How To Have A Healthy Relationship With Your Mom, According To Experts
When you were a child, your mom was in a caregiver role, rather than someone who you could truly be buddies with. But if you're looking to have a healthy relationship with your mom as an adult, the dynamics are bound to shift a little bit. You might have to set a few boundaries and work through any past grievances that might still be causing trouble, but with a little bit of work, being friends with your mom might be a real possibility, according to experts.
"The process of separation and individuation is a normal part of growing up," Kat Vollono, a licensed psychotherapist and mental health expert specializing in anxiety, depression, trauma, and mindfulness, tells Bustle. "As the adolescent becomes an adult, they are able to make their own choices about who they spend time with, what they do, and where they go," she says. "A healthy relationship with a mother is one that you determine is right for you." That might mean just chatting on the phone once a week, or it could mean planning to watch Gilmore Girls together every weekend. Just go with whatever feels safe and comfortable for you both.
Here are some tips for forming a healthy relationship with your mom, according to experts.
1. Celebrate Your Individuality
Even though you might have grown up sharing much of your childhood life with your mom, it's important to realize that, as an adult, you are separate from your mother in a number of ways. Realizing this, and identifying what that means to you, is crucial to forming a healthy relationship with her. "This is the first step, and likely the hardest," Vollono says "Recognizing you are separate from your mother means that you are able to see that you have your own goals, dreams, aspirations, and favorites separate from what your mother wants or expects of you."
2. Identify What You Want
Growing up with your mom, you didn't really have much of a say when it came to asserting what you wanted for the relationship. Because she was the adult, she was probably in charge of the time you spent together. But now that you've started your own life, you can begin to think about what kind of relationship you want to have with your mother. "Allow yourself to be honest with what feels right intuitively," Vollono says. Do you want to call her once a week? Is it important to you that you see each other in person every few days? Figuring out what balance feels right for you and your schedule can guide you moving forward.
3. Don't Pressure Yourself
If your mom had high expectations and standards for you growing up, you might feel stuck in a pattern of choosing your actions based on what would make her happy with you. But it's important to remember that you have to make choices that work for you now. "You are not responsible for your parent's happiness," Vollono says. "If you have grown up with a mother that regularly made you feel 'guilty' or 'bad' if you did not do what she asked you to do, it is easy to feel like you are responsible for her happiness," she says. "The only person that can make someone happy is themselves."
4. Let Her Be Herself
Now that you're on your own, it might be tempting to completely upend the power dynamic, but do your best to let your mom be herself. "Don’t reverse roles and treat her as a child, especially as she ages," Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and author of Starting Monday, tells Bustle. "Within reason, accept that she’ll do things which you don’t like or understand," she says. "Let her be her." That being said, if your mom is making choices that aren't mature or healthy for her, it's OK to voice your concern. Tell her if she can't control her temper around you, for example, so that you don't begin to feel resentment.
5. Reach Out To A Therapist
It's great to try to find a good balance for your relationship with your mom, but if you're having some trouble, you don't have to go through this process alone. "Don’t be afraid to seek a therapist’s help with mom," Koenig says. You can ask your own therapist for advice in resolving conflict with your mother or navigating healthy boundaries. Or if you feel up to it, you can even try going together. Whichever choice works better for you, remember that you aren't failing by reaching out for guidance. "It can do wonders to improve a relationship," Koenig says.
6. Ask Her About Herself
You've known your mom for years, so you probably think you know everything about her, from her favorite cake flavor to the little habits that get on her nerves to the way she takes her coffee. But if it's been a while since you lived together, a lot might have changed, and this is a great time to get to know each other again. "As children, our relationship with our mom can be somewhat one-sided as she is often looking after us," Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "As you get older, ask your mom how she is doing and what is going on in her life," she says. "This creates a more reciprocal relationship."
7. Set Some Good Boundaries
Even if you and your mom aren't having angry screaming matches or offending each other on a regular basis, it might still be useful to set some boundaries for how your relationship will proceed as adults. "To your mom, she may always see you as her little one," Cook says. "Set healthy parameters on what you’d like your relationship to look like if you’re feeling like it’s too much." For example, if you feel like she's calling you much too often or if she's showing up at your place uninvited, you might want to talk about your expectations for how you'll spend time together. Maybe meeting in a neutral location like a restaurant or a park works better for you both than trying to catch up at your respective homes.
8. Forgive What You Can
"If your mom is like 100% of other moms in the world, she made mistakes and was not, and continues to not, be perfect," Dr. Regina Koepp, a board-certified clinical psychologist, professor of gerontology, and assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, tells Bustle. "As you work on pursuing a healthy relationship with your mom, it can help to work on healing old wounds," she says. This might be the kind of thing that you feel comfortable doing by yourself or with the support of the trusted people in your life, but you might also find that you'd like the guidance of a mental health professional during this process.
It might take some work to find a balanced, healthy relationship with your mom. But don't forget to appreciate how fun it can be to hang out with her too.