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WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

How do I approach my controlling, manipulative mother about her behavior without damaging our relationship?

Asked by WillWorkForChocolate (23112points) July 19th, 2010

I am a grown woman with children of my own yet she still treats me as a child and interferes in our lives and undermines my authority on a regular basis. She is also a very sensitive, defensive person, and I hate to hurt her feelings.

She calls me daily to question me on what the kids have been doing, what I have planned for them tomorrow, and most specifically, what did I feed them. God forbid I let them have something “unhealthy”, or I will be lectured about nutrition for the next half hour. God forbid I let them watch Harry Potter or listen to rock music, or I will be lectured about the downfalls of mainstream society.

She even goes so far as to completely undermine my authority when I have set certain rules, such as letting my kids jump on her couch after I have specifically told them not to. She just smiles and says “oh it’s okay, they’re at Nana’s house now.” It makes the kids look at her like she’s a goddess and look at me like I’m the meanest mother ever. Because of this, my relationship with my oldest daughter is going downhill, and she even asked to move in with Nana.

It’s infuriating and I am becoming a very bitter, angry person because of it. I have to talk to her and make it very clear that it is important she listen and respect me as an adult, but I am terrified that she will be hurt and it will damage the good part of our relationship. I don’t know what to say to her.

Good grief that was long. Sorry. =0)

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52 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

Let your kids stay with Nana for the summer. I think the rules will change real quick if the kids don’t have to come home with you.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Sit your kids down and talk with them about Nana having a very sensitive medical condition that causes her to act more and more childlike as time goes by. Ask them not to make too much of it when she laughs at things like the couch activity or when she nags you or contridicts you. Ask them to promise they won’t embarass her by telling her she’s not acting right but to let you when they think she’s going too far. Remind them Nana won’t be physically sick, lose her memory or anything like that but she will try to act more like them than what most people would think is “normal”. Have fun.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@WestRiverrat Unfortunately, I can’t do that. She runs her own business and my father works full time, so there’s no way.

Cruiser's avatar

These are your kids and you have to set your rules in stone with G-Mom! I had and still have this issue with my MIL and I have had a few in no uncertain terms discussions with her. My rules are MY rules no if’s and or but’s!

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Neizvestnaya I can’t do that either. My oldest daughter is so far up my mother’s rearend that she would tell her everything I said, first chance she gets. Don’t get me wrong, I really do love my mother, she just crosses the line way too often.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Cruiser Thanks, and I agree, it’s just much easier said than done. My situation is reversed from yours, which strikes me as funny, since it’s the MIL who usually seems to cause trouble. My MIL is a total doll and I adore her. She offers advice or an opinion only when I ask for it, and she never undermines my authority. She’s one of the coolest MILs anyone could ask for.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Set boundaries with your mother. At this point, you cannot worry that her feelings are hurt. That is her problem. You are not responsible for her feelings, no matter what she indicates to you.

“Mother, that’s enough. I know you love and care about your grandchildren, but I raise them and I make the decisions for my kids.” Be firm. If she goes on after that, then you have to go/hang up/take the kids home. Boundaries. If she stews, frankly, that’s her issue, not yours. You can respect your mom, but if you don’t stand up for yourself, she will continue the meddling.

As for your child telling you that she wants to live with Nana because you’re so mean, don’t take it personally. Recognize that if kids could get away with it, they’d eat pizza and ice cream, play PS3 and watch TV all day.

Tell your daughter that you understand that it’s lots of fun at Nana’s, but you are her mother and you are responsible for taking proper care of her, not Nana. End of discussion. Boundaries. You’re not responsible for your child’s feelings, either. If she wants to get angry that she can’t live it up like it’s Disney World every day, you understand, but hey. That’s her issue, and not yours.

Cruiser's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate My parents are 900 miles away so I never got a chance to let them meddle in my child rearing. I understand what you are going through though! Good luck!

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Oh no! I understand, really. Seriously, my grama is like your mom and since she raised both my mom and me, my mom and I have over the years fought more like siblings taking turn on “being up grama’s ass”. The best thing our family did was start screening phone calls and agree between us it’s okay to withold particular family details from her. It’s worked well for the past 20yrs so I’m not going to knock it.

Austinlad's avatar

With due respect, @WillWorkForChocolate, I hear a lot of “Yeah, but’s…” I’m not trained in this kind of counseling heaven knows, but in my experience, if you don’t take control of the situation—tell her face-to-face that what you will accept from her and what will no longer tolerate, difficult and uncomfortable as that may be—I doubt things will never get better.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Austinlad I understand what you are seeing from your viewpoint, but you can’t possibly understand my viewpoint with the “yeah buts” and the hesitancy to hurt someone unless you were a female and had an extremely close relationship with your mother like I do. I love her tremendously, and most of the time, when she’s not interfering, we have a beautiful bond and can sit for hours just talking and enjoying each other’s company. Apart from being my mother, she’s one of my best friends.

This is why I’m having issues and I’m so afraid to sit down and talk about this with her. I’m terrified that she will see what I have to say as a betrayal of sorts and that it will damage our relationship. I know I have to do it or things will never change, but I’m also scared of what other changes it may bring about.

YARNLADY's avatar

How about a less rigid approach to the rules? Maybe some of your mother’s issues you mention have rubbed off on you. The children will find out that where ever they go, there are different rules that apply.

If you allow them to see that the rules at Grandma’s house aren’t the same as the rules at your house, and are different from the rules in church, the library, the bank, a restaurant, and so on, they can learn that there is a lot of variety in the world.

wundayatta's avatar

We have the opposite problem. My parents are too strict with my son, and are trying to run some of the same trips on him that they ran on me. They were undermining his self-esteem. I told my mother that they were grandparents now. It is their job to spoil the kids (not whip them into shape for any perceived failings on our part).

Well, the damage may be different in each case, but perhaps the solution could be similar. Don’t let your mother near you kids. Oh wait. You hate to hurt your mother’s feelings. Hmmm. Well, I’m afraid you have to choose: your mother or your kids.

No, not really. That’s one option. The other is talking to your Mom, heart to heart, so to speak, and lay down your expectations for her behavior. If she can’t meet them, then you can limit her access to them. Perhaps she will pick up that there is a relationship between how often she sees the kids and how well she follows your rules.

But again, you hate to hurt your mother’s feelings. Honestly, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. You are not betraying your mother. You are defending your kids.

Which is more important? Your relationship with your Mom, or your kids. If you don’t talk to your Mom, then you are saying she is more important than your kids. Life is hard sometimes. I have generally found that things are rarely as bad as we fear they will be.

zophu's avatar

Do what you have to do to set the necessary boundaries. Your mom will almost definitely still want a relationship with you, even if you do something harsh. I mean, does she have much else in her life?

It seems like she’s exploiting a psychological advantage parents have over their kids, even after they’re grown. If she doesn’t respect you, you can’t let her be a large part of your life. It’s tough, especially if you’re financially dependent upon her or something, but it’s got to be done, I think. So, teach her to respect you by making her less a part of your life than she would be if she did.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Just tell her what you think.I would not worry about hurting someone’s feelings when it comes to the welfare of your kids ;)you’ll be just fine

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

“Because of this, my relationship with my oldest daughter is going downhill, and she even asked to move in with Nana.”


Mom, you are ruining my relationship with my children. I’m taking the kids and moving away from you.

see how she reacts to that

“It’s infuriating and I am becoming a very bitter, angry person because of it.”


Mom, for my own sanity, and so I don’t end up hating you forever, I’m taking the kids and moving away from you… No matter what the cost, I cannot stand this any longer.

see how she reacts to that

Pandora's avatar

I wonder if your mother was more strict with you as a child. If she did than remind her that without bounderies your children will run wild. She is not doing them any favors by teaching them to disrespect your rules. Young children do not know the difference between her rules and nana rules. This will just lead them to suspect that bad behaviour may be acceptable in other places as well.
Ask you mom if she will like it if someday some stranger gets out of hand with her grand babies because they are teens who pushed the envelope with the wrong stranger who won’t take their crap.
Tell her as their grand mother you expect her to teach her grandbabies how to properly behave at all times. Not just when they feel like it.
I’m sure she will get the point.
I’ve always told my kids that I will never spoil my grand children. You do them a great diservice in making them believe they are beyond reproach.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Oh God, I love you for that response. I wish I could be that blunt with her. And I so wish I really could just move away!! I want to buy a little cottage in Ireland in a tiny village and spend my time playing a pretty little garden… sigh

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Pandora I couldn’t agree more, I just need to find the right way to show her the difference between normal “spoiling the grandkids” and what she’s been doing. Thanks.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

If she starts to lecture you, say “I’m not interested in a lecture – can we please talk about something else?” If she continues, say “I’m hanging up now” and hang up (it’s really important to follow through with that last part). Stop answering the phone every time she calls you, and when she asks what you fed them or what you did with them or what you have planned for them, say “that’s really none of your business – but did you hear about _____”. Tell her that until she follows the rules you have for your kids, they can’t come over and visit Nana.

It’s time to set boundaries. If you want her to treat you like an adult, you need to treat yourself like an adult. You may have to choose between raising your kids how you want to and doing what she says. She will not agree with you on everything, and trying to get her to understand will probably be a waste of time – but it doesn’t matter, because as their mother, you opinion is the only one that counts, and she can either get on board or have a lot less contact with all of you.

Pandora's avatar

I have a friend who has spoiled grand children. She would love to visit with them. I absolutely hated having her grand children around me. She would yell and make a scene equal to theirs. I know she picked up on my negative response. I didn’t dislike the children around their mothers but around nana, they were something else. She had absolutely no control. Eventually they will push nanas buttons and she will no doubt ask why you don’t have control over them. She won’t think their antics so cute when they are 11 or 12 and aren’t so adorable as before.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

You need to show a little moxie @WillWorkForChocolate. Your situation, and excuses for not changing it, doesn’t sound any different than a typical addiction.

The fear of changing is still greater than the pain of continuing on as is.

MissAusten's avatar

I wholeheartedly agree with everyone above who said you need boundaries for the sake of your children and your own sanity. Nothing else will work. Trust me, as having been through this with my own mother. Luckily, we live very far away from my mom and I can usually avoid hurting her feelings. If she lived near us, she would be hurt all of the time but I would suck it up and do what I felt was best for my family. No doubt about it.

Years ago, my mom wanted to move out here to live near us. I hated to do it, but I put my foot down. She was mad for a while, but got over it and now never even mentions it. Try to think of your mom like a kid. You make up a “rule” (boundary) and she tests it to see if you will stick to your guns. If you don’t, she keeps it up. If you do, eventually she will get the message and follow your rules.

Write out a list of things you would like her to change, maybe sticking to the top 3–5 things that are most important to you. Then discuss them with her. If you think you can’t get through the conversation without her being upset, walking away, or hanging up on you, send her an email or a letter and ask that she call you to discuss it once she’s read it. You are the only person that can change the situation. If you need to limit the time your kids spend with your mother, then do that. It isn’t easy and I don’t think there’s any way to avoid hurting your mother’s feelings. Honestly, if she balks or gets upset and refuses to consider your thoughts and feelings, you have to ask yourself if someone who treats you like that is actually your friend (or someone you want having a big influence on your children).

AmWiser's avatar

but I am terrified that she will be hurt and it will damage the good part of our relationship. I don’t know what to say to her.

What is the good part of your relationship?
What you say to your mother is whatever you need to say in order for her to understand your position on how you are raising or want to raise your children.

‘It’s infuriating and I am becoming a very bitter, angry person because of it’. Those feelings can’t be healthy for you or your family’s well being. In my household, if I’m not happy, nobody is happy.;-)

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

File a restraining order against her in fear of the long term mental health of you and your children.

zophu's avatar

Maybe just gently cutting her out of yours and your kids’ lives for a time would help give you the advantage in forming a more healthy relationship with her. Set the terms, and if those terms are agreed to be followed, she gets to spend time with you and your kids. If she breaks the terms, cut her out again. It doesn’t have to be a violent thing, just assertive.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies On what basis? Unless she has reason to believe that she is in immediate danger of physical harm, she has no grounds for a restraining order.

josie's avatar

The way I see it, the relationship is already damaged. So what is the problem with telling her to mind her business when it comes to raising your children. She can entertain them all she wants. But not raise them, unless you approve.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Which relationship do you care more about at this point, the one with your daughter or the one with your mother? I know it’s hard to stand up to your mother, but you have to do it. I had to do it years ago with my mom and yes, it caused a fight at the time, but within a few days, she apologized to me and said she realized I was right and that she was overstepping. We haven’t had a problem since then.

Just do it and get it over with. You can work on rebuilding your relationship with her after she stops overstepping. Otherwise, you are going to grow more and more resentful and it will get worse.

jazmina88's avatar

it’s tough. My Mother has no boundaries. She came in scared of her ear noises tonight, told me people were lookin in my windows and she was going to leave if I didnt put on pants.
That would have been nice.
She woke me up. I ran to the door to let her in.

There are no pervs in my hood, cept me.

john65pennington's avatar

I have not read any of the other answers. i am answering cold turkey on my own. respect works two ways. she may be your mother, she is not the mother of your children. in order to get the point over to your mother, sit down and handwrite her a letter. be nice, but be firm and tell her how you feel. no mother is going to downgrade their own daughter, when the mother is made aware of a “difficult situation”. your mother had her chance to mentor to you, when you were a child and that should be it. tell her this. tell her that you love her, but also about trying to be a mother all over again. sometimes, grandparents interfere too much and this is what you are facing. you can hand-deliver your letter, send it throught the mail or leave it at a conspicious location where she will find and read it. your situation will never improve if you do not take control.

Your children are receiving “mixed signals” from you and your mother. this is not good for the standpoint of the children. it undermines your authority as their parent.

flo's avatar

Let her se this thread. I haven’t read the answers, but things that come from impartial people often open the eyes.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@papayalily In reference to the restraining order, I was being cynical.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Oh. I couldn’t tell what tone you were using.

augustlan's avatar

You must do it, and the sooner the better. Hope for the best (an honest conversation followed by real change), but prepare for the worst. In my case, I had many a conversation with my mother, and wrote many a letter. She’d agree with me and then keep right on doing the same old things. For various reasons (including this one), I eventually had to cut off all contact with my mother for my own mental health. It was incredibly difficult, as I love her very much, but I can say, without a doubt, it was the right choice for me and my children.

Austinlad's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate, none of us, well intentioned as we are, can possibly know what i’s like to be in your shoes. We can only imagine it based on our own experiences, and we can can provide feedback based only on that experience and our feelings. I think there are many good ideas and suggestions in this thread, but of course in the end, what you do or don’t do about this difficult situation is your decision. Whatever that turns out to be, I and I’m sure everyone else who responded to your request for feedback wish for you an outcome which, even if not exactly what you want, gives you greater peace of mind.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Austinlad Thanks, and I do intend to have a long serious talk with her, I guess I’m just trying to find the right way to approach her about it, how to begin the conversation without it sounding like an attack.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate I would recommend doing it at a time when you are both relaxed and not in the midst of an argument. Maybe take her out to lunch and let her know that the two of you need to talk about some things that have been bothering you. Good luck.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Seaofclouds Thanks, good suggestion.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

And if you take @Seaofclouds advice, “expect the worst, and hope for the best.” Some people need to work through the heat of the moment that they feel before coming around. Some just never do.

aprilsimnel's avatar

And in keeping with what @Pied_Pfeffer‘s saying, don’t go into the conversation with her attached to any particular outcome, either the one you want or any other. Go in with the intention of saying your piece and letting go.

Judi's avatar

What my daughter did with her mother in law was to punish her son when he did something she had told him not to do, but grandma said was OK. When Grandma tried to stop her and say she had approved my daughter said, “That doesn’t matter, he knows who the boss is.”
She only had to do it once.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Judi In my opinion, for a mother to punish her child in order to teach her MIL a lesson is cruel in the extreme. My family knows that the ‘rules of the house’ differ, depending on where you are. In the bank, you don’t run and jump, in church, you don’t yell, in Grandma’s house no one is allowed to smoke or swear. Life is not all cut and dried as some people seem to think.

Judi's avatar

@YARNLADY ; In your family they know that, but not in hers! My daughter had witnessed her husband’s nephew go out on a dangerous deck (at about 2) after mom and dad told him he couldn’t. Grandma interfered and said, “Oh I’ll take him.” The child learned (and still uses to this day at 8) “If mom and dad won’t let me I’ll just ask Grandma.”
My daughter wanted her kids to know that if they are getting conflicting messages, they should listen to their parents. Grandma learned very quickly who the boss was too.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Judi In my experience, the ones who complain about other people and their controlling behavior are actually the worst offenders. They simply cannot see it in themselves.

Dutchess_III's avatar

(Wow. Reading through this I’m seeing users I haven’t seen in so long and it hit me..this must be an old thread! Yeah. 2010.)

augustlan's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate Did you ever get this issue resolved with your mother? Update us when you get a chance. Inquiring minds want to know!

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I did! We had a very long, honest talk, and she has really backed off. She also is now comfortable with me telling her I need space, and has stopped overruling my decisions. Things are sooooo much better now!

augustlan's avatar

So glad to hear that! Yay for taking the steps you needed to in order to get to that place. :)

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Thanks! It was difficult to find the right words, but I managed, and I feel so much more at ease.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Good job, @WillWorkForChocolate. Very brave of you, too. Kudos.

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