There’s a line I love which comes from the late, great Robin Williams: “They say our mothers really know how to push our buttons—because they installed them.”
Mothers. Can’t live with them, certainly can’t live without them. Everyone I know gets the same kind of expression when they talk about their mother. I’d call it “mixed”—although the cast of characters varies according to the family. Love/exasperation. Love/guilt. Love/why doesn’t she get that I’m nearly an adult?
(P.S.: If your only expression is one of love and devotion and you have no idea what I’m talking about . . . congratulations! And by the way, how did you do it?!)
Mother-daughter relationships can be rocky, they can be smothering, they can be tempestuous. But they can be the greatest thing in your life. A mother-daughter relationship is at the heart of my new novel, Finding Audrey. Audrey’s mother, Anne, has got to be one of my most comically extreme characters. She dashes from fad to fad. She worries constantly that her children are going to turn into screen-obsessed couch potatoes.
She also has a genuine concern for Audrey, who suffers from anxiety disorder. And the growth in understanding of both Anne and Audrey was for me one of the most important strands of the book. What I’ve learned is that everyone’s on a learning curve in life, including mothers.
How many times did my mother tell me to wear a scarf in winter? I got irritated, snappy. . . . Then one day I realized, She’s never going to stop. She’s doing this because she cares. Suck it up. Hearing the same advice a hundred times over is not the worst thing in the world.
So here are a few little tips for managing your mom that I’ve gleaned along the way. And the most important thing of all to remember is this: She wants to make it work, too.
Explain yourself. How many times have I seethed away in silence, when later it turns out my mother had no idea what I was thinking? The truth is, I assumed she could read my mind. Well, she pretty much could when I was a toddler. But she can’t anymore. (Which is probably a good thing.)
Accept that she knows more stuff than you. (Most of the time.) When she tells you to stay away from that guy you thought was really cool? She’s probably got him nailed. It’s simply stats. She’s met more guys than you. She can spot the dodgy one, just like an expert chef can spot the dodgy mackerel.
Accept that she knows less stuff than you. (Some of the time.) She’ll never, ever be as at home with technology as you, unless she works for Google. She may misuse “LOL” for the rest of your life. Be patient.
Stand up for what you believe in. You may have different views from your mom. That’s fine. If she doesn’t get your point of view, don’t yell. Find supporting evidence for your side. Invite other people into the debate. Always try to stay calm, even if your mom has just told you your favorite band sounds like white noise.
Try to see her point of view. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. (If possible, listen politely and say, for example, “I see where you’re coming from” rather than “That is such utter, c**p, I can’t believe you could even think that!”)
Her cooking is the best in the world. Even if it isn’t.
Choose your words. Not “Mom, that outfit is really dated,” but “Mom, I’d love to style you.” Not “Mom, you’ve ruined my life!” but “Mom, could we revisit this decision of yours?”
Stay connected. What do you like doing together? Do it. Find a TV show you both like. Get your nails done together. Don’t let weeks go by living in your separate bubbles. Laugh together. Send her little texts. Although:
Do not mistakenly send her that text you meant to send to your boyfriend. This is a recipe for disaster. (Unless you have that kind of relationship. Who knows? Maybe your mother edits your texts for you. Maybe you discuss every topic in intimate detail.)
And that sums it up, really. Every mother-child relationship is different, with different boundaries, different customs. We all have different buttons. Making it work is just a question of pushing the right ones. Or, sometimes, not pushing any at all.