Does Your Mother Irritate You? How to Stop It.
A few years ago I went back east to visit my elderly mother. She was about 86 at the time. She is still pretty sharp, but getting a bit inattentive, unfocused, momentarily forgetful and so forth. That can get frustrating. Aside from that, she’s still the person she has always been, which, frankly, could get irritating as well. There have always been things she did that were irritating. And now, as an old lady, there are a few more.
Anyway, during this visit of about 5 days, as time progressed I found myself running into these same old and new frustrations and getting more and more impatient and bothered, and as much as I tried to behave myself my irritation was becoming an irritation to her as well. I didn’t want that. She couldn’t help being as she was, whether due to personality or age, and it wasn’t my job to change her, even if I could. Being the sort of person who always wants to become more at peace and loving, I naturally questioned my behavior and found a solution.
I observed that my irritation was not about my mother’s behavior but about my “needs” and as a result I was denying her a comfortable experience of my presence. I was there for both of us to enjoy each other’s company, but what was happening was I was complaining about what I was not getting. It was about me, not us. I was being selfish and grasping. I’m sure that there was some element of my child self that was still trying to get the kind of ideal mother experience that I had not quite had all those years. Overall, she was a good mother, and still, I wanted her to be a certain way. I also wanted her not to fade away into old age and become even less of the perfect mother I had dreamed of. But that’s not life.
Life is how you are in the world, not how others are to you. The child self is all about getting things and experiences for itself, for it survival and growth. As we grow up we need to transition to self-sufficiency and learn to give. Giving is what builds the world. “Getting-ism” is the world’s big problem. People grab and complain and take and hoard. And if they are “generous” it is too often to get something in return, even if it’s only a thank you, and then they complain about not getting a thank you. That’s not giving. They complain about others because, like a child, they are not getting what they want. As a result they themselves add to the world more irritation, yet another who is not a giving person but a getter.
So what did I do about my mom? I did nothing but to stop trying to get an experience just for me, and was mindful of what I was giving her. What did she want? To be loved as she is. What do I want? To love her as she is, and to be that kind of person who is myself not an irritation, which is what I was becoming over the course of those five days.
I’m not perfect myself. I’m sure there are things I do that are not another person’s ideal, but that’s me. They may be just personality traits or actual imperfections, but I’m me, and I do my best. So does my mom. So do we all; and what we can do better is offer to each other peace and patience, and not just mere tolerance.
Gandhi said to be the change you want to see in the world. I changed myself, but not to change my mother. Yet I did change my experience of her. While she was still the way she was, and I still have to experience her limitations and personality quirks, they are no longer irritating. I love her. I let her be, and I am a better person for it. And she in turn has a better experience of me and of life. I gave her something: peace. I have grown up.