Punk rock teenage parental angst, but I'm an adult.
April 27, 2010 7:22 AM   Subscribe

So I'm thinking about family therapy. I'm a 25 year old female with a strained relationship with her mother. Has group therapy helped you sort out issues with your family?

So, I’m currently seeking a therapist and it’s nice. We spend a lot of time talking about my relationship with my mother, which is currently pretty strained. She’s made some choices I don’t agree with and tends to be pretty emotionally turbulent. The problem is that I’m temporarily living with her (I am a 25 year old female), since my younger sister’s health turned precipitous and I learned that she wasn't taking her to her doctor's visits and shows inconsistency in her level of care. This is, in itself, a reason for my frustration with her. Anyway, I'll be moving out to a place I found nearby soon. I love my mom, but I hate living this close to her – our discussions on the phone were necessary, but so was the ability to hang up or to schedule those chats infrequently. Anyway, the proximity has strained my sense of independence, my younger sister’s health condition has me hyper-vigilant and my mother is driving me insane. She’s acted really immature during all of this, and keeps on complaining that her life isn’t fair, that I don’t care about her, and says things that are sort of complimentary but also weird, for example, while I was making lunch she said: ‘you’re so good at all of this, maybe I should be the one to move out’, and not in a funny way. I don't know - maybe this sounds trivial, but she has a tendency to make our disagreements uniquely personal and it makes everyday conversation a bit loaded.
Ugh. I don’t know what to do, so I’m thinking of trying family therapy with my mother. Have any of you all gone through family therapy and found it useful? Is this something that’s going to be like pulling teeth? My tactic has just been lately to accept that my mother is the way she is, and to stay under the radar as much as possible until I move out and personal distance affords a little more composure and boundaries.
I guess I’m nervous because in situations where I have to make group decisions with my mother she is sometimes either really argumentative and pushy or silent and sulky and y’know, she’s my mom and that makes me grit my teeth. Except that what I’m describing is also a feeling shared by the rest of my family and most of the people who know her – like, you just got to get around the emotional turbulences and see the other cool things about her.
Ah, so sorry for slightly off-topic post. Family therapy: success or not? Mothers: accept them or try to improve relationship?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1) I've found that my relationship with my parents improves with the square of the distance between us. Once I've been out of state for another couple of years we may have established enough space for me to be able to move back without any appreciable hit in our relationship. I don't think this is indicative of any particular problem with our relationship; I think it's just a normal part of becoming an independent adult and learning to interact with your parents on that basis. I'd guess that moving out is likely to improve things dramatically.

2) That said, I have been to counseling with my family. It was largely to do with my parents' relationship with each other rather than me and my siblings' relationship with our parents, but it was interesting nonetheless. We only went to one session as a whole family--my sister and I were currently living elsewhere--but I think it was helpful in the long term.

The thing of it is that this won't do anyone any good unless your mom wants to go. If she doesn't think there's a problem--or thinks that she isn't contributing to the problem--getting her in the room will make no difference, assuming you can do it at all.

It's also worth pointing out that family therapy may not be as immediately helpful as getting your mom into counseling herself. Just something to think about.
posted by valkyryn at 7:33 AM on April 27, 2010

Hi ... I feel for you. I had similar issues with my mom and spent MUCH time in therapy learning how to set boundaries and generally separate out from her.

She did come to therapy with me one time and it was helpful in that it gave my therapist a much more rounded picture of the dynamics of the relationship. However, my mother was not invested in changing because what she was doing seemed to be working for her in that she got what she wanted and needed. I, OTOH, was very invested in changing and continued to do my own work toward that end.

I found that distance helped significantly as well as not playing into the game, even though it makes things icky in the short run. Once you take yourself out of the game, she won't be getting the same things out of it. Like I said, it will be un-fun for a while as she flounders around trying to figure out what will work for her but once she sees you are making those changes and sticking to them, things will shift.

MeMail me if you want ... I wish you much luck and success. Hang in there. You have every right to do what you want.
posted by Mysticalchick at 7:47 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a very interesting question. As another person with a loaded relationship with her mother, one in which both parties want the relationship to be strong, I'm also hoping to hear whether family therapy made things better or worse.

To the OP, it sounds like your mom's tendency to take things personally means she MIGHT be self-conscious enough that therapy would be welcome. Sounds like a trick will be asking her in a way that doesn't male her defensive. Finally, in my couples therapy, there were times where we spent a while focusing on my partner, and vice versa. I wonder if that would happen here and if it would frustrate you or be okay.
posted by salvia at 8:12 AM on April 27, 2010

Oh, also, while living far away "helps," it doesn't get at the root of the issue in your relationship patterns. So, doing this while you are nearby could be an investment in a stronger future relationship.
posted by salvia at 8:16 AM on April 27, 2010

Try it. In my experience you'll know very quickly whether or not progress can be made, i.e. whether or not your mom is game.
posted by dualityofmind at 8:20 AM on April 27, 2010

First of all, I'm sorry to hear about your sister's health issues. I think your mom is not coping with this very well, which manifests itself as not taking your sister to doctor's visits, etc. It also sounds like your mom feels very scared, powerless and alone - imagine what it must be like to have your child sick - since she complains about her life not being fair and that you don't care about her. Her comment: "you’re so good at all of this, maybe I should be the one to move out" indicates that she sees you as more capable than her, and isn't able to see that she can be capable as well. I think she may be scared about you moving out because then she'll have to deal with all this alone in the house. Does your mom have friends or relatives that you could talk to so that they could talk to her about getting her adequate support (either a therapist and/or group for parents dealing with a child's health issues)? Or do you think you could talk to her about doing that? I think if she heard something like, "It seems like you're really overwhelmed with your child's health issues. What do you need in order to cope with this? Do you think seeing a therapist or finding a support group would help?" would go a long way (I hope!).

And how is your relationship with your sister - is she a minor or adult? Do you have any role in providing support to her while she's dealing with her health issues? How are you coping? How is she coping?

I've had individual therapy too, to deal with the crappy relationships that I had with my mom and older sister (among other things). I guess the question to ask yourself about wanting to do family therapy with your mom is: what do you want out of it? When I was in therapy, I asked my therapist about doing therapy with my mom and sister (with a therapist qualified to do that). I realized what I really wanted was to have them see what they had "done to me" - i.e. I had some unsavoury ulterior motives! I never went through with it (even though my therapist found some names for me that I could contact) because I wasn't sure what I really wanted out of it - I was seeing group therapy as more of a "duke it out" session with a mediator (ideally on my side) - yuck!

So family therapy: talk about it with your therapist, be clear what you want out of it. If your mom doesn't want to go, you can't force it. Mothers: yes, accept them, but try to be supportive and empathetic (even though they drive us insane).
posted by foxjacket at 9:29 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was 24, entering therapy with my mother really helped me--but in an unexpected way. My mother did not engage, but was expressive enough that my therapist later was able to tentatively diagnose her with antisocial personality disorder. This enabled me to realize I'd never, ever, be able to change her or indeed even get a semblance of what I needed from her.

If she's open to therapy, try it. You may not get the desired result, but you might get a result nonetheless.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:43 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Man, I loved group therapy. It really, really helped my relationship with my (s)mother when we were doing it. It helps to have a referee-esque presence there to mediate and point out when people are acting crazy and talk about how to handle that.

My one problem with it is that well... you have to convince the other party to go, and my mother doesn't wanna any more. It works about as well as the other party is willing to cooperate with it.

How willing would your mom be to go? Does she scorn therapists?
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:37 PM on April 27, 2010

I had family therapy with my mom when I was a teenager with mixed results (it was her idea). We didn't have similar goals for the therapy, and it didn't improve our relationship overall. However, it did help us move past a huge impasse and get on with things we each needed to do. The only thing that improved our relationship was time and distance.
posted by zinfandel at 8:57 PM on April 27, 2010

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