DEAR KELLY: I know you counsel teenagers, so I'm sure I'm not the first to have this problem.
My mom is so selfish. My parents divorced three years ago, and she's so into herself. My dad comes to anything for me – swim meets, anything for school, an art show we did for our art class, etc. My mom only comes when she isn't busy. When I tell her I have something I want her to go to, she always says things like, "Let me check my schedule and make sure I'm not already booked with something important," like anything about me or my younger brother isn't important.
Recently I went to a retreatlike thing for my school and they had parents write us a letter about how much they loved us. Guess who "forgot" to write the letter? My mom.
When I came home, I showed her my dad's letter. She got mad and said that she has a busy life and that I expect too much from her. She didn't really even say "sorry." The next morning she put a card on the counter and wrote me the letter she was supposed to, but honestly by then it had no meaning. I don't expect a lot from her, Kelly, just that she makes me a priority in her life over her friends.
My mom never does things like my friends' moms do, like go shopping in the city or go on overnights somewhere, just the two of us for girl time. Instead, she dashes off any chance she gets with her girlfriends on weekend trips to Napa or Tahoe, but never takes us places.
Do you believe some people were not meant to be moms? My dad says she wasn't always like this and that she does love us, but she's just too into herself right now to remember she has teenage kids.
If I try to talk about it, she gets mad and says to stop comparing me to all the other moms.
I don't know how we can figure this out without having a big fight and both of us ending up angry and not wanting to be around each other anymore.
– Distressed Daughter
DEAR DD: Slow it down. Saying your mom isn't meant to be a mom feels hasty and a bit reactive. The communication between you and your mom isn't working, and you are caught in a bad cycle with each other. You are hurt and you lash out. She thinks you are disrespectful and ungrateful for not seeing what she does do, so she gets defensive. You hear her defensive tone and you shut down. With the way the two of you are communicating, nothing will get resolved and you both will stay hurt and angry for a long time.
Start with writing your mom a letter about how you feel. Stick to just your feelings and avoid blaming her or calling out her behavior. Say things like, "I don't feel important to you," or "I wish we could spend more time together and do things like go shopping or on a girls' overnighter." Ask her to go to breakfast or dinner – just the two of you – like weekly or every other week. Make it a date to start to spend time together on a regular basis. In the beginning, keep things light and comfortable. Talk about what is going on in your life and share it with her so she feels connected to you. Ask about her life, too, and find out what how she is doing.
Get a calendar and put it in the kitchen where your mom will easily see it. Post all the important things you want her to attend on it. Give her plenty of notice so she can mark it on her calendar. Let her know the difference in what you really want her to attend and what isn't as important.
Make sure you do the same with your dad, so he is included as well and knows to be sure to go to the things that matter to you.
Stop comparing your mom to other moms. It creates a wall between you both and adds unnecessary anger and resentment. Work at accepting her – flaws and all.
You need your mom. That is clear. Share this with her. Tell her why she is important. Hopefully she sees her value to you and makes your events a priority. If she doesn't, appreciate that your dad is there and realize that it is her loss for missing out on sharing your important moments.
If things continue to be a struggle with your mom, ask for a few joint sessions with a family therapist. Your relationship with your mom is too important to let it slip away and develop negative feelings about each other that cause a rift between you.
Act now to start repairing the relationship. If you want to be healthy, you have to work at forgiving your mom and moving forward. She may not be perfect, but she is your mom and it's a relationship worth fighting for.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.