05/02/2014 12:27 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2014

In Preparation for Mother's Day: Three Steps to Enhance the Relationship with Your Mother

I am always amazed by the mixed feelings people have about Mother's Day. As I have heard numerous times in my practice and in my research on parental relationships, on the one hand, people are very excited about the special plans being arranged in honor of mom. The Mother's Day lunch special of last year was a bust so this year something really special is in store. On the other hand, many people have a complicated relationship with their mothers and it is during this time of year that these underlying and complex feelings surface.

Regardless of how the relationship stands, these mixed feelings do not have to be part of your life. I have seen numerous adults make a decision about improving their relationships with their mothers. With some work, they were able to launch a truly transformative experience creating a new and supportive relationship with their mothers.

Allow me to suggest three steps to begin to achieve this goal:

First, leave the past in the past. One of the ways our current relationships with our mothers become complicated is when childhood experiences surface, intentionally or unintentionally, when we interact with her. This paralyzes our adult thinking, emotions, and behaviors. A simple question from our mother about life may trigger a memory of her invading our privacy when we were teens. Suddenly, our teen self is reawakened and we respond to our mother's benign question with an attitude that we thought we had buried together with our acne cream.

Some time ago, I had a client tell me that following a tumultuous exchange with her mother she was having "running away" dreams similar to ones she used to have as a teen.

One way to keep your past in the past is through constant self-monitoring during dealings with your mother. Try and catch yourself before you respond to anything she says or does by asking yourself if what you are about to say is coming from the "you" of now or from the "you" of the past?

Second, communicate openly. When no communication exists, childhood definitions fill the void and become the reality. One of the ways in which we can prevent ourselves from reverting back to our childhood ways of responding to our mothers is by emphasizing open communication with her. Instead of responding to her question about our ongoing job search with "I hate it when you invade my privacy, its none of your business" or with "you always are so nosy about my life" both being classic ways in which you may have responded to your mother in the past, try communicating openly about your feelings by saying something like "I understand you are a bit concerned about my job situation and I appreciate your support. I am just not ready to talk about it right now but as soon as I have some good news I will be delighted to share it with you."

Another important part of open communication is to make sure to talk to her soon after she says something that offended you. Don't wait to talk with her long after a misunderstanding; resentment can build leading to even harder feelings.

Third, begin with small steps. It may be difficult to create a new paradigm for the relationship if you think that your task is to rebuild the relationship. It's hard to build something from scratch. Instead, your goal should be a small, definitive step in beginning the process of reaching out to your mother in healthy ways. Something as small as a kind call, email, small gift, or reaching out and inviting her for coffee can be the start of something greater. If you get together for a coffee, frame it as just getting together for no reason and don't come to the coffee with an agenda; just get together for the sake of getting together. Set a specific time and date for the get-together, as opposed to "we should get together," and then just do it.

Remember, the complicated relationship with your mother was created over many years. Rebuilding a supportive relationship will not happen overnight. The goal is a realization that a relationship is possible and that small steps can restore the connection.