Mothers are fiercely protective and use their intuition and maternal instincts to guide and nurture their young. Mothers attempt to teach their children survival mechanisms so that they can be fully functioning, successful, and independent members of society. As their children grow and develop, mothers attempt to foster their emotional and intellectual growth, instill morals and values, and provide practical advice and reassurance along the way. At some point, mothers determine that their children have all of the necessary tools to metaphorically “leave the nest and fly.” But, what happens when a mother does not allow her children to spread their proverbial wings and fly? What occurs when a mother is too overbearing to even allow her children the opportunity to take a step out of the nest? How is a child to survive under these circumstances?
Overbearing mothers are often difficult to manage and represent a formidable challenge to their children. On one hand, children are distinctly aware that their mothers are acting out of love, while on the other hand, they wish that they were loved just a little bit less. An overbearing mother isn’t easy, but there are several ways to successfully navigate them.
First and foremost, strong boundaries need to be set between you and your mother. An overbearing mother knows no boundaries and will step in, invade space, and take over at every possible turn. They will spring into action and jump right into any situation, regardless of whether it is warranted or even appropriate. It is critical to be clear and to explain what the boundaries and expectations are in all types of situations. For example, if you are hosting a holiday, an overbearing mother is likely to swoop in with her superhero cape and start dictating orders and making decisions. At this point, it would be critical to let your mother know that you will be making the decisions, creating the menu, inviting the guests, and cooking entrees to how you see fit.
Secondly, expect manipulative tactics and pushback. A large part of an overbearing mother’s identity lies in being a mother and helping her children. Some overbearing mothers do not have any identity outside of their children. Thus, if boundaries are set, an overbearing mother may feel that her very sense of self is threatened, leading her to become argumentative and defensive. She may use manipulation to blur the boundaries that you are trying so hard to create, with the sole purpose of returning to a more comfortable, status quo. She may employ a guilt trip, accuse you of not caring about her or her feelings, or utilize passive-aggressive techniques such as the silent treatment to get what she wants. Do not fall for these tactics and see through them for what they are, thinly veiled attempts to get what she wants. Redirect your mother, let her know that you are adhering to the boundaries that you have set, and ask her to respect you enough to honor them.
Encourage you overbearing mother to forge a life of her own that has nothing to do with you or her maternal role. Help her to develop her own interests, hobbies, and relationships. If your mother can focus on other things besides you, it will likely benefit the both of you.
Finally, be grateful, show respect, and ensure your mother that you love her. Let her know how appreciative you are for all that she has done for you and for all that she continues to do for you. Let her know that your desire for independence is not a sign that you no longer need her. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to use the very wings that she gave you and show her how well she taught you to fly.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.