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.