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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  • Vanessa C on

    Sorry but get ready for a book…
    My boyfriend’s mom has narcissistic personality disorder, extremely!

    She’s kicked me out of his house and called me everything from a gold-digger to a ho behind my back, but I hear about it from him.
    She has turned everyone in her immediate family against me except him and he stand alone for me and is trying all he can just to maintain peace in his household until they move out. I don’t condone appeasing an emotionally abusive person.
    I’m having trouble holding on and am so discouraged and my parents have lost all faith and hope for the relationship, so I don’t have their support anymore. My boyfriend has said that once they move out he knows he needs to cut them off because otherwise they will continue controlling his life.
    They live with him because he helped get them out of a moldy apartment complex and they helped watch the contractors working on his house while he worked double and triple shifts at work.
    They agreed to move out once he’s off the building permit. That time has almost come but now his job is in a contract dispute that could mean the difference between losing his job or having enough income to survive on his own financially as well as securing his own car so his parents don’t always pull the controller strings and not let him come see me in THEIR car since I live more than an hour away from him. I know he’s still in need of their financial help until the contract goes through, but it’s hard to wait that long when so many issues have been raised, by her.
    His dad is a spineless work who only goes along with his wife because she’s so forcefully and he wants a warm bed at night.
    His sister has learned bad lessons from her mom and is now starting in on teaming up against my boyfriend with her mom. I stay with him to support him and so he has an ally in all this and he knows he’s not crazy for seeing what they’re doing as wrong.
    My parents think I’m being stupid and allowing myself to be abused by staying in the relationship. He’s 34 and I’m 31. We can make our own decisions. He defends me to his mom constantly and treats me very well and commmunicates everyday with me. He wants to make his home a welcoming place to have fellowship, once it’s all his when his parents move out.
    However he also has a border collie that’s very active and needs watching throughout the day. Due to working double shifts many times, my boyfriend needs help I can’t give, so he thought he’d keep smoothing things over with his mom to come over and help with the dog. I’m completely against this since it’s keep her in a role of control since he can’t do anything if she doesn’t take care of the dog, not even go visit me. He needs to either pay for a service or get rid of the dog. But I don’t know if I can tell him that since though we’ve talked about marriage after having dated a year now, we’re not engaged (and my dad wouldn’t allow it at this point with all the ugly drama).

  • Doris on

    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.

  • Sue F on

    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.

  • Jo on

    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.

  • Mariendia Williams on

    Can this work both ways?

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