A question from a reader:
My adult daughter, with whom I was very close, has told me that she no longer wants to be in contact with me. I am devastated, not only because she and I were in contact so often, but because I can no longer see my grandchildren. After some digging, I found out that she has been going to therapy and that the therapist suggested “no contact.” I know I made mistakes as her mother, most notably I cheated on my husband, her father. But it happened so long ago and I thought everything was fine. Why now? How can I fix this? How can I get her to forgive me?
First, my heart goes out to you. And to your daughter.
There’s a lot to address here and I want to do both you and your daughter justice.
One of the biggest patriarchal lies is that of the “perfect” woman (mother, daughter). It is the cause of so much intergenerational pain and dysfunction.
We live in a culture that, overall doesn’t value women equally, a culture that turns womanhood into an either/or: either you’re good and perfect (as defined by others) and thus worthy, or you’re bad and flawed and thus unworthy. There’s very little room for being whole and human.
Because of this, and because we live in one of the most punitive societies on the planet, we tend not to know how to acknowledge and deal with mistakes and wrong-doing in a healthy way. Our fear of punishment can make it hard for us to take true responsibility for our actions.
Which isn’t to say that you didn’t take responsibility for your actions.
I’m guessing, based on what you’ve written, that as your daughter raises her own children and enters her middle years, she’s taking a look inside and reckoning with her own struggles. Things that were no big deal when we were in our 20s and 30s can sometimes cause us to pause and re-evaluate when we’re in our 40s and 50s.
As well (and I say this based on my own experience), it can be difficult for a daughter to square her mother’s actions with her mother’s words. A mother who, for example, smokes and then forbids her daughter from doing the same, is sending mixed messages. The mother believes she is protecting her daughter, knowing that smoking is harmful, even if she can’t quit herself. The daughter also knows that smoking is harmful, but is confused and maybe even angered by the seeming hypocrisy.
Here’s my advice:
Let your daughter take the time she needs to process whatever it is she’s processing.
Allow her and yourself some grace and compassion.
Make use of this opportunity to take a look within and see what needs to be healed in you.
Consider letting your daughter off the hook for having to forgive you in order for you to feel better.
Consider that she may never “get over it” and that it’s okay if she doesn’t.
Examine your relationship to self-forgiveness. What were you taught to believe? What do you want to believe?
Can you forgive yourself? If you haven’t, explore it. If you have, maybe it’s time to take another look at it. Consciously choose to extend compassion to yourself. Take yourself onto your own lap and Mother yourself or turn to a trusted friend who will show you some kindness.
Once you’ve done some inner work, let your daughter know that you’re available when she’s ready. No pressure or expectations. If you choose to apologize, do so because you want to acknowledge what happened, not because you are relying on her to forgive you in order to feel better.
It’s possible for parents to look honestly at the stresses their children may have absorbed when they were younger without at the same time blaming themselves for it. Compassion, for their children and for themselves, is the key.” ~ Dr. Gabor Maté
As women, we have access to infinite collective Maternal Energy that encompasses kindness, fierceness, compassion, and wisdom and it’s THAT which gives us the ability to Mother ourselves and extend that energy to others.
Much, much love,
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