How can I alleviate my mother’s suffering?

Dec 5, 2022

 

QUESTION

Ven. Robina,

 

Greetings! Hope this email finds you well. Thank you for the short videos, they serve as great reminders. I haven’t had the chance to attend a live teaching due to timezone difference but listen to most of them on YouTube. Thanks so much for all your teachings. I am writing to you today for your guidance on a personal situation.

 

I have an old mother and I have always tried to do my best for her, sometimes even at the cost of my time with my son. Not just me, but my husband as well takes real good care of her, in every situation. My mother has had this habit of threatening to commit suicide since I was young. I have always understood her helplessness or her situation and have always responded kindly in such situations. I have lived my life with this fear and it took a lot of work to get over it. We are four siblings but a large part of her emotional support comes from me. 

 

Most often, I have prioritized her over my family and that set a bad precedent. For a while, I have worked on creating some distance, learning to prioritize my family. She took a while to get used to this but today, there is a new normal that she has accepted (or not). I have told her to not use suicide as a threat and over time she has understood this as well and doesn’t do it now.

 

As I see it, her main suffering is the lack of love from her son (although she will defend him till her death). I guess I have gone overboard and tried to give her love hoping I could fill that space but we all know it never does. In certain situations, she continues to be difficult although I always do what is in her best interest and I always try hard to make her life comfortable. 

 

I get extremely tired dealing with her whims and fancies. Every situation requires coaxing, cajoling and hours and hours of talking before she agrees to what I am proposing. I simply run out of patience and get tired of being compassionate. In that sense, she is an ultimate teacher showing me where the work is needed. I know I have work to do in opening my heart further and developing bodhicitta. 

 

But my question to you is how does one deal with such emotional exhaustion along the way? 

 

Deepest gratitude for all your guidance and teachings!

 

Regards,

A.

 

ANSWER

Dearest A,

 

Happy to hear from you — all very clear.

 

First of all, I truly admire your kindness, patience, and compassion with your mother. Unbelievable! An amazing practice.

 

Your dear mother’s dissatisfaction is the essence of the problem. This is the world’s problem! No matter what we get, what we achieve, it’s never enough. And, like so many mothers, the terrible feeling of not having her son’s love is the biggest dissatisfaction for her. 

 

It feels to her and appears to you and everyone else that her suffering is caused by her son not giving her the attention she craves. But, no, it’s her craving itself that is the problem. It’s a big difference and sometimes hard to see.

 

Attachment is suffering even if it does get what it wants; even if he did show her love and attention, she still wouldn’t be satisfied; it’s a bottomless pit. But the suffering is acute when attachment doesn’t get what it wants. That’s the pain of your dear mother — and so many people on this planet!

 

In fact, this attachment is the deepest one we all have: attachment to being seen and heard and approved of. And when we don’t get it, like in your mother’s case, the suffering is unbearable.

 

And this is why no matter what you do for her, it’s not enough. It really is such suffering. And you cannot fix it, you know that. Attachment can’t be satisfied, we have to understand that.

 

So, what’s the source of your suffering? This constant feeling that you don’t do enough, you should do more. No! You are doing perfectly.

 

Your job is not to make your mother satisfied; that’s her job. So, relax, you’re doing so well. No need for guilt or fear or worries about her. Be happy, be content. 

 

Your mother’s unhappiness is not the sign of your failure — no! It’s a sign of the suffering of her own attachment.

 

Love her for who she is. And help her prepare for death. Say prayers for her, let her hear prayers, mantras, and so forth. This can bless her mind and help her die with peace.

 

What do you think?

 

Much love, A,

Robina

 

QUESTION

Greetings Ven. Robina,

 

Thank you so so much for such a detailed explanation and guidance! Just what I needed!

 

I spent the last two days introspecting and reflecting on what you had written. It helped me clearly see where my suffering is coming from. My attachment to providing the best solution for all her problems, keeping her satisfied and happy at all times is leaving me exhausted. Added to that the guilt on my shoulders if she is unhappy for any reason. And to top it all, the craving for her approval, that some day she will say – you did good. It was an endless battle. 

 

The inner needle I think has shifted or as you say, the penny has dropped! Thank you for showing me the way.

 

Deepest gratitude for this and everything else!!! Thank you for all that you do for this world!

 

Regards,

A

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