In her book, I Love My Mother, But… Practical Help to Get the Most Out of Your Relationship, Linda Mintle, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist, features hands-on advice and excerpts from the Bible to help daughters improve their relationships with Mom. She includes insight for all types of relationships, even those that have been marred by abuse and other dysfunctional patterns.
The book is divided into two parts: Finding New Strategies: Ways to Make Your Relationship Better and Finding New Perspectives: Ways to Better Understand Each Other. The first section delves into changing defensive reactions, dealing with anger, developing empathy for your mom and handling conflict. The second section focuses on facing expectations, coming to terms with your mom’s influence, understanding the legacies and patterns that shape the relationship, creating a balance between being independent and having a strong mother-daughter bond, finding forgiveness, relinquishing guilt and shame and honoring Mom.
Each chapter includes “Thought Points,” a short section with bullet points that summarizes the tips and lists several questions. Some chapters also include mini-quizzes to help readers better understand the inner workings of their relationship and their own behavior. These are several of the questions in the chapter on anger:
Do I easily become angry with my mom?
Does anger seem to be the dominant emotion in our relationship?
Do I feel like anger is controlling me?
Do I feel like I have to defend myself most of the time?
Do I have difficulty listening to her because I am so angry?
Do I blame her for most of my problems?
Do I swallow my anger and keep it hidden?
Throughout the book, Mintle features real-life stories and personal anecdotes, which serve as valuable examples. In these stories, she tackles tough topics, including very strained and negative relationships. There are no magical answers or fairy-tale endings. It isn’t a superficial look at mother-daughter relationships, but a thorough and realistic one. Mintle continuously acknowledges the complex nature of these relationships.
For example, in the chapter on forgiveness, Mintle tells the story of a daughter, Janet, who was regularly beaten and verbally attacked by her alcoholic mother. Janet regularly used food to comfort herself, and when she gained weight, her mother escalated her verbal assaults. As soon as she was old enough, Janet left home and didn’t have much contact with her mom until her aunt called. She explained to Janet that her mom was dying of liver damage, and her aunt needed help moving her to a facility. She hesitated at first, but as Mintle writes:
“However, something inside her knew that her current problems and her overeating had something to do with the resentment and hurt she carried. She decided to make the trip.
Janet marveled at how much pain this now-emaciated woman had caused her throughout her life. The power of her anger, hate and addiction had been overwhelming to Janet as a child and teen. It’s not fair, she thought. I want to hate her now, but she looks so pitiful and frail.
As she sat in the parking lot of the hospital and dealt with the news that her mom had only days to live, she decided she no longer wanted the burden of offense she had carried all these years. This would be her only chance to make peace. She knew she had to forgive her mom. Yet, little had changed. Her mom was still cantankerous and irritable. And she certainly didn’t admit to any wrongdoing over the years.
As Janet entered the hospital room again, she closed the door and whispered in her mom’s ear, ‘I forgive you for all the hurt, beatings and ugly things you did to me. God will forgive you too if you ask Him. Forgive me for hating you and wishing you dead.’
There was no response. Her mom said nothing and turned her body away from her daughter. A few days later she died, never asking for forgiveness or giving it to Janet.
But as Janet left the hospital, she felt a lifelong burden had lifted. Even though her mother didn’t deserve her forgiveness and had never asked for it, Janet knew the significance of what she had done. She needed to be released from a life of guilt, shame and bitterness. This step of forgiveness was the beginning of her healing. The pain was intense, but Janet was determined to break the generational cycle of hatred and anger. And she knew that hanging on to unforgiveness would only lead to more overeating and numbing of her childhood pain. The work to grieve the many losses would be difficult, but she had taken the first step.”
Anyone can benefit from Mintle’s wise advice; however, she does write from a Christian perspective and regularly quotes Scripture. For instance, in the first chapter on changing defensive reactions, she writes:
“So how do you stop being so defensive with Mom? Start reading the Bible and absorb what is said about being loving, kind, gentle, patient, longsuffering, self-controlled, faithful and peaceful. This is the ‘fruit,’ or outcome, of what should be evidenced when we are one of His. It only comes when we have intimacy with God and put the Word in our hearts.
Here is just a taste of that wisdom from Proverbs:
1. ‘Incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding’ (2.2 NKJV). When we try to understand the situation, the bigger picture, the heat of the moment, or whatever the circumstances of an emotional interaction, it helps us stay calmer. Understanding goes a long way in any relationship, because when we have understanding, we tend to be more tolerant and empathetic.
2. ‘Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow!’ (10:19 NLT 1996). Okay, I admit this is a tough one for me, but one I keep working on. The point is, hold your tongue so you don’t say things in haste that you may later regret.
In the same chapter, Mintle also defines the different defensive styles, helps you identify your specific triggers and offers various ideas for responding in a healthy way. Throughout the book, Mintle emphasizes that you can only change your own reactions, so it’s important to focus on yourself, instead of trying to change your mother. (Which never works anyway.)
No doubt this book will empower readers. Even in the most impossible of situations—like Janet’s story above—daughters can still achieve a resolution. While it requires a lot of effort and hard work to get to that point, I Love My Mother, But gives readers practical strategies to take action and make peace with their moms.