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Dealing with a critical or controlling mother...


In her award-winning short film, My Nose, filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum focuses on her mom's quest to get her to have a nose job.  Barely touching the surface of their highly complex and charged relationship, Kirschenbaum knew it needed deeper exploration.  The poignant journey is told in her new upcoming film, LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER! What emerges is a uniquely cinematic family study with humor and pathos in the midst of conflicts and affections that bind mother and daughter.  It is an enlightening and inspirational film. Watch the trailer below:

A Critical Mother

We found that the video below shows a very true to life situation and offers some helpful advice.  While this scenario involves a mother being critical of her daughter’s parenting skills in front of her children, the advice is still helpful for daughters who don’t have kids and whose mother is often critical of other things.  The video includes strategies that we often use ourselves with our mothers.  Watch it and see if you can take some of the suggestions to use the next time your mother is critical.

Understanding and Managing Your Controlling Mother
By Marie Hartwell-Walker, ED.D., PsychCentral.com


You are 35 years old and your mom is still trying to run your life.  She doesn’t approve of your boyfriend.  She thinks your best friend is taking advantage of you.  She comments on your weight.  She “suggests” that you rearrange your living room and “insists” that she doesn’t want to be a bother — but — why haven’t you called her in the last 48 hours?  She feigns illness, goes helpless around household chores you know she can do, and implies you aren’t a good daughter if you have other plans for your weekend besides going shopping at the mall with her.


You know she is able to take care of herself.  You know that she isn’t sick.  At 60, she manages a demanding full-time job. She is still strong enough to keep her wood stove going in winter and to give the entire house a good cleaning in the spring. So why does every conversation with her leave you feeling guilty or angry?


It would be too easy to call her “controlling” as if that’s an explanation.  It’s not.  It’s a label that may reflect your angry feelings but may not at all describe what is going on.  Before searching the Internet for ways to put her in her place, there’s more to consider than an amateur diagnosis that results in setting rigid boundaries and distancing her from your life.


Possible explanations for what looks like controlling behavior


Maybe she is lonesome and can’t admit it to herself.  If she is widowed or if your dad is distant and uncommunicative, she may be longing for your company.  However close her friends may be, they may not know her as intimately as members of her own family do.  If she acknowledges her longing for closeness, it would make her feel too angry at your dad to live with him peacefully or too sad about where her life is ending up.  As a member of the family, she feels more able to impose on you than on other people she knows.


Maybe she is grieving.  If your father died within the last five years, she may be having difficulty with the loss.  Yes, some people move on within a year or so.  But some people grieve for three to five years following the death of someone significant in their lives.  Some people never seem to get through it and need professional help.  Being with you may distract her from her grief.


People don’t necessarily have to die for her to be grieving.  If your mom is taking care of her 80-something-year-old parent who is failing or if your dad is sick or if a disabled sibling is suffering early dementia, for example, your mom may be having difficulty managing the new reality.  If she is losing her closest friend to cancer or is trying to cook and clean for people she cares about who are ill on top of managing her job and home, she may be overwhelmed by both what’s called “anticipatory grief” and by the added chores.  Feeling so out of control of these events, she may be exerting some control where she can – on you.


Maybe she has an anxiety disorder.  People with social phobia are fearful of being judged by others or fearful that they will embarrass themselves in some way if they are among people who don’t know them well.  As long as she has a child or two with her (even an adult child), a socially phobic mom can keep the focus off her and on you.  If she is agoraphobic as well, not having a companion when she goes places puts her in a panic.  Unable to make friends, she leans on you for conversation and company.


Maybe she really is sick but either doesn’t want to face it herself or doesn’t want to burden you.  You don’t see her every minute of every day.  It may be that it takes her hours to do things that used to take her minutes. Y ou see the wood stove burning or the clean house.  You know she gets to work every day.  You don’t see what it costs her to do it.


Maybe she is pointing out things that you don’t want to admit might be true.  Having been the guardian of your emotional and physical health for a couple of decades, she may not be able to give it up just because you are a grownup. (Even grownups can be unwise.)  Maybe the boyfriend really is a loser.  Maybe your best friend isn’t looking out for your best interests.  Maybe you aren’t seeing in the mirror what she sees when you walk in the door.  Perhaps she could be more tactful but just maybe you keep wearing those old jeans because they have stretched out enough that you don’t have to face that you have put on two sizes this year.  Proud of how skinny you are?  Maybe she is right that you have gotten carried away with your exercise routine.  If you’re trying to avoid an issue, it’s not fair to be mad at her for caring enough about you to point it out.


Or maybe she really is the problem.  Of course, there is the possibility that she has an untreated personality disorder, that she’s a mean alcoholic, that she is one of those sad people who only feels significant if she’s making other people jump, or that she simply has never been a nice person (so why would she be one now?).  Maybe she plays favorites, makes threats, and tries to buy alliances in the family in a desperate need to count.  In such cases, “controlling” may be an appropriate word.


Read rest of article (Page 2)

Coping with a Critical Mom

By Joan Borysenko, PhD, Prevention.com


Learning how to listen can heal your relationship.


I was in my early 40s before I began to see my mother as a person, rather than as my own private critic. The transformation occurred when she was dying. The family had gathered at the hospital to say their good-byes, but she'd been whisked off for tests. After it was determined that the tests wouldn't make any real difference, I took her back to her room.


On the short elevator ride, a miracle unfolded. She looked deeply into my eyes, took my hand, and told me how much she loved me.  Then she asked if I could forgive her for all the mistakes she'd made as a mother.  Years of pain melted away in the time it took for me to say yes.  I was able to thank her for her love, and then to ask her forgiveness for all the times I'd pushed her out of my heart.  We entered that elevator like caterpillars and emerged as butterflies.


That metamorphosis helped me think back over our lives together with a new appreciation for who she was.  Like all human beings, she had her share of sorrows and disappointments.  And she was determined that my life would be better. What I had seen as years of biting criticism was her way of correcting my faults so that I could marry a wealthy man and be taken care of.  Her intention was noble, but wanting me to live her dream nearly destroyed the love between us.


Why do relations between mothers and daughters seem so much more fraught than between mothers and sons?  It's in part because we don't engage in the same dance of separation that boys do to find their own identities.  Research by psychologist Janet Surrey, PhD, and her colleagues at the Stone Center at Wellesley College found that girls develop a sense of self in relation to, rather than in opposition to, their mothers.  That very closeness can sometimes make communicating with your mother frustrating and competitive if she sees you as an extension of herself.


If you've ever fantasized that your mom lies awake at night thinking up ways to be gnarly and intrusive, you're not alone. But here's the scoop:  Most moms don't pester their daughters out of meanness.  They're actually trying to express love and concern.  If you can train yourself to look beyond the surface of what seems like nit-picking and criticism, you can develop a deeper relationship with your mom and separate from her in a healthy way.  Here's how to deal with a mother who's brilliant at zeroing in on perceived mistakes you make in work, love, even your appearance.


Read rest of article (Page 2)

How to Deal With an Overbearing Mother


It can drive you absolutely crazy to deal with an overbearing mother. Here are 10 steps to help you:


Does your mother try to tell you how to live your life? Or scrutinize every decision you make? Not to worry, you can still enjoy her endearing traits if you learn how to manage the less desirable ones.



  1. Step 1

    Realize there are reasons why your mother is overbearing and that you won't ever be able to change her. The operative word in this article is "deal."

  2. Step 2

    Work on establishing boundaries immediately. Decide which aspects of your life you won't share with your mother, then remind her when she invades them.

  3. Step 3

    Learn this phrase and repeat it often; "I love you, but I don't want to discuss that with you." Then change the subject when your mother begins to meddle.

  4. Step 4

    Consider writing your mother a letter, detailing how you would like your relationship to evolve (and which aspects can go extinct like the dinosaurs).

  5. Step 5
    Thank your mother for her suggestions on how to live your life, then move on to more stimulating conversation.

Read next 5 steps

More Articles and Videos

  • Mean Mothers: Video interview with Mean Mothers author Peg Streep. Plus an excerpt from the book that explores the darker side of the mother and child relationship with stories of strained relationships fraught with tension, anger, and ambivalence.