Women in their 90sare the fastest growing segment of the senior population. So if you are cranky around your aging mother, you better chill and get used to her: Because she could be showing up for holiday dinners and complaining about your cooking for the next 25 or more years.
As the author of I Am My Mother’s Daughter, a compilation of 200 interviews with older daughters reflecting on their older moms, I am eager to share successful strategies on how to navigate the sometimes stormy and often delicate relationship between grown daughters and their aging mothers who are living longer than ever. As moms enter their 80s and 90s, and become increasingly needy and forgetful, it is more important than ever to hold your tongue and embrace these women.
How you treat your aging mother is an example to your own children on how to treat you as you enter you final lap, a passage that can be physically painful and lonely. Be consistently grumpy around your old mom and your kids may do the same when you are their old mom- and stick you in a nursing home far away from your grandchildren.
The dozens of daughters I interviewed were rich and poor, ages 47 to 72. Some were six-figure attorneys and financiers; others were school teachers and waitresses. They were representative of various religions, cultures and races. However different they were in their backgrounds and experiences, they all told me in countless ways that their relationships with their mothers dramatically affects how they work, play, love, marry and mother their own broods. I heard over and over how the mother-daughter relationship is the most essential relationship of a woman’s life.
We learn from our mothers how to live and how to give. So savor your good fortune that you still have a mother not only on Mother’s Day but every day. I wish I still could be learning from my own mother, who died at the age of 86 in 2006. Here are some lessons from the wise daughters in I Am My Mother’s Daughter on how to get this relationships right:
1. The mother you have at 40 or 50 or 60 is not the mother you had at the age of 15. Be open to creating a new relationship with this woman, who - as you grow old together - could become your best girlfriend yet. After all, this is the woman who knows you better and probably loves you more than any other person in your world - even when that love doesn’t feel like love.
2. Suck it up and say ‘I’m sorry’ even if you’re not sorry one bit. You can’t say ‘I’m sorry’ at a funeral. If the relationship is a mess when your mother dies, she moves on to heavenly peace and you are left behind with a long list of “should haves” for the rest of your life. Don’t let these fleeting days when she is healthy pass without leaving the pain of the past behind and letting love take over, with your voice and your actions. Then, when your mother does die you will not be writhing in remorse and regret. You will have a lot of sadness but also a lot of sweet relief that there was closure.
3. Understand her history and it will soften your heart. Mothers who seem cold or unable to freely say I love you” often duplicate how they were mothered themselves, or not mothered. Our mothers just do the best that they can considering their own family dynamics and how they were raised. Do you know your mom’s history? Don’t wait to find out who this woman is and how she became that person. Dig deeply to discover her losses and her struggles, Moms who weren’t raised with warmth and support just do the best that they can do once they have their own children. Being vulnerable and honest with each other, unearthing hidden parts of yourselves, unleashes adult daughters and their mothers to create the best relationship they have ever shared.
4. If you can’t forgive, you need to work hard to move on. It may be impossible to forgive for unforgivable acts of the past. But try and let go of old blame and simmering rage and stay locked in this moment with your aging mother, while you still have her within reach. Hold your tongue when she critiques you or your kids. Petty arguments and festering anger is a wedge that blocks your ability to love this woman who is flawed and imperfect just like you are flawed and imperfect. You are your mother’s daughter in more ways than you realize, qualities that become even more glaringly apparent when she is gone. Learn from her now. Love her now. You only get one chance to get it right.
Iris Krasnow is a popular keynote speaker and bestselling author whose books can be found on iriskrasnow.com.