I see you.
I’m proud of you.
I’m grateful for who you are.
Imagine these words being spoken directly to you by your mom, with no ulterior motive or hidden agenda.
What is that like for you?
What emotions does it stir up?
Is it hard for you to imagine your mom speaking words of love over you? If so, you’re not alone. It’s the experience of many women.
Being a mom is an incredible gift. It also comes with great challenges, great power, and great responsibility. Moms are an incredible force for good – not only in a child’s life, but in the world. And, they can also do great harm. If you noticed sadness or resentment as you thought about those statements in relationship to your own mother, please know that the goal is not to lay blame. Instead, the goal is to help clarify healthy mother-child relationships, so that you can heal.
Are you supposed to meet your mother’s needs? The short answer is “No.” Here’s why.
What a healthy mother needs from you is for you to become the wholehearted, beautiful woman God made.
What your mother wants from you might be very different from that. Don’t confuse the two.
The unique blessing and responsibility of being a mother is that it is primarily a one-way relationship. It was your mom’s job to:
- teach you how to care for your body
- help you understand your worth and potential
- encourage you to develop healthy relationships with other people
- guide you into mature responsibility
- launch you into the world equipped to meet various challenges
The items on this list are the job of the mother, not the child. This list does not go two-ways.
It’s not about perfection. The best of moms will make plenty of mistakes—big ones. They also know how to admit when they do. Above all they get that their job is primarily to care for you.
Here’s the paradox: if your mother understood that her job was not to need you, you will want to join her in a two-way relationship as you become an adult yourself. That will be a choice that you make.
However, not every mother-child relationship goes that way. My emails and comments are filled with questions like the following:
- My mom never really cared about me. Now that she’s older she’s lonely and wants to be close. But, it’s always about her. Am I terrible person that I don’t want that kind of relationship with her?
- I can never please my mom. No matter how hard I try, she is always upset.
- My mom calls me when she is anxious, drunk, or depressed. I feel so guilty, but it’s all I can do to keep it together to parent my own kids. How can I get her the help that she needs?
- It’s all about her. She has no clue what I think. Why does that hurt so much?
Underneath many of these questions is a deeper root issue. Psychologists call it “parentification.” It’s when your mother raised you to feel responsible for her vs. the other way around. Instead of caring for you, your mother:
- Relied on you to make her feel good about herself.
- Tried to get you to live the life she didn’t
- Criticized you because you never measured up to what she wanted
- Used you in order to gain standing in her community.
- Disrupted your God-given need to leave her and forge a life of your own
The list could go on.
Let me be clear: it was never your job to be your mother’s caregiver. It wasn’t then. And, it is not now.
That being said, here are 3 different ways to think about the question of meeting your mother’s needs:
Healthy Mother-Child Relationships
In this case, the question of meeting your mother’s needs is irrelevant. Your mother didn’t think you should meet her needs, and you never felt it was your job to do that. If this is your situation, you’re lucky. Thank your mother and give thanks to God for this gift. Instead of worrying and feeling guilt, you can focus on what you want a two-way relationship with your mother to look like as an adult. For example you might:
- Visit or call her as you would anyone whose company you enjoy
- Turn to her for support and parenting advice
- Enjoy hobbies and activities together
- Share meals, holidays, or family outings by choice
Ambivalent Mother-Child Relationships
Many mother-child relationships are complicated. There are some good elements, and there are some really challenging elements. Maybe your mother struggled in some areas, but excelled at others. For example, your mother may have cared for you by clothing and feeding you and giving you some opportunities. On the other hand, she might have been caught up in her own problems. Maybe she envied you or never found work, friends, or a community that fully challenged and supported her. As a result, she leaned on you to meet needs in ways she should not have.
Remember it’s not your job to meet her needs. She is an adult. Instead, think about how you CAN be in relationship with her, and focus on that. For example:
- What activities bring up conflict or pain? (For example, talking on the phone for long periods of time or discussing certain topics, such as politics or parenting.)
- What boundaries can you put in place to minimize the painful activities? (For example, limiting time alone together or making certain topics off limits.)
- What activities can you do with or for your mom that leave you feeling OK? (For example, grocery shopping, playing cards, or visiting in person once a month).
Toxic Mother-Child Relationships
In toxic mother-child relationships, you mother did more harm than good. She may have abused, neglected, or manipulated you consistently. She might have made you feel terrible if you did not center your world around her.
No matter what pain your mother experienced, it is never OK for her to take that out on her own child. Her wounds are not your fault. Her wounds are not your responsibility to heal.
This is one of the hardest truths for daughters to wrap their head around. We are hard-wired to want our mothers to be well.
It’s painful as a child to realize you cannot fix your mom. However, staying tangled up emotionally with a toxic mom is not good for anyone. In fact, Jesus addresses such entanglements in Luke 14:15-27, when he describes the cost of discipleship. It’s your job to choose him first and foremost, to choose the new life he has for you. That might mean severing ties with a toxic parent.
If you are in this situation, ask yourself this question:
What is the distance I need from my mom in order for me to say “Yes” to the life God is calling me to?
Your mom had her turn. Now, it’s time for you to take yours. The best way for you to truly meet your mom’s needs, is to work every day to become a woman who knows how to care for herself.
Remember: You can love your mother and set healthy boundaries with her.
You can honor her and maintain healthy distance.
You can respect her role in bringing you life and refuse to meet “needs” that are not your responsibility.
For Further Reading:
To learn more about setting healthy boundaries with your mom, please check out my 1-hour video training, “How to Set Boundaries With a Guilt-Tripping Mom” as part of my Claim Your Yes New Year’s bundle.
Join the conversation. Leave a comment below:
Do you struggle with your mother? Which of the categories listed above describes your relationship?