How to Confront Your Mother in a Loving Way

Recently a woman asked me (Dr. Townsend), “How can I confront my mom to open up and be more involved in my life?”

“Well, have you asked her?” I responded.

“Sure! I told her that it would be nice if she asked me how my life was going, but she still didn’t do anything.”

“Well, let’s not say that you asked her anything. Call it a suggestion, or maybe a mention of a good idea. But, there was no direct request. If she didn’t respond, you probably need to ratchet it up a bit and say something like, ‘Mom, you rarely ask me about myself; I seem to be the only one asking you about your life. I’d like you to ask me how my work, kids, and activities are doing.’”

It is easy to be indirect with parents, given all the emotional complexities involved. Sometimes a person will even think, “She is my mom. She should know I need this without my being blunt about it.” But if what you have said is not getting through, you have to be direct and clear, though not mean.

Confront your mother from a stance of being an adult, rather than from a position as being her child. The basic difference is to make your discussion more about the relationship and less about your needs. Here are some examples of both versions:

Child: “I want you to be there for me.”
Adult: “I want to be able to communicate openly with you.”

Child: “I need for you to respect me so that I can feel respected.”
Adult: “I want you to treat me with respect so that it doesn’t get in the way of our relationship.”

Child: “I want you to be able to hear me when I say no, because I feel bad about myself when you don’t.”
Adult: “I want you to be able to accept our different opinions so that we can have healthy conversations.”

Child: I want you to stop drinking so that I can have the mom I never had.”
Adult: “I want you to stop drinking, because none of us can connect with you, and it hurts us and you, too.”

Decide Whether a Conversation Is Worth It

You may discover over time that confronting your mother is just not worth the cost. Barring life-threatening or very serious issues, you may need to let some things go and accept things the way they are.

You don’t need to leave the relationship or do anything radical. However, you may need to grieve the relationship you would like to have with your mom and connect with her in whatever way you can. Find the ceiling of what your mom is willing to look at, and love the rest. Again, this is moving from a position of dependency to a position of love. Your mom may never be able to be a part of your emotional support system. That’s okay, because you can get those needs met from other supportive people. However, you can also find much satisfaction and enjoyment in finding ways to safely confront and connect with your mother.

As much as possible, bring truth and grace to the relationship with your parents. What a blessing to be a redemptive force for their lives, even in their later years!


Adapted from How to Have That Difficult Conversation by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

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  1. Nancy says

    Thank You. Very useful to me. I am still trying have a better relationship with my mother and The Lord helped me with grace to do so.

  2. Jennie says

    Wow, this simple process is awesome !!! I confronted my mother about her drinking when I was younger. It did not go well because I was talking as the child (which makes me sad that that child still wants that). But my mothers dad was a drinker and she is wounded child. I have a great earthly dad (still married to my mom???) and a perfect Father in heaven !!! Still we can grieve the loss better and be a b

  3. says

    What if I’ve tried all these things, but still get absolutely nowhere with my mother? If I try to talk about anything that could be a little controversial, in the most loving way possible, she loses it. I’ve learned that my mother could possibly have NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). She’s even gone as far as telling me, her adult daughter, that the Bible doesn’t say anything about parents respecting their children. Just that we’re supposed to honor them. I told her that I was not a child anymore, and she could at least respect my boundaries as an adult. She lost it when I told her that too! I don’t think she can ever really see me as an adult and still makes me feel like a child who needs to be obedient. She doesn’t see it that way. I feel like I’ve tried to be as loving about it as possible but she always gets very angry and I shut down because I have enough respect for her to not argue with her. Therefore, nothing ever gets resolved. Ugh…

    • Sue F says

      I like where you say you’ve tried to be as loving about it as possible…that’s all we can do. Sometimes our parents just don’t get us, they don’t see us as adults but still as their child. I had to grieve what I wanted in the relationship with my parents. I just had to accept them for how they are and then I just got on with things. When I see them now I just talk about my life, my friends and my hobbies etc. They can’t give what they don’t have. Hope this helps.

    • Doris says

      Sheila I feel you very much my mother is much like yours probably not quite as extreme. What I have found when she won’t listen to me is that I tell her that I allow my children to correct me because that’s how I learn they know me better than anybody else and they can see my shortcomings and if they tell me that I can make changes. The biggest issue seems to be humility and being willing to apologize. I find that I have a much better relationship with my children that are willing to correct me but I find that it’s a lot easier if they’re tender and gentle with me while they’re making the correction. It’s very interesting having been on both sides of this issue.

  4. Jo says

    Thank you for saying, “Your Mom may never be part of your support system”
    Not everyone has a supportive Maternal Unit. Now, all we need is an appropriate Mother’s Day and Mother’s Birthday Card.

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