A few weeks ago, we saw a friend we hadn’t seen in awhile, and she spent the evening telling us about a fight she had with her mother in May (yes, four months ago). Even though it’s been four months, Jenny was still very riled up over her mother’s behavior, and was adamant that her mother should apologize.
I was only half-present for the story and missed many of the details. However, here’s what I got. Her mother has some very strong opinions about the way Jenny and her spouse should live, and on the evening in question, had not “held back” on making those opinions clear. This was nothing new, however, as she had been dictating my friend’s actions for many years.
I’ve spent time with this woman and have always been amazed at how tolerant Jenny is because I frequently bite my tongue around her mother. Since the mother is a peripheral part of my life, I feel that I gain nothing by engaging with her so… I don’t.
Due to her mother’s strong opinions, Jenny often finds that it’s easier to just go along with her mother than resist or try to fight back.
But for some reason, their interaction in May struck a nerve with my friend. Not only did she resist her mother’s “guidance” but told her mother that she was out of line, overstepping her bounds, and to back off.
Her mother was shocked and angry, and felt that her daughter had insulted her by suddenly resisting her guidance.
Both sides wanted the other to apologize, and both sides felt that they had been wronged.
As I listened, I heard Jenny talking about how she had done EVERYTHING that her mother recommended for years, and that she was tired of being bossed around.
And that’s when it hit me.
I turned to my friend and said:
Jenny, you owe your mother an apology. As she began sputtering, I said: Hear me out. Reluctantly, she did.
I said: for almost 45 years, you have been doing everything your mother says, with very little push back. Now, after 45 years you decided to stop letting her dictate your actions.
There’s nothing wrong with your decision to alter the dynamic between you and your mother, EXCEPT: You didn’t warn her! You didn’t sit her down and let her know that some of her behaviors didn’t work for you, and that you wanted to create a dynamic that worked for both of you.
You changed the steps of the dance you do with her, but you didn’t teach her the new steps, and now you’re mad at her for not realizing this.
You owe her an apology for changing the rules of the game without warning.
Honestly, you could have heard a pin drop. Then her spouse said I was right. Jenny reluctantly agreed that she had, in fact, changed the dance routine she does with her mother.
I recommended she sit with it, and when she could authentically recognize what she did, to apologize for doing it to her mother without warning.
As we evolve, it’s normal to have interactions and dynamics that no longer work for us. However, if you want to change the dance routine, you need to warn your partner!
Got a topic you’d like me to cover? Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.