How to Handle a Meddlesome Mom
By Ellen Welty
Yes, you love the woman, but her constant commentary on your haircut, housekeeping, and more is making you nuts. To get her to back off, read on.
You appear to be a grown-up. You have credit cards, a car, your own home, maybe some kids. But someone's not so sure: your mother. Perhaps she's always telling you how to discipline little Stevie or manage your money, or she offers "constructive criticism" about your hairstyles. You're furious — and hurt. You know you've got to stop her meddling before it drives a serious wedge between you. Here's how.
Step 1: Get some perspective.
This may come as a surprise, but that opinionated, presumptuous mother of yours likely feels insecure around you. See, every time you've made a major change in your life — landed your first job, got married, started a family — your mom probably unconsciously worried that you'd stop needing her. "Her butting in could be a misguided attempt to still be helpful and connect with you," notes Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., author of The Dance of Anger .
Now, that's not to say your mom's a total saint. Some days she may just be in the mood to play the know-it-all. Or she's feeling insecure and petty, so she lectures you on what style skirt to wear to prove she's still the family expert on fashion. But whatever her motivation, she's not out to hurt you. To get in the right mind-set for a constructive talk, visualize the two of you yakking happily (about something other than how you lead your life). Or recall a time when you and your spouse worked through a trouble spot in your relationship, advises psychologist Jane Adams, Ph.D., author of Boundary Issues. Remind yourself that you can do it now, too.
Step 2: Tell her you don't want advice "for now."
The next time your mom trots out a piece of unsolicited counsel — and you're in a good-enough mood to handle a relatively intense conversation — say, "I'm deciding how to handle Joey's tantrums/decorate the living room/whatever, but you know what? For some reason, advice isn't helpful right now. Later on, though, I may come to you." Don't try to muzzle her forever (as if you could); that will only make her anxious and resentful. Leaving the door open to her guidance tomorrow makes it easier for her to say, "Oh, okay, dear," today.
More pointers: Keep your speech short so she doesn't feel lectured. And try to be relaxed. "The calmer you are, the calmer she'll be," says Lerner, "and the more likely she'll be to really hear you." Remember, too, that this isn't about declaring one person "right"; it's about making your wishes known so you can steer toward a relationship that meets both her needs and yours.