What to Do When It’s So Hard to Communicate With Your Mom

There are two kinds of daughters and sons in the world: Those who grow up communicating and connecting with their moms and those who grow up wishing they could. The latter group seems to have a gaping whole in their heart for a lifetime.

Anna Roosevelt, the daughter of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, once lamented about her famous mother, “Mother loved all mankind, but she did not know how to let her children love her.”

Sad commentary for all concerned on this all-too-common phenomenon.

If you’re a mother or grandmother, maybe it’s time to repair damages before the break in your relationship affects all other relationships—with your own children, siblings, spouses, or even supervisors. Yes, seriously. Such damaging mother-daughter or mother-son relationships can wreck havoc for generations to come.


As a First Step . . .

Find something to do together. And that something doesn’t have to be fun, fabulous, or even favorite pastimes. Almost any activity will do.

For example, my mother and I have spent hours talking—without ever meaning to. During my growing-up years, she was never one to come into my room, plop down on the bed, and say, “So tell me about your day?” Instead, our habit has been to do things together that provided gaps of time for us to connect and share thoughts.

  • As a teenager, when we cooked dinner together, she told me why to mix the eggs in a tiny bowl of hot pudding before pouring the eggs back into the larger saucepan.
  • When we worked in the garden, hoe in hand hacking weeds, we discussed how best to divvy up my day’s earnings to buy special treasures and realize college dreams.
  • While we sloshed permanent-wave solution on each other’s hair and carefully rolled the strands, we talked about the difference between boy friends and boyfriends.
  • As we folded clothes, we traded thoughts about how best to attack a demanding writing assignment.
  • When we walked the streets in search of size 5AAA school shoes, we’ve talked of husbandly attributes.
  • As I drive her to doctor appointments now, we’ve talked of politics, piano lessons for the grands, and plastic pitchers that get misshapen in the dishwasher.

It has been such on-the-go chats with mom, scattered here and there in the gaps, that have filled my life with great treasure. Consider some of the lessons you learned from heart-to-heart talks with your other family members or friends—whether while piddling around or on purpose.


As a Second Step . . .

Be willing to initiate contact.

I’m grateful to my mother for my own capacity to feel and receive love. With every word, touch, and action through all the routine chores of mothering, my mom set the pattern for unconditional love—concern, care, comfort, and compassion.

In turn, she knew how to accept love. It came to her in the form of bouquets of wild flowers, burned toast “just the way she likes it,” cozy hugs when she was tired, or cheap perfume  from a teenager’s earnings.

As I look around my network of friends and colleagues, I see many men and women who’ve grown up without this emotional foundation. Although some have moved on and filled their gaping hole with substitutes, they still suffer the wound of winding up in a world without a mother’s love and support.

It’s not a weakness to want to connect—even after your previous attempts may have been rebuffed. It’s human nature.

As we approach Mother’s Day, why not consider what you might do to bridge any chasm that exists.


Learn ways to initiate conversations with your mother and other loved ones with Communicate With Confidence!: How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time.

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