I don’t know why it is, but I know it “is”…and not just for me but as an experience had by a lot of Gen X-ish women who have grown up to become independent professionals and moved away from their families in search of their own way in the world.
We love our parents because they reared us (for better or worse) and are the closest thing we have by way of the “why am I here” explanation.
But it seems to be that for those of use who don’t live within pop-in distance of our folks, the “Mom” visit can cause a lot of stress in preparation (both physical and mental).
I think as we get older and spend more time contemplating our self image and self esteem (as is our middle class American privilege…see that pesky hierarchy of needs I keep mentioning: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs ), we tend to identify those qualities in ourselves that we might not love so much in our parents as the only source of “blame”. We tend to project our insecurities on them and it makes the anticipation of a visit fraught with anxiety.
But here are some things I think I have figured out to alleviate that stress, after what has ended up being one of the most pleasant visits I’ve had with My Mom: (and I have to thank my Wife for being the empathetic architect and really being my “better half” in this instance):
- Get her alone: I know my case is probably rare for middle class America in that my parents are still married: 47 years! This is blessing has some hidden curses, however…one of them being that together they are not individuals but an habitual bickering unit of two people who love each other very much but have a hard time breaking out of routines. And for women of my Mother’s generation (Baby Boom bordering on Swing Generation), it is easy to allow your identity to get wrapped up in your marriage or husband. Getting my Mom alone allows her to focus on her interests and who SHE is…and getting to actually know your mother like you would a friend is important.
- Girls Night in / out: invite your friends to spend some time with your Mom. Surround yourself with other people you love and allow them to interact with your Mother. Chances are they are better at getting past all the baggage you might have and seeing your mother for the PERSON she is, not as a PARENT.
- Make some music: take your mom to a concert for an artist that she might not have seen before. Chances are regardless of the generation gap (assuming that you have grown out of the punk rock shows, or at least have some well-rounded tastes from which to choose from) that the messages in the music remain universal and something you can both relate to. And music has an energy that unifies and soothes and otherwise connects you to a place of awareness and gratitude that you can’t really get from anything else. And if you have music at home, keep it going. Keep the TV off and instead have conversation.
- Eat well: no takeout, no plastic forks. Either go out to eat or prepare meals that are thoughtful and nutritious and delicious. Food equals love…like it or not…and it’s a way to bond and show you care. Eat in pleasant settings and be mindful of her favorite foods. Little gestures go a long way and food brings people together.
- Just get over it: whatever “issues” you have with your Mom that you have dug up in therapy…get over them for a couple of days. Empower yourself to assert your boundaries but otherwise try to be flexible about where you draw your lines. Push yourself a bit and try to forget about being a daughter and just be a friend. Entertain your mother like you would entertain your dearest friends.
I am reminded of that Mother Theresa quote about family again…about how we draw our circle too small…well I think the art of the Mom visit is to reverse that. Allow Mom into your circle of friends for a couple of days. Change the context and be an anthropologist instead of kindred for a day. Remove your judgement, ethnocentrism and other biases that prevent you from really getting to know your Mom. Instead, seek first to understand and create situations that allow her to be herself and be appreciated by others. We get such a short time on this earth, and our time with those who brought us here is even more limited.
I know in this modern world, we “modern women”, especially, have taken to leaving family behind (in a sense) when we “grow up”, but we still carry the “baggage”. Sometimes making a choice to leave the baggage in storage for a couple of days and just be human is the best gift you can give yourself and your Mother. I am sorry it took me so long to figure that out, but am glad I did and grateful for this narcissistic little forum to share.