Editor’s note: Dr. Pamela Everett Thompson is the author of “Surviving Mama: Overcoming Strained Mother-Daughter Relationships” and a professional life coach. She is on Twitter.
“Tis the season to be jolly” -- or is it?
Chances are, many of you are going back home for the holidays, hoping for a fun and memorable time with your family, particularly with the woman usually at the center of it all -- Mama. Instead, long-standing issues may resurface and pour salt on old wounds.
Reuniting with “those-who-knew-you-when” always carries a risk of sucking you into projected roles, which can provoke resentment and betray your true self. Perhaps you’re normally lively and outgoing, but become very quiet at home, figuring you’re no match for your domineering mom. Could it be that you’re spontaneous away from family but fear you’ll somehow be shamed for your zest for life around kinfolk?
If you’re feeling isolated during this time of year, you’re not alone. While you can’t change your family, you can change the way you process them. Remember, boundaries are your friends that can guard against accumulating resentment.
Here are some ways to manage a strained relationship with Mama (or with anyone else) during the holidays and throughout the year:
Avoid or reduce toxic conversations
Help Mama understand that your availability for distracting, depressing, or dismissive commentary is not a given. It’s OK to let her calls go to voicemail or respond to her texts less often.
Resist responses to detracting comments -- peacefully
Don’t give in to her attempts to hook you into combative dialog. Silence is indeed golden when used strategically.
Change the subject as soon as a negative conversation starts
Furthermore, stop sharing your dreams with naysayers, even if the naysayer is Mama.
Stop expecting Mama to be somebody she’s not
See her as she is and not as you wish she were.
If it’s come to this, love your family only from afar
Provide care and support only when needed.
Treat your experiences with Mama as treasured life lessons
They teach you how not to be and also prepare you to deal with tomorrow’s enemies.
It’s important to connect with family and cherish traditions. Yesteryear’s sentimental rituals or roles provide a sense of anchoring and belonging to time, place, and people. But it’s equally important to connect with loved ones without losing yourself.
Use the past to remind you of the pitfalls you’d like to avoid and the hard-earned lessons that left you with wisdom, prudence, and discretion. “Keeping it moving” with fresh acquaintances, new frontiers, and determination to nurture skills and talents -- with or without family support -- promotes purpose-driven living. The world is a better place when everyone lives with a sense of calling that ignites passions, excites one’s whole being, and incites others to flourish.