Dealing With A Critical, Controlling Mother

Dear Dr. Bill,

I am 34 yrs. old and have 3 children.  My mother has always interfered in my life.  I don’t enjoy her visits and I often find myself making excuses for her not to come.  What happens is that my Mom comes to “observe” how our family is doing — and she totally undermines the authority we have with our kids.

After her visits, she calls with critical comments about everything we’re doing wrong, and I feel hurt and angry.  What should I do?


Dear Kim,

Unfortunately the people who are the closest to us have the most potential to hurt us.  It sounds like your mom has been criticizing you and attempting to control you for years.  There are likely reasons why she is so negative and controlling.  It may be helpful for you to gain some insight into her past, in order to develop some degree of empathy for her.

At the same time, she has no right to treat you with such disrespect.  It’s time to set down firm boundaries in your relationship with her.  This won’t be easy, and will require strength and courage on your part.

Sit down with your mom when both of you are in a good mood, and let her know that things are going to be different in your relationship from this point forward. Tell her that you love her, but that her constant criticism hurts you deeply and that you are no longer going to accept it.

Explain that unless she can make a genuine effort to change her attitude and behavior, she will no longer be welcome in your home.  She may react in anger, or may play the martyr role and attempt to make you feel guilty for your words.  But stand your ground and refuse to be manipulated.

An excellent book that will help you is “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Thanks for writing Kim.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.

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