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The Problem With Mom Isn't Mom

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My relationship with my mother was always a struggle. Each of us had expectations of the other that neither could possibly meet. And for decades, we rode a roller coaster of hope, frustration and disappointment.

During one of the worst of those times, someone close to me observed that my mother and I clearly loved each other very much. I was incredulous. I had just described yet again how misunderstood and hurt and un-mothered I felt. How could that possibly be translated into love? "Because neither of you give up," my friend said. "Despite how much you struggle, you keep going back. If you didn't care, you wouldn't even try."

It took 20 years for that to really sink in, but it was a strange comfort whenever I was upset with my mother. Anger, after all, was better than indifference.

There was a time when one of my greatest fears was that my mother would die before I resolved my issues with her, leaving me with regret and remorse. Of course, perceiving her as the problem that needed fixing, I suppose I figured that resolution would come in the form of her miraculously becoming the mother I needed her to be.

Not surprisingly, that never happened, but something better did.


I came to realize that the problems in our relationship had nothing to do with her and everything to do with my expectations of her. And so I decided to stop expecting her to be the mother I wanted her to be and decided instead to be the daughter I wanted to be, the daughter I could be proud of. Rather than lamenting about what I wasn't getting from her, I started giving those things to her.

And remarkably, the resolution came. With all of my expectations stripped away, all that's left is that love my friend perceived so many years ago.

A couple of years ago, my mother suffered a mini-stroke, and some of her speech and memory has been impaired. She often struggles to articulate what she wants to say, and dementia can sometimes make her confused.

But ironically, our communication is better than ever, and she has no problem understanding me when I tell her I love her and has no problem telling me back.

With a Perspective, I'm Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is a vegan author and educator. She lives in Oakland.

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