Your relationship with your mother is your first relationship – and usually the emotional foundation for your life. If she was able to love and respond to your needs, it gave you a legacy of love and trust to draw on, and a positive template for later relationships.
But you may not have been so lucky. Your mother may have had big struggles, that were not necessarily her fault, but as a result your relationship was more difficult. This is not a blame game, but if your mom or dad suffered with depression, alcoholism, loss, poverty, trauma, abuse, neglect, or violence, this made their life hard and probably affected your life too as a child. How could it not?
But what is less obvious is that without healing, this legacy can continue to affect your life as an adult. You don’t get a free pass out of childhood when hard things happen. Your experiences may affect how you parent, the kind of partner you choose, patterns with friendships, even your behaviour at work. While you always have a choice, relationship patterns whether positive or negative are laid down early in life.
You may notice for example that you are sensitive to feeling controlled by others, and tend to get angry if someone suggests, advises, or criticises you. Or you may be inexplicably attracted to certain people who treat you badly, whereas a healthy person would give them a wide berth. Or maybe you avoid conflict because you saw so much anger growing up. But this creates other problems, because people may take advantage of you, or walk all over you.
But there are things you can do to free yourself from these triggers and make changes for the better. Your first step is to understand what is going on, and how they connect with your childhood relationships with family, parents and siblings. Most people don’t tend to think much about their past unless they have to, so you may need to create an intentional space to do that.
You might journal about your childhood for example, or tell your stories to a friend if they are a good listener. You might share memories with siblings, or ask questions of your parents if they are still alive, which can deepen your understanding about their life and yours.
But sometimes that isn’t enough. When you have had a lot of painful experiences as a child, your friends or family may not be the best people to talk to or expect help from. They may have their own share of bad memories, so they find it hard to listen to you, without reacting or shutting you down.
If that is the case, your best bet may be to seek help from a professional listener such as a counsellor. You may be surprised to discover, when you unpack the stories you have carried around all this time, that it can be a huge relief to let them out, and the insights you get can help you create happier relationships as you move forward.
Your mother and father did their best with what they had, and are not to blame for their struggles, but you can now take a different path. The key is to take responsibility for your issues as an adult and get the help you need to break the cycle. You can then turn a compassionate eye to your mother (or father) instead of blaming them, because you will have found your own way to feel good regardless.