I have always struggled with my relationship with my mother. I've always felt that we were on different sides of our perspectives on life. And yet, I've always wanted my relationship with my mother to be different, to be more fulfilling, closer, more intimate.
I gave up on it ever being different many years ago. The frustration, the pain, the angst of trying to communicate in a way that honoured both of us just felt like too much work. I had a ton of excuses, a ton of little voices whispering in my ear that 'she will never see it my way anyway' and 'why bother, she's who she is and I'm who I am. Accept it will not change.'
At the Dale Carnegie course I'm taking, we were asked to make a commitment to work on one relationship in our lives that we wanted to improve. Using one (or more) of the first 9 principles of his teachings, we were asked to do something different.
I committed to working on my relationship with my mother.
Now, I have always judged my mother -- and she has always come up short in my judgements. Not because she is an awful person. She's not. My judgements were always based on my perceptions of her inability to meet my needs. They were always filtered through my sense of wanting and needing more than she could give.
Truth is, I am an adult. She cannot meet my needs. That responsibility is mine.
Carnegie's first principle is: Do not criticize, condemn or complain.
I've done a lot of that with my mother. And so, I decided to not criticize, condemn or complain about her, to simply let her be who she is.
My mother is 85. Her inherent nature is ... and as I start to write the word 'sad', I realize that perhaps that isn't true. Perhaps her nature was sunny, sweet, kind and gentle. It's just as life has battered her down, as she has succumbed to living in a world she does not understand, as she has struggled to deal with her losses, her changing circumstances, sadness has permeated her being.
On Monday night, my mother was at Thanksgiving dinner with us. I wasn't consciously doing anything different, but I did realize my 'edge' wasn't there in talking to my mother. I consciously employed another one of Carnegie's principles: Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.
Last night my mother called me. "I wanted to thank you for treating me so nicely last night," she said. "I felt loved by you. And I realized that if you could put energy into treating me differently, I could do the same."
Now, my first reaction was to look for the 'catch'. Okay, so where's this going, what's she up to? I remembered Carnegie's first principle. Don't criticize, condemn or complain.
What if I simply accept her words at face value and don't go looking for ulterior motives? What if, I let my judgements go and simply accept her words as the compliment they are.
My mother's first language is not English. Sometimes, she says things in ways that come out backwards, or that negate what she said. In her appreciation last night, she had stated one sentence that really irked me. That phrase had the potential to wipe out her words of gratitude.
My normal response would be to focus on that phrase and ignore the sentiment behind her words.
Last night, I chose to ignore my ire and focus on the sentiment. My mother had done something she's never done before. She phoned to tell me something positive about the way I treated her.
That's a gift.
I accepted the gift and let the rest go.
It is my choice. I can be gracious and choose to create harmony, or, I can take umbrage and choose to create discord.
The question is: What do you choose to create in your life? Where are you closing the door to possibility through criticising, condemning and complaining about the world around you?