A Codependent Kind of Mother’s Day Card

The hardest thing I had to do this week was pick out a card for Mother’s Day. Each card seems to imply that I am still a child and my mother will always be there for me. Some praised a mother’s independence and strength, setting the ultimate example. Yet, the one card out of about 50 cards I read this past week said that I appreciate her for being my friend. This ‘friendship’ is something I have strived to create over the past 10 years. I thought that being a friend with my mother would allow me the opportunity to be viewed as an adult daughter.

As an adult approaching the 40 year mark, I must say that this is far from our relationship. This is the relationship I ask for, but not always the one I get. On a recent business trip she called and left a message wanting to make plans with me as soon as I got back into town. This could be nice and I planned to call her back once I had a chance. When traveling I tend get caught up in experiencing the sights. She did not hear from me, so she texted with a plea: “Please let us hear from you.” Fear being the driver or reason that she had to hear from me. Reading the text I’m instantly transformed into my teenage self who is incapable (in a parent’s eyes) of taking care of myself. I texted back and asked for understanding of my reaction. That I can’t participate in this type of adolescent conversation.

Inevitably it fueled a cycle of codependency. Responding to her text in a positive way would contribute to her gratification that reinforced her worrying about me. Since my reply was setting a boundary, it was necessary for her to explain how my interpretation of her text was wrong. She dismissed my take on the situation and reasoned that it was simply a request for my status. Either way she got what she wanted from me…a response.

Her reaction isn’t acknowledging my experience. Instead she becomes defensive explaining she was “in the right”. There’s no reason for her to change what she did or how she said it. My interpretation was wrong.

A relationship such as this is difficult to maneuver. This past year I had the opportunity to tell her what I felt about our relationship. I explained how it’s hard to be close to her. When I opened up about the abusive relationship between me and my father, she responded “Well, I wasn’t there, so I can’t know for sure.” It wasn’t for her to get involved with. In grade school I struggled with obsessive corrections on my homework. She sent me to counseling. Instead of looking our home environment or her parenting, she chalked it up to being “my problem”. I have gone to many counselors throughout my life, yet she has never had counseling for herself.

Her denial is strong. She denies that she should check or work on herself, yet admits to the codependent nature of her upbringing. She had a father who was an alcoholic and verbally abusive. He also encouraged my mother and her sisters to fight it out, fist fight in the living room in disagreements. Obviously, this unhealthy upbringing didn’t help her understanding of relationships.

Yet, like most mothers, she did the best she thought she could.

Though, that version of “her best” was not what I needed to thrive. Nor did she take the simple suggestion to work on her self-esteem or go to counseling regarding her past. Instead she asked her offspring to change. Codependents ask others to deny who they are and what they want in order to please the dependent. These requests are reinforced with guilt trips, shame, and expectations. If the person in that relationship doesn’t respond to their request, outbursts, reactivity, and manipulative tactics are subconsciously or consciously taken. This defines in many cases a dysfunctional dynamic of the parent-adult child codependent relationship.

Honestly, I do not like these Hallmark American holidays. They bring discomfort for those who suffer from a codependent, narcissistic, or abusive parent. Why in the world would we need to celebrate our parent who has been cruel without the desire to change? I prefer to celebrate and appreciate my mother when we have a healthy conversation or a good day together. I don’t need a holiday to remind me to do it. Therefore, when she shows strong character, positive self-esteem, and independence I am very grateful.

There are many characteristics of codependency that myself and others in the family enjoy. Selflessness to a fault. Gives all she has to her family and almost forcefully when it comes to food. Most times she’s generous with outings and vacations. These are all nice qualities to have in a mother. Yet it’s not what I need from her. I need her to listen, try to understand, and stand up for me. Instead, she often gave her opinion without asking and went along with years of abusive behaviors from my father.

If you are a daughter or son who has a difficult time picking out a Mother’s Day card, I offer you this:

  1. If it is too difficult to read all the sappy perfect relationship cards out there, just STOP. Opt for something in your comfort zone. You can text or call her, make a card, or send flowers.
  2. Perhaps you have opted for a no contact type of relationship. Instead of avoiding the topic completely, write her a letter and do not send it. This is an opportunity for you to say everything you never had the chance to say.
  3. Boycott Mother’s Day all together and celebrate the founder, Anna Jarvis who also choose to boycott it in the 1920’s, about 15 years after it’s origination. Originally intended to celebrate her mother, an activist and civil servant. Jarvis hoped it would be a day to write letters of gratitude to “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”. After it’s commercialization by Hallmark and other corporations, she began protests and was eventually arrested for disturbing the peace.

I feel that Jarvis most likely had a fantastic mother and role model. Unfortunately, she didn’t consider toxic mothers who feel entitled to gratitude when otherwise it wouldn’t have been given. Indeed our mother’s brought us into this world. Though what happens after that is what should matter and determine if gratitude is due.

In many ways my mother was not the worst, nor was she the best. She’s just herself.

In that I’m glad we can enjoy sappy movies, art museums, trying new restaurants, and tea tasting together. I want to create a better friendship with her. Also I’m grateful that she desires a relationship with me. Her version might be a codependent one. This may never change. Nonetheless, I set my boundaries and listen for those soundbites of manipulation. That way I don’t bend to her will, but to stick to my own. We might meet along the way, testing the boundaries as we go.

People can change. It takes active listening and participation in healthy relationship rules. Above all, being treated with respect as an adult. Interacting in a kind of friendship with no strings (or umbilical cords) attached.