TODAY   |  May 07, 2010

Don’t save the drama for your mama

Don’t stress on Mother’s Day! Psychiatrist Gail Saltz offers advice for dealing with common and complex mother-child relationship issues.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

AL ROKER reporting: This morning on TODAY'S FAMILY , avoiding Mother's Day drama. The mother /child relationship can be really complex for some and can change from childhood to adulthood. So this Sunday is a perfect opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your mother . Psychiatrist and TODAY contributor Dr. Gail Saltz has some advice. Gail, good morning.

Dr. GAIL SALTZ (Psychiatrist): Good morning, Al .

ROKER: So, you know, we move from childhood to adulthood, but a lot of times when you get in the presence of Mom you revert back.

Dr. SALTZ: That's exactly the problem, you revert back to that old pattern. And actually, that relationship is often the template for all kinds of relationships. But that regression can make you fight , argue, be upset. Actually, adult children often still hold Mom responsible for all the things that she did wrong, right?

ROKER: Right.

Dr. SALTZ: And moms are often frustrated because they don't have control over their child anymore and they don't have that unconditional love , so that's really, like, a sad loss for a lot of moms.

ROKER: Mm-hmm. I mean, without moms, therapists would go out of business.

Dr. SALTZ: We would. So we don't want to fix anything too much here, Al .

ROKER: No, I know -- I know you're just kidding. So here are some tips. First of all you say accepting, just accept that Mom is not perfect.

Dr. SALTZ: You know, acceptance -- I'm not talking about forgetting everything that ever happened.

ROKER: Sure. Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: But accepting that she's a human being just like you are with her limitations and she might be -- maybe she was a more anxious mom than you wished or a more controlling mom or she had her own insecurities or whatever it is, but she was human, and she probably loved you and did the best that she could given who she was.

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: If you can sit in that frame of mind , it will help you to let go of a lot of the anger.

ROKER: And then what about the relationship, I mean, it's not -- especially if you have siblings.

Dr. SALTZ: Yes.

ROKER: You know, there -- that's another dynamic, too.

Dr. SALTZ: A big one. And, in fact, sibling rivalry can last right up until you're 90 and that is because, you know, when you were young , it's common for a parent, a mom, to have a preference of one kid over another because it was simply a better fit or it felt that way. So talking about that...

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...and getting Mom to say basically, `Well, this was your strength vs. this was your strength' can help ease that.

ROKER: You say also give up the guilt.

Dr. SALTZ: Yeah. We really often feel guilty that we're not more for our mothers, controlling what's going on with our parents especially as they age. But the bottom line is it's not a role reversal , you can't control your mother .

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: And you can't feel guilty about that, and the guilt is what keeps you angry.

ROKER: Pushing each other's buttons. Now the fact is your mom is the one who put the wiring in.

Dr. SALTZ: Yeah, hello. Exactly. But if you know what pushes her buttons...

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...and she know what pushes your buttons and you talk about it , you guys can basically avoid that. People are often unconsciously drawn to drama...

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...so, you know, you tend to want to push buttons and stir the pot.

ROKER: Which is why you say set your limits.

Dr. SALTZ: Yes. You can say no. `No, Mom.' I mean, it's really remarkable how many children actually even as adults feel like they can't say, `No, I'm not coming over then.' `No, we can't do that.' It's really OK to say no. Sometimes say yes, but you can say no.

ROKER: And the final tip is find empathy.

Dr. SALTZ: Yeah. You know, it's really hard to age, it's really hard to be a mom who's lost that role of mom...

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...when that was so big for so many years. So try to stand in her shoes a little bit and understand these losses because it will help you to not get so angry every time she's doing something that seems like a reversion back because it's hard.

ROKER: And bring her some flowers.

Dr. SALTZ: And bring her some flowers and remember that Mother's Day is a Hallmark holiday , it's really about every day. It's really about trying to have a decent relationship the rest of the year.