If you really want to be outrageous, be ethical.
If you want to go against the grain, be kindhearted.
If you want to live on your own terms, breaking out from expectations and external demands, practice love.
To be free, to be different, to be bold, be compassionate.”
~ Sharon Salzberg ~
I believe that our emotional health impacts our own overall health, our family’s health, and the health of whole of humanity.
THE POWER OF MOTHER ON HER FAMILY
A few months ago, a Facebook question was posted:
“What does the word “mother” mean to you? How about “power”? How does it feel to put those two words into the same sentence? What IS the true power of mothers?”
This question just spoke to me and I immediately responded:
“I feel as a mother, I have the power to influence my family’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health … for the better … and for the worse… So I would like to make sure I use my power intelligently, proactively, and deliberately.”
As I typed my comment, I gave myself a quick appraisal:
- physical health (check)
- mental health (when my son’s not driving me crazy, check)
- spiritual health (check, but if tied to emotional health, maybe not), and
- emotional health (hmmm… definitely cannot check, big fat red X).
WHEN MAMA’S NOT HAPPY, NOBODY’S HAPPY
What? Here I am, the advocate in my family for a healthier lifestyle, and yet neglecting an important part of health. Sure I was emphasizing healthy foods, but I was disregarding emotional health. I knew that emotional stress could wreak havoc on one’s physical health, but in all honesty, I didn’t want to face the fact that I was causing ill health in my family.
Admittedly, I was influencing my family’s emotional health for the worse. You see, for the past seven years, I have hated my mother-in-law. When we were in the same room, the tension was almost unbearable for me, my mother-in-law, my husband, and my parents. Although he didn’t say so, I’m sure my young son felt it too.
It wasn’t always like this. Before getting married my mother-in-law was a friend, a good friend. And the words ‘good’ and ‘friend’ can’t even begin to describe the bond we had had from the very beginning. Let’s just say, if I didn’t have a mother, she would have been the woman I would have chosen to be mine. But after I married her only son, things changed. I don’t know how it all got out of hand, but it did, and it was ugly.
EFFECTS OF EMOTIONAL STRESS ON THE BODY
At the height of my rage, the emotional stress was so intense my heart would race, my teeth would chatter uncontrollably, my whole body would shake, and I felt cold inside and out . . . even in the summer. Not a picture of health, is it?!? I don’t know about you, but anger and hatred have as real an affect on my body as eating food does. According to the American Institution of Stress, emotional stress affects our immune system, gastrointestinal tract, skin and other organs, “hormones, brain neurotransmitters, additional small chemical messengers elsewhere, prostaglandins, as well as crucial enzyme systems, and metabolic activities that are still unknown.”
Yes, I was essentially poisoning my own body. And at the same time, I was bringing my family’s emotional health down with me. This is not the kind of wife and mother I had planned to be.
FEAR AND ITS MISCONCEPTIONS
I considered repairing the situation. I assumed that taking the time and the energy to forgive my mother-in-law, freely accept her for all she is, and letting go of the pain between us would be extremely difficult for me. I feared that taking the time to intelligently, proactively, or deliberately try to heal our relationship would completely drain me. I thought it would expose my ego’s vulnerabilities to her, which I eventually realized I was too eager to protect. So, instead, I completely ignored her which only added to her pain . . . and to mine.
THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM IS ME
I was watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with my son a few weeks ago and loved the song Truly Scrumptious. We would watch it on youtube a few times a day. I don’t know why the song grabbed my attention so intensely, but it did. As I watched Truly and the children singing of their adoration for each other, I envisioned my mother-in-law’s face on Truly’s.
It was a bizarre experience, but all of a sudden I was moved to see my mother-in-law in a whole different light. I saw a woman’s utmost joy expressed in the company of the children, the love she gave to them freely, her total present state of mind while she was with them, and her sensitive bond with the children. Suddenly, I saw all the very real positives in my mother-in-law, where I once saw only negatives.
In my epiphany, I realized that the burden of the past seven years weighed down on me because of no one else but me. It was I who needed to change my attitude, my behavior, and my subjective point of view. As Thich Naht Hanh says, “When some persons cause me to suffer… I should ask if I myself, in fact, may be one of the causes and conditions which makes them what they are.”
Over the past 3 weeks my mother-in-law and I have had the most open, energizing, rewarding, and loving experience we have ever shared together. What seemed like an irreparable relationship has been healed!
Now when I communicate with her, my heart jumps for joy, my whole body is energized, and I feel warm all over. I can talk to my husband and my son about her with happily and lovingly. Gone is the tension, the heaviness, the fear, the anger, the hatred, the suffering, the poison.
I feel emotionally healthier, physically lighter, and spiritually lifted. My family has felt the change as well. I am blessed with a mother-in-law who kept her door and heart open, ready and waiting for my return. Her kindness, forgiveness, and love for me has taught me how to love and how to live. Through my mother-in-law, I am beginning to truly understand what it means to be a Mother and how to use the power we have as mothers to influence our family for the better.
QUESTION: Have you considered forgiveness to be an essential part of motherhood? Do you have any strained relationships that could benefit from forgiveness and love?
CHALLENGE: Choose a relationship in your life that is difficult in some way. List the good qualities of that person, and then give them a sincere compliment (in person, oh the phone, in a note) on one or more of those qualities. See if that makes a difference in the relationship.