How I Learned to Love My Mother Again
May 28, 2020
My mother and I haven’t gotten along well for nearly two decades. We live 2 miles from each other, but it may as well be 200. Reconciling with my mother and treating her as a son should has been one of the great difficulties of my life.
Some of the grief between us began when I was a teen. I skipped seventh grade, so I graduated high school when I was 16. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was bored and wanted to start making my own way in life. But instead of making mature decisions, I mostly slacked off in school and spent my time and energy with friends. That frustrated my parents, who wanted me to pick a path and make progress. My mother, in particular, faced my apathy head-on and challenged me often about the poor decisions I was making. I reacted poorly to those confrontations, turning them into frequent and heated arguments.
When I eventually left on a mission, I’m sure my parents thought that our relationship would naturally heal—that I would return as a new man and that all the troubles of the past would be distant memories. But, while serving a mission, I got an email one day from my dad. He said that he and my mother were getting a divorce after 26 years of marriage. They’d wed in the temple and had four children they loved dearly. But for a variety of reasons it had ended.
“Though things won’t be perfect between me and my mother right away, I know that the Lord has given us a fresh start.”
It was sobering to have looked up to my parents my whole life only to be suddenly confronted by their weaknesses. Sure, they had had the occasional argument when we were kids, like most people, but we always felt that everything would eventually work itself out. Until it didn’t.
I can remember being home from my mission for two days when my mom sat on the stairs in our house and broke down about everything that had happened since I’d been gone. I had seen my mom cry a few times growing up, but never like that. She seemed powerless. And for the first time in my life, the dynamic had flipped. I was now the strong one who seemingly had it all together. And she was the one whose life was in disarray. In that moment I felt like a parent instead of a child, and it made me very uncomfortable.
Looking back, I now know what a more mature and loving son would have done. He would have hugged his mom and comforted her as she cried on those stairs. He would have told her that everything was going to be O.K. But I didn’t.
I just stared at her, wondering why she couldn’t pull it together like parents normally do. And instead of providing comfort, I eventually withdrew. When my father passed away six months later, it caused my mother even more difficulty. And when my oldest sister had a life-altering brain injury four months after that, my mom began another emotional journey.
For the next 18 years, my mother and I butted heads constantly. As the years wore on and she dealt with her trials, all I could see were the things about her that annoyed me. Instead of appreciating what she’d been through and how desperately she was trying to cope, I chose to focus on how poorly I thought she was doing. My pride and impatience grew and, with it, my desire to be distant.
A few weeks ago, my mom asked me if I could fix her computer. My mom hates technology, and I hate helping with it. But after I came over and fixed the computer, she asked me if I wanted to go to dinner. I didn’t want to go, but I figured that she was lonely, so I finally relented. An hour later, sitting in my car and eating takeout, we started talking about my mom’s childhood.
I had heard the stories many times before. Only this time they hit me differently. And as she talked about her life, the deepest, hardest ice began to melt around my heart.
My mother’s parents were mostly out of her life by the time she was five years old. She was raised in a tough environment, and she had struggled with self-worth for decades. My dad was given up by his parents at birth, and he was passed around foster homes for two years before someone finally took him in and loved him permanently.
With these backgrounds, my parents married each other and tried for years to make their relationship work. They did make it work, raising my three sisters and me in patience and love. And so, as my mom and I talked in the car, I realized that she’d given her life the best she had. She couldn’t be defined by her weaknesses and flaws. She was, despite those weaknesses and flaws, as strong as steel.
A few days after that impromptu meal, I sat down to write a video script about Mother’s Day for work. When I started writing the script, I had no intention of making it autobiographical, as I’m actually a deeply private person. But soon I was writing in the first person, unable to stop what was coming out. I never ended up pitching the script. Instead, I just sat down and made the video. And it was while I made the video that the walls I’d built around my mother finally came down. As I digitized our old home videos and incorporated them into the edit, I broke down in tears over and over.
All I could see in the images was my mom, young and vibrant. Always with a baby in her hand or always tired. All I could see was a woman who, despite her difficult life, had somehow made something out of nothing. She was like a beautiful rose that had grown up through an unsightly crack in the pavement. If my mom could credit anyone, she would credit God. I’ve heard her say many times that the Gospel of Jesus Christ gave her all the tools she needed to live a better life and raise her kids well. And I give God all the credit, too. He waited patiently, for two decades, while I fought my mom and treated her poorly. Honestly, I’m surprised He saw anything in me to salvage. But He did, and I’m grateful.
And though things won’t be perfect between me and my mother right away, I know that the Lord has given us a fresh start, and He can help us make everything right again.