I’m a single working woman in my late twenties. I mostly feel confident and independent, except when it comes to my relationship with my mother. She constantly criticises me and feels she has the right to comment on just about everything I do, including my weight and choice of clothes. I feel so angry inside, but rarely have the guts to stand up to her and I feel guilty if I eventually do snap.
Mother-daughter relationships can often be so complex. During your childhood, your mother tends to remain at the centre of everything, because you rely on her for so much.
However, this starts to change with a child’s growing independence in teenage years. As your life experiences broaden and you become an adult, it’s not uncommon for some mothers to feel the influence they once had in their child’s life slipping away. In other words, their own power is diminishing. In many cases, this period of transition, though rocky, usually settles down and a more mature relationship emerges where a mother and her daughter feel more equal.
From what you describe in your email, it sounds as if your mum is trying to cling to as much influence over your life as she possibly can and she’s doing this very forcefully, indeed. The more you feel confident and independent, the more she feels sidelined and out of a job.
It’s important for you to remember that you are not responsible for how your mum behaves. This is her problem and not yours. So, when she manipulates you into feeling guilty, try to stand above the emotion and retain that rational thought ‘I am not to blame for this’.
In this situation, when you’re together, it can be very easy to slip back into the parent/child relationship and forget that you’re actually two adults.
It might help, before you spend any time with her, to spend some time thinking about what you’ve achieved in your life and how you’ve done this. By your own admission, you are confident. Giving yourself a pep talk and bolstering your own self-esteem before you have contact with your mother will give you greater strength to deflect any harsh words.
Take time to think about stock responses to her most common criticisms. If she criticises your weight or your clothes, rather than losing your temper, practise saying, ‘I’d like you to know that what you just said was incredibly hurtful and I would like an apology,’ in a calm manner. Then, make a plan that if she doesn’t apologise, to cut your meeting short.
Unfortunately, the only way to deal with bullying behaviour is to stand up to it. Be the adult in the situation and take control of it and leave the childish behaviour to your mum.
One of the best things you can do is turn this into a positive and learn from it. If, at some point in the future, you have children of your own, then use this experience to inform your own parenting. It might be that your mother’s mother was just as critical of her – this can be learned behaviour, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break the pattern. Take what you’ve learned and feed it forward. Not criticising your own children in a way that demolishes their self-esteem will inevitably create a new chain of positivity and ensure that your kids want to spend time with you rather than feeling duty bound to do so.
Russell Hemmings is a life coach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting. Contact Russell on 055 286 7275 or russellhemmings.co.uk.