Some women have marvelous relationships with their mothers. Many women don’t. When Mother’s Day comes around every year, these women struggle with conflicting feelings. Hurts, past and ongoing, often cripple our relationships. How do we move forward without getting lost in the past?
Dr. Jill Hubbard and I would like to suggest that forgiveness is the best way forward. While forgiveness can be difficult, here are six reasons to try it.
1. She chose to give you life. When we’re hurt and disappointed, often we compile a list of all that our mother didn’t do for us, forgetting to count all she did. Did she provide food, water, a bed, clothing, rides to school and after school events?
Did she make lunches for us, take us to the beach, buy us Christmas presents? Even if she did none of these things, and even if your mother didn’t raise you, remember this: she chose to keep the pregnancy and bring you to light and life. She could have chosen otherwise.
2. She tried her best. Even without knowing your mother, I know this is almost always true. Our mothers---birth mothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers-- all came to parenting with their own loads of baggage and circumstances. Some of our mothers were not mothered themselves. They simply did not know how to do it. Some were trapped in very difficult marriages, or were alone without support. All of our mothers struggled with more than we knew as children, and even more than we know now as adults. I think of how my mother led us through years without any family income, her resourcefulness in making our clothes, in making all of our bread and growing most of our own food. While we were often unhappy about our food, clothes, the houses we lived in, our mother did all she could with the resources she had at hand. Likely your mother did as well.
3. She cannot repay her “debts” against you. When we forgive, we release the offender from the hurts and “debts” they owe us. We do this because it is impossible for them to pay back what they “owe” us. They simply can’t. They’re unable either by temperament, by circumstances, by their own human limitations. We’re either stuck trying to exact from our mothers whatever debts they have incurred----or we let them go. We give the gift of mercy. When we do this, we not only free our mothers, but we free ourselves from acting as judge and jury over them. Those years are gone, and while you and your mother may wish to take them back, it’s not possible. Realistically assess what happened. Seek counseling if you need help with this. And begin to move forward with the wisdom the past is now able to give you.
4. Your negative emotions affect your own children and family. Your children may be missing getting to know their own grandmother. Not every grandmother is safe to be around; sometimes boundaries are needed. In most cases, though, even imperfect people have qualities and life experiences that your children can benefit from. While you want to protect your child, be careful as well not to superimpose on your children the relationship you had with your mother. She is older now, and likely will interact with your children differently than she did with you.
5. So your children will forgive you. As hard as we try to break generational cycles of dysfunction with our own children, we are still imperfect mothers ourselves who have hurt our children at times. We will want and need from them a spirit of love and forgiveness, particularly as they become adults. If we are not modeling this toward our own parent, they are less likely to extend the same toward us.
6. So you can become the kind of person you want to be. It’s too easy to get trapped in anger and resentment, but most of us don’t like ourselves this way. You may not have to live with your mother, but you can't avoid living with yourself.
Forgiving a parent of her deficiencies and hurts against you will bring healing to your mother---and to you. It will begin to mend your broken and bitter parts and bring you closer to the woman you want to be: someone who is wise, not easily offended, compassionate, quick to forgive. Take this step toward becoming the kind of person you want to become, and start becoming her this very day.
Leslie Leyland Fields is an award-winning author of eight books, a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a national speaker, a popular radio guest, and a sometimes commercial fisherwoman, working with her husband and 6 children in commercial fishing on Kodiak Island, Alaska where she has lived for 36 years. Her latest book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers (Thomas Nelson), released January 21, 2014.