This is the fifth in a series about forgiveness. Click here to read the first post in the series.
In trying to reconcile with my Mom, I asked God to reveal my own faults to me, I began to recognize and deal with my own dysfunctions, and I asked my family to forgive me for any way that I had hurt them. There were periods where it seemed as if our relationship thawed, and we could visit and drink tea together, but it always seemed to fall apart again as if there was a barrier we couldn’t break through. I struggled to understand with why this was so.
I think one reason was that we had to keep the relationship very shallow. We couldn’t discuss anything that remotely touched the problems between us. For awhile, I thought, “Well, a shallow relationship is better than none.” But I realized that such a relationship isn’t sustainable. You can’t build a relationship when you have to constantly walk on eggshells, worrying that what you say might inadvertently cause offense or attack. You can’t build a relationship if you have to constantly pretend there are no problems. A relationship must be built on truth, honesty, and respect. Without that, there is nothing.
I also think that the relationship faltered because eventually my Mom would always attempt to guilt, shame, or manipulate me, and I would step back away from it. I do not know if stepping back from the relationship was the best thing to do, but I didn’t know how else to handle it. I was afraid of an eruption of hostility, and I didn’t want to say anything hurtful that I would regret. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I could have stood up for myself years ago when I first encountered the problems with my Mom, but the reality is that I was raised to be nice, to not offend, to not “rock the boat,” and to not make things worse by confrontation, so I didn’t confront. I have recently been learning to speak up more and to state my boundaries, but it’s been a process and not something I knew back then or that comes naturally to me. When I felt my Mom attempting to guilt or manipulate me, I felt trapped and stepped back.
Another reason for our inability to have a relationship was that my Mom blames me for everything that happened and she refuses to forgive me for real and imagined offenses and expectations. I wanted to reconcile and if she also wanted to reconcile, we could have restored our relationship no matter how great the difficulties. But I think she wanted control over my life, and she wanted to punish me for not giving it to her, more than she wanted a relationship.
The last time I talked to my Mom, she told me that “the burden of reconciliation” rested entirely on me. I’ve also been told that she has said that all my efforts to reconcile are a “mere drop in a teacup” and that she will never, ever forgive me no matter what I do. I have thought deeply about this.
In putting the sole burden of reconciliation on me, and in refusing to acknowledge any of her failures and none of my strengths, my Mom placed herself in a position of moral superiority. She could sit back and do nothing to reconcile or forgive, while I had to somehow try to earn or deserve her forgiveness. How would I do that and who would determine when I had “earned” enough forgiveness? Based on my knowledge and experiences with my Mom, I believe I could have earned her forgiveness only by giving her control of all my choices and decisions, by complete surrender to her control. She would be the judge of when I earned her favor. If I gave her control, I believe I would never be allowed to forget what a miserable, betraying daughter I had been. I would have to appease and appease and appease for the rest of my life to prove to her that I loved her. In other words, she would become my god–and not the loving, merciful, faithful God of the Bible, but a cruel, demanding god of mythology.
I instinctively knew that I could not do that. I have always been willing to seek advice, to make compromises, to learn from others, but I cannot allow any person to be my god. There is only one God, and my Mom–or any person–is not Him.
There is one more major hindrance to relationship, but I will cover that in the next post.