Loving. Considerate. Encouraging. Supportive. Positive. Affirming. Affectionate. Giving. Concerned about others. Trusting. Unselfish. Thankful. Forgiving. Nice. Peaceful. If these are not words you would use to describe your mother, this article is primarily for you. The reality is that there are some with mothers of whom such descriptions are just not true. I’ve met people whose mothers have passed on and tears still come to their eyes when they speak of them, not because of any fond remembrances, but because of the hurt, and guilt, and pain that they are still dealing with as a result of having the mother they had. Here are some lessons I’ve learned and put into practice down through the years that have helped me and I trust will help you.
ESTIMATE THE VALUE
Ephesians 6:2 tells us that we should honor our mothers. For some of you reading this, just the reading of that verse makes you cringe. How do you honor someone who has been the source or catalyst of so much pain and frustration in your life? It begins by getting an understanding of what is being commanded. The word ‘honor’ in this verse literally means to estimate the value of. But, you might wonder, what value can you place on a mother who has been abusive and selfish? Perhaps none if all you see in her is an abusive and selfish mother. If you find it difficult to estimate the value of your mother as a mother, estimate her value based on the fact that God created her and used her to bring you into this world. That is definitely worth something.
UNDERSTAND YOUR RESPONSIBILITY
Does this mean then that you have to do whatever mom wants you to do in order to please her and make her feel honored? Emphatically, no! It is not your responsibility to make mom happy. Happiness is a choice and it’s a choice she has to make for herself. You cannot make it for her. It is not your responsibility to fill any void in her life or to fulfill her needs. That’s God’s job. It is not your responsibility as an adult to obey your mother. Obeying your parents is a commandment for children, not for adults. In Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 the word for “children” is “teknon” and it refers to a child who is not of age who is still under the care and government of his/her parents. This next thing I’m going to say may make some of you uncomfortable. While it may not be your responsibility to be your parent’s provider, it is your privilege to do so. According to scripture (Proverbs 13:22), it is the responsibility of parents to make provision and leave an inheritance for their children. This does not mean that as an adult you should be blaming your parents for what you don’t have or sponging off them. This also does not mean that if your mother needs assistance—especially if she is a widow—that you should not help her. It would be good and pleasing to God if you did help as you have ability (see 1 Timothy 5:3-16) and the willingness. Do what God says you are responsible to do. Everything else is optional.
CHOOSE TO LOVE
One of the things you are responsible for is to love your mother. When I use the word “love,” I’m not referring to an emotional feeling or the expression of any such feeling. When I speak of love I’m speaking of God’s kind of love which means doing what is in the best interest of another with no expectation of return. My mother was not the best mother while she was still on earth. If I loved my mother based on my feelings in response to some of the things she had done, and if Christ had not been in my life, I think I would have found it difficult to truly love her. But because God loves me in spite of and in light of all my imperfectness, and because He has poured out His love in my heart, He has made me capable of loving her. So I choose to love her. My love is not based on my feelings; it’s a decision I’ve made to love her no matter what. When your love for mom is not based on your feelings, no matter what she does or doesn’t do, it will not affect your decision to continue loving her. As you release grace—undeserved favor—to her, you will embrace peace for yourself.
RELEASE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
One of the things that greatly helped me to make the decision to love my mother was releasing my expectations of her. As long as you hold on to the expectations of what your mother should have done or what she should have said; as long as you keep expecting her to become that loving, supportive, nurturing mother you had always hoped she would be, you set yourself up for disappointment, anger, resentment and bitterness. I’m not telling you to rule out the possibility that (if she is still alive) she can become that person (for with God all things are possible), but perhaps you need to face the reality that she may never become that person. A friend of mine told me that before he married his wife, he realized there were things about her that he really didn’t like. He asked himself the hard question: what if she never changes? You may have to ask yourself that same question about your mother: what if she never changes? Make the decision that even if mom does not change for the better, you will.
MAINTAIN YOUR BOUNDARIES
2 Corinthians 7:1 says that we should “cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates and defiles body and spirit.” Negative words defile the body and spirit. Bitterness (i.e. prolonged unforgiveness that repeatedly rehearses an offense) defiles the body and spirit. There are people who are particularly toxic in their manner of speaking and living. One of the most liberating days of my entire life was when I learned about boundaries and started practicing saying “no” to the things, people, and attitudes that were toxic to my life. I realized that it is possible to love someone and still say “No.” At first, it was not easy for me to say “no,” but the more I did it, the easier it got. Don’t allow your mother to hold you hostage to her complaints, or allow her to regurgitate bitterness until she feels relieved and you feel completely drained and/or depressed. Say, “No.” Give a respectable warning if you have to, and if the behavior continues, walk away, leave the scene, hang up the phone, do whatever you have to do to keep from getting contaminated. Your life is not your mother’s dumping-ground. She may not understand your “no,” but she can learn to respect it and live with it.
GIVE FREELY OR DON’T
2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us that we should not give reluctantly or under compulsion. If it pains, grieves, or annoys you to give, don’t. That’s not the kind of giving God wants. He wants a cheerful, joyous, prompt to do it giver. If this is not a true description of your mode of giving, ask God to help you to make it so. This scripture is primarily applied to monetary giving, but the principle is true of all giving. There are mothers who specialize in emotional manipulation. They are experts in making their children feel guilty in order to get them to do what they want them to do. Many of you have fallen prey to this kind of manipulation and have spent your life giving to mom out of a sense of guilt or obligation. The result many times is built up resentment, anger, and bitterness. Stop! Do not pass go, or you may go directly to jail—emotional jail.
I cannot end this article without saying something about forgiveness, because for so many of you, forgiving mom is your day-to-day struggle. You must forgive mom, not because she deserves it; not because she asks for it. She may never admit the things she’s done wrong. She may not even remember them. Forgive mom because God has forgiven you. Your mother may have all kinds of issues for various reasons, but why should you carry the weight of her issues? Refuse to remain in the womb of your mother’s issues. Cut the umbilical cord that has been nourishing you from the placenta of her bitterness and unhappiness. Mom may have issues, but they no longer have to be yours.
Does this article speak to you? Leave a comment or question in the Comments section below.