follow one path over another? Will you be happy because you did everything in your will to please your parents?

Didn’t think so.

And the irony is that when you get there and tell them you are unhappy, they will agree and question why you listened to them in the first place. 

And if you DO decide to succumb to the pressure and do what they want you to do, then accept the fact that you will spend the rest of your life living vicariously through TV shows.

Just make sure it’s worth it.

If you want them to be different, start with yourself

Do you want them to show that they love you?  Love them first.

Do you want them to show an interest in your life?  Show an interest in their life first.

As difficult as it sounds, give them what you want from them.  Don’t do so because you want them to reciprocate.  Do so because it’s what we do for the people we love.  And if you DO want them to reciprocate, try communicating it to them.

That’s right.

COMMUNICATE IT. 

Talk to them, in a language they understand (!) and explain exactly what it is you want.

The honesty will be worth it.

Over to you — what’s the most difficult relationship in your life? How do you cope?

*Razwana Wahid leads a movement for anyone who, professionally and personally, has felt jaded, exhausted and dull; for anyone who’s forgotten what it feels like to come ALIVE, do work you LOVE. She blogs at www.yourworkisyourlife.com

Photo credit John Barnabas Leith

29 Comments

  1. That was so very brave of you. I enjoyed reading your story very much, Razwana. It definitely takes courage.

    I have done a fair share of things on my part that are against the wishes of my parents. And all with good reason. I am sure that mine continues to feel that tinge of disappointment but at least, they have also come into a place of acceptance.

    I wish you much love and happiness!

  2. Acceptance is the best, Evelyn ! They don’t have to agree with what you do, but accepting you as you are is important.

    As long as you’re not hurting anyone, it’s all good, right?

  3. Thank you for posting this! I know it took a lot of courage – I can so relate to this and it is good to know that I am not alone. Realizing that I could meet every expectation known EVER and still cause disappointment was a big moment for me and helped me realize that I need to focus on pleasing myself rather than others. And you are right – acceptance is the only path, trying to change “them” and have “them” see another way only causes frustration. All I can do is change my behavior/reactions. Be well! Kaylin

    1. Kaylin! You read my mind! I love what you said about meeting every expectation and still be a disappointment. I think it’s because ‘they’ don’t erase the last and still judge on every.single.thing, rather than what’s happening today.

      And in truth, if they love you, they do come to (begrudgingly) accept it.

      1. Haha – I think begrudgingly is the perfect word to use! When I feel like I am going to explode with frustration and anger and that I am about to “give in” just to stop the struggle – I refocus on the importance of breaking the cycle for future generations. Thanks again! : )

  4. Thanks for writing this post Razwana, as a follow up to my post last week. I think a lot of kids, of all cultures, can relate.

    The only thing I would say is that as much of an ‘eternal disappointment’ you think you are, as you know, you’re not. lol Can’t imagine that has to be a thought we actually have reinforce in our cultures (you’re not a disappointment) but I think the constant feeling of having let everyone down is a very real feeling but very ‘unreal’ concept.

    You’ve done a lot, accomplished a lot and have many talents. You’re only receiving the marks or grades one or two people (parents) who design a report card based on whacky standards of our cultures.

    Thanks for your contribution and sharing how you cope 🙂

    1. You know that constant feeling of letting everyone down? It’s EXHAUSTING! And the relief when you just let it all go and try and look at it differently – liberating!

      It doesn’t make dealing with it easy all the time, but helps to just give yourself a break and not agree with what they say.

      Always a pleasure writing for your blog, V. Your community here rocks 🙂

  5. Meditation and prayer! That is how I cope with most difficult situations and definitely relationships 🙂 I try as much as I can to have gratitude for what the relationship is teaching me.

    1. That is showing SOME strength, Wendy. Focusing on what the relationship is teaching you, rather than simply reacting to it.

      Something for all of us to learn there !

  6. Thanks for this post, Razwana! You made some great points about complicated and rarely talked about (at least in my family) issues in the parent/child relationship. “Saving face” is huge in my family, but you rightly point out that it’s not my problem, it’s my parents.

    I have found that part of my parents’ disappointment stems from their worry, e.g. They keep harping on me that I don’t make enough money, but I know it’s because they want to make sure that I have enough to eat and won’t be homeless. That helps me be more patient with them (yet it still drives me crazy.)

    And so true about the golden rule—I find I get the best results when I apply it (after I’m bitten down on a towel and screamed in frustration, of course :))

    1. Jammie – totally right – they DO care – they just have the weirdest way of showing it. It comes down to culture, right?

      Western TV is full of mothers asking their kids how their day was and blubbering ‘I love yoouuuuu’ at any given moment. How many shows show this in the East? Hhmm…..correlation, anyone?

        1. For me, having good boundaries with my mom meant not leaving myself so emotionally vulnerable. I loved her and appreciated her without allowing her to manipulate me. I lived my life as I thought best without expecting her to approve of all my choices. In conversation, I stayed on “safe” topics as much as possible. I enjoyed her wonderful qualities without expecting her to be someone other than she was, or to change the things that I found more challenging. I just loved her the way she was, forgave her and myself, and let the rest go. Easy? NO! It took a long time. But the peace in my spirit was worth the effort. When she died, I felt like I had done my best, and I had no regrets. Does that help explain what I mean about boundaries?

          1. Yes, it absolutely does. Loving her for who she was – makes total sense! Give them what you want from them … thank you Galen !

  7. I think deep down parents just want their kids to be Happy. The problem arises when parents fail to see that their kids don’t necessarily find happiness in the same types of relationships, traditions etc that they themselves value. As a mom of a 13 and 8year old, I have to remind myself when I want to try to push them into some preconceived notion of “the right way” that we all have to find our own ways to be happy and I have to set them free to find theirs.

    1. It’s really great to see a parents’ perspective, Anu. I guess your children are at that age where they’ve started forming their own opinions and you can probably already see how they may choose a different path than the one you want from them?

      I think that’s the thing – pushing them into something is different to supporting them in what they choose (not everything, of course!). I often wonder how I would have behaved if my parents supported me, rather than disagreeing with everything I do.

  8. I had a totally different relationship with my mother when I was younger. I feared her and revered her at the same time. It was when I grew up when I started appreciating her for everything she did/does.

    We have different cultures, in the US, when the person reaches 18, he’s expected to move out and start a life. In my country there’s a growing trend to stay with the family for comfort and ease of responsibility.

    When I decided to do the missions at 20, my mom did oppose my decision and later conceded because she saw me well. However, when everything did not go smoothly, she was still the one who ‘saved’ me.

    I agree with what you wrote…no matter what, ‘When it’s all over, they are still family.’ And I am grateful that I have a family to go back to…

    “What will other people think?” That’s the one thing I had freedom of when I came back home. What others think is up to them. What matters is that God knows the truth and my mom is a witness.

    ‘The most difficult relationship?’ ~ With siblings, perhaps, more than with my parents or with any other people. Coping sounds like a very ‘tiring’ word. I used to bicker a lot but I’ve learned to ‘let go’ of things I couldn’t handle. And in this case, ‘silence’ doesn’t mean I agree on what they do… but just to let my mom have her peace, I ‘let go.’

    Than you for sharing your experiences. It’s great to know you.Lots of love!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Melissa. I like the idea of silence and letting go. In my experience, I know when the time is right to speak and when to not!

      I hear you about your mum ‘saving’ you when you needed it – my mum did the same for me. Which is why I think this relationship with family has to be cherished, even if it is difficult. It’s also why some friends have now become family, because they saved me, too!

  9. Hi Razwana,

    For women, because of traditions and the society we live in, we are pressured to live a certain way to please our parents. I remember growing up with three brothers, and although I was treated the same, maybe even spoiled by my father, there was always an underlying expectation that was different for me than for my brothers. I find this much more often with women.

    My mother worked as a nurse during part of my childhood, but I know deep down she was frustrated. There was another calling for her, that she never had the opportunity to pursue. I was not able to share my life with my mom, as she could not help herself from giving advice. We loved each other and saw each other frequently, but I would watch what I would say around her. The mother/daughter relationship can often be a complicated one. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. It can be a bit of a catch 22 with women – they want something more for themselves, but will not wholeheartedly support their daughters for wanting it, and reinforcing social pressures.

      Acceptance is a big part of it, isn’t it? Just accepting that certain parts of our lives cannot be shared. That’s tough for me, who wants to share a lot !!!

  10. As a kid, I always saw adults as superheroes. Now that I am an adult myself I find that I need to remind myself that the people whom I have challenging relationships with are not perfect or superheroes, they make mistakes like me and are often times reacting to past hurtful events that have little to do with me. I try to focus on this as well as not reacting and letting go of the need to be right with these people, I find this has helped our relationship. In addition, I recognize that this is difficult but I think a key role of a parent should be to allow your adult child to launch and lead independent adult lives.

    1. Kaylin – you’ve got it – they react given their experience, which is pretty much what we all do!

      Do you have children?

      I deliberately didn’t comment on how parents should parent because I am not one so my opinions don’t qualify! But I do know what it’s like to be someone’s child, so that part works!

      1. Razwana: I do not have children. : ) For this very reason I spent many many years qualifying my feelings and reactions and, as a result, I tolerated and enabled a lot of behavior that caused me years of guilt and struggle. After a lot of thought and self work, I finally came to the conclusion that it is okay to have judgements (on parenting) regardless of not being technically qualified to do so – especially if doing so enables me to lead a better, happier and healthier life. With that said, I do not take what I commented earlier lightly. : ) I have observed with so many people that when a parent does not empower or enable (i.e. guilts, shames, manipulates, controls etc…) an adult child to lead their own lives it can be so harmful.

  11. I try and distant myself from those who bring me down or who are negative. Luckily no such people are in my family though a few are at my work. I think it’s important when interacting with negative or critical people to maintain a positive attitude. Great thoughts!

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