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…
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.