How to build a healthy relationship this Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day can feel somewhat fraudulent if you don’t have the most perfect relationship with your mum. As I peruse the supermarket aisles around Mother’s Day, it’s abundantly clear the market is aimed at faultless parent-child duos.
A lot of adult parent-child relationships can have clashes, including my own. During our 25 years together, my mum and I have had holidays ruined by constant bickering. Tears on Christmas day as we open our stockings. And Easter Sundays spent in isolation from one another. It’s a far throw from the picture-perfect family scenario served up to us – but it’s reality for many people.
However, I think we’ve both come to realise that striving for the traditional set-up wasn’t cultivating the healthy relationship we wanted. It had become a tussle, especially when the dynamic started to shift from child-adult, to adult-adult. Over time we’ve realised what works for us and what doesn’t (that’s not to say we don’t still disagree occasionally).
So, here are 10 lessons we’ve learned to create a healthy mother-offspring relationship that accommodates personality clashes.
1. Readjust your expectations
Look at the factors in your unique relationship and consider what success looks like in that context. Comparison really is dangerous, so don’t set your expectations based on what you see in other families or on social media.
For example, don’t try to replicate that one family that seems to happily do everything together. If you don’t achieve the positive experiences with one another, you’ll both be left feeling defeated. Instead set a standard that’s achievable, and you’ll both view your interactions with one another in an optimistic light.
2. Scale down big family events where possible
Hosting is always stressful. But there’s something about the mad rush to prepare everything before guests arrive that puts pressure on bicker-prone relationships. It always threatens to overshadow enjoying the rest of the day.
We’ve come to realise that a big aggravator in our relationship is Christmas. We usually spend five days together, trying to keep traditions afloat. But we’ve realised we don’t need to put ourselves in an environment that causes arguments, my sister and I aren’t children anymore. “We’re all adults, and we’ve got to create space for our own needs and personality traits,” my mum says when I call her about writing this article.
This year, my sister and I are spending Christmas on holiday in Spain. My mum is spending her’s with her long-term partner. Everyone is happy. We’re going to meet at a nice restaurant in London and enjoy an afternoon of exchanging Christmas presents. This works for us.
3. Meet on neutral ground
Territory can be a factor in having good interactions. I can’t quite explain it, as I think it’s an instinctual thing if you’re prone to clashes with one another.
However, we’ve found meeting on neutral ground takes scrutiny off an individual and puts focus on a joint experience. For us, it’s meeting at London’s Westfield shopping centre (not the calmest of environments, I know). We shop, we have lunch, and we have an afternoon coffee and Chelsea bun in the Marks & Spencer’s café.
4. Choose topics of conversation that are not about one another
It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about yourself – we all do it. However, if you have differing perspectives, it can sometimes feel like one of you is attacking the other. And this leads to ill-feeling.
Don’t make conversations solely about your lives. Pepper in talking points that concern your common interests. For us, it’s art, books, and Dandelion (our rabbit). Obviously, still talk about life updates, but consider following up a question rather than offering an opinion.
5. Agree a time to speak on the phone
Making the effort to keep in touch means a lot, and it prevents anyone from feeling neglected. I always end up talking on the phone to my mum for at least an hour if we decide to catch up.
However, we usually text one another in advance and arrange a time. This is important because it means we can set aside a time where we’re not going to snap at one another. For example, I know my mum has yoga on Monday evenings, so I don’t ring her beforehand because I know she’ll be stressed rushing around to get out the door. I know Thursday evenings aren’t best for me because it’s one of my busiest workdays and I’m more susceptible to being short-tempered (we’re all human).
6. Day trips over long weekends
Short and sweet is always better when it comes to spending quality time together. If you’re spending a long time together you start to flag, and again, that’s when tempers shorten. It’s better to do an activity and know you can have time to unwind on your own afterwards. “It’s good to have other outlets aside from one another,’ my mum says. A good example would be choosing a spa day rather than an entire spa weekend.
7. Find friends who have similar relationships with their parents
While you may feel like the anomaly out of your friends you’re probably not. Finding friends who have similar relationships with their parents/children can be reassuring. We’ve found that having friends with similar dynamics can make the healthy boundaries we put in place feel much less radical. Rather than if we only compare ourselves to those who stringently stick to traditions.
8. Reminisce on good memories that you share
Taking a trip down memory lane is often a positive bonding experience. Recounting times in your childhood that made you laugh is an immediate mood booster. For me, it will always be the time we went to what we thought was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on ice. It turned out to be a performance by a contemporary ice-skating group, who didn’t speak and danced to the same song for two hours (a tune I can still recall to this day, and always gets a laugh).
9. Small tokens can go a long way
There’s more than one way to show your love, and it doesn’t have to verbal. I’ve realised that sometimes showing appreciation for one another can come through small moments of thoughtfulness. For example, my mum always sends me a bag of sweets at Halloween. I sometimes knit my mum a decoration because I know she likes to display them in her living room window. It’s inexpensive but valuable for our relationship.
10. Take a moment to breathe if things start to escalate
Arguments and bickering are inevitable, regardless of what your relationship with your mother is like. We’re all human at the end of the day. While my mum and I have curated healthy habits to maintain our own relationship, of course, we still have disagreements.
But what’s important is giving yourself and each other breathing space when you do butt heads. In the heat of the moment are you really going to resolve anything? Probably not.
In tense moments, take a deep breath, spend some time apart, and resume calmly once things have cooled down. It’s simple advice, admittedly difficult to follow at the time, but can be effective.
Molly Raycraft is a travel and lifestyle journalist living in London. She currently talks to celebrities about their health and wellness routines as part of the BALANCE podcast. Outside of work she loves plant-based cooking (and eating), wellness walks around Peckham Rye, and learning Korean