Don’t have the relationship with your mother that you crave? You can still get it—and even nurture yourself when she’s no longer here
By Shiffy Friedman, MSW
Every human being, especially every woman, has an inherent need for a deep, fulfilling relationship with her very first primary caregiver, her mother. While some may admit it and others will deny it, this is an unequivocal truth. Ever since the day we left the womb, the place that provided us with the ultimate connection and security —be it 5, 20, or even 90 years ago, we’ve been wishing to recreate that closeness. But what happens when that primary figure in our lives simply can’t give us what we need—whether she’s no longer in this world or her expression of love is limited? Here’s how you can ignite your relationship with your mother today.
Recognize That It’s a Human Need
First, let’s understand the basics of human relationships. A mother-daughter bond is a foundational connection, the cornerstone, that profoundly influences all other relationships in our lives—with our spouse, our children, our friends. And because it’s an inherent need for all of us, we simply cannot enjoy other relationships if this one isn’t solid. In my career as a therapist, I’ve met too many women and girls whose relationship with their mothers leaves much to be desired. The most popular lines that follow? “But at this point, I don’t want it anymore,” “By now, it’s better this way,” “I don’t need her to love me anymore. Other people are filling that space for me.” This can’t be further from the truth. As long as we live, we crave that closeness. By making statements that convey otherwise, we’re simply fleeing the pain that the absence of the relationship is causing us. While all other relationships are highly important, no daughter can thrive without first feeling her mother’s love.
Watch it Grow
So, yes, you want that relationship and you admit that it’s important to you. Now what? What’s if your mother simply isn’t coming through? Generally due to her own negative experiences with relationships earlier in her life, she may be limited in expressing her love to you. But here’s the fact: Your mother loves you. However, the tools she may be using to express that affection may not convey that effusive, heartwarming message that you wish to hear. For instance, her way of expressing her love to you may be through giving you unsolicited parenting advice, which she sees as an act of service. She may be asking about your finances or harassing you to come visit because she wants you in her life but can’t express it properly. She may send you a lone birthday gift when you hit a milestone—but three weeks late.
But because you know how profoundly desperate you are to build a relationship, not to move away from it, here’s what you can do. Take the love and watch it grow. Allow that love to course through your being. Every gesture of love that your mother sends your way, no matter how insignificant it may be, is an opportunity for you to grow the relationship. Reflect it with an effusive show of gratitude, “Mommy, how thoughtful of you! I feel your love in this trinket,” “It means so much to me that you did those errands for me. It makes me feel so loved,” “Although it doesn’t always seem like I appreciate your advice, I understand that it’s your way of showing me how much I mean to you,” and you’ll be amazed at how the love will blossom. Don’t skimp on the feelings, especially the key word, so the valves of connection can really open up nice and wide.
What’s if Mommy is no longer around and you’re still craving that connection? That’s perfectly healthy. Just because she left this world or is incapable of showering you with love (which sadly occurs to many women in their golden years) doesn’t mean your inner child isn’t desperate for a mother’s hug. Here’s the good news: you can give it to yourself. Self-nurturing isn’t only going for a massage or a nice, long walk. Self-nurturing is giving yourself what your soul needs: to become more forgiving of yourself, to trust yourself more, to believe in yourself. You can practice this by being less harsh on yourself when you make a mistake, or by taking one hour every day and focusing on ignoring your inner critic that doesn’t stop feeding you with messages that deplete your energy and positivity. And while you’re treating yourself to all that deserved love, tell yourself, “This is a gift from Mommy.” Because there’s no doubt that this is what your mother would’ve loved to give you one more time.
Note: This article may not be relevant for women whose mothers have a disorder that would render their relationship toxic to the child’s wellbeing according to Rabbinical guidance and mental health professionals.
Shiffy Friedman is a kollel wife and mother of three kids. Whenever she’s not busy with drop-off or pickup (no carpools in Yerushalayim!) she works as a writer, editor (at The Wellspring) and therapist.