My schedule has been crammed full of classes and clients these days. In the last week alone I’ve been up by 4:30 am nearly every day and frantically busy with work and writing and family commitments.

A few evenings ago, a knock came on the door. Before we could answer it, my mother sailed right on in. True to form, she had not called to ask us if we were home, she just showed up.

“Fix your shirt,” she instructed me a few minutes later and I automatically straightened it. After that came a comment on how/what my toddler was eating and then an admonition that I needed to vacuum under my couch cushions after my child took that perfect moment to raise a cushion up and dig underneath for a toy (something she had to date NEVER done before).

It wasn’t until the next morning that it all hit. With nearly four decades of living under my belt, I was still being treated like a ten year old by my mother. And worse yet, I put up with it!

I realize that I was insulted and felt I was being treated with disrespect. While I would never show up at her door unannounced, she does this to me regularly. I also would not comment on her state of dress or tell her she needed to clean her home – two things she finds completely acceptable to do to me.

Now some of you may be saying, “But she’s your mother and mothers can be like that.” And that is true, to a certain point. I will admit to looking at it in a different manner. I am less concerned about her actions and responses as I am about my own. I had reacted to her words without thought. I also had not communicated to her just how resentful I felt when she did these things.

I pulled out some of my past coaching studies and began to read. The following excerpt gave me pause:

The action of responding becomes an act of freedom and consequently has power within it. Response creates an opportunity and is in Alignment with your Commitments. It is also, by definition, an action of Responsibility. Which basically involves the ability to respond with a sense of duty and trustworthiness.

The action of reacting, however, comes from somewhere in the past, and is powerless. It is powerless because the response is sometimes devoid of “a worthy action.” It is based on resistance or opposition without much thought. Reaction can often perpetuate a problem, or enlarge a complaint, and can even tear down, rather than build up a relationship. At any given point in our lives, we are always in one form of action: either a Response or a Reaction. – ICA Training Manual

I realized I was reacting to my mother’s words, albeit a little too late, not responding to them. Worse yet, it was tearing down our relationship. Each time she came by I found myself relieved when she left. This was not the kind of relationship I wanted, not at all!

I’m the type of person who likes to think on things a while, chew them over, and decide on the best course of action. While my automatic reaction is to ‘fix my shirt’ or go looking for a vacuum in reaction to my mother’s orders, I knew I couldn’t continue to react, I needed to learn to respond. Otherwise, our relationship would continue to deteriorate to the point that I never wanted to see her – far too similar to how her relationship with her mother ended.

Think about the relationships you have with others – siblings, parents, children, partners, co-workers. Chances are you can think of at least one person like this – one that shows little respect for you, but may not have  aclue how they are affecting you.

How can I change the relationship with my mother? How can you change your relationships from one of reacting to one of responding?

1. Be aware – the ‘reacting’ is usually preceded by feelings of anger, frustration, becoming defensive, or giving back quick answers without thinking of them.

2. Define – What exactly is bothering you about this? In my situation with my mother I realized it was that I felt that I was not being recognized as an independent adult. I felt she was being disrespectful and demeaning of me. It played into my fears – all these years and I’m still not grown up enough!

3. Let Go/Take Action – At this point, you have an option. Let your feelings and frustrations go or take some kind of action (preferably a positive one!) towards resolving the situation. Several scenarios ran through my head, one included a rather ‘catty’ question about the cell phone and why she wasn’t using it (to call ahead). Nothing really worked – letting it go or being snarky – until I realized I needed to address the situation head on.

I resolved to sit down with her and address the issues directly. To explain to her that I found it rude to just show up on my door and walk into our house without invitation or warning. I know I will also have to explain that her comments on my apparel or the crumbs hidden under couch cushions are not positive or well-received.

She will not take the talk well – I am sure it will be taken as criticism and she will leave in a huff, feeling unappreciated and misunderstood. I will then have to endure weeks or months of silence as she continues to feel sorry for herself. It is for this reason, along with the desire to not rock the boat, that I have stayed silent for so long.

I am also realizing my own complicity in all of this. By NOT maintaining a stance, by NOT continuing to respond in a positive yet firm manner I continue to encourage her behavior. In order to break the cycle I need to stay firm – in essence I need to be the adult I expect her to treat me as. And while I cannot control her responses, I can control my own, and then she can choose to have an adult relationship with me or not.

I’ve been an adult for over twenty years now. It’s time we both recognized that fact.

Think about your relationships over the next week. What’s working? What’s not? Then ask yourself what it is that YOU are feeling. Can you let it go? Do you need to address it directly?

Whatever your feelings are, don’t ignore them. Take the opportunity to examine them and work through them towards a satisfactory end.

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