Today is a little extra delightful for me, since it’s an Ask Team Practical with both Alyssa and with Lisa from Privilege. How lucky are we? Today we’re discussing mammadrama, and we asked Lisa to give us the (exquisitely well written) mother-of-adult children perspective. For those of you who don’t know Lisa and Privilege, you may remember her from her post on the Last Taboo, during the APW subscription drive last year, as well as her posts on mother-in-laws. I got to know Lisa through her blog, and now I’m lucky enough to know her in real life. She is a sage giver of advice. (Particularly to me, since we share a cultural high-WASP background, even though I grew up without the money part of the equation, which is actually part of the grand sweep of our heritage.) So forgive me if I find her advice a little extra compelling. Now without further ado, Alyssa:
As mother-daughter relationships go, we have a pretty good one. We have an adult friendship, tinged of course with the maternal dynamic at times, but all in all my mother respects me as an adult and we function in that context. However, since getting engaged and starting to plan this whole shin-dig, my mom seems to have regressed a bit (or a lot) within this relationship. Suddenly, every decision I make that is not in line with her expectation of what decisions 12-year-old me would make really throws my mom for a loop. She gets kind of flustered, says a lot of weird stuff about it all, but eventually comes to terms with the fact that I am not 12 (oh yeah, remember how we’ve had this adult relationship for over a decade now?) and then everything’s fine again…until I make another decision that 12-year-old me might not have, and then we start the process all over again.
It’s clear to me that my mom’s life is in transition because her eldest daughter is getting married. We’ll get through it and come out the other side just fine I’m sure, but I don’t want this to be as hard on her and on our relationship as it seems to be. I don’t think it needs to be this painful and difficult. So, my question is, hasn’t someone written for or about “The Conscious MOTHER of the Bride“? Help a girl out over here!
Well, no. We haven’t written that, mostly because it’s probably copyrighted and they’ll sue the pants off of us. But we have talked about Mamadrama previously. Let’s revisit it a little.
You’re smart in that you’re already giving your mother the benefit of the doubt and recognizing that your mom is a person too. And, like the rest of us, moms have wacky emotions and stress that cause us to do weird things, things we may not even be aware that we are doing. When your mom gets all circa 1992, she doesn’t mean to. Mothers tend to be the point person for the family for weddings; you can bet that for every question or comment on your wedding style, location, venue, etc. that you are getting, she is getting one also. Which may cause stress for those who aren’t used to handling it. So that may be the cause of all her nutty behavior. Nutty behavior that you can’t control. So let’s talk about what we can control.
But, before we do that, let’s do a bit of a self-check. And I’m only recommending this because it’s an issue that I have and I don’t think I’m alone in it. Are you sure you’re not reacting to her treating you like a 12 year old, AS a 12 year old? Yeah, she started it; but when she does, do you go, “MOOOOM!!” and roll your eyes and possibly slam a door? Because, well…I do. And I totally don’t mean to, but if I am around my mother for more than three days we both revert. It’s unintentional, it’s annoying and it’s terrible, but we do. And hopefully you’re more mature than I. (I can almost guarantee it…) So just make sure that you’re not perpetuating the problem, K?
And if you’re not? The one thing that you can control is your reaction to her behavior. A person cannot make you feel a certain way if you refuse to give them the power to do so. You’ve experienced this switch in dynamics a few times already and you know that it will eventually go away, so the next time it happens, do not let her irritate you. I’m not saying ignore her, but react completely opposite of how she’s treating you and behave in a very adult and polite manner, more so than you already have. If you make a decision and she’s all, “No, Fiorentina, you KNOW that’s not going to work, I’ve told you a MILLION TIMES,” just say, “Yes, thank you, Mom. I realize that you think that, but I don’t believe it to be the case. But I appreciate your input.” Or something along those lines. Hopefully, she’ll recognize how she’s behaving and stop it. It’s hard to treat someone like a child when they are behaving more maturely than you are.
If it’s getting to a point that it is causing serious problems, then yes, you can talk to her about it, and if you think it is getting out of control it’s best that you do. Having a nice sit-down and saying, “Mom, you have a way of speaking to me lately that is making me feel as though I am a 12 year old. We’ve both worked really hard on making me a grown-up, so I really would appreciate it if we not undo all that hard work.” As I said, she might not even be aware that she’s doing and needs a bit of a talking to. Respectfully, of course. She is your mother, no matter how wackadoodle your wedding is making her.
And just think: wedding planning has an end date. Even if this continues up until the day of your wedding, it will eventually be over. And you’ll be married and she’ll be back to your wonderful mother who happens to be a friend also. YAY!
Now. One of the wonderful things about APW is Meg is never afraid to go, “You know, we may not be able to handle this thing the best way, let’s bring out the big guns.” Which is why this week, when dealing with mothers and weddings and since none of your editors are mothers, we’re getting a little perspective from Lisa of Amid Privilege. While she has yet to be a mother of the bride, she’s super wise, funny, and a slightly older lady we should all look up to.
Hullo everyone. One small request before we move on? I fear I may incur the wrath of the gods, writing about mothers-in-law when neither of my two children has entered the chute. I tell you, and I don’t think you’ll hold it against me, that no amount of “exactly’s” could make up for for a jinxed chance at grandchildren. So, everyone, please close your eyes for one minute and send protective spirits into the universe.
Thank you. Moving on.
Here’s the thing. You say you have an adult relationship with your mom. Which probably means that while she understands you are an adult, she always remembers she’s the mother. But that means you know her, even now, in the way she wants you to know her. You probably don’t have the raw, authentic relationship you’d have with a friend. This is as it should be.
Good mothers, in my opinion, know how to establish boundaries between themselves and their children. We all know those mothers who bleed themselves unasked into their kids’ lives, and that’s not who we are talking about. We are instead wondering, why do the conscious mothers, the rational ones, seem to go a little crazy ’round wedding time?
Because in the lifelong process of clearing maternal space for children to become adults, mothers have to sweep some of their feelings under the bed. Tie others down in the dirt of an emotional rodeo, the sort that good mothers have inside themselves all the time.
When kids get married, dust bunnies and wild calves may want their last say.
(If you feel these metaphors are a bit outré, let me tell you, mothering is the fiercest, most hallucinogenic experience in this lifetime. All those peaceful photos? Lies, damn lies, cultural lies. Even the peace of sitting quietly in a rocking chair, hair long and flowing, babe in arms, is fierce.)
Maybe your mom held her tongue while you dated a scary guy who grew whiskers way too early. Maybe she just smiled when you ditched the eminently suitable microbiologist. Maybe she kept silent, all through your inky black hair, your piercings, your Uggs, your glitter.
Maybe now she wants a moment to mark what she did right. A moment when she can feel, this is MY daughter and she is getting married and these aspects of me, the mother, will have their 6.5 hours in the limelight. It’s even possible that she’s using the, “But honey, I thought it was what YOU would like!” gambit as a way to insert her own wishes. Not our shining hour, mothers, but it happens.
I suggest you sit down with your mom and talk. Tell her something like this:
“Mama, I need to make decisions about this wedding. It’s important to me that it feels like me, as I am now. But I’d also like to tip my hat to you. What part of this wedding do you feel strongly about? Tell me honestly. I can’t guarantee I’ll go your way, but I would very much like to find something you can own – the vision, if not the task.”
Part of a real adult mother-child relationship, and one that will become more and more apparent as you both age, is the degree to which care-taking shifts. There will come a day when your mother will walk into the kitchen, looking for her glasses, or the newspaper, and you will realize suddenly that she is frail. That she needs you. The more work you do now to see your mother clearly, the better. Yes, of course let her know what you want, but also understand that she is a person with some needs that cannot be put aside. Mothering is a lot of work, much of which you will not even know she has done. And even the most rational and well-managed of us may harbor secret dreams of recognition.
Weddings form new baby families. No question. But they can also be, as so many of you here have pointed out, a time to revisit and rework the family of origin. The dance of family roles and authentic selves is long and intricate. No one leads; you all lead.