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When It Feels Like Mom Isn’t in Your Corner…

…How to Accept Her Anyway

Karen L. Fingerman, Associate Professor of Child Development and Family Studies at Purdue University, author of Aging Mothers and Their Adult Daughters, and also Melinda’s academic collaborator on Consequential Strangers, wrote this especially for Mother U.


Nothing brings out the desire to be nurtured like having a baby!  You’ve seen your peers go through it.  Your best friend’s mother arrives armed with casseroles, assures her that she looks perfect, and offers to babysit so the new mom and her husband can go away for a week on a cruise.  Then it’s your turn, but your mom comments on the fact that you haven’t lost the last eighteen pounds, pesters you to get rid of those faded curtains and redecorate the living room, and disparages you for giving the baby a pacifier. It seems unfair. But learning to accept your mother as who she is may be the best thing you can do for yourself!

As part of my research studies, I’ve interviewed hundreds of women about their relationships with their mothers. The good news is that 80 to 90% of daughters report having really good relationships with their mother, viewing her as a friend, and benefitting from her help when they have a baby. The bad news—10 to 15% don’t have such hot relationships with their mothers (and that’s a lot of women). And nearly every woman can list times when she is annoyed with her mother. We’ve also interviewed the mothers. And some are more difficult to get along with than other mothers! That doesn’t mean things can’t get better, however, particularly after the daughter has a baby.

If your mom isn’t perfect, a few tips to help you improve your relationship:

• Try to understand how your mother feels when she’s not at her best. Some mothers feel anxious and vulnerable when their daughter has a baby. Some mothers don’t enjoy babies. And some mothers express their love with unsolicited advice (OK, they express their love with criticism). Look at your mother’s feelings and behaviors as weaknesses that make her human. Know that you cannot change her. (And who has time with a new baby in the house?)  If being a mom teaches you nothing else, it can help you get over the idea that anyone can create a fantasy family.

• Look at the bright side of your mother’s behaviors. Take the case of a grandmother who wants the grandchildren to behave in ways that seem beyond their years, such as expecting preschoolers to sit through a formal meal. Make it a game for the children. Praise your mother indirectly by telling the children, “Grandma has the best manners of anyone in the whole world. Let’s see how much we can use our good manners when we eat with her!” You’ll feel better about your mother, and so will they.

•  Don’t worry about her opinions of your child-rearing practices. Remember that individual and occasional events with kids aren’t that important. If she gives them candy after you say, “No,” the cavities won’t set in immediately. If she picks at your insecurities and insists you do things with your children that go against your values, like forcing piano lessons or insisting on a clean room, there’s no law against appeasing your mother and doing your own thing! Agree with her in the moment–it’s not worth a fight–and then, stay true to your own values. Alternately, if she’s the type of mother who pesters, “You still haven’t gotten him signed up for piano?” simply state your position, “We’re not going to sign him up for piano,” and let it go at that.

• Always keep in mind that your crotchety mother is your children’s (potentially) beloved grandmother. Foster that relationship. The more your children love their grandmother, the less critical she will be of you. She’ll be too busy focusing on how great they are! Better yet, your children will get the idea that mothers and children love each other forever. Even if your children see your mother’s faults (though they will never see them quite the same way you do), knowing that you love her is reassuring to them.  It shows your kids that you will love them too, no matter what.

One Response to “When It Feels Like Mom Isn’t in Your Corner…”

  1. Jane Isay says:

    Karen Fingerman, you’re a wise and wonderful person. Your thoughtful advice will go a long way to help families stick together, through tense times and thoughtless moments, which we all have.

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