I really struggled with my mum.
I'm going to be honest and real about that.
Mums have these stock phrases for every situation in life, don’t they?
Mine had a few; when my sister and I pulled faces, she’d quip, “If the wind changes you’ll get stuck like that”. If we protested a parental decree, she might explain, “It’s because I’m old and mean and horrible”. Or if we got a bit cocky, she’d whip out that classic: “Pride comes before a fall”.
As time went on, my sister and I grew into two very different people. Anya-May was gracious, accommodating, agreeable. I was opinionated, hot-headed and stubborn. And as my mum was all those same things I was, we clashed forcefully.
By the time I was a teenager, we fought constantly. Stomping around the sprawling country house, we’d scream down echoeing stairways and around meandering walls. Pride became the driving force looming over us both. I grew to dislike hugging or saying “I love you” to my parents. Mum found it impossible to say “I’m sorry”. So winning became the goal, at the cost of our relationship.
When I went to high school, things reached their most unstable. One day, my dad came to me to explain that my behaviour was affecting my mum’s health. I immediately reacted indignantly, feeling it was unfair to place the blame of our deteriorating relationship on me. It was something we were both to blame for. I was angry at my dad, I felt he sided with my mum even when it didn’t make sense to, and I even suspected there was no illness and that this story was mum’s next weapon in the fight to win.
We shouted, mum got involved, we all shouted. I don’t remember how it went, but I remember my school friend Emma kindly inviting me to stay with her for a while so we could all take a break. After all the parents had spoken to each other and agreed it, we arranged that I could stay there for 2 weeks.
The time with Emma was so special, and made memories that still make me chuckle today. I was welcomed and made part of the family right from the offset, and Emma’s family lived close to school and town – a novelty for country bumpkin me! In the car as Emma’s mum drove us home on that first day, she caught my gaze through the rear-view mirror and gently explained, “You’re very welcome April. I don’t know what’s happened, but I understand that space is needed.” Their hospitality was really touching.
The break was a good call, and provided the ceasefire our whole family needed. When I came home things were calmer for a little while, but sure enough mum and I slipped back into battle mode over the following weeks.
Peace in the Hadfield home wasn’t fully restored until I moved out, aged 20. Around this time, my mum became ill with a condition that affected her mobility, and suddenly the busy life she had built fell into ruins. It was an extremely difficult season for her that lasted a number of years, and still impacts her today.
Whether it was a result of my move or mum’s illness (I suspect it was a combination of both), it was around that time that we began to tolerate and accept each other with greater ease. Gradually we started to bite our tongues more than we rose to the challenge of an argument, until finally time together felt easy.
Then one day, a few months ago, an unexpected text from my mum explained that she had been pondering an idea for a while that hadn’t gone away. Our experience of a difficult mother-daughter relationship was not unique, and could perhaps be shared in a short talk or workshop to inspire and encourage other women like us that there is hope for restoration.
What a wise and beautiful suggestion it was. So we began meeting in a local coffee shop to exchange ideas and gently offer our side of the story. This was nothing like the heated, insensitive quarrels of our past. This was genuine, humble, compassionate discussion.
Over coffee and cake, our ideas led to plans which soon became a scripted talk – complete with PowerPoint. It was the exciting beginning of something!
As a natural part of compiling the script we needed to set boundaries, remember specific examples, and compare our different viewpoints. It was eye-opening. Things I’d said years ago that I had long forgotten, my mum remembered and had been hurt by. Likewise, mum had no recollection of painful words that had stuck in my memory. Exchanging these gently, with no intention to hurt and every intention to heal, was a landmark in our strengthening relationship.
In the case of my mum and I, it was pride that had to die. Her stock phrase when I was a child was ominously accurate. But for you and your mother, father or child, it might be something else that you need to put to death. The Bible tells us to “get rid of our old selves… and be made completely new”. (Ephesians 4:22)
Specifically, it mentions shouting, lying, bitterness and harmful words as just some of those things we need to get rid of in our lives – so that didn’t let me off any hook. I know that Jesus’ best for me is to show mercy, grace and compassion to my mum. And I can demonstrate those things by putting Ephesians 4:25-32 into practise:
25 No more lying, then! Each of you must tell the truth to the other believer, because we are all members together in the body of Christ. 26 If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day. 27 Don’t give the Devil a chance. …
29 Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. ... 31 Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. 32 Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.
We gave our first ‘Mothers and Daughters’ talk in June at our church in Ross-on-Wye, to a room of women representing many generations and experiences. Standing side-by-side, sharing two different perspectives of the same storyline, it was a powerful symbol of hope to other parents and children going through what we did.
I’m certain that without Jesus, the forgiveness and transformation that we went through couldn’t have been possible. I don’t believe stubborn people like mum and I would ever have been able to find the humility to say “sorry” and “I love you” without the example of Jesus, who takes our shame and pride and offers humility and forgiveness in their place.
If you’re going through something like this now, please do reach out – it would be my pleasure to chat with you and perhaps my experience could help. I want to encourage you that there is hope for restoration. God can restore the years the locusts have eaten in your life, and he loves to make beautiful, new things out of past pain.
Bless you, and I hope the story of Fortresses has been a comfort to you. X