One of the most shaming people in my life is coming to visit at the end of this month: my mother. This is her annual trip to visit my kids during spring break. Not me, my kids.
The first several of these visits she was still angry at me for “taking [her] grandchildren away.” Now, each visit is just unpredictable. Will she she make a teary, well-timed comment about how far away we live or how terribly she misses us? Will she make a comment about my parenting or lifestyle? Sometimes she keeps her judgments to herself, and the visits go off without a hitch. They are even halfway stress-free. But the chance of a wayward comment is always looming. So I spend the weeks leading up to each visit dreading and preparing, putting up a firewall, just in case she crosses boundaries.
I’ve discussed this with my counselor numerous times. The best way to face these visits is to prepare myself emotionally. Usually that means steeling myself for whatever comes, but I want to do something different this year. Instead of putting on my Kevlar vest and bracing for the worst, I’m going to layer on silk, like the armor of ancient Chinese warriors. It’ll be as strong, but much more conducive to my mental health. I’m going to honor myself with kindness and patience, prepare myself with peacefulness instead of wall-building. Treat myself like I deserve to be treated in the next days so that when my mother arrives I’m at my best and ready for anything.
- Write a tentative itinerary for when she’s here so that positive activities are planned and there aren’t any surprises. (What activities do we want to do? Do we want to go somewhere every day?)
- Take time for myself ahead of time. Take care of me so that I’m not already overwhelmed by the time she arrives. (Take walks or work out. Go to the beach. Read and write. Treat myself to coffee on the porch.)
- I downloaded a great, recommended meditation app (Insight Timer – Meditation: httpituness://.apple.com/us/app/insight-timer-meditation-app/id337472899?mt=8) to give myself the opportunity to reboot, both now as the stress is building and when my mom is here—an escape.
- Affirmations. My mother may try to shame me, but I won’t capitulate. I’m lovable, I make good decisions, I accept who I am, I embrace both my good and bad qualities, I radically accept myself. She can’t take that from me.
- Plan time away from home and family during the visit so that not every waking moment is spent worrying about biting comments. Rather, I have nearly a week off work. I should use that time to see a friend or go somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit, alone.
The kinder I am to myself in these weeks, the better I’ll be able weather the visit, and the thicker my skin will be if she does attempt to shame me. I’ll be ready for her—I don’t have to sit back and wait for her to make me feel bad.
I’m also reevaluating my sticking points, perspective, and tolerance. For example, my mom is allowed to express that she misses us and loves us, even that she wishes we lived closer, and I don’t have to assume it’s a shaming technique every time. Just because my mom says what she thinks no matter who it hurts doesn’t mean that’s always the case. She may be sincere. And while I won’t allow myself to err on the side of naïveté and assume bygones are bygones and she’s 100% sincere, I can look more deeply into her words and tone and body language and search for the truth.
Finally, I’m planning ways to show my mom she’s important to us and that we love her, that the distance doesn’t matter. We’ll always have a place in our lives for her.
No matter what she says this time, I’ll be ready, heart, mind, and body reinforced with TLC and the strength I know I have. Perhaps this will be the best visit yet.
What do you do to prepare for difficult visits with family?