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We asked Sheila Herron, an Ottawa-based clinical social worker who works with individuals, couples and families, to share her insights on how to turn your mother-daughter relationship from prickly to pleasant.
1. Have fun together
You may both be adults, but having fun with your mom is a great way to boost your bond. "Play is as important for adults as it is for children," says Herron.
"We are our true selves when we are able to be creative and feel authentic in mind and body, and this nurtures closeness with others," she explains. "I think a lot of adults have stopped giving themselves permission to play and to create."
Even if you and your mom have very different ideas of fun, figure out a way to find some common ground when it comes to mutual enjoyment. Share what you love with your mom, whether it's gardening, cooking or going to the movies. Being open to sharing new experiences makes it much easier to put fun first when you spend time together, Herron advises.
2. Really listen to each other
We all have moments where we act like we're listening but are not really taking in what the other person is saying. This Mother's Day, give your mom the gift of your undivided attention.
"When receiving information, it is important to listen actively. This means not interrupting and listening to the end," says Herron. "Make sure you understand what is being said. Ask questions if you're not sure and avoid assumptions. Take some time to evaluate what you heard and think it through." The better you listen to your mom -- and to what she has to say -- the easier it will be to feel connected to her.
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3. Communicate effectively
We all know how easy it can be to get into petty arguments with our mothers. Now is your chance to improve how you communicate to avoid falling out in the future.
"Using 'I' statements is a way of taking responsibility for your own feelings," says Herron. "For example, instead of saying 'You are really making me mad,' try the more possessive, 'I feel angry right now because' and be specific about the behaviour that is upsetting you," she advises.
It's also important to avoid ordering or judging with words and phrases such as 'You always,' 'You never,' 'The problem with you is' or 'What you should do is.' Try the softer, more effective 'I feel like' or 'This is how that behaviour makes me feel.'
"The goal is to increase the chances of being heard by the other, to avoid hurt feelings and to take you toward resolution," explains Herron.
4. Define your boundaries
Be fair and firm with your mother when it comes to topics that are sensitive or off limits. For example, if there are areas of your life that you would rather not discuss with her, tell her so. Be honest with your mom about what you need (or don't need) from her in order to feel good about your relationship.
"Sharing and honesty are present in all healthy relationships, but so are healthy boundaries," says Herron. "This is a relationship worth protecting, so remembering love and respect in relating to one another is very important."
Rather than feeling as though your mom is meddling in your life, let her know when and where she can help: "In the happiest mother-daughter relationships, the daughter feels she can rely on her mother for help when she needs it," says Herron.
5. Stay in touch through technology
Not all of us live within easy visiting distance of our mothers, but don't let the miles between you hinder your relationship. One of the best ways to keep the lines of communication open is with technology.
"Communication is a universal challenge for mothers and daughters, but it only takes one of you and the relationship can be improved," says Herron. "We have a wide variety of communication tools available today. E-mail, Facebook, texting, the phone and Skype all have their place to help change tactics toward healthier communication techniques."
However, Herron cautions against a technology-only relationship. Try to maintain a balance between keeping in touch via electronic devices on the fly and finding time for those meaningful face-to-face connections.
There is always room for improvement in any mother-daughter relationship, whether that means prioritizing fun in your time spent together, truly listening to one another, agreeing to disagree or taking advantage of modern communication tools to stay in touch. These few simple ideas will support and strengthen your relationship and help you maintain your mother-daughter bond.
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