Be a Grown-Up

Isn't it just weird that when we're with our moms, we can revert to being a twelve year old? What's that about? Read on and discover more!


Be a Grown-Up

By Debbie Alsdorf & Joan Edwards Kay, MA, LMFT

You are an adult. You can vote. You can legally marry. You can financially support yourself. But when you are with your mom, do you sometimes feel like you are twelve years old?

I (Joan) often hear that type of complaint in my therapy practice. Women say, "When it comes to Mom, things annoy me that wouldn't annoy me with someone else," or "I revert to tactics I used when I was little - pouting, snarkiness, arguing," or "I feel like a child, always trying to please her and longing for her love." Do you relate?

I (Debbie) can certainly relate. The day of my mother's open-heart surgery was emotionally draining. Sadly, I was worried that she would die without me ever knowing why things had been so hard between us. Thankfully, she came through a very dangerous surgery. She was a true walking miracle, but now we needed a relational miracle too.

A few months after her surgery I initiated the hard conversation. "Mom, I've always wanted to know what has been wrong between us. I have spent my whole life trying to get your attention, loving you the best I could. But you have been hard for me to reach. Can we talk about us?"

At that moment tears slowly began to trickle down her aged cheeks. "I have never wanted to tell you . . . I am so ashamed." She began to tell me the saddest story - her story, that of a woman who felt trapped in a marriage and faced with an unwanted pregnancy late in life. She never wanted me.

Stunned, I had a choice to make in that moment. Would I listen to her story and care about her life, or be preoccupied with my own? Would I receive her apologies, or would I wall her out like she had always done to me? I had initiated the conversation and desperately wanted healing with my mother. Now was my chance to be a grown-up and act out of my adult self rather than the hurt little girl who longed for her mother's approval.

That day changed everything. Through tears and understanding we began anew, two adult women accepting the pain and imperfections in each other. It could have gone much differently had I not decided to be a grown-up and listen with a caring and compassionate heart, much as I would with a woman who wasn't my own mother.

As hard as it might be, it is important to learn to be grown-ups with our mothers, rather than letting our little-girl needs take over. It just might be the beginning of the change and healing we long for.

Grown-ups keep their love on. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, the greatest thing is love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV).

Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay have co-authored It's Momplicated: Hope and Healing for Imperfect Daughters of Imperfect Mothers.

Debbie Alsdorf has a mission - to help women live a better story. She does this by leading women to the heart of God's love for them and the truth of his word. She has been a women's ministry leader for over 25 years, working with women in all stages of life. She is an author, international speaker, mentor, certified life coach and the founder of Design4Living Ministries. Connect at

Joan Edwards Kay is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in the East Bay of San Francisco. Her mission is to help individuals and couples find freedom from old, painful beliefs and patterns so they can experience joyful connection with themselves, others, and God. Joan has been an adjunct professor at Western Seminary and has taught classes on various counseling topics at churches in her area. Connect at

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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