Not looking forward to Mother's Day? Not all parent-child relationships are like the commercials. Here are 7 ways to build a better relationship with your mom.

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While commercials for Mother’s Day gifts and activities seem to always show smiling, happy interactions, relationship experts know that parent-child connections can be fraught with conflict.

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(Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
(Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Some studies have even shown that as many as 30 percent of adult women have strained connections with their mom.

But don’t stress if you are among those who wish you enjoyed your mother more. Here are some simple (though not always easy) things you can do to heal a rift or just improve your relationship with your mother, according Samara Serotkin, a mindfulness-based psychologist practicing in Seattle.

1. First, identify where your relationship is at and where you want it to be. If you talk to your mother on the phone once a year, but wish it were once a month, ask yourself why you are not there. Then take one small step toward your goal. “Eventually that gap will be closed,” Serotkin said.

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2. Clarify your intentions about why you want to improve the relationship. Do you want to do it for yourself? So your children can have a relationship with their grandmother? Or because you think you just should but you’re not clear on why? Serotkin said to address the relationship with a clear understanding of what it means to you. “I have clients who want their children to be able to have an OK relationship with grandma. If they can remember that the next time their mother says something they’re not a fan of, they can think, ‘I could fight about that, but I’m doing it for the kid.’ And they can stay focused.”  Re-examine the issue if you are only doing it because you feel obligated.  “That rarely works out well and often turns into resentment or even more tension.”

3. Practice gratitude. If someone believes they have a negative or difficult relationship, they can fall into the rut of only seeing what confirms what they already believe to be true, she said.

If you, instead, start a practice of intentionally looking for and noticing details that are positive or well-motivated about your mother for a week, it can change your thinking.

“Specifically targeting the positive can shift the cognitive bias and make you happier.” For extra credit, Serotkin suggests writing a letter or sending mom a card, perhaps for Mother’s Day, just describing something your mother did well or a time you had fun together.

“It can literally be, ‘I remember the day you took me out for ice cream and that was wonderful.’ “

4. Practice compassion or loving-kindness meditation. Begin by imagining a living creature that you find easy to love, maybe your child, perhaps a pet or a best friend. Focus your mind’s eye on that person and offer them kind wishes such as, “May you be happy, may you be well, may you be filled with peace.” Now imagine that it is a person you feel neutral toward and extend those same thoughts toward her. Finally, imagine your mother before you and send those thoughts and well wishes toward her.

“Buddhists believe that you are making a real difference with that practice. Even if your love energy does not reach the person you are thinking of, it helps you build neural connections and makes a difference for you.”

5. Check your assumptions. You think that you know what a hamburger is because you’ve eaten them before. But in reality not every hamburger is the same. It’s the same with people, Serotkin said. You may think you know your mother, but you don’t know everything. What was she like as a child? A young adult? What were her fears? How has she grown? Looking at your mother as a dynamic, changing human being leaves room for her, and for you and your relationship, to change and grow.

6. Try giving your mother, or anyone else you find difficult, the gift of your full attention when you are together. Say to yourself, “Wherever we are, for this hour (or however long we are together), I am yours.” Make it about them, let them lead and don’t allow yourself to be triggered. “Go to that diner she loves and you hate because it is not about you, it is about her.” (Serotkin said it’s reasonable to set an hour time frame for this one.)

7. Think of what lights your mother up and what brings out the best in her and then tell her about it. Whether she loved gardening or being a soccer mom, remind her of those times. “Everyone loves to be reminded of when they were at their best.”

8. And if all of this doesn’t help, it might be time to talk to a professional who can help you figure out the next best step.