As an adult, dealing with an overbearing mother can feel like an impossible challenge. If you are reading this, you may be familiar with exactly what that means. She doesn’t approve of your significant other or your friends. She comments on everything from your hairstyle to your weight. She constantly adds her two cents about your interior decorating, and driving, and implies you aren’t a good child if you go more than 24 hours without calling her.
Chances are your mother’s behavior is nothing new. You may have dealt with her controlling style of parenting as a child. But now that you are an adult and living on your own, it’s likely that her behavior has gotten worse.
The Effects of Having an Overbearing Mother
Feeling angry, frustrated, or anxious when you’re around your mother, or right after talking with her, are just a few of the damaging effects of an overbearing mother. Unfortunately, that behavior can be extremely harmful, especially if you have been dealing with your mother’s behavior for most of your life. The negative impacts of helicopter parenting can follow a child well into adulthood making it more likely that they will develop an anxiety disorder.
When a parent is overbearing and controlling, it can lessen the child’s ability to make their own decisions, resulting in a dependency on the parent. Codependency at a young age is detrimental as it deters the child from making independent choices as they grow. As an adult, they should be operating separately from their parents and know how to make their own decisions. Children of overbearing mothers are prone to have low self-esteem, suffer from mental health disorders, and feel uncomfortable in leadership positions. All of which can have a negative impact and lasting effect on the child, damaging their quality of life that can carry over into adulthood.
Studies show that helicopter parenting can influence the way a child grows up to be able to properly regulate their emotions, communicate effectively with others, and form social bonds. These fundamental skills are essentially robbed from them because of the parent’s tight grasp. These vital skills are ones a person needs to operate independently in nearly every life setting– from school and the workplace to friendships.
Tips for Dealing With an Overbearing Mother
So, what do you do? You know she loves you and you love her, but something has to give. You don’t want to cut ties, but you don’t deserve to feel guilty and angry after every conversation. The following tips may help make the mother-child dynamic healthier for everyone.
Communicate in a New Way
Up until now, you’ve probably done more listening than communicating. But it’s time to start vocalizing to your mother how you feel. Although it will be difficult at first, and even if you’ve tried before, let her know that her behavior is crossing the line.
This time, communicate in a new way using “I-statements” (I feel or I would like). She is less likely to feel attacked if she begins each statement with “I” rather than “You.” For example, “I feel uncomfortable when you tell me what to do” is likely to elicit a better response than, “You need to stop telling me what to do.”
If confronting your mother alone feels like it may be too difficult, bring a sibling, friend, or even your partner with you to help move the conversation along. Chances are if your mother is overbearing to you, she is also overbearing to others. Her behavior is not only negatively affecting you, but those in your life as well. It cannot continue and effectively communicating that with her is the first step.
When communicating, highlight how you feel and avoid accusatory language. The more open, honest, and respectful your tone and words, the more you will open up the dialogue between the two of you. Often when people are angry or frustrated, they bury their feelings. This is the time to maturely let out your feelings and open up with a healthy dialogue so you can get your life back.
Create Realistic Boundaries
If your overbearing mother doesn’t respond well to your attempts to communicate your feelings, then it’s time to set some boundaries. An overbearing mother or an overbearing mother-in-law may show up unannounced to your house, work, or a party to which they weren’t invited.
It’s time for that to stop by putting your foot down. Physically setting boundaries as well as lessening the amount of input your mother has in your life and the decisions you make is important. It’s time to kindly, yet firmly, tell your overbearing mother that you are an adult and will make decisions according to what is best for your needs. This is the time to remind your mother that you have your own life and a family of your own now. Explain to her that they rely on you to decide and act on what you believe is in their best interests, and there’s no one, including her, who is better equipped to do that.
Consider Your Mother’s Mental Health
Any mother will tell you that parenting isn’t easy. It doesn’t come with a how-to manual and many parents get their parenting style based on how they were raised by their parents, even if their parents didn’t have the best systems in place. Throw in the stress of work, society, and everyday pressure and some days feel nearly impossible. If your mother had an overbearing parent or was raised in a controlling household, there is a good chance that her parenting style stems from that. Perhaps she has never gotten help. It is also possible that she is among the millions of people with an untreated mental health condition.
She might be emotionally unstable, and anxious, and feel the need to have control whenever possible. Her emotional growth may have been stunted as well. There are ways to let her know she is needed, and that her input is valuable. Let her know how much she is loved and how it hurts you that she is struggling with so much anxiety. This may be a huge turning point, especially if she is depressed. Offer to help her by showing how simple it is to get help from a professional. The various therapy treatments such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help.
Discover What You Love
It’s time to stop looking to your mother for approval and begin to cultivate your own interests. Start finding more activities, social events, hobbies, and friendships apart from your mother. Try something new, particularly that activity that your mom always said you’d never be successful doing.
Did she tell you your athletic abilities were lacking because she didn’t want you to get hurt? Join a local social sports team. Did she tell you that you were terrible at math or science simply because she didn’t like it? Join a local robotics team or take a coding class. Have your partner or close friend join you if you’re feeling nervous. The point is to get out of your comfort zone to develop the skills you never knew you had. By engaging in ventures of your own, without the involvement of your mother and her opinions, you will begin to discover who you are, which can help your mental health.
Develop Strategies to Cope
After an angry phone call with your mother or a frustrating visit, how do you cope? Some people turn to alcohol or other substances to numb their feelings. Others may attempt self-harm because the mental anguish is just too great to bear. Negative coping mechanisms are not healthy. Consider going for a run, calling a good friend, or baking to help mitigate the symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety that often accompany dealing with a controlling mother. Meditation, yoga, and other ways of practicing mindfulness are also ways to help you deal with frustration and anger.
Seek Outside Help
Dealing with a controlling and overbearing mother is difficult whether you are a teenager in high school or the CEO of a company, but it shouldn’t take over your life. Even with the above tips to help make the situation better, often the best way is through therapy. You can get treatment for your anxiety, frustration, depression, and anger, or consider doing family therapy. You may even do a combination of both to improve communication and family dynamics.
While the relationship between a mother and child is a complex one, it is valuable enough to consider improving, even at a great cost. But don’t navigate it alone. A licensed therapist can help you cope with your feelings, communicate with your mother, and overall empower both parties to reach an agreeable resolution. Seeking therapy can help salvage the relationship to bring it to a healthier and stronger place.
- Affrunti, N. W., & Ginsburg, G. S. (2012). Maternal overcontrol and child anxiety: the mediating role of perceived competence. Child psychiatry and human development, 43(1), 102–112. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-011-0248-z
- Luebbe, A. M., Mancini, K. J., Kiel, E. J., Spangler, B. R., Semlak, J. L., & Fussner, L. M. (2018). Dimensionality of Helicopter Parenting and Relations to Emotional, Decision-Making, and Academic Functioning in Emerging Adults. Assessment, 25(7), 841–857. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073191116665907
- C. Bradley-Geist, J., & B. Olson-Buchanan, J. (2014). Helicopter parents: an examination of the correlates of over-parenting of college students. Education + Training, 56(4), 314–328. https://doi.org/10.1108/et-10-2012-0096
- Perry, N. B., Dollar, J. M., Calkins, S. D., Keane, S. P., & Shanahan, L. (2018). Childhood self-regulation as a mechanism through which early overcontrolling parenting is associated with adjustment in preadolescence. Developmental psychology, 54(8), 1542–1554. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000536