05/08/2014 03:19 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2014

A Better Celebration of Mother's Day

Mother's Day is national recognition day for our beloved moms, celebrated with flowers, cards, and Sunday brunches across the country. But when the toasts end and the day passes, we return to our routines and the unconscious behavior patterns that strain even our most precious relationships. If you want to give your mom a Mother's Day gift that lasts forever, resolve to make a small shift in your behavior -- a microresolution--that can lead to a more rewarding relationship and greater personal growth.

Family relationships are subject to habit--what causes you to lose your patience or temper one day is probably not so different from what caused you to roll your eyes or blow your stack at the last family gathering. While you may believe that any tension with Mother would be dispelled if she changed her behavior, creating a healthier relationship dynamic is well within your power. Any of the microresolutions below, practiced regularly, will liberate you from unprofitable behavior patterns and lead to greater enjoyment when you're with Mama:

  • Resolve to join your mother in applauding the successes of siblings, in-laws, and grandchildren, eveΩn if her soaring praise makes you feel diminished, defensive, and competitive.
  • Resolve to limit your complaints to Mom to issues that she can actually help you with. "A mother is only as happy as her least happy child," goes the adage, and if your every phone call or visit features your discontent, your mother may feel unsettled long after your conversation ends.
  • Resolve to answer in a lower tone when your mother raises her voice in argument. This should immediately cool the fire and could lead to talking, rather than shouting (highly recommended for teenagers).
  • Resolve not to multi-task while on your weekly call with Mother. Don't read your email, do the crossword, or work the stairmaster while talking to Mom or she'll feel that you can barely squeeze her into the margin of your busy life.
  • Resolve to say, "thanks for your advice, Mom, I'm going to think about that" and immediately move onto other topics whenever your mother gives you unwanted guidance. You don't have to heed or dispute her counsel--you just need to let her know she's been heard.
  • Resolve to find something to praise and admire in your mother when you get together. Children are so hungry for parental praise that they often forget that mothers crave approbation, too.
  • Resolve to involve your mother in one of your routines as a way to see her more often. If you live near Mom but still don't manage much time with her, create a routine for doing something essential together--exercising, shopping, gardening, laundry. Signing up for yoga with Mom could be a boon to your relationship and your health.

The best microresolutions--commitments to a small but pivotal change in behavior--come from personal observation of your own behavior patterns. In addition to the suggestions above, thinking through the dynamics of your relationship with your mother--the quantity and quality of the time you spend together and what leads to friction--will give you plenty of ideas for making a behavioral shift that can makes a difference.

As with any microresolution, you need to pursue your new behavior with single-minded purpose until it begins to take hold (around four-six weeks). Make microresolutions just two at a time; small as they are, achieving them requires willpower and focus, both limited mental resources that are easily exhausted. A successful shift in behavior could be a lifelong gift to your mother and inspire you to make positive pivots in other relationships, both personal and professional.

Caroline Arnold is the author of Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently (Viking, 2014) and is a Managing Director at a Wall Street investment bank.