Every one of us can imagine that our friendships with our female family members could be better. For instance, think of your mother-daughter friendship, either with your own daughter (should you have one) or with your mother.
Many mothers love to have their daughters close, both relationally and geographically. I know a mother that felt very close to her daughter, until this daughter moved thousands of miles away. Now, where was their friendship? How would they remain close?
Instead of a crisis, irrevocably harming their friendship, this move could be the first real adult test of their friendship.
Just as I cannot know if I can do a pull-up (I can’t) unless I hang from the monkey bars and try, I cannot know the strength of a friend unless we walk through a difficult time.
This month we’re talking about “fresh starts”, an idea that assumes something about our friendship needs a restart.
Think of a family friendship that feels strained, an unspoken awkwardness, a past sticky conversation or confrontation, a feeling that you are walked over or ignored or unwanted. I think every woman wants to have a better, fresher friendship with SOME female family member, don’t you?
How can you begin afresh and initiate a healthy friendship?
- What do you believe about your family member right now that bothers or concerns you? Something is causing the strain, what is it? Another way to put this is what expectations do you have and how have they not been met? My friend who left her family chose to join a mission in Hyderabad, India. She wanted her mother to be excited about her new sacrifice and adventure. She wanted her to believe that she still loved her even though she was moving. She also wanted her to promise to visit. These expectations led her to a lot of disappointed, at first. Any time we face our disappointment we have fresh material for forgiveness, though this doesn’t mean we just forget what happened.
- How do you treat the family member who has disappointed you? One jewel I’ve held close from Harriot Learner’s book The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships is mature, loving boundary making. Learner teaches if you are about to change something in your relationship, you are also responsible to maintain warmth and connection in your relationship. With my friend who moved to Hyderabad, the distance was created by her. She would be part of a work, community, church and friendship circle that didn’t overlapped with her mother. Because she was initiating change: it was also her responsibility to move with warmth toward her mother even as she geographically moved farther away. She regularly called her mother, footing the extra phone bills, and visited every few months for the first several years. Of course, her mother may not have felt warm and close with me. Practicing Learner’s principle with success does not mean the person will feel warm and tight with you. She may feel the opposite, but it is important to know that you have done what you could to be warm and loving even as you set up boundaries to move in any way.
- How do you respond when your family member doesn’t like what you do? Do you try to fix your family member’s feelings or can you listen to their disapproval or feel their coldness without picking up guilt? With my friend, she had to walk through some strained moments, where her mother was clearly not in the cheering section of her move. When her mother once came to visit her in her new home, her mom left early, when she spoke on the phone she didn’t know how much to share about how delighted she was with this new culture. But, she tried to let her be her because deep down she hoped she would, one day, be able to say, “My mom let me be me, even with a cross-cultural move halfway around the world.”
My friend has lived in India for over ten years. In that time her friendship with her mother has changed.
Her mother visits her regularly and she visits her mom in the States. Her mother accompanies her to the local market and they cook together like they did back in Tennessee. And when my friend visits, she stays with her mother in her old childhood home.
Though, they still work to be fully themselves with each other, they are beginning to see the integrity and hope of letting a huge move re-start their friendship.
As my friend put it, “Our friendship has gotten better, better even than the friendship we had when I lived in her same town. I feel supported and respected by her in ways I could never have experienced before.”