“Some mothers are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together.” – Pearl S. Buck, author
“It was like… she had it all!”
Samantha was an ambitious, fast moving, fast talking, efficient, business women. She was up at six every morning to work out in her home gym. This enabled her to be fit, flexible and still able to wear the tight clothes she preferred to display her attractive appearance to the world.
She was often called Sam, but she preferred Samantha, to reflect her status and power. She had negotiated a very successful career as a top executive, already earning six figures at the tender age of thirty two. Samantha had two children of preschool age who attended the local day care. And her spouse, Ray, was a loyal and devoted partner who often took up the parenting slack when she was working or travelling for work…which was fairly often. Samantha seemed like she had it all…great job, great income and great family!!
But, of course, there were challenges. She had burned a few bridges during her career moves. There were a few people who were jealous of her success. And, there were a few former clients who didn’t appreciate her management style.
“…why is she so selfish, self centred…?”
But, what brought her to my office was none of this. Instead, it was her relationship with her mother, Beatrice. She carried an unbridled anger toward her mother. Beatrice had been married three times so far. She had recently retired and, according to Samantha, devoted her time to impressing others with her affluence and success. She showed little interest in Samantha’s children…her only grandchildren. As if to prove the accuracy of her perception of Beatrice, Samantha said, she was currently on another cruise and had never visited her since the children were born…she had never actually seen her own grandchildren in person.
After collecting this background information from her I asked her what was her biggest challenge. Samantha said what confused her most was epitomized this question which ran around in her head, repeatedly:
“Why isn’t my mother proud of me, my family and especially my children…why is she so selfish and self centred?”
Then she added more fuel to her fire of anger, “And, Ken, it isn’t just me…my brother and sister say the same thing…they have the same complaints about her!”
“Wow!” I replied. “It sounds like you and your siblings are not just frustrated, but, also confused by your mother’s behaviour. What have you been doing to deal with the situation, Samantha?”
“Well, we keep close tabs on her and compare notes regularly. But, we’re afraid to confront her…we know she had a hard time when Dad left her. And, we’re glad she has moved on. But, two additional marriages and her flamboyant lifestyle are very strange to us? I guess… we just thought she would have more time…for us.” she replied with an edge of sadness to her voice.
“Loving a child doesn’t mean giving in to all his whims; to love him is to bring out the best in him, to teach him to love what is difficult.”― Nadia Boulanger, teacher
“There are three things most people forget,…yet it’s vital to remember…”
I asked, “Have you heard the jokes about people becoming their parent as they get older, either mother or father…regardless of what they try to do to avoid it?’
“Yes, I have, and it annoys me to no end when I do! I’m nothing like my mother in any way!” Samantha replied.
“What if you are? What if parents are just learning tools for your future? If it were true, would it interests you in learning how that might work?” I asked her cautiously.
“Well, for me anything would be an improvement! So sure, let’s do it!” she replied with a sarcastic edge in her voice.
“There are three things in relationships most people forget,…yet it’s vital to remember them.” I began. “First, each individual has unique life experiences which create their unique value system. Second, each person’s value system determines their behaviour, either consciously or unconsciously, at all time and in all places, to ensure their survival. And, third, their behaviour, at every moment, is not determined by you or any other external event, but instead by their internal value system. Are you with me so far, Samantha?”
“So, you’re saying my mother’s behaviours, which I don’t like, have nothing to do with me, rather they come from her internalized value system to ensure she survives.”
I smiled, appreciating her quick mind. “That’s it exactly! So, while you don’t like her lifestyle, this is not due to her, but rather to her lifestyle challenging your own value system. But, what if you could see how her lifestyle actually also supports your value system…would that be useful to know?”
“Ken, if it was possible, I think it would because then I could relax, get on with my life, and stop wasting so much time worrying about her, and our relationship.”
“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.
No man does. That’s his.” – Oscar Wilde, author
“…everyone gets mothered perfectly for them to be…”
“Samantha, what are the three behaviours of your mother which bug you the most?” I asked.
“That’s easy for me…her most recent marriage to a jerk; her disregard for me and my family; and her insecurity and emphasis on what others’ think.” she replied with a smirk.
“Samantha, what are your top three values within your value system?”
“That’s easy for me as well…my family, my career and my independence!” she replied.
“Samantha, I’ve learned everyone gets mothered perfectly for them to be who they are, do what they do, and have what they have. If that is true, then there would need to be a clear connection between each of your mother’s behaviours which bug you, and your highest values. Let’s take a close look!”
“I don’t see it!” she responded with a scowl.
“That’s not surprising because you are inside your value system. And since I’m not, I have another perspective. Let’s flip our thinking for a moment and imagine your mother behaved the opposite way. Imagine instead she was a not married to anyone. Imagine she was very devoted to you and your family. Imagine she didn’t care what other people thought about her. How would that be a disadvantage to you if she was behaving like that today, Samantha?”
“Wow, Ken! That’s like my fantasy mother who would be living down the street; would be around all the time to talk to me; would provide free babysitting when we needed it; would be close to my kids; and would be ignoring what everyone else thought about how she was living her life!”
“… I can see even worse scenarios like my mother depressing…”
“I assume you call it a fantasy, Samantha, because some part of you knows nothing can be only good…there has to be another side to it…a cost to you?”
“Yes, I’ve been around the block of life enough times to know there is no free lunch in life…you have to work for everything you get, Ken.”
“Let me take some guesses at what the costs might be based on your value system. Your family could lose some of it’s closeness and privacy with your mother around a lot; there might be more conflicts with her, your partner, your kids and yourself if she was part of your daily life; you could be worrying more about her health and her loneliness and her well being in general; you might be more distracted and less focused on your work which could impact your career and income negatively…and so on! Do you get the idea?”
Samantha was quiet for a moment, a little withdrawn into herself. Then she said, “I sure do! And, as I think about it, I can see even worse scenarios… like my mother depressing like she did when her and dad split up; my mother interfering with my parenting style which is very different from hers, and feeling obliged to have her at the house all the time because she is living so handy…yes, I’m starting to get the idea, Ken!”
“Can you see how some of your highest values would be jeopardized if you had your fantasy mother? And, conversely, having the mother you do, enables you to live your own life as you choose? So, your mother’s value system actually complements yours in ways you hadn’t noticed before.”
“What I am realizing, as well, is, she is really just trying to build a future for herself in her own way, with the values she learned from her own past. And, it is not really about me at all…it is about an aging, fearful woman trying to create a secure future for herself.” she added with another hint of sadness to her voice.
“…shown me where I learned it…from my mother!”
“I think you are getting this very well, Samantha!” I interjected.
She continued, “And, this reminds me, too…she says she will come visit when things quiet down for her…which tells me she is really struggling to find her place in the world and I need to respect that, even though I don’t like it!”
So began Samantha’s journey of analyzing each and every annoying behaviour of her mother, and finding how it served her in her values, and her life. She had many more moments of insight, tears, and appreciation for her mother.
Near the end of our work together, I asked her what was the most important benefit to her being her mother’s daughter. She thought for a moment, then looking at me with tears in her eyes, she said,
“Ken, I’m a very independent person, I place high value on it; I actively encourage independence in my children, my spouse, my friends and even my employees. Doing this work has shown me where I learned it…from my mom!”
“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.” – Erich Fromm, psychologist
Until Next time…
So, check out your family relationships and find your biggest challenger. Then, go find how it serves you to have them in your life. Be very specific! Every behaviour you find annoying or frustrating will lead you to an important benefit for you. Persist until you find it, and then you can start appreciating this person, and how they serve you in your life, by just being who they are, in their life.
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)