The Psalmist wrote: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)
Whether you have a rocky relationship with your mother, or daughter, or have found circumstances in your lives that have deepened the relationship for the better, as believers, we are called to forgive. Can we forgive a daughter or a mother who has wounded us deeply?
Healing from hurt may take time, but when we initiate it, the return can be incredible. This is the message in Blythe Daniel’s recent book, Mended, which she co-authored with her mother, Helen McIntosh.
When relationships between a mother and a daughter become toxic, finding common ground may appear like the antidote to build a bridge of restoration.
And it may not even seem possible that you can have a relationship with your mother or daughter because of the life lived between you. you may be in a season where one of you has detached from the other and there is little hope of reconciling. Or there’s been an offense so great you don’t feel like your relationship can ever be restored.
Helen—Blythe’s mother—retells an incident from her childhood between her and her mother. She tries to please her mother by helping her wash lettuce but instead of this act alone bringing them together, it tore them apart.
She would rage at the way I washed lettuce, which caused me to wonder how we could be so different that I couldn’t even wash lettuce correctly.
We understand how petty things could turn into thorns that afflict for a lifetime, and how coping becomes the first line of defense.
Her anger always surfaced. It seemed to me that Mom cared more about being right than how we related to each other. Because my mom was dealing with illness, addiction, and personal issues that had nothing to do with me, and because of her inability to handle life in those days…she projected them onto me in many ways.
One of the ways we cope with mothers who suffocate us with their critical spirit is to shift the perspective. One key to handling differences is to value people over problems. That is, honor the relationship despite the desire to measure whether the other person deserves it or not.
In a sentiment calling to mind an occasion in which I had to initiate a difficult conversation with a relative, McIntosh states:
If a discussion between you [and another individual] is going south, it may be wise and protective to say, Our relationship is more important than our differences of opinion on what is right, so we might want to pause this discussion for now. It’s not cowardice; it’s wisdom to protect and leave the discussion there if need be.
We have permission to walk away, pause the conversation, or put space between you and the other person; however, it is not an excuse not to talk, but an invitation to return to the conversation at a better time.
God values relationships. Jesus gave up His life on Calvary for sinners. He died for people. Can we also be brave enough to start forgiving those who have wronged us, especially those we call a mother or those we call our daughters, no matter the stage in life we find ourselves in?
How we demonstrate our desire to put the relationship first above our desire to be right is significant to building peace with those who have hurt us. But we still need to know where the land mines are in the field.
We know that Jesus directs our mothering with the simple act of knowing how he is characterized throughout the Bible. He was humble. As mothers, we need to practice this with great care, and as daughters of aging mothers, even more. We can admit our faults, admit there is wrongdoing and hurt. Talk openly about the elephant in the room and help your mother look at her past.
It could be a way to bring up her painful history and give her a chance to talk about the women in your family lineage. And perhaps it would bring some understanding to your own relationship. Talking and tagging or addressing issues are huge gifts to relationships if we do them well.
Mended is not a sentimental book. It is courageous in its form and intention. Every chapter culminates with a summation of the principle illustrated therein as well as an actionable idea which is sure to make it personal for the reader to consider practicing. There are enough examples here to glean from—warnings, cautionary tales, recommendations, and courageous pep-talks—which fit well in the context of this book. This read defies the martyr syndrome that so many books of this nature seem to be known for. Mended, on the contrary, encourages mothers and daughters to take ownership of their faults, but also to not assume responsibility for the response of others.
In toxic relationships we need to learn to say to ourselves, Your behavior has nothing to do with me, and I don’t need to take responsibility for it. A mother or daughter doesn’t need to own the behavior of the other.
We are warned in Mended not to take responsibility for the behavior of others, to not succumb as arbiters of that catchphrase, “Look what you made me do.” Self-control, as a fruit of the Spirit, is the proper response to any dissenting argument or infraction. Helen writes about her realization regarding her mother’s behavior:
I was liberated, and that continued to help me love Mom through her issues. Because I no longer felt responsible for her and was free, I was able to see her differently. My trying to help didn’t work for her, but at least I didn’t feel responsible. I could have been angry with her, but I had more compassion for her.
So you see, we can shift our perspective. The hurt and the behavior of others isn’t always about us. It is so empowering to realize that the way others behave towards us isn’t always about us but more about their own issues in life and their unresolved, unreconciled traumas. People act in their pathological manner because they have a specific need.
When our children say, you made me mad, we remind them, I didn’t cause you to get mad. You felt the emotion of anger and then you acted on it. But I’m not responsible for the way you behaved.
Also, “We’re not responsible for the other person or their response to us. But we are not to incite hurt on the other in the process of defending our words in the relationship. I’ve learned to take responsibility for my words, not what I meant to say.”
Our relationships should magnify the Father and as we demonstrate our love for Him, we are placed in the lives of others for the purpose of edifying His name. We are called to love those who are most unlovable, as Christ did on the cross for us when He bore the sins of the world, seeking forgiveness as we take stock of our own wrong choices.
Mended reminds daughters not to place expectations on their mothers, for they are very likely not able to live up to them. Allowing our own insecurities about appearances to flourish impacts the expectations we have about our mothers. Blythe writes:
Something had to change, and I had to let go of the expectations I had of what I would look like and the way I wanted others to perceive me, including my mom. As daughters, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves for how our mother will respond to us and how we like or don’t like ourselves, which can then cause us to think our mother couldn’t possibly like something about us if we don’t. So then we ostracize our moms. It’s a vicious cycle.
When expectations fail, relationships get poisoned. It becomes a silent killer of the relationship, creating distance and setting up the relationship to depend only on performance for viability. That is, the cycle is this: you create expectations that cannot be met, you project insecurity and believe that you need to be a certain way, “sitting up straight, doing this and that,” and then you realize you are projecting this pattern onto your own daughter.
Mended is an honest look into the unspoken between mothers and daughters. It is a glowing treasure of lessons learned between a mother and a daughter, specifically those lessons that have been tested in the valleys of growing in the Lord, growing into motherhood, and growing old, where self-examination is the right response to mending hearts.