Q&A for Teens: My Disparaging Mother
My mother doesn’t accept me for who I am.
My mother doesn't accept me for who I am. I've chosen a path in life that is more suitable for who I am, but a path that is different from hers. Because of that, all I do is never good enough for her. She loves me because I am her daughter yet I'm constantly hearing negative from her, so much so that when she does thank me for something I've done I don't want the praise – I’d rather she didn’t say anything. I’d rather she’d neither give criticism nor praise.
I've tried to discuss it with her in a non-confrontational manner but all I get back is: “So don't feel. So don't care. You didn't do this…You didn’t do that....” The constant negative feedback is really hurting me. I know I can't change my mother so my question is what I can do to learn to love and accept myself despite everything I'm hearing to the contrary, and to learn where I really am in life – because there are times when I'm not sure why I do various things – is it because I really want to do those things, or is it because I’m just subconsciously rebelling against my mother? I’d really appreciate your reply.
Lauren Roth's Answer
You’re asking such an excellent question because, I’m sorry to tell you, so many people struggle with this issue.
The point is this: we are not our parents. We make our own decisions. We take our own paths. We find our own way in the world. Some things we do the way our parents did. Some things we don’t.
We are not our parents. We take our own paths.
That’s okay. You can be your own person. That’s always allowed. You, as a freely-willed human being, always get to decide what you want to do with your life, whom you wish to be during your time here on Earth, and how you want to use your talents, skills, and proclivities.
There are two problems here. One: your mother’s criticism is hurting your feelings. Two: on the other hand, her criticisms might give you insight about yourself that you may want to consider thinking about, but you can’t think clearly about what she’s saying because of the way she’s saying it.
Let me clarify further. On the one hand, your mother’s disapproval of you feels harsh and cold and unloving. (We’re going to figure out a way to talk to her about that.) On the other hand, her criticisms of your actions might be worth your while considering as valid constructive criticism.
One way to approach her which might soften her defensiveness, so that you both can have a calm and loving conversation instead of a “So don't feel. So don't care. You didn't do this…You didn’t do that....” conversation is this:
Wait for a calm, peaceful moment. Maybe go out to lunch together. Or maybe take a nice walk together. Or maybe play a game together. Once you’ve had a nice time and you both are relatively relaxed, say to her: “Mom, I’ve been thinking. I know the way I’ve chosen to live my life is different than the way you live yours. I’m trying to decide how, exactly, I want to use my time and talents, and I’d really like your input. The only thing is, when you say it in an angry, upset way, I can’t hear it. And I want to hear it, because I want to consider your opinion in my decisions. I think you might have some valid points. After all, you are my mother, so it stands to reason that you want what’s best for me. Also, you’ve had more life’s experience than I have, so you’ve gained wisdom, too. I want to hear your opinions, but I can’t hear them when you put me down. Also, please realize that I might decide not to take your advice. I still want to hear it, though, so that I can have the choice to follow your suggestions if I think they’re the right way to go. Please also realize, Mom, that I don’t love you any less if I decide to choose a path that’s different from yours. If we can talk lovingly and respectfully, I think that would help our relationship the most, and it would also help me be able to hear your advice and really consider it with a clear head.”
Then just listen to her. If she starts to criticize and put you down in the same way as she “always” does, calmly tell her, “Mom, you see, this is what hurts me. I really want to hear your thoughts, but I just can’t hear them when you say them that way. Can we have a calm and loving discussion, instead of a bashing session?”
And then just listen again.
Please be aware that your mother disagreeing with you or your choices does not count as “criticism.” That just counts as “she has a different opinion than you do.” She’s allowed to approach life differently than you do, just as you are allowed to approach life differently than she does.
I had a very similar situation this week with a client. The mother complained that her sons and daughters “never” help her around the house, and roll their eyes when she asks them to participate in family activities. One of the aspects of her situation is that she’s a very controlling mother, who assumes that there is only one way to live – her way. I’ve dealt with children who are judgmental about the way their parents choose to live and I’ve dealt with parents who are judgmental about the way their children choose to live. A more peaceful way – and a more informative way for everyone involved – is for each party to love and respect the other party, and to have a respectful and loving conversation when one side feels the other side is hurting themselves or others.
You are very wise when you said, “I know I can’t change my mother.” There is only one way that you can change the dynamic between you and your mother, and that is by changing your part of the equation. You can help guide you and your mother to a higher plane of relationship – to a place of mutual respect and love, where you can talk about your differences with deference and calmness. I’ll bet you’ll each learn much from the other if you do.