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The Critical Mom

The Critical Mom

How do I deal with my mother constantly being on my case?

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Q: My mother is always on my case. If she’s not criticizing my clothes, then it's my schoolwork or my friends. I can’t take it any more. My friends’ mothers seem so much nicer and more supportive. I think it's gotten worse now that I'm older. Maybe she's threatened by the fact that I'm as tall as she is now. How do I deal with this ongoing nagging?

A: Ouch! My sympathies are with you. If the situation is as bad as you describe, you are really living in a boxing rink. I hope you're not responding with verbal barbs, because that only escalates the situation and makes life even more unpleasant for you. I will try to help you address all this, but first I would like to clarify one point.

Comparing your life with your friends is not worthwhile. You cannot have an accurate picture what is going on behind their closed doors. Maybe they have other stresses that make their life even more intolerable. And besides, it is an exercise in futility. You cannot switch moms. So focus instead on making your situation more livable.

Let’s try instead to make real improvements in the situation, and to upgrade your living conditions.

I know that you are thinking that in order to create this change, you mother is the one who has to change. However, you approached me, not your mom.* She might not even sense how you are feeling.

If you feel that an honest chat with your mother might be beneficial, then that is the most direct first step. Rehearse your “speech” carefully in your mind and make great efforts to assure that it does not come out accusatory. Try to put yourself in your mother’s place; hearing your criticisms and think what approach might work. It might go something like this:

“Mom, I know that you love me and care about me and want to help me improve, but I find it really difficult to hear your ongoing criticisms. I appreciate if you could only share one or two criticisms a day, and rather than mention a topic several times, can we sit and discuss whether it is something I can change at this point. Your opinion is important to me, but I can’t change everything at once.”

Some warnings about your “speech:”

  1. Make sure that both you and your mom are in a good mood when you have this conversation.
  2. Don’t tell your mom that you think that she is unfair, inconsiderate, nasty etc.
  3. Throw in a compliment.
  4. Don’t compare your mom to others in this chat.
  5. Don’t threaten [If not I will run away from home] or generalize [“You always criticize me”].
  6. Don’t analyze your mom. “I know that you are feeling inferior…”or “I know that you had a difficult relationship with your parents.”
  7. Acknowledge that parents have the “right” and responsibility to correct their children.
  8. Pray before you begin this chat. “Dear God, please help this conversation be productive.”
  9. If you see matters improving even a bit, mention it to your mom

If you think that nothing good can come from this speech, you might try to write a note instead. A note has the advantage of not sounding emotionally charged, but it also may not sound warm and loving. Remember to re-read the note several times before presenting it, trying to look at it through your mom’s eyes.

Other options are to discuss the situation with Dad (you didn’t mention if he is in the picture) and ask him how to proceed. Hopefully you have two parents that are both interested in your welfare and between the two of them they can work on a new system that will be more pleasant for you. When you speak to your father, don’t insinuate that your mother feels threatened, or is uncaring (whether or not there is truth to these claims, but just focus on enlisting his help in limiting your mom’s critical barrage.) It is possible that your dad will say that you are supersensitive or that he cannot get involved, but you won’t know until you ask him. Dad might explain to you that Mom has a critical nature, but that she really does approve of you, even though she has trouble communicating her approval.

It is possible to give yourself the positive strokes that you are missing.

Whether or not you are successful in arresting the criticism, learn how to survive a critical parent. Parental approval is tremendously valuable in creating a positive sense of self-esteem, but it is possible to give yourself the positive strokes that you are missing. When you hear your mom’s criticism, remind yourself that you are a worthwhile human being, and that you have positive qualities as well as negative ones. Accept that these negative comments will leave her mouth, but filter them so they don’t invade your inner calm. For example, if you hear Mom say that you are irresponsible, remind yourself that despite the fact that you could improve in this area, you have a track record of usually being responsible, and your mother is just sharing her perception of a recent event.

Create a mental shield that protects you from suffering the effects of continued criticism. Imagine yourself opening up a mental umbrella, protecting you from the harmful effects of the negativity that is being rained down on you. At the same time, remember that Mom cares about you and pray for more positive interactions between the two of you. Good luck to you in your efforts.

Note to moms and dads: You are the most significant people in the lives of your children. Bathe your children in love, approval and emotional support. Make sure that compliments outweigh criticisms by at least three to one. Communicate to your children that you believe in them and that your criticisms stem from a sincere desire to improve your wonderful child. If constant harping on a specific area does not produce positive results, consider changing your approach. Best of luck in the challenging but rewarding mission of raising children.

Published: March 13, 2010


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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Suzanne, June 23, 2010 6:08 PM

Outside Help

I grew up with a constantly critical mother. I am now 54 years old and I am done seeking her approval. My mother is a Narcissicist and it has always been about her. She will never take responsibility for her words or actions. I have confronted her, set boundaries - nothing changes - t's all about her. She even allowed a friend of hers to get away with molesting me at age 16 because she was afraid she would lose her friends if they found out!! It was never spoken of again. I am learning to re-parent myself. I go to a 12 Step group for Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families and I have a wonderful counsellor. My time with my mother is on hold at present and I repeat affirmations every day. I do good things for myself every day. I treat myself the way I always wanted my mum to. I honor the little girl that is me. The book "Will I Ever Be Good Enough?" is also a good read. Finding out about me and learning to forgive are key to my healing. It's not easy, but essential, for me. God Bless all of you who on the same journey to finding yourselves and your inner peace. Namaste!

(8) Anonymous, March 20, 2010 12:26 AM

Some comment to feel better than the other, some out of love.

Comments seemed like that to me too, at the time. And it annoyed and hurt me. And I thought why point out all my flaws, or how I could be more perfect, per her point of view. But when she died, and all comments on what would be good for me stopped, it was shocking. I noticed that no one else cared to ask me personal stuff, or cared if I looked my best, or cared why or what was going on with me or my kids. And I missed it, that is to say, I miss that I really mattered to her, to someone so much, that they noticed every little detail about me and how I look, talk, do stuff. And I realized after she was gone, that this was one of the many ways she showed she cared. Her most important goal in life was to help her children be all we could be, and be happy. Sure, it didn't feel pleasant at the time, but it was done out of caring, out of love. Sure, she could have said the things a bit more kindly, and less often, but she too was as human as me. It's true that you probably can't change her; it's hard enough to change our own bad habits when we want to. But you can change your view of why she bothers to do / say what she does. It's gives me more patience and a kinder heart when I listen to the love behind the comments. Not hers any more, but my mother-in-laws comments on a lot. It may be a bit aggravating, but I appreciate that she is one that my family matters to so much, for her to bother to notice, and can't sit by and say nothing. Because we matter so much to her, and she just wants the best for us all.

(7) AJH, March 18, 2010 2:31 PM

Good Ears,Throat,And Soft Tongue

The motives of critics are varied. To look at why they speak is good. However, let the speaker think of the feelings of the recipient. We are to a degree, led by peers throughout life, and this is good and bad. Parents too. So, Let us all protect family ties, hear and speak, and yet still, weigh all by the Measure of Torah. A parent may see a trouble, yet speak poorly. Analysis of the input is vital to the recepiant. I think of myself.

(6) Anonymous, March 16, 2010 5:22 PM

Lived with it all my adult life

I think the older she got, the more critical my mom became. We lived in different states most of my adult life. May she rest in peace, but a couple of years before her death, I went to visit and she sat across the morning table from me and out it comes, "I don't like your hair, it looks so dry, and I don't like your nails either" (prof. manicured), and something else, I can't even remember what now, but it was just an unbelievable little attack. I looked at her and said "well Mom, your hair looks really dry too". She then went on to say that hers was dry, as she ran her hands through it. After returning home, called and told her that I hoped she enjoyed the visit as much as I had only to hear that she didn't, it was not a good visit because I hadn't painted the living room for her. This was after she'd said she wished someone would mop the family room and kitchen floors for her, which I did, only to hear "well, I'm glad you did it, but I don't like the way you did it". The tone of voice and inflections make such a difference, too. Sometimes there is just no relief from this kind of thing. May you be blessed with it.

(5) Ana, March 15, 2010 3:00 PM

Learning to appreciate

Parents should make their children feel comfortable and safe to express themselves in the family. Children do feel the difference between "deserved" critic and over criticizing. Learning to appreciate your child's feelings and discuss them can increase not only their positive self-image, but enables them to build and make more constructive emotional relationships with other people in their life.

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