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please advise me on how best to deal with my critical mother

(60 Posts)
ConkersDontScareSpiders Fri 19-Feb-16 14:29:04

Long, sorry!
My mother has always been immensely critical (of me and about most people in general). As she has always been this way I hadn't really noticed until my late twenties but for the last 5 or 6 years, I suppose since I have got older and developed a bit more self confidence (probably via holding a more senior position at work where my opinion is respected, and developing longer standing friendships in which we don't slate each other), and also observing my friends relationships with their own dm's, I have come to realise this might not be normal.
She will criticise me over anything and everything.A conversation this morning for example went like this:
Me, doing my online shop "oh good the porridge I like is on offer"
Dm "well why do you buy the sachets, that's ridiculous, it's far cheaper and better to buy the large bag of oats" (said in a withering tone)
Me: "well because I grab it as I'm running out in the morning and eat it at work so it's easier than measuring and decanting"
Dm "that's ridiculous..." Etc etc for 10 mins...
When I am with her every second conversation, about anything and everything,is some variation of that.
Since I have been young she has been critical of my weight (currently size 10, "bit chunky", my hair, my grades, (I remember calling her to say I got 9 a's and a 'd'in my gsce's and her first reaction being 'well you'll have to resit that d), later on my job, the house we had bought, things we were doing with the kids etc etc. All fairly low level but just constant.
I have recently been through a separation from dh (who dm loved). Of course that sent her into overdrive to the point of her actually being quite nasty to me and going out of her way to side with h.I have found this to be very hurtful and went low contact with her for a while as every conversation ended with me in tears, at a time when things were already hard enough. dm said she found it hurtful that I never told her things anymore, but I just couldn't talk to her for a while without facing a barrage of negativity. I am relatively successful at my job, have an ok house, beautiful funny and clever DD's...I might have failed at being married but that wasn't all my fault.Im just not sure what else I can do to stop her constantly knocking me.
I have tried to keep a relationship with her for the sake of the DD's who love her (she is a good nan to them), for my Dad who is something of an eccentric and who doesn't seem to see any of it (and if he did,having been raised in an army family is very stiff upper lip anyway), and for me, as I don't want to lose my Mum.
The other thing to note is that my Mum has never in my lifetime ever admitted to being wrong about anything.It is therefore nigh on impossible to raise this with her calmly as she just gets massively defensive.
Mostly I just grit my teeth and try and ignore it but it does get to me. She is at home now looking after my kids as its half term and I am at work (and I know im very lucky to have her offer to do this), but I am actually dreading going home to spend the evening with her.
Has anyone any advice on how I can make her cut out the criticism a little bit?

Marchate Fri 19-Feb-16 14:42:43

Sadly, you won't be able to stop her critical attitude. Only she can change that, and it's highly unlikely as it gets results for her

You know the phrases 'There's no such thing as bad publicity' & 'Any attention is good attention'? She is working on that principle

All you can do is think about how you react. As with a toddler or a teenager, the reaction that gets the best result for you wil be ignore. Change the subject and pretend you didn't notice her negative comment

MyFavouriteClintonisGeorge Fri 19-Feb-16 15:00:51

Ignoring is a good tactic most of the time. Sometimes though, if you can't face suffering the burning resentment while she witters on, you need an alternative, while still staying as neutral as possible.

The best (but also the hardest) thing is to try and think ahead so you avoid giving her things to pass judgment on. Like, don't sit next to her and do an online shop so she can read over your shoulder and disapprove of what you buy. Sit opposite her and do it. Stop sharing anecdotes about friends or colleagues if she is likely to find fault with you about it. Don't tell her the latest about the divorce process. It is very very hard to accept that you can't confide in your own mother, but sometimes it is necessary.

Otherwise you could do with a menu of responses to her criticism that don't actually concede anything, e.g. :

I'll have to see
I hadn't thought about it
Do you think so?
Well, there are always pros and cons to these things
I don't really know

The more you repeat the same phrases, the better. Without ever saying so explicitly, you are distancing yourself from engaging with her opinions.

Finally, though, make sure you don't continue to treat her feelings as more important than yours. You are not obliged to bend over backwards not to upset her while she tramples over your feelings whenever the mood takes her. For things like your separation, you can simply say 'I'm not discussing it' (don't be drawn into why you aren't) and repeat ad nauseam. Walk out of the room for a while if you have to.

I honestly wish you luck. My relationship with my mother is broadly good. However, and as she ages, she is increasingly negative about everything and judgmental of others. It is rather depressing and I can't imagine how crushing it would be if I were always the target of it. I certainly don't want it to happen to me, even if I have to take up smoking weed in my 90s to avoid it.

AvaLeStrange Fri 19-Feb-16 15:22:29

I feel your pain. My mum is loving and generous but very dogmatic and genuinely believes she is right 99.9% of the time!

We are very different characters and it makes for a lot of snarky comments on her part, and the older she gets the worse it becomes. I have noticed that she is particularly bad when she is anxious or upset about something - as if sniping at me and my dad distracts her from the problem.

I saw a therapist about 18 months ago and we did transactional analysis which was extremely helpful. I certainly am much better at deflecting her comments and not dwelling on them or second guessing my actions as a result.

The only time we hit the skids these days is when we are both stressed/anxious at the same time, when my ability to deflect her comments and rise above it weakens and we will have an enormous row!

ricketytickety Fri 19-Feb-16 15:49:26

I think sometimes people get stuck in devil's advocate mode and are unable to make conversation without automatically going to opposition talk. I find making a joke about it helps because you can call them out on it without having to feel confrontational. Eventually it sinks in. You can show the way by being agreeable to what she says if she starts a conversation.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 19-Feb-16 16:15:13

An overtly critical mother can really do a lot of emotional damage and that has really remained with you to this day. Its not as simple as ignoring someone like this because those comments stick and hurt. She has done you a lot of emotional harm. She has also left you with an overall lack of emotional security. Most of the attention an overly critical mother gives her child is negative and all you are getting now from her is negative attention.

You need to raise your own too low boundaries with regards to her (I would certainly find alternate childcare now) and stop seeking her approval; she would never freely give you that anyway. Do not call her as often. Be busy and otherwise unavailable to her.

Its not your fault your mother is like this; her own family of origin did that to her. She is also not going to change but you can and must change how you react to her.

Her reaction to your weight and exam results is somewhat typical of an all too critical parent. I would not let your dad off the hook either because he enables her and has failed to protect you from the excesses of her behaviour. He has acted purely and simply out of self preservation and want of a quiet life. He cannot be relied upon either.

She was not a good parent to you and remains a poor example of a grandparent to your child. Her grandmother will likely become more critical of your DD when she starts questioning her authority and or answering back. She will also pick up on the negativity from her you as her mum receive.

Your mother probably liked your ex H because he reminded her of her own self on some level; he was probably overtly critical of you too.

I would suggest you look at and post on the "well we took you to Stately Homes" thread and read "Toxic Parents" written by the same author.

CigarsofthePharoahs Fri 19-Feb-16 16:34:54

My mother is a lot like this.
I came to the conclusion recently that she actually has no idea that she is often producing nothing but a constant stream of criticism or the effect it has. She thinks she is "being helpful". She's done it for as long as I can remember.
I have to admit, I started to fight back a bit after having my second child. There was something about the total sleep deprivation and messed up hormones that left me unable to put up with it any more.
I remember her having a moan at me about the state of my house. Now, I was less than 6 weeks from a c-section, had had no sleep and she was supposed to be coming over to help me out.
Don't get me wrong, I was glad of the help but it came with criticism. I asked her straight out one day if she had any idea how upsetting it was to hear nothing but a run of what were essentially rude comments about my house from the moment she walked in the door. Nothing positive at all. Her response was "Well I'm trying to be helpful!"
I pointed out that constantly badgering on about things I hadn't (and couldn't have) done wasn't helpful, it was making me depressed. I asked her why she didn't ever comment on the positive things that I HAD managed to do. She had no answer to that.
A few days later she started with the line "Now I don't mean to be critical but..." and her cut her of with "So don't be!"
It has got better since then, especially since I have dropped some subtle hints about the fact that it's up to dh and I and no-one else who our children get to spend time with. I wouldn't cut her off, but it was a little reminder that I'm not powerless.
It hasn't stopped but she has learned to control it a lot more.
Take the power back, op. flowers

MistressDeeCee Fri 19-Feb-16 16:38:04

An overtly critical mother can really do a lot of emotional damage and that has really remained with you to this day. Its not as simple as ignoring someone like this because those comments stick and hurt. She has done you a lot of emotional harm. She has also left you with an overall lack of emotional security

^ This

It cannot be ignored, and trying to think up responses or ways "not to react" will wear you down. Its emotionally draining having to listen to/live with negativity Your mother will not change, she will become worse as she gets older. My mother is 74 now with not 1 of her children or grandchildren around her. This is the end result of a lifetime of criticising her own daughters, and their daughters.

My mother would criticise me & DSis re. weight, choice of clothes, all aspects of parenting our DCs. Also criticises women on tv "look at her, she looks like a right bitch, oh why is she dressed like that she looks terrible too skinny/ you can't even watch a programme of choice without her awful comments in the background, when its younger women on tv she goes into overdrive. Gleeful when relationships went wrong. Got on well with my exH who was a misogynistic pig, maybe the link was they both loved to criticise women

I think its to do with regretting lost youth & also spending too many years with my dad, who wasn't good for her really, but her default position in anything has always been to criticise and scorn women.

I don't care what the reason is, however. I went NC with her 2 years ago and Im glad.

In your case OP maybe it won't go this far. But I do know living with a critic in your life is extremely damaging and nigh on impossible to deflect when its as close a relative as your own mother. I have the Toxic Parents book, it did help. Not as much as getting rid of the critical voice in the background of my life though.

Spandexpants007 Fri 19-Feb-16 16:53:29

Yes I had this and managed it by withdrawing every time she was negative. So when she started I'd just say firmly 'sorry have to go. Night night mum. Love you' and put the phone down. Or 'someone's at the door, chat Thursday. Bye'

Or just be honest and point out what's happening every time it happens. Kindly.

Mum 'critical comment'
You 'you're being critical of me. You need to stop that.'

UnhappyNeedHelp Fri 19-Feb-16 17:04:45

Mine does this too. I just smile and nod usually but sometimes it can be incredibly hard to bear.

The thing I find most hurtful is that she's never on my side. If I tell her about any situation where I've been upset or there's been conflict - with boyfriends, at work, friends, housemates, even strangers in the street - she will always find a way for ME to be in the wrong, and if only I was a little more understanding or less selfish, I wouldn't be in this position. I could honestly tell her I'd been punched in the face by a stranger in the streetand i'd be encouraged to think of their mental health and not make it all about me.

It is wearing. So I just don't tell her stuff, which is sad. thanks for you. I bet she has a million reasons to be proud.

mrsmeerkat Fri 19-Feb-16 17:12:10

I have the very same dilemma op. Some good advice here.

Mine has never accepted me deep down. I a. Very different to and nothing I do is good enough. She is a very self absorbed women with quite warped attitudes. She is very overweight yet criticises women who may have and odd half stone on. It is a sad existence for her.

I don't visit daily like I used to. Moved away from the area. She doesn't have my landline. I tell her very little. I still contact her and visit once a week but I font really love her.

That is shameful to admit and I haven't told anyone that in real life. If she was gone tomorrow I would be relieved. Desperately sad but true.

Indantherene Fri 19-Feb-16 17:20:47

Unhappy I could have written your post. Came home from work sick one day and NDN builders had spread all their pipes out across my drive. DM "well they weren't to know you'd be coming home early" WTAF?! Just once I'd like her to empathise and say something like "oh isn't it annoying when that happens" but as you say she always twists it that IBU.

Told her we'd taken the kids to the beach for a lovely couple of hours and got "you should have taken them earlier then you could have had a lovely day", that sort of thing.

ConkersDontScareSpiders Fri 19-Feb-16 17:37:12

Thankyou all-I've just read and will reply later as we are going out for tea (with exh-mums idea as she hasn't seen him for a while). I don't expect it to be the happiest evening for me.
I actually welled up a bit reading what you all wrote because so much if it resonates, and because it's nice to have people understand.

spudlike1 Fri 19-Feb-16 17:41:51

I have the same ..its only in recent years I've actually 'heard' the criticism so most of my life I've 'soaked' it up and subconsciously believed it. She never praises any of my achievements and is particularly critical of the way I look constantly comparing me to an Aunt who she can't stand. Last summer she got my son to join in with how bright red jeans were ( I wore them knowing it would get a negative reaction) . And still I sucked it up
I'm having counselling I have very low self esteem which has and still.does impact on my life . I haven't confronted her yet except I gave her a withering look when started on about my hair
She's complaining that I never call her at the moment .
It's all so terribly sad especially when you notice other women who are the product of
Positive mothers

Twinklestein Fri 19-Feb-16 19:19:22

The best way to deal with it is simply not to care what she says about anything. I speak from experience.

You care, you're still invested in her good opinion and maybe in other of her opinions.

My conversation on porridge would have gone like this:

DM Why do you buy the sachets?
ME Because it's more convenient
DM That's ridiculous
ME It's not your porridge
DM But...
ME I'm not interested in your views on porridge/weight/cars/jobs/husbands/children's schools/life* etc

*delete as appropriate.

You can totally get over it. And once you do she'll stop criticising you because she knows you don't care.

Aussiebean Fri 19-Feb-16 20:26:39

you need to untangle your life from her. Why are you going to dinner with your ex because she wants to? Do you live with her?

Then give her no ammunition. Work is fine, drive was fine, you are fine, cat is fine, day was fine. Don't tell her anything more. Don't run decisions by her. Don't tell her you are even thinking of something. Just do it and don't even tell her unless you have to.

If she starts to criticise, shrug your shoulders say 'oh well' and walk out.

I know the critical mother well

Oldraver Fri 19-Feb-16 20:46:49

This is my Mum to a t.... and even at my advanced age I still get floored by her negativity, then I scold myself for letting her have an 'in' so to speak.

I've learnt not to share, not to let her know too much so she can then criticise. We live a long way away so only see her sporadically and I dont phone much.

I have the last few years pulled her up when she gets snarky and it does stop her in her tracks and I think there has been some improvement. Though I think its more she doesn't want a tongue lashing off of me, rather than realising she needs to curb the criticism.

I find it does stress me... Spud has it spot on in saying you soak up the criticism, then usually its something ridiculous that makes you take stock. For me it was a few years ago when I bought an expensive handbag I had dithered over for ages (dont even get me started on my not being 'worthy' of nice or expensive things). OH encouraged, me and I was really chuffed with my bag. I then had this moment where I realised I couldn't let her see it or she would have to put the boot in, it was like she had to spoil anything.

I do sometimes have lapses as she is incredibly nosey and I cant keep everything form her, then I get caught out when she is snidey, recently it was our bedroom that OH had just decorated (the house was mine and late DH's and nothing had been done to it really since he died). I think on the 10th O...M...G.... I got the picture.

And yes to never being on my side. When I was a single parent my Mum was forever reminding me that I would be judged lacking as a parent and reported to SS...Erm no Mum you are the only one thats ever judged my being on my own

AvaLeStrange Fri 19-Feb-16 21:15:38

I hope your evening isn't too challenging OP.

Just after posting I received a message from my mum, full is arsey comments about my finances, plans for the weekend and the fact that we've seen more than usual of the ILs this week. I replied with a gentle telling off and got a 'I'm not being snippy just stating facts...' message full of more digs back which I've ignored.

She's really not well at the moment so I know she's taking her unhappiness and frustration out on me, but there is absolutely nothing at all I can do for her at the moment.

spaghettina Fri 19-Feb-16 21:29:46

Another one here I'm afraid. It is terribly draining always having to be on the defensive.
We live in different countries but when she visits it's a constant stream of criticism about our flat, our town/country, my sloppy housekeeping, my job ("boring")...she can be a bit of a bully and she's started on DD who is only 5. Dd is a bit clumsy and I noticed that my mum blames her if she falls over/bangs into something, she'll say "you should be more careful" instead of comforting a crying child.

Always plays devil's advocate. Vv self absorbed, often groans audibly when I phone her as always too busy as about to eat/shower/ go out (she's retired). A quite recent low point was when I told her I'd had a miscarriage .. Her first reaction (disappointed tone):. "oh no, I'd already told all my friends about the baby" :-/
She hardly ever admits to being in the wrong, and often uses emotional blackmail.

I used to have actual nightmares about her, but since becoming a mother myself I am much more aware of her flaws now and regard her as an essentially good hearted person with grave communication/ affectivity problems who had strict, emotionally distant parents. She does love me but resents me too in some way, maybe because i moved abroad when I was quite young. I can only try my best not to do the same to my own DCs when they're older.

My advice is to lower your expectations, don't seek her approval, and confide less in her.

ConkersDontScareSpiders Fri 19-Feb-16 22:22:06

The problem is I've already stopped confiding in her.I speak to her once a week and because she lives 200 miles away we see her probably every two months. I don't think I could go much lower contact without being no contact.
She is great nan to my girls and they love her and my dad, and I wouldn't want them to miss out on far she isn't that critical of them, although she has started to talk about some of their behaviour negatively to me-but again that's more critical of me and my parenting so far,than directly critical of them.
We went out for dinner with ex h largely because my mum was 'missing him'. ( he loves that as he knows it upsets me , so was very pleased to arrange it with her-they talk all the time), and also because even when mum and dad aren't here ex and I try to do stuff with our girls once a week or so). I just sat quietly and chatted to the girls so it was ok.weird situation but the girls were happy to have us all together so worth sucking it up.
I think my mums position re my separation is what really made me wake up to how her behaviour affects me. As some of you she said I hitherto sucked it up and accepted it as the norm.i wasn't a confident kid (which was largely then put down to my dads massive personality-I now think inaccurately) and I think a lot of that was down to my mum.
I work in mental health now and it's funny that I never recognised the way my mum has affected me until now-I guess because there was never any 'classic' abuse-not as bad as the stuff I work with anyway..To all intents and purposes I had a happy and comfortable childhood. But I probably do need to work through some of this stuff somehow.

ConkersDontScareSpiders Fri 19-Feb-16 22:28:05

And yes yes to just wanting her to be on my side.ive never felt like she is and I've so wanted her to be.I can't imagine not being on my DD's would be unnatural for me to be against hurts me that my mum doesn't feel like that about me.
Thanks all for your replies.really appreciated.

UnhappyNeedHelp Fri 19-Feb-16 23:34:43

conkers I just see it as lessons in parenting. There will never be a time when my kids ever question that I've got their backs.

Aussiemum78 Sat 20-Feb-16 03:55:48

I'm empathising with you, and I've also noticed my mother does this...and at 38 I'm trying to understand how that led me to a relationship where I'm criticised and told I'm not good enough.

When we split before mum says "there's 2 sides..." Even though she knew abuse was involved. Yet my cousin split up with her husband and it's ok for very superficial reasons. It hurts.

Because my mum is so practically supportive - she helps, I overlooked the lack of emotional support. I'm starting to realise there's a pattern and trying to overcome my passive, people pleasing habits around her (and dp).

Aussiemum78 Sat 20-Feb-16 04:00:09

Being a parent brings it up too, as I remember things from my childhood that I would never repeat with dd. As a kid I didn't question if it was normal - I just got in with it, thought I wasnt a very good kid, thought my mum had tough love.

Now I know I'd never blow off awards ceremonies, or not be thrilled at As and Bs in class. Etc.

Spandexpants007 Sat 20-Feb-16 04:23:10

So every time she hammers on, quietly but clearly say 'when you speak to me negatively, it upsets my feelings and makes me want to withdraw away from you'

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