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Bridging the Gap

How my mother and I learned to be friends

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Black women hugging and walking on beach
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In the rules of engagement between mothers and their children, namely daughters, the hierarchy is often set from day one. The reminder that mom is not one of your little friends hangs over interactions between mother and child almost their entire lives. In setting this tone, the possibility of having a friendship later in life is almost nonexistent due to the miscommunication of what it is to truly be friends while respecting the boundaries of the hierarchy.

In my personal life, I internalized my mother’s constant reminder that we were not on the same level. Certain things that I thought were just jokes or being playful were usually perceived as offensive. I did not believe that we were peers nor did I ever intend to make a point to disrespect my mother in any way. However, at some point I did want to be acknowledged as an adult that had some life experience without having to hear, “I would never say that to my mother!” I never felt that I could fully be myself or openly say certain things without reprimand or the reminder that I was still just a child, so walking on eggshells became a routine.

I desired a relationship where I could tell her my feelings without her feeling attacked. I also had to come to the actualization that although I was hurt by the boundaries she put on our relationship, we don’t live in a world where Black mothers of the boomer generation could afford to raise children without the reminder of who ran the show. Having been raised during the civil rights era, being seen and not heard was a testament to how my mother’s upbringing trickled into her parenting style. From slavery, it was a way to keep children obedient and submissive because openness was seen as defiance. Speaking out of turn or being too friendly resulted in very heinous consequences for Black children and their parents. As generations continued to adopt the practice of making sure children stayed in a child’s place, some found little necessity in building friendships with one’s children, but made sure they knew the chain of command to staying alive.

As my mother and I began to cultivate a reciprocal understanding of one another, we had to find ways to create an actual friendship by implementing different strategies to get to our desired goal. Here are some things we found that helped us bridge the gap:

Be open.

One of the biggest battles between women and their daughters is transparency. When communicating to a generation that was groomed to keep it moving and sometimes sweep things under the rug, it is often difficult to get our mothers to be more open in conversation. For millennial children, it’s also necessary to understand our mother’s upbringing and be aware of how this plays a role. Openness is crucial because it says that you are willing to be an active participant in the process.

Allow yourself and your children to do the work necessary to heal.

Whether sitting with a counselor, therapist or other trusted third-party, having an unbiased and objective opinion can facilitate reconnection. Understanding where the feelings of alienation began and how they made each party feel are the healing points that will move the relationship forward. Do the work as an individual to understand your part in communication breakdowns. Reflection is a great way to get insight on how the relationship got to where it is and will prepare you to come to the table.

Understand that time heals most wounds.

Building trust takes time. For my mother and me, being able to have conversations about the differences in how we were raised ­— me as a millennial and more expressive of thoughts and opinions, and her a boomer raised not to express opinions — was tough. Together we took steps to break the cycles of unspoken harm, inner rage and broken relationships.

Do not stay stuck in the past.

There is nothing worse than making efforts to harness a newfound connection when there’s always a constant reminder of what someone used to do or who they used to be. Let it go! Focus on the future and the time that's left to have healthier relationships as adults. Once you’ve done the work to come together and create new bonds with each other, take the steps to continue to prosper in a forward-looking manner that’s healthy for all parties involved.