Are you interested in having a good relationship with your adult children? Then this one is for you.
Hint: the reason has nothing to do with her.
The image is vivid in my memory. My mom is standing in the front yard and she's holding a letter in her hand—a letter she was about to put in the mailbox.
She held it up and said, "I'm divorcing my mother."
I was in my early 20s and she was in her mid 40s. I certainly wasn't surprised. Theirs was a rocky relationship.
At the time, my mother and I had what I thought to be "typical" mother-daughter conflict, but our relationship was different. We were close. We were friends.
My mother didn't want to be the same kind of mother her mother was. She said it out loud, more than once. And in many ways, she wasn't.
And yet ... fast-forward 25 years and there I was, divorcing my mother. Only instead of a letter in the mail, it was an email.
The details are not important. Sure, I could write about all the things that led up to that moment to justify my action, but really all that's important is to know that I felt like I had no other option.
That was five years ago. At the time I believed that divorcing my mother—choosing to have no contact with her—would solve all my problems.
Instead, I found myself obsessing about my mother and all the things she had done wrong. Just like she had done.
She never hesitated to let loose with all the ways her parents (yes, she ended up divorcing her father, too) had done her wrong.
Coincidently (or not) I then became my grandmother's (my mother's mother) legal guardian. When it became obvious that she'd no longer be able to live alone in her home (she has dementia and is very frail), I moved her into a skilled nursing facility, cleaned out her house and sold it.
It was while cleaning out her house that I found a series of letters that she and my mother had written to each other; from the time my mother was 18.
I treasure those letters because they give me such insight. They mirror, almost exactly, some of the correspondence my mother and I have exchanged over the years.
In some cases, just basic day-to-day observations and news, but other times they were filled with rage, hurt, accusations and confusion.
I even found the famous "I'm divorcing you" letter.
My point in sharing this story is to illustrate that despite what we say, despite what we might intend, what we model is what makes the biggest impact.
I'm not saying I divorced my mother because she divorced hers, nor am I saying that what either of us did was right (or wrong).
Dysfunctional patterns, if not noticed and acknowledged honestly, get passed on. Although I chose not have children, I saw the effects of those patterns in my other relationships, from my marriage, to my sister (same father, different mother), to my step kids.
It wasn't pretty. I was harsh, I was critical, and I was downright mean sometimes. And I believed I was justified.
I'm not blaming my mother, or her mother, for the patterns. What I know now is that what was passed down was the pain of "not good enough."
The pain of harsh self-judgment, criticism, and unworthiness has been passed down, woman to woman, mother to daughter, for centuries. And that pain is the number one source of dysfunction in our relationships.
Those beliefs and patterns are running in the background of our lives, and we have no clue. We just know that we're not as content as we'd like to be. Our relationships aren't fulfilling and rich.
The good news is that we don't have to take what is handed down.
It's not something to blame them (or ourselves) for, it's something to understand, accept and work on, knowing that we can do hard work without suffering—that it can be one of the most joyful, affirming things we ever do.
By being honest and aware of how, at first, I chose to believe that I was not good enough, then deciding that I didn't want it any more, I released it, not just for me, but also for my mother, her mother, and on and on.
Doing this work heals, not just you and not just in the present, but also past generations. And it sets up a healing vibration that ripples forward to those around you, your children, and out into the world.
And that is the number one reason to take an honest and compassionate look at your relationship with your mother—to ask yourself what you've chosen to take from her, what you're passing on, and then heal it.
World peace does indeed start inside each and every one of us (and I know how corny-beauty-pageant-contestant that sounds, but it's true).
So tell me...what are the patterns that will end with you? What are you sure you won't pass along?
These aren't just rhetorical questions; hit reply and share what's in your heart.
Karen C.L. Anderson is a writer and master-certified life coach. She is the creator of The Resilient Woman :: Empowered Daughter Program, a powerful and unique 1:1 coaching program for women who are looking for support in navigating a difficult relationship (it doesn't have to be with a parent...) and who prefer to express themselves via writing.