Yes, I understand Mother.
August 11, 2012 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I have a poor relationship with with my parent and looking for advice to improve family relations.

My mother has always been a overbearing kind of personality. She holds herself to high standards and wants the best for her children. Yet some days, I feel as if her criticisms are hard and demoralizing. Many times she will make cutting remarks about my appearance or hobbies.

I understand, she grew up in a difficult environment from mine and her family was less privileged than I am now. Yet, sometimes her words make me feel terrible for the rest of the day. Although, I may be overreacting because all families are flawed someway or another. I guess, deep down I want to be useful, but I feel useless all the time.

Lately, she's been under extreme stress about the store that we own and I find that she is more likely snap and insult me. I'm a very introverted person, but right now I am working as a receptionist here. Every time she interacts with me I feel anxious.

Few times I feel completely relaxed when I wasn't with her on my days off or I was just away on my own.

I'd like to move out as soon as I complete my college, but that is far away considering I have around 3-4 yrs to go. Any advice for dealing with difficult parents would be appreciated. Thanks.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Human Relations (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up with a mother of this sort and I have one piece of advice: get out.

Grown people don't change and betting on the fact that you can do anything but put up with this is a losing gamble. The relationship between my mother and I improved more than I can describe when I left home and we didn't have to interact on a daily basis.

I dropped out of college to leave home, but you don't have to do anything that drastic. Start looking into ways to get out of that house.
posted by griphus at 12:33 PM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I, too, have a mother like this, but I stayed at home through college. I see her probably 2-3 times a week now, since we live near my parents, and she sits the kids.

She grew up in a difficult environment from mine and her family was less privileged than I am now.

I'm glad that you take into consideration her background and the stress she is under. My mom (with no basis) believes my dad doesn't love her (it is quite untrue, but does not obliterate her feelings), and her father killed himself when she was 12. I try to remember this when especially frustrated with her.

I suggest not being pulled into an argument by her comments. I used to think it was disrespectful to not answer my mom's criticisms (sometimes mean, sometimes just trying to be helpful, but not being at all). But really it was more disrespectful to maintain a pointless argument--to the edge of screaming. My mom likes to argue and likes to criticize people, and I do not want to encourage it, so I don't say anything. (We have very pleasant conversations otherwise.)

I think the first step is to quit your job as receptionist and get a job outside the family business. That's what kept me me sane while in college--I was commuting to school and at one point had 3 jobs. I would pretty much only be home for family dinners, and to do some household help. I would do that before moving out--considering the economy and how much you could save/put toward paying your tuition and expenses while living at home.

Good luck! Again, I admire your desire to separate yourself from the negative aspects of your mom, without completely disowning her.
posted by katyh at 1:02 PM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I should add that it might be a little more tense at home when you first quit if it's expected that you work for the fam. But I think it will get better.
posted by katyh at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2012

You may not be able to change her, but she is not incapable of change. You might try talking to her calmly and specifically about which comments of hers bother you, and why. She may not realize that you experience her words that way. I'm not saying it's easy, or instantaneous, but taking my mother to my therapy with me a few times has helped us communicate more gently with each other.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 1:42 PM on August 11, 2012

I agree with katyn about getting a job outside the family business as soon as you can. Give yourself some distance and a chance to blossom. Your mom sounds a lot like my grandmother, and echoes of her perfectionism rubbed off on my mom. My relationship with my mom got *loads* better after I moved out.

She holds herself to high standards

This is key. People tend to do to others in some form what they do to themselves. You can try taking a completely different tack and genuinely praising what she achieves/expressing appreciation for her mothering. Sometimes if people feel less hard on themselves, they are gentler with others as well.

One of the things I realized later was that a lot of the things that grated on me about my mother were because I was very similar in those ways. If she criticized me, I felt it keenly because it was usually something I was *already working on*. Once she understood that I was handling it and could manage my own life, she cut the criticism entirely. I notice sometimes she still likes to give advice though. Sometimes parents just want to feel needed too, to feel like they are still guiding you, even when you've outgrown some of their advice. Living at home can reinforce that subconsciously, like you haven't "left the nest".

You can also preemptively ask for her advice on something that you actually would like her input on, so she knows you value it. That may also give you more freedom to reject when her thoughts are unsolicited.

You also say she wants the best for you. Does the "best" she sees for you equate to what *you* feel is best? Maybe having a calm, honest conversation about it, when she is in a good mood, would help.

It takes incredible strength (and practice), but sometimes mid-argument, deflecting harsh words with kind words can make a big difference to defuse the tone also. "Thanks for the input, Mom. I'll take it into consideration. That hobby/appearance style isn't for me. I'm living the best way I can, but I'm always open to your thoughts." That might also take some of the anxiety away, turning it from constant confrontations into just conversations. Only you know you. You're free to acknowledge any merits her words may have while politely disagreeing/quietly discarding anything that doesn't work for you.

Or, if she's just mindlessly lashing out at anything and everything, then I agree, you can just not respond, because it doesn't deserve a response and might just fuel the fire.

But yeah, exposing yourself to harsh criticism year after year is a surefire way to feel demoralized and self-doubting later on, if you take it all to heart. Some people might try to grow a thicker skin and numb themselves to it, but I have always been very thin-skinned, and I think you can use that to your advantage too, by empathizing (as it sounds like you are already beginning to do).

Try to see the feelings *behind* what she's saying instead of feeling like she's really attacking you and calling you useless. She's probably saying, "I care about you and I don't understand some of your lifestyle choices, and I don't know how to articulate nicely that I think these choices might not give you the kind of life that made *me* successful." Or alternately "I'm feeling really bad about myself right now and I need to take it out on you, so I can live vicariously through your perfect life."

If she truly understood what it did to you she would probably feel bad -- she's slowly chipping away at your sense of self-worth, which is the *one* thing you need to really thrive in life, not appearance nor hobbies. But you have the power to counteract that.

I hate the thing about less privilege/more privilege, because one has no control over how much privilege they're born with, and generally the parents worked really hard so that their children would have *more*. It's ridiculous to then resent that they have it or lord it over them. You can always say lightly, "Don't worry, Mom, the economy is crap right now and for the foreseeable future. I'm sure I'll experience hard times soon enough. And I'll have your teachings to help me survive them."

You are not useless. I would recommend finding supportive, encouraging allies, friends, and mentors in college (via classes, clubs, sports, etc) and spending more time with them. Any time she is criticizing you and you start feeling anxious/bad, remember their encouragement, and the voice inside your head that knows what is really best for you. She wants you to be happy and have a good life too, she just may not understand that you get there a different way.
posted by iadacanavon at 2:12 PM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

One can be understanding of the reasons why a toxic person is toxic to you. But that does not make them any less toxic. For your own health and personal growth, leave.
If you REALLY can't leave, at least find another job. Yes, it will make life harder in some ways, but it will free you in many others.

And nthing iadacanavon - find things to do away from the house, interact with new people, give yourself a break from this stress and freshen your outlook.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:41 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you, for all the helpful replies. Right now, I can't quit my job, but I'll be starting classes soon at the end of the month so I'll be spending more time away from home. Hopefully, this will improve my situation.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 8:32 AM on August 15, 2012

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