The transformative magic of travel.
by Judith Fein
Read this before you plan a visit to your mother.
Maybe you are going to take a trip to mama’s house for Mother’s Day. Or perhaps you’ll wait until her birthday, the Fourth of July, or Thanksgiving. If the trips are pleasant, perhaps you’ll go for all the occasions.
If the trips are difficult, you probably start bruxating a month beforehand and add extra counseling sessions as the departure date gets close.
If you are in the latter category, here are some top tips for how to return home with some semblance of sanity.
1. Be grateful you have a mother, as many women and men mourn the loss of their female progenitor, even if the relationship was fraught and painful.
2. Do not expect your mother to change. This is a tough one, as optimistic people believe change is possible. Your mother is who she is because of her life experiences and her choices. She may make noises about wanting to change, but the odds of her altering her behavior are roughly the same as the probability of snow falling in the Sahara in July.
3. Do not take your mother personally. “What?” you cry. “How can it NOT be personal? She’s doing it and saying it to me!” Well, if she weren’t doing and saying it to you, she’d be doing it and saying it to someone else she gave birth to instead of you. It’s her story, her behavior, and you happen to be standing there.
4. Try not to bite the bait. Your mother probably has a PhD from the School of Button Pushing. Expect the bait to be dangled before you and your buttons to be pushed. Identify what the bait is and the buttons are. And thenforgive yourself if you bite and get pushed yet again.
5. Attempt to listen without making any suggestions. Phrases like, “I understand” and “I’m sorry to hear that” or “that must be difficult for you” show your mother that you are concerned about her and obviate the frustration of making suggestions that will never be acted upon. And, on the rare occasion when a suggestion is acted upon, you will never hear about it because that would connote some weakness or capitulation on your mother’s part. Better to nod, cluck, and express caring rather than to offer the “s” word—solutions.
6. Try to have compassion for your mother. If she behaves poorly, it’s because she is stuck in her past, her issues, her unresolved pain from childhood. No unstuck mother behaves that way. As a corollary, endorse yourself for working on your own issues, and not acting out the way your mother does.
7. If you are a woman, when you look down at your hands and realize they are your mother’s hands, or look in the mirror and see your mother’s face, try not to freak. If you are a man, this may happen with your father’s hands and face.
8. If the going gets really rough, remove yourself from the room, the house, and, if necessary, the neighborhood and the city. You do not have to take abuse. Ever. It is better to leave than to descend into the Slough Of Despair.
9. Repeat this phrase to yourself so you can use it out loud when needed,” I’m sorry, but I will not be spoken to or treated this way. It is not good for me.” And, when you use it, mean it.
10. Allow for the possibility that when you get back home, your relationship will resume no matter what happened during the visit. Families are complicated. Visits can be excruciating. But life with mother goes on.