This 49-Second Clip Of Oprah Winfrey Gave Me A New Perspective On How To Love My Mother

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How do I accept a mother I don’t understand? Whose values differ from mine. Whose mothering has left me feeling unheard and unseen? Is it possible to love her even though I don’t accept her?

I’ve been grappling with these questions and the feeling of guilt they bring up for the past five years. Until then, I had been in denial of the dysfunction in our mother/daughter's relationship.

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Without question, I accepted it as normal that she would talk and I would listen. That only her experiences and knowledge were seen as valid. That regardless of my age, I’d forever be the child and she the matriarch. And most painful of all, her curiosity ended with herself and did not include me.

My mother isn’t a bad person. She was sixteen when she got pregnant with me. She could have aborted me or given me away. With no training, no education, and no skills, she chose to keep me and for that I am grateful. I know she always did the best she knew how to do.

She raised my sister, step-brother, and me according to the gospel, Kids are meant to be seen, not heard.

It was her job to mold us into agreeable beings who did as they were told, never spoke out of turn, ate what they were served, respected all adults blindly, and expressed gratitude for all that was done for them multiple times over, lest they be seen as ungrateful heathens.

She drilled into us that we should honor and revere our mother and father without exception.

Although she laughed now and again, I don’t have memories of her being a happy person.

She worked. She cooked. She cleaned. She had an often volatile relationship with my step-father and through it all, she complained about her lot in life.

Regarding her through the lens of a recovering codependent, I see a scared woman who uses finger-pointing, blaming, shaming, manipulation, guilt-tripping, victimhood, martyrdom, and passive-aggressiveness as a shield to protect herself from the pain the world and people have bestowed upon her.

There was a time when I believed to move forward in my healing, I needed to hear her make amends to me for her part in the dysfunction.

But how can she, if she sees nothing wrong with her behavior?

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As terrifying as vulnerability feels, I would choose it thousand times over building armor around my heart the way my mother has.

I am not willing to forego my value of communication that builds connection, which is likely the reason for my continued writing about our relationship.

I recently stumbled upon a 49-second video clip of Oprah Winfrey speaking to Bishop T. D. Jakes about children and their lofty expectations of parents.

“I’ve had to learn to do this with my mother […] You’ve got to meet people where they’re at and love them at the level where they can receive it. And that’s hard because you want to love them, you just want to love them and I think that one of the reasons that we get so caught up in the way that we want to love is because we have these ideals vs. reality […] You have in your mind what a mother should be and what you want your mother to be and in many cases, your mothers and your fathers can’t be what your ideal is.”

And to this, Bishop T.D. Jakes adds:

“Yes, because they were broken when you got them.”

That’s it! It’s my idealization of the mother I wish I had that is preventing me from seeing and accepting the mother I do have.

I have put her on a pedestal and demanded that she love me the way I understand love, not the way she is capable of loving.

This has backfired. She doesn’t understand why what has worked for us before no longer works for me today.

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To her, I’ve molted into an unrecognizable creature.

Instead of submitting, I have stood up for myself. Instead of remaining silent, I have expressed my truth. Instead of fearing the cracks in our relationship, I show up curious to see what is asking to be healed. She must think I’m an alien.

The reality is that I will likely never have the kind of mother I long for. My only option then is to accept her for who she is and give myself permission to grieve the ideal mother I never had.

So I do.

I grieve the love I cannot share with my mother because it bounces off her walls of protection. I grieve the kind of love I give to my own children.

Meet people — including [your] mother — where they are and love them at the level they can receive it. —Oprah Winfrey

And so, I find myself at the mouth of a new path. It will show me who this woman — stripped of her titles of mother and mom — is. Will I be able to accept her as a human being? Let go of my expectations? Of my ideal?

I pray that I do and when I reach that point, I will choose to love her at the level she can receive it. 

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Judy Walker writes about the gritty, lovely, naughty, and joyful bits of humanhood. She has written extensively for Medium and Elephant Journal.


This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.