February 19, 2014

30-something & Still Running From My Mother. ~ Maree MacLean


I just survived 40 days with my mother and on reflecting on the many “mom-flicts” that cropped up during her visit, I’ve finally put my finger on exactly what drives me bananas when we spend too much time together.

It’s her endless advice! That’s what bugs me the most because she still considers that I’m a little girl incapable of making my own decisions.

Holy cripes! Is this a new situation? No but in the long term, her having a multitude of opinions, talked over the top of my own, means I just accepted as a child that my opinions didn’t matter and I developed a lower image of myself than I should have and I’m still fighting it.

Ouch. I’m 38 year’s old and I’m still trying to get away from a stifling maternal force.

This realization frightened me so much that I immediately looked up an expert on the situation, Seth Myers, a clinical psychologist with the LA County Department of Mental Health who penned an excellent article on the topic.

If you are still trying to run away from your mother, I suggest checking out the article. For me, the competitor relationship struck a deep chord. Too deep.

Seth defines the characteristics of a competitive mother-daughter relationship:

“Some grown children play out a life-long power struggle with their mothers, constantly seeking the approval of the other but never getting it. Both mother and grown child feel frustrated and misunderstood. Neither wants to believe that they are competitive and will often see the other as the guilty culprit.”

Jesus. Perhaps my own choice not to have children was deeply rooted in the fact my mom and I had been making each other miserable for years?

I didn’t want to let an old outdated pattern prevent me from having children of my own and I definitely didn’t want my mother to live the remaining twenty years of her life feeling frustrated and misunderstood by me, either.

Here are five behaviors to help you recognize if you are in a competitive relationship with your parent and how both mother and daughter (or father and son) can deal with each behavior in a mindful a way as possible.

1. Do you ever receive just praise from your parent, or is it always justified with a “but” or an “except.” “You look good in that color but you could still lose some more weight…” Your parent is competitive.

Mothers, get a grip. You wouldn’t be this nasty to your worst enemy why does your daughter get it in the neck?

Daughters, on the few occasions when your mother actually does come out with a clean compliment with no ifs or buts attached, tell them how good it makes you feel. Like a child, you are reinforcing their good behavior and encouraging them to give you a clean compliment again.

2. “One upping” is a usual trait of a competitive parent—someone tells a story and then your mother will chime in with, “I used to be in that field myself, I was blah blah blah.” Nobody has ever done as good job, as hard a job, climbed as high, worked as hard.

Mothers, listen here. This is your insecurity that goes back to you still searching for affirmation because you didn’t get it in your own childhood, please spare the rest of us and repeat this mantra to yourself—make peace with your past so it does not disturb your present.

Daughters, to cope with this behavior, simply recognize it and either excuse your self from the discussion, or make neutral statements. Agreeing with their boasting claims only encourages them to continue to seek validation from others.

3. Does your mother claim your successes as her own? If you post something positive on Facebook to do with your private life or your career does your mother remind you that she was a part in that story too and that you definitely couldn’t have gotten where you did without her help, guidance or advice?

Mothers, here, I must say, for goodness sake! Trust that you have raised competent, capable offspring and that you have adequately prepared them for the outside world, show them that you have faith in their ability to run their own lives by letting them have their own successes. Believe that you have equipped them with the tools to do so and then let them do it.

Daughters, instead of taking a gun out of your pocket and demanding she take that back immediately, learn to go with the flow and just let your parent vent his or her “stuff.” Be polite and compassionate, and remember—just like most of what goes on with this parent, it’s much more about your parent than it is about you.

This doesn’t mean you have to capitulate every time, just remember, there is very little that sets off a bout of competitive behavior as quickly as defiance and do you really want to put yourself and everyone else at the dining table through another argument?

4. Your mother has an extreme need to be right about everything. This might explain why she get’s so angry and won’t let anything go.

Mothers, opinions are just that, opinions. People are entitled to their own opinions, and not agreeing on everything is healthy, don’t get upset when your daughter sees life distinctly different from the way you do, after all, she’s her own person not a reflection of you.

Daughters, another tip that might help, is getting them to see the world isn’t always an either/or, right/wrong place.  Don’t argue on and on about things no one can prove, or things that can be proved with some checking. Even if your parent won’t grasp the concept—remember, it is ok to disagree and drop it.

5. Your parent micromanages you and the time you spend together. They need to tell you what to do and how to do it including pulling down the hemline of your skirt when you are out or telling you how they think you should dress.

Daughters, often this occurs because your parents think that their parents were too laid back! They might’ve come home after being beaten up on the bus but their parents did nothing. Your parent may have felt that no one was in their corner as a child and they vowed they would not let that happen to you.

Working with the parent instead of against is very important—a lot of times, this parent is looking to you for validation as much as they want you to look to him or her for that same validation. If, occasionally, you can suck up all of your resentment and go to your parent for guidance, no matter how trivial, you may see the evidence of this.

Your parent is very likely just waiting for the moment when you realize the value of his or her input and voluntarily ask for it, rather than him or her just inserting it into every situation. By doing this, you allow the parent to relax somewhat because they will feel more like you are actually listening to them, rather than them just hammering at you constantly while you stick your fingers in your ears and go, “la la la I can’t hear you.”

Finally, email this story to your mother—she might not even know that she is being so competitive! If that doesn’t work and let’s face it, some mothers do not want to acknowledge their own unpleasant childhoods because they were simply too painful, then invoke the blessings of Ganeshaya the Hindu god of new beginnings with the following mantra, “Om shrit ganesha namaha.”

Please remove all self-imposed obstacles from my path. This mantra will melt away the unconscious behaviors you are still engaging in that perpetuate your negative behavior pattern with your mother.

If you’re brave enough to try this, good luck! I’d love to hear how it goes!

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Assistant Editor: Holly Horne/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: martinak15, Flickr

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