Walking a Mile in Mom’s Shoes

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve always resented my mother and thought she was a lousy parent. I saw only her negative side and was extremely critical and judgmental. But now that I’m a new mom myself, I see her in a different light and realize that her intentions were good. How do I make up for all the grief I’ve caused?

A: When it comes to admitting one’s mistakes and trying to make amends, being late is always better than never.

As children—and especially as teenagers and young adults—we tend to see our parents as too strict and old-fashioned. Close your eyes for a second and think back on how often you screamed things like, “I hate you!” or You just don’t understand me” or “I will never, ever be a parent like you!” Five times a day? More? All of us dream of having cool parents, the kind who would give us the freedom to act as we want, never interfere or criticize, never tell us what to do or impose rules. With criteria like that, it’s no wonder that the vast majority of moms and dads will fail miserably—at least in the eyes of their children.

It’s only when we grow up, mature (hopefully), and, as in your case, become parents ourselves, that we realize that parenting isn’t quite as easy as it seemed way back then. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most difficult and demanding jobs any of us will ever have to do. (Reminds me of a wonderful line I heard a while back: “I was a really great parent before I had kids.”)

The bottom line is that parents, as hard as it is to believe, are human beings. They make a lot of mistakes and wish they could rewind and do things again. But in most cases, they do the best they can. Just like your mom.

Is there such as thing as a truly “bad” parent? Absolutely. People who abuse or neglect their children, either physically or emotionally, certainly qualify. As do those parents who are so busy pursuing their own lives and interests that they don’t pay enough attention to their kids. The list is long. But, from what you wrote, it doesn’t sound like your mom was like that.

So how do you let her know that you were too harsh on her all these years? Start by telling her exactly what you told me here—that now, as a mother yourself, you see that being a parent isn’t as easy as you thought it would be, and you realize you judged her unfairly. Then, apologize for being unkind to her all those years.

I’m betting that your mom will acknowledge that she made plenty of mistakes along the way, but that she really acted out of love for you.

But don’t beat yourself up too badly over this. Yes, you were a fresh-mouthed, over-critical, know-it-all, defiant teenager, and you never missed an opportunity to tell her what a rotten job she was doing. But it’s not like you were the only teen who ever acted that way. It’s not an excuse, but your mom needs to understand that your behavior—as unpleasant as it was—was a normal part of your development.

Apologizing and admitting your mistakes is never easy, but it’s an important first step. Once you clear the air, you can start rebuilding your relationship with your mother. You’ll benefit from having her in your life, and your child will benefit from having a doting grandma in his.