Some of the first lessons kids learn on the playground is how to resolve conflict. A classmates is throwing sand in your face and you have to express that you don’t like that and you want them to stop. From preschool to the professional world, the need to address conflict never goes away. It’s a life skill. But what happens when the conflict exists among an authority figure, the ultimate one? Your mother. Then things can get a little tricky. How will she respond? Will she actually listen? Will your relationship suffer if you bring this up? 21 Ninety spoke to Alexmi Polanco, bruja, therapist and coach, on how you can effectively address conflict with your mother. 

First, Polanco explained why the idea of addressing conflict with your mother can be so daunting. 

addressing conflict with your mother
Photo Credit: Poder Healing

“The relationship with your mom is supposed to be a relationship that feels safe, that feels welcoming,” she says. “A lot of people worry, how will this impact our relationship moving forward? And more often than not, people don’t want to deal with uncomfortable feelings or uncomfortable situations. They’d rather just not do it because of what might come up.”

And with mothers there could be a host of things that come up. Polanco explains that it could be past trauma, fear that their mother will treat them in the same ways she did when they were a child. In extreme cases, the person could fear disconnection, either separation or being completely cut off. 

“That is usually the core fear,” Polanco says. “Regardless of what the superficial fear may look like, it’s really about what will this do to our connection? It comes down to connection and acceptance.”

The desire to address conflict can be particularly challenging for Black people as respect for elders is extremely important in cultures throughout the diaspora. If you recognize that your mother may not receive the message as you intend it, how do you know if you should even address it at all?

Polanco says everything is worth addressing and discussing. But you need to be clear with yourself first. 

“What is your expectation of the conversation?” Polanco asks. “Are you expecting your mom to change? Are you expecting her to understand you? Because if you’re going into the conversation, simply with the expectation that I’m going to let my mom know how I feel and what it is that I need, regardless of the outcome, there really shouldn’t be any reason that you shouldn’t have a conversation.”

While Polanco believes there can be benefits from addressing conflict with your mother, she also advises that you ask yourself a couple of questions beforehand.  

“You want to think about the cost of having this conversation,” she says. “ Do I have the capacity to have this conversation?”

Polanco says a self-check in can help determine if you should have the conversation or skip it entirely. 

“Where are you energetically? Spiritually? Mentally?” she asks. “[The check in] will tell you which sort of path or direction you can take. If you’re drained, you’re likely not to address the conversation and you probably shouldn’t. But if you are in a space where you can, checking in will let you know that.”

Wherever you are, Polanco says learning to self regulate before these potentially uncomfortable moments is essential. 

“Whatever emotions are coming up for you when you think about having these conversations, you want to be able to manage them,” Polanco says. “So you’re not letting the anxiety, worry or the fear influence the conversation.”

Regulation could be as simple as taking a couple of deep breaths, grounding techniques, or visualization. Also writing down what you want to say can help you stay on track and be sure that you say everything you need to.

While the people tend to focus on the negative aspects of what these conversations could possibly yield, Polanco says there is a lot of good that could come from it too. 

“People don’t know what you need until you tell them,” Polanco says. “Having these conversations, there are many opportunities for your mom to learn you as an adult. A lot of times, our moms know us as their children. As an adult, you have a whole different set of needs. Having these conversations with your mom, she can better understand how she can show up for you.”

But the benefits don’t stop there. Addressing conflict with your mother will show up in your other relationships. 

“It also helps you as a parent,” Polanco explains. “If you don’t want to be a mom, you’re still going to be around children. You may be an aunt, whatever. This also shows up in how you interact with children. If you have these tough conversations with your mom, you also get to heal and work through parts of yourself that will show up with children, especially with your own kids. It shows up in your relationships. Addressing these conflicts with your mother, trickles down into all areas of your life for the better. More importantly, you get to honor yourself. Instead of hiding or keeping things, you get to express yourself and show up in your fullness, in your wholeness.”