by Denise Riebman

I never wanted to be a mom. At 25 years old, I was indignant (how can anyone bring a child into this world when the ice caps are melting!), ignorant (it’s impossible to balance being a parent and having a fulfilling career!), and insecure (what do I know about being a great parent?).

But, in one single moment, all of that changed when my 6-month-old niece gazed up from the bed and softly smiled at me. A new color was invented for my “love palette.” And if this was what Aunt Love looked like, I knew that someday I wanted to know what Mom Love felt like, too.

Nearly all of us have an intricate relationship with Mother Love. Unconditional/conditional; absent/smothering; oversharing/compartmentalized; distant attachment/healthy connection. Some grow up with loving parents; others adapt to mother themselves; and others learn when they become parents.

Even if you believe that Mother’s Day is a contrived holiday designed to guilt us into buying cards and flowers, positive psychology can offer cost-free gifts to embrace the mother we have, the mother we are, or the mother we have become.

Just for today, let’s add an extra R into the positive psychology PERMA framework to allow us to Reimagine Relationships. Research overwhelmingly tells us that relationships are the foremost factor in overall well-being, but many spend decades harboring resentment toward a lack of maternal love or a deficiency in the way they were parented. By employing re-goaling and story editing tools, we have the opportunity to reimagine the impact of the relationship and wrap our story in new packaging:

  • What gifts did you gain from what you received or didn’t receive from a parent?
  • What past resentments are you clinging to that are limiting future goals?
  • What would your life look life if you released the old “story wrapping” of your relationship?
  • Is the story about your maternal love relationship complete and true? Do you know the prequel about her life? What plot line can you reimagine to change your sequel?

    “I am so angry at my mother!!!” I remember writing this many times in my angst-ridden adolescent diary. As a child, I wanted to trade her in for a different mom, usually one of my friend’s moms who I thought would be much cooler. As an adult, I have talked to those same friends about how they also wanted to trade in their mom when they were teens—turns out that the desire to swap moms is a frequent adolescent yearning. And it also turns out that I am now eternally grateful for the unconditional love I received from my mother—always there to make dinner, review homework, cheer me on at my tennis matches, and remind me that I could do anything!

    By allowing ourselves Permission to Be Human, we can see our upbringing through a more mature, grateful lens. Imagine the gifts of gratitude we can give our mothers/mother figures for doing the best they could, with what they had and where they were. We can offer them a “Permission Slip to be Human”—one that’s valid for the past, present, and future.

    Flash-forward 20 years after that enchanting moment when my niece smiled at me, and I still want to get married and be a mom. Two decades of wisdom, along with intensive study in positive psychology, have taught me that, when we open our hearts to the gifts of gratitude and acceptance for how we were mothered, then we are free to dip into our Love Palettes—intricate, complex and colorfully messy—and paint our own beautiful love stories.

    Denise Riebman is a career development specialist who applies a strength-based, positive psychology framework toward inspiring individuals to find career happiness. She is Director of Career Development and Alumni Services at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School, and founder of Denise holds a Certificate in Positive Psychology and additional certification from Global Career Development Facilitation, Presence-Based Coaching, and The Coaches Institute.