It seemed to me that my mother was often critical of how I ran my life – she thought I was away from home too often, didn’t look after my husband enough, spent too much time on things unconnected with my family, was too old to dye my hair, shouldn’t work so hard which meant I neglected my children…… the list was endless. I was forever screaming at her (in my head) to accept me as I was and stop wanting me to be different. I would tell my mother that I was a wife, a mother, and a business woman; that my family were happy; that my children were great; that they were all leading their own full lives but my mother didn’t seem to listen. I was caught between being irritated and angry with my mother yet wanting her approval.
Then one day, in my kitchen, the miracle happened. I suddenly realised that while I was screaming for my mother to accept me, I was not accepting my mother at all. Here she was, with her 80 years of life, much of which I knew nothing about; her 80 years of disappointments and pain that she never talked about; and her best efforts at bringing up a daughter who had not lived up to her expectations. And I was wanting her to be a different kind of mother. I wanted her to change and be more supportive. I would complain ‘ if only she would accept me as I am’ yet, in that moment, I realised that I was not at all accepting of my mother as she was. So, right then, in my kitchen, I accepted my mother exactly as she was with her 80 years of pain, pleasure and efforts. I blessed her and loved her and vowed that I would never again expect my mum to be different – she was absolutely fine as she was. I felt wonderful and a great peace descended on me. I told no-one what I had done and went about my business.
The next day the phone rang. It was my mother. This was very rare. She hardly ever phoned her on the grounds that ‘I never know if you’re going to be there’. Here she was – on the phone. “Hi mum” I said “How are you?” Mum said “I remembered that you said you were working abroad this week. I just wondered how it had gone…..” Wow! I had to sit down. What had happened? What had happened was that I had changed my perception of my mother and changed the whole dynamic between us. Although my mother had not been told what my thought process had been, somehow, at some level, she had felt the energy of connection that I had created inside myself and responded to it. It is important to remember that I didn’t do it in order to change my mother. I didn’t even know that would happen. I did it to bring some peace to my heart. But by choosing peace and practising acceptance I brought about a change in the relationship which wasn’t dependent on my mother changing.
So here is what I learned.
1 Don’t try to change people – change your perception of them instead
At whatever stage of life we are at we have built up a view of the world and how it works and how it should work. It is a view which we are comfortable with (otherwise we would have a different one) and we tend to become friends with people who see the world in a similar way. When we have people in our lives – especially family members – who are different from us, and hold views and values and beliefs which are very different from ours we allow them their diversity providing it does not directly impinge on our world. But when we have to get on with them and have an effective relationship with them then all kinds of conflicts arise because we are in different worlds, as it were. The easiest option for us, it seems, is to get them to change then they can enter our world more fully and behave more in line with what we find to be acceptable. Whenever we find ourselves wishing the other would change we need to stop and change our perception of them and the situation. And watch the miracle happen.
2 By changing yourself you can change what happens next
By being fully present in that moment when I accepted my mother I opened up possibilities that something new might be created. When we are angry and upset and focusing on something that has happened then we are trapped in a past moment or timeframe. We are not open to anything new because we have put an event and an emotion into a tight frame which we are focusing on. All that will create is more of the same – more of what we are focusing on. But by opening ourselves up to this moment we become expansive and allow a new way of being to establish itself. The present moment is where choice and action come together and generate the seeds for something creative to emerge. To be constantly awake to the possibility of something new is surely what ‘living in the now’ really means. Because by living in the now we can be awake to our unfolding future.
3 It only takes one person to change the dynamic in a relationship
I used to think that it always took two people to sort out something in a relationship. But I think differently now. It takes two people to cause a difficulty but it only takes one person to shift the energy towards understanding and connection. I proved that with my mother. Neither of us changed our views but I changed my insistence that she drop her views and adopt mine. And I also realised that what I was accusing her of I was also guilty of. To be honest I thought it was all a bit of a fluke at the time so I tried it in other relationships which were difficult – I changed myself and hey presto – something changed in the relationship. It’s very powerful.
And the last thing I learned is that I had to do this with my mother a lot! Being fully present in the moment and choosing to change myself is something that needs constant practice. But each time I do it, it increases my energy and skill at being able to manage difficult situations and relationships and keep myself in balance and peace.