By Blythe Daniel and Dr. Helen McIntosh, Crosswalk.com
Sometimes mothers and daughters don’t know what to say to each other when there have been hurt feelings.
I have spent many years as a counselor, and I’ll give some practical examples of what you can say—or not say—to encourage a better relationship between you.
But part of my heart toward you is from my own pain of experiencing this dilemma of not knowing how to address my own mom and the things between us.
I didn’t know what to say to my mom much of the time. Sometimes I didn’t address things, not because I didn’t think they were important, but that was just my response. I didn’t really see what was going on in me until Bryan, and then a year later Blythe, went to college. I knew things had been difficult, but I wasn’t connecting the dots as an adult.
When Blythe left, I saw my codependent issues.
I had normalized everything when Bryan and Blythe were little. But when they left, I realized the issues in our family were serious because I had experienced a deep sense of loss. They were such a joy and comfort to me.
And now there was a change of my role of care as a parent.
When my children came along, I didn’t know how to parent because I hadn’t been taught. All through their teen years, I did the best I could with God’s help. But once they went to college, I had to begin to take a hard look at my issues, and I knew I had to choose to change my relationship with my mom. I knew our relationship wasn’t healthy.
Though I’m not able to speak with her today because she’s no longer alive, I would probably say something like this to her: “Mom, I want us to do well. We’ve hit a hard place again, and I’m not sure what to say.”
I want to encourage you to speak.
Admit there’s a problem and you don’t know what to say about it.
What’s valuable and important is that you’re talking about “it,” even if you are only admitting to the other person you don’t know what to say. It’s very humbling. Hindsight is 20/20, but if I can help you be bold enough to say these hard things now, this is a good thing, and one that gets you on the right path to talk with your mother or daughter.
I was mute with my mother, but that was the only way I knew to be at the time. If I had given her a chance to talk about her life, maybe I would have had a better understanding of her issues. I did what I thought I was supposed to do, but I wish I could go back and hit the replay button.
Initiating this type of conversation could be a way of restoring. Helping your mother look at her past could be a way to bring up her painful history and give her a chance to talk about the women in your family lineage. And perhaps it would bring some understanding to your own relationship.
Mom probably did need my validation to show she mattered, but I didn’t know how to give it when I felt so isolated from her. I wasn’t quite sure where I had the leeway to share, so often I just retreated. But I’m advocating a different way for you!
You do want to communicate on as many levels as possible. It’s healthy!
It’s the opposite of the unwritten rule in dysfunctional families. In dysfunctional families, there are some unwritten rules, and “no talking” is at the top of the list. The phrase “the elephant in the room” is often used to demonstrate this point. Talking and tagging or addressing issues are huge gifts to relationships if we do them well.
Let’s explore some ways to do this. So many times we think the easier thing to do is not address it so as not to bring on more discussion and possible hurt. But that mentality shrinks us! When you know you need to discuss what’s between you or respond to your mother or daughter but you don’t know what to say, here are two suggestions:
1. I don’t know what to say, but I care.
One of the most honest things we can say to our loved one at a time like this is, “I don’t know what to say, but I care about you.” It’s open and humble.
One of the greatest mistakes we can make is to launch into advice or “I know what you are going through” sentences that are not very inviting. Here you want to assure your mother or daughter that you don’t have the words but you care about them. It may be all they need to hear in that moment—your genuine care rather than trying to fix, solve, or lessen the blow of what is happening to her. She needs to hear that you are focused on her.
2. What do you think we need to do to make things better?
Another sentence I have often encouraged mothers and daughters to say is, “I don’t know what to say or do in this difficulty. What do you think we need to do to make things better? What role do you see me playing?” Do you sense the empty hands and the humility?
You can hear the desire for repair alongside the desire for the other’s input. Do you imagine the possible brainstorming to follow? Do you feel the beginning of reconciliation?
The initiation of questions is powerful! Notice how inviting questions are. You don’t have to be the one to know what to say—you can invite the other to speak. When the mother or daughter is wise and approachable and open, the relationship begins to feel both better and healthier.
Blythe Daniel is a literary agent and marketer with 20 plus years of experience in publishing. She is a speaker at writer’s conferences and is interviewed for podcasts and webinars. She has written for Christian Retailing and Focus on the Family publications, and she links hundreds of bloggers with millions of readers through BlogAbout. Her passion is helping authors share their unique stories. The daughter of Dr. Helen McIntosh, she lives in Colorado with her husband and three children.
Dr. Helen McIntosh (EdD, Counseling Psychology) is a counselor, speaker, educator, and author of Messages to Myself and Eric, Jose & The Peace Rug®. Her work has appeared in Guideposts, ParentLife, and HomeLife magazines. She resides in Georgia with her husband Jim. They have two children, son Bryan and daughter Blythe, and five grandchildren.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/JackF