May 232011
 
What to Do When Nothing is Good Enough for Your Mother

You’re still as beautiful and unique as a flower – even if your mom can’t see it! (image by Nanagyei, via flickr)

If you have a critical mother, nothing you do will ever be good enough to make her happy. How do you respond to a mom like that?

Here are a few tips that may help, whether you’re living under her roof and are financially dependent on her or you live a thousand miles away.

“I have an extremely overbearing and sensitive mother,” says L. on Coping With Controlling Parents. “She blows up at every single little thing! I would love to have a normal family but right now, I am financially dependent on my parents and I can’t support myself to graduate.”

Read books like When You and Your Mother Can’t Be Friends: Resolving the Most Complicated Relationship of Your Life, which describe concepts such as the “Bad Mommy Taboo” and helps daughters look at their mothers more objectively.

The more you learn about the complicated mother-daughter relationship (especially if you have a critical mother who never seems to be happy with what you do), the healthier you’ll be.

What to Do When Nothing is Good Enough for Your Mom

“When I was young, my mother hit me and my brother when she thought we screwed up,” says L. “I still remember some of the reasons she hit me. Whenever I bring them up now she gets defensive and denies that she ever did such a thing.”

It’s hard to accept that you have a mom who is critical, whom you can’t please no matter what you do. After all, we yearn for and crave love, acceptance, and support from our mothers. Our mothers are our first relationships, and in some ways our most important! They give us life physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.

But, even if you were given the short end of the “mother stick”, there are things you can do to make your life easier…

Avoid bringing up the past

I’m a big fan of talking about relationships, whether they’re important, complicated ones like mother-daughter relationships or trivial ones like hairstylist-client relationships (though many women say their relationship with their stylist is a top priority!).

Talking about your memories, past, and experiences can bring you closer together. However, if you’re like L. and your attempts to resolve the past end in arguments, hurt feelings, and defensiveness, then it’s probably best to let sleeping dogs lie.

The safest, healthiest time to bring up the past is when you’re in front of a family counselor. When nothing you do is good enough for your mother and you want to establish a healthy mother-daughter connection, you might want to get on objective perspective from a trained therapist.

Accept that your mother won’t change

My mother is schizophrenic; my sister and I were in and out of foster homes for most of our childhood. I spent most of my 20s resenting my parents and envying people with “normal” parents. But I realized that if I want to be happy, well-adjusted, and healthy, I need to accept my mom for who she is. She has a disease that robbed us of our childhood – but I refuse to let it rob me of my adulthood!

My sister, on the other hand, hasn’t spoken to my mother for almost 10 years. She hasn’t found that soft sweet spot of forgiveness, acceptance, and love.

Figure out what you want from your mom

Accepting your mom for who she is doesn’t mean you condone her behavior, nor does it give her license to treat you like dirt. Rather, it frees you from fighting against reality, from resenting a woman who can’t or won’t change.

Sometimes you can find freedom in figuring out what you wish your mom could give you. I wish my mom had taught me more about life – more tips, more wisdom, more support, more spiritual and life lessons. Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to write inspirational articles and books, to help people achieve and live life fully. I’m meeting the need my mother never did.

What do you wish your mom had given you? Find ways to get what you need from other people, and look for ways to give what you need to others.

Stop sabotaging yourself

On my article about coping with controlling parents, L. said, “I don’t want to move back because I know I’ll make decisions that will affect my own future (not in a good way) for the sake of getting out of the house.”

It’s fantastic that she has so much self-awareness and insight! If you make decisions in response to your critical parents or because of your mother-daughter relationship, and those choices make life harder, read What is Self-Sabotage? How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself.

Parents can have destructive effects on our lives, but it’s better to accept them for who they are – no matter how critical, controlling, manipulative, or destructive – rather than rail against how bad or mean they are, or how unfair life can be.

Accept your parents, set and stick to your boundaries, and focus on creating a self-image that doesn’t depend on what your mother thinks, says, or does.

If your mother thinks your boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t good enough, read How to Handle Parents Who Interfere in Your Relationship.

How do you react when your mother makes you feel like nothing is good enough? Comments welcome below…

  22 Responses to “What to Do When Nothing is Good Enough for Your Mother”

  1. It is amazing, how much power our mothers have over us even if they’re gone! At some point, it has to be up to us to turn away from the influence they have, to be able to shrug off the feeling that nothing we do is good for our mothers.

    I think we have to start living for ourselves, and learn how to let go of the control we give our mothers over our lives, emotions, personalities, and lives.

    Is this possible?

  2. I had always believed after my mother passed, I would magically become a person. She has been gone for about 5 yrs., and I am still not a person, I am just some kind of thing that happens to live and breathe.

  3. I am trying to come to terms with the fact that my mom just really doesn’t like me that much. I keep holding on so tightly, in hope that I can just change her mind, get her to see my value. I have an older sister that she seems to prefer, she is successful and everything my mom wants. I think I remind her a lot of my dad, someone else she doesn’t like very much. It’s really painful and my heart breaks about it so often I am not sure I have heartbreak left. I am going to try to work on accepting or relationship for what it is, it’s ok if she doesn’t like me. I feel like I am morning the relationship I wanted with my mom and trying to figure out my world without her in it in such a central role. I love her and I wish she felt something for me that wasn’t disappointment and anger.

  4. Dear J,

    Thank you for sharing your story here – I hope writing your thoughts and feelings helped! I think you’re 100% right when you say you need to stop looking for your Mum’s approval. It’s easier said than done, but I encourage you to surround yourself with people who give you what your Mum doesn’t.

    I once read that we have to give ourselves the love and nurturing that we didn’t get from our parents. We have to love ourselves, comfort ourselves, support ourselves, and give ourselves everything we crave from our moms and dads. My counsellor even told me to close my eyes and give the 6 year old me the hug and comfort that I didn’t get from my mom – or anyone in my childhood.

    Learn how to give yourself what your mother didn’t give you. That’s what to do when nothing is good enough for your mother: make it good enough for you.

    xo
    Laurie

  5. I am almost 21, and have just finished my first year at university. Since I was about 15 my relationship with my Mother has completely broken down. I had depression very badly a few years back, and my Mother constantly made me feel like I was a problem and made me feel guilty for not being more how she wished I was.

    I have a sister 5 years younger than me who has always been my Mum’s favourite, mainly because they are both quite similar, loud, noisy people, whereas I am more reserved like my Dad. I have always been told ‘Why can’t you be like your sister, she’ll do this or that’ or ‘she won’t make a fuss if etc’. My sister has ADHD, and is always doing things that I would have been absolutely crucified for, like stealing from me, or smoking, and yet she is given so much more praise. In my opinion she isn’t even a very nice girl, and is very conceited and thinks she is entitled to everything.

    I have done well in my first year at uni, I work very hard, and I am a good person who cares about others, and yet my Mother will always try to find things to complain about. Sometimes it is as if she enjoys doing it, like I am her way of venting frustration. The hardest thing though, is that sometimes it is like she can’t make up her mind, and is absolutely lovely to me, telling me how proud she is of me and compliments me on everything from my appearance to my work ethic – this usually lasts a very short amount of time though, a day or so, before she resumes her normal tone of voice and air of distaste around me.

    I had a long term relationship that ended a year ago, and he would always confirm my feelings when I would talk to him about this, and would assure me it wasn’t all in my mind, which is something I have worried about. He would tell me that I should live for myself and that my Mum was jealous of my appearance and the fact I am going to university, something she didn’t get a chance to do. The problem is, since we split, I have nobody who understands this, we are a very small family and there isn’t anyone else I can talk to who knows the situation.

    Recently I have learned that my family are going away without me in a month or so, because my Mum apparently said I didn’t want to go. However the holiday has not been mentioned until my sister brought it up recently to me, and I found out she was unaware that I had no idea about it. This really made me realise I need to stop looking for my Mother’s approval and live for myself, but it’s hard and I can’t stop wishing she loved me like she does my sister, who she always sees the best in, especially at a point in my life where I am not very close to many people anymore.

  6. All my life, everything I’ve done has never been good enough for my parents. My Granny used to tell them to stop having a go at me as I would end up resenting them. Before my Granny died, this never bothered me too much as I always had her support and didn’t need theirs. Afterwards, I thought passing my degree and obtaining a successful career would make them realise that I’m not lazy, don’t do nothing and I actually work too hard sometimes.
    I’m 23 and an editor of a highly successful magazine in the UK, live independently in a nice home I saved for and obtained, I also have a part time job on the local radio station, yet nothing has changed.
    At 16, whilst studying I had to work and pay rent towards the house, do chores and cook regularly. Yet my younger brother who is 19, still doesn’t have to get a job or do anything (I don’t resent him for any of this.)
    My Mum has even admitted to me that my younger brother is the favourite.
    If I miss one of his gigs (he’s a musician), I get hell on earth for not going, to the point where they actually haven’t spoken to me for 4 days now, because I missed one at the weekend.
    I have now gotten to the point where it has gotten so painful and upsetting that I can’t keep thinking there will be a silver lining and don’t really want to keep them in my life as their unacceptable behavior is distracting me from my new promotion.
    I have always tried to discuss this with them, but it always ends in them yelling and me walking away or hanging up the phone in tears.
    I even have reservations about having my own children, as I couldn’t forgive myself if I ever treated one of them like that.
    Consequently, I don’t appear to others as insecure at all (quite the opposite in fact), but in truth I question everything I do and regularly suffer from panic attacks (in the privacy of my own home). Everything I achieve I feel like I don’t deserve it, despite knowing I’ve worked really hard for it. The only good thing is I have a boyfriend and great friends who seriously beg to differ!

  7. For Laurie:

    Thank you so much Laurie, this will definitely be helpful for sure. I have looked into her books, and it looks like I will be buying a few!

    Maybe this will inspire me to finsh my book as well.

    Again, thank you.

    Claudine

  8. Dear Serena,

    I am so sorry I missed your comment! Are you following this article? If so, let me know how you’re doing these days.

    It seems to me that it’d be good if you had some distance from your mother. Do you need her to drive you to school every day, or can you find your own way? Can you get a roommate instead of living at home?

    I’d love to hear from you again, and hope you come back and let me know how you are.

    Sincerely,
    Laurie

  9. Dear Claudine,

    It sounds like nothing you do will make your parents happy! What a frustrating, dispiriting place to be. No matter what you do, you’re met with criticism and statements that you’re not good enough.

    Since your parents will never change, you need to find ways to cope with their statements and behaviors. I know it’d be much easier if they’d only change and accept you for who you are!

    But they won’t. I can’t give you tips on how to change your mother’s perception of you, because only she can do that.

    The only person you can change is yourself. I don’t mean that you should change to become a different woman! I mean you might be happier if you change your perception of your parents. They are who they are, and they love you. They may not act like loving parents, but they’re doing the best they can. For some reason, they can’t love you the way they “should”…and you can’t wish them into the parents you want.

    I’ve been reading alot of Byron Katie lately. I LOVE her perspective on life – she calls it The Work. If you can read her books and do The Work, you’ll find your relationships will change because YOU will change.

    Take a look at Byron Katie’s books, and let me know what you think.

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  10. Good morning,

    I am a woman now in my 40’s and was adopted at the age of 7 months old. I have made some bad decisions in my past as a teenager and struggled for most of my life until just a few years ago. I am proud of my achievements, although for my parents, it’s still not good enough. It was always, to get a better job; better place to stay; still bringing this subject up every chance they get. From my hair, to my love life…See I am a minority at society’s eyes; I’m African and Caucasian, and my preference was and still is a black man. My parents always and still question the fact that I am dating black men. I was told once in my 20’s when I had asked my mom what would she do if I’d get married with a black man and have children…She answered me; “Don’t ever do this to me”!
    It stayed with me. I am still single and already having attachment issues, I have my mom telling me all the time that I am better to stay alone, that it’s too late for me now anyway, because I’ve been alone for too long. Like I’m suppose to roll over and die alone. I don’t even have a girlfriend. It’s hard.

    Nothing I ever do, is good enough…When I don’t call for awhile, as I sometime need a break, like now after the Holidays that I hate with passion, because they don’t call either, unless they want something from me…like it’s someone’s birthday coming up; so I don’t plan anything that day and be there….I’m told that I don’t care!

    Point is, no matter what, it’s never going to be good enough. They favor my little sister and my brother…even my sister-in-law, even though my brother and her are divorced now.

    I guess all I can do is go on….and try to condition myself in doing things for myself, and not for her. But it’s hard, as it is the only family I have…

    Any suggestions?

  11. I’m a college student living with my parents. My mother has made me feel like I’m not good enough for her ever since I was in elementary school. Ever since I was seven, she’d yell at me for everything I did wrong and tell me, “I’m stupid.” or “You can’t do anything right.” She also doesn’t listen to me when I try to tell my side of things.

    On top of that, she’s overprotective. I’ve never had a social life at all because she thinks that all young people is get in trouble.

    To make matters worse, I’ve had few friends (especially with other girls) because I have interests that are different from most people. Unlike most girls, I hate shopping for clothes and I’d rather be reading, writing, watching movies or Japanese animation, and playing video games. I’ve also been reluctant to make new friends because I’m scared that they won’t like me because I’ve got an overprotective mother.

    My older sister and my dad say that I need to develop a thick skin. However, it is hard for me to do that when I resent my mother for making me more insecure than I already was. In high school, I felt like an outcast because of how different I am and I was bullied for two years. They made me feel like I had no place to belong. In addition, they called me, “ugly” and retard”, which at the time, felt like confirmation of my mom’s hurtful words. Also, I had spent my high school years getting good grades so I could get praise from my mother.

    The combination of my school problems and my family problems made me depressed. On the eve I turned 16, my mother told me, “You’re sixteen years old and you still can’t do anything right.” The next day, I wanted to die. I had planned to kill myself on New Year’s Day 2008, but I didn’t know how because I was at my sister’s house for the holidays.

    Reluctantly, I told my sister about my suicidal feelings and told my mom about them when I got back. I didn’t tell either of them about my feelings of inadequacy because I wasn’t aware of them at the time. I was only aware of feeling like I couldn’t do anything right and that I felt I had no place to belong.

    In 2009, I graduated high school feeling less happy than a normal person would. I felt more numb than happy, tired of high school and the angst I had. I wanted a fresh start when I started school at community college, so I didn’t keep in touch with the friends I had from high school.

    Unfortunately, my first year of high school wasn’t good. I managed to make one new friend my first semester, but she forgot about me during the summer. I was very hurt by that, and cut myself off from other students in order to avoid getting hurt again. As a result, I became very depressed again and nearly self-destructed again. This was when I became aware of my feelings of inadequacy.

    Last year, I managed to restore some of my self-esteem by volunteering at the library and getting my first job, which was on campus. I also started a blog in order to practice for becoming a journalist, which is one of my career goals. Furthermore, I got some personal counseling. However, I also had a breakdown a few months before that happened because my mother made me cry at a family wedding.

    She had yelled at me for not putting my dress on correctly, for not being able to get a slice of cake for myself, and she tried to make me leave the wedding early because she thought one of the groom’s family members was trying to harass me. My sister managed to temporarily comfort me, but I still felt awful and really hated my mother at the time.

    When I got my first paycheck, my mom took some of my money to pay for gas because she drives me to school. I cried like I did at the wedding, because part of the reason I got the job was because my mom was complaining about bills. I felt like the job was more HER JOB than mine. My sister told me to buy something with the leftover money so I would feel better. I didn’t want to do that; I just wanted the satisfaction of having something that was mine and not my mom’s.

    This year, I have managed to boost my self esteem by getting a decent amount of blog followers, winning my first blog award,and becoming a student editor for my school’s art and writing magazine. I’m more happy with myself than I’ve been in a long time. However, I still don’t feel good enough for my mother and I’m still wary about telling people about my sheltered life.

  12. Dear Sarah,

    I think you’re fighting a losing battle with your mom! It’s not that nothing is good enough for her…it’s that her values and beliefs are different than yours. The trick is to find ways to live in peace together, even though you have different beliefs about the best way to live your life.

    No matter what you do or how old you are, your mom will always want what’s best for you…and she may never think you’re living the right life. That’s just part of the mother-daughter relationship.

    You can’t change your mom’s mind or make her understand your choices. You have to learn how to accept her for who she is. Ideally, she’ll do the same for you…but you can’t force her to do it.

    I answered you more fully here:

    How Do I Convince Mom It’s Okay for Me to Move In With My Boyfriend?

    I hope it helps!

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  13. My mom and I have had a rocky relationship for most of my adolescence. We fought almost every day and could never see eye to eye. When I turned 18, I wanted to move out. I met my boyfriend that year as well. We fell in love and decided to move in together when I was 19.
    My mom did not like that. I was raised Christian with Christian values and pre-marital sex is not something she agrees with at all. She tells me all the time she wants what’s right for me and for me to live a Christian lifestyle. I can understand this.
    However, I don’t see it as that big of a deal. My boyfriend and I cherish each other and sex is not something that defines our relationship. I guess my question is this: What can I do to help her understand that? Maybe I am misunderstanding her? Help!

  14. My mother I believe has always hated me. She went from foster home to home as a child and was badly raped by her causin. She married my father who messed with me as a child. This she knew of but did nothing about it. She walked in on it from the end of the hall she told my father to get down stairs but never said a word to me. After that night He never did anything again. when I was growing up she always favored my brother and not me. He got a trip with all his friends to another state she said I wasn’t geting to go. we went camping he got to bring 12friends I got 1. then when I had my son. I did everything she asked me to, got a job, had my brothers wife watch my son didn’t pick him up in the middle of the night ,only on my days off. Then my brothers wife said that my mom was contacting a atterney to see what her chances were of taking custdy of my son away. that day I quite my job and got my son home with me. Didn’t talk to her for a long time. I did my best those years. then later on I had another son. my 3rd. She came around I knew it would be bad news. I was in a abuseive relationship but had moved all across town into a new place and there was no reason for DHS to get involved. But behind my back she was talking to DHS making bad things up about me. I lost him and my daughter. she didnt want my daughter cause she’s a girl. she told me that. then 2yrs later I had twins I was a week away from my case closing when one fell out my window. the fauther found me so they were temparry placed with my mom. DHS said dont’ worrie shannon there is no reason for us not to return your boys to you just had to wait tell i got my new apartment. well my mom got in their ear again and now she has my boys and wont let me see them. I would just let her go forever but i can’t she unfairly got my boys from me i can’t let them go what do i do

  15. My reply is to Rebecca.
    They did let you back into there home, which is something more than many people I know would get, my mother is a typical boomer, for them the prospect of moving out and buying your own home with a normal wage packet was when they were young was possible, sadly those days are gone for my generation and this is something the boomer generation do not understand or couldn’t care less about as they have what they want.
    If your father is a typical Alpha male, then he only ever wanted male offspring, they seem to forget that you need females for society to flourish but that fact escapes them, it’s the whole thing of passing the blood on and all that macho rubbish, females pass on exactly the same amount of genetic material, that could be the source of his disappointment, former preconceptions.
    If you want to let your children know that you love them, tell them, explain what they mean to you, what you are going to do so they may not have to suffer the same problems that you encountered, the being subtle technique doesn’t work for children, there brains are not developed enough yet to fully grasp the concept, but you also need to inform them that it is conditional, nothing too serious, avoid drugs, early parenthood, dropping out of school / college, normal things that most regular parents want there children to avoid.
    It may sound simple, but it should work.

  16. Thank you for writing this. I’m 44, divorced a year ago, and just moved back in with my parents this weekend. Painful. And it’s not my mom that I can never please so much as my dad. I notice several people commenting on *why* their parent(s) were never satisfied. I think perhaps we all search for an answer. Was I too tall? too loud? Too shy? In my case, I was a girl. I think that was one fatal flaw. It’s hard to be back here, being treated like I’m not wanted, and to remember being treated like this for the first 18 years of life. A burden, an inconvenience, and an embarrassment.
    My question is- How do I let my kids know that I love them?

  17. Thanks for sharing your story, Honey! That’s amazing that you stood up to your mother – you refused to accept her the way she was – and she actually changed for you.

    You’ve given me and everyone else who can’t do anything right for their moms hope. I guess it’s worth trying to change your mother, because it may help your relationship with her. Maybe if she knew that you feel like nothing is every good enough for her, then she’d go easier on you.

  18. I personally dont agree with accepting your mom the way she is. You can accept short or tall, black or white, but not if she is selfish, rude, or “crazy”. Have you ever looked at your mom and thought, if you werent my mom, would i still want to be around you? I know I have, and a lot of times the answer was “NO”. We put up with them because of the inside guilt and fear. “What if someday something bad happens to her, and we werent talking?” I think most of us, who have difficult mothers have thought this. So we decide to let her be the way she is. Keep hurting us, and in my case my husband and our children. So what I’ve done to protect me and my family, was this.
    First, I confronted her one on one. Why one-on-one? Well, because I feel she would be more relaxed, and wouldnt have to feel like she needs to put up a whole army of defence. I told her calmly what I “wanted”(yes, wanted, not i would like) from her. I wanted a good relationship, trust, and peace in our family. I wanted her respect our privacy, our choices for our kids, etc.. I saw this as a opportunity to tell her everything i felt through the years. Well she couldnt take it, and started yelling, and told be that I cannot disrespect her in her own house. The last thing i told her before I left, was this. She always says that she loves her kids more than anything, and since she gave us birth, she could do whatever and treat us however… And i told her that if this what motherly love means than no, thank you. I talked to my husband, to my family about what problems i had with my mom, but it never felt right, until i told her EVERYTHING! I felt such peace. When I left that day, I didnt have pain, just peace. Days later I wrote her a card saying : If you want to be in my life, and in your grandchildrens lives, you have make those changes for us. It took her a while (im talking months..) but she came around. It was a bumpy road at first,for her trying not fall back in her “moments” and for me to forgive. Now I can honestly say that we have a “normal” relationship, the one I wanted for a very long time. I dont just love my mom for being my mom, but for the person she became. I got my mother back, but also gained a truly amazing friend.

  19. It was very nice to read this article.
    My mother is very unsatisfied with her own life, fatalistic, judgemental and critical and has absolutely no clue that all of these things strongly get projected on her children. She doesn’t seem able to see how she behaves. If i try to defend myself she goes very much against it.
    I’m now 26 and unfortunately i had to go live back home when i was 24 to finish my studies, but now i’m at home it seems very much more difficult to find the courage to work at it, i try to get out of the house as often as possible because i feel like she is sucking away my self respect and i feel powerless to do anything against it. I try to picture myself that how she act tells more about her than about me, and so not accept her view of things. I know i am a good person and i honestly don’t consider myself as a selfish person, even though she succeeds in making me feel one time after time! It’s funny how you can see with your brain just how it is, but that’s not enough to change your feelings. It can only help you to set yourself in a better direction.
    The sentence about your own situation, how that it’s a sickness of your mother and that your robbed childhood won’t prevent you of getting robbed of your childhood, i feel that it’s giving me more peace and at the same time more energy of achieving something that is worthy of myself;). It might seem silly but i put it on my desktop so i will automatically remind myself..

  20. Hello, I agree with you that good looks open doors, the problem is that if there is only one job available, good looks almost always trump talent, especially if the person interviewing you is a typical Alpha personality, who will put the chance of sex above the good of the company, I have witnessed this in many companies, funnily enough many of those companies are no longer with us.

    It makes me laugh often when companies start hiring people based on looks on the firm believe that ‘it will make the company look good’.

    In certain industries, I can accept this, but for most, where the public are not present, there main goal is to produce a product to a very high standard, you must hire people based on talent, or your end product will suffer, but this is often not the case.

  21. Dear Andrew,

    I’m sorry that your mom was so critical and judgmental.

    I agree to a certain extent that good looks have a huge effect on how we’re treated, how much money we make, what jobs we’re hired for…and even how our moms treat us. But I do think that not all mothers treat their kids based on their appearance…and while good looks can open doors, in the end talent is really what matters. After all, good looks can only take you so far!

    Thanks for commenting.

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  22. Well, there use to be a time when I would try anything to please my mother, however over time I realised that no matter how well behaved I was, how much work I did, how much money I handed over, she would never love me or like me.
    My parents divorced when I was only a baby, and I look like my father, so my feeling on the subject is that she can not love me, despite being a very good person, because of how I look, I genuinely believe that if I looked like her, the story would be different, my older brother looks liked my mother’s side of the family, and he got everything when we were children, literally, it is not the best time in life to learn that people are very biased based purely on looks, but it is a lesson worth learning, they way modern western society works is edivence of that, where good looks are enough instead of being talented.