Understanding and Managing the Generation Gap

Photo by edanley - http://flic.kr/p/7x2UzZ - For illustration only

Reader’s Question

I don’t know what to do! I am the only child of an overbearing and manipulative mother. I often wonder if she hates me. She is constantly belittling me in front of others. We have never had a good relationship.

It has gotten so much worse now that I have kids. She watches them for me before and after school until my husband or I get off work. She is always talking horribly about me in front of my kids. She tells them that I’m a bad mommy if I forget something they needed, and she tells them that my husband is lazy. My husband is a very hard worker, usually working more than 40 hours a week. I am a surgical nurse and work full-time. I have three kids, ages four, five, and eight. My eight-year-old is starting to tell us how lazy we are.

We have lived down the street from her for 12 years, and recently bought a new home about 20 minutes away. She has been giving us a horrible time about it. She is telling other parents we know how I have no idea what I’m doing. She told me I was trying to cut my kids out of her life by moving. Right now we pay for them to go to a private school close to my mom’s house because the public school is not great! Where we are moving, they have five-star schools. She flipped when I mentioned that we may switch them, because she won’t be able to see them every single day. She would rather us drive out of our way and spend over $700 a month to keep them in private school just for her own selfish reasons. She threatens that she will not drive all that way to come to their games, etc.

There is so much more to my story. I could go on for days. I just need to know that it’s okay to distance myself and my kids, and live my own life!

Psychologist’s Reply

One of the hardest things about being a parent is that so much of it depends on who you are and how you were raised. Some people can overcome the obstacles put in their path in childhood and develop healthy parenting skills while others cannot. It’s important to remember that most parents do the best they can with the resources they have at the time. In other words, it may not be that your mother hates you. It could be that she never learned good parenting skills and, as such, may not be able to truly express the love she feels towards you.

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched
(Please read our important explanation below.)

That could be what is going on with how she handles the situation with your kids as well. People who are insecure about their own self worth find ways to become indispensable. Thus, instead of being able to feel confident that the kids need her as their caregiver, she disparages you and your husband in order to make herself look good. Similarly, people who suffer from a great deal of anxiety (and overbearing and manipulative behavior are nothing if not ways to control their fears) frequently do not know how to express their emotions appropriately. Consequently, instead of being able to tell you how much the thought of not being able to see her grandchildren every day hurts, she throws a tantrum and makes threats. While this kind of behavior should not be excused, it is essential to understand it so that we can continue to have relationships with these people if we want, or at least be able to avoid those mistakes ourselves.

When people exhibit such damaging acting out behaviors, it becomes imperative to either distance ourselves from them or, if possible, set firm boundaries with them. Children are very much affected by how they are parented, so if you want to have more control over this with your mother, limits need to be set. Families are not a democracy; they are a hierarchy, so it is crucial that children respect their parents. Your mother’s behavior appears to be undermining this basic tenet, so it is more than fine to tell her this is unacceptable. It is up to you and your husband to decide how your children should treat you, what educational opportunities are in their best interests and where the family should live. If your mother can respect and abide by your decisions, that’s wonderful. If she cannot, then that is her choice.

Sometimes it is necessary to distance children from the destructive influences in their lives. It is always a shame when the destructive influence comes from a family member but we need to teach our kids that proper treatment is a must. If you have to distance your family from your mother, you can do so in a way that is respectful to everyone involved. If you need help with this process, please consider counseling. A good family psychologist should be able to help set boundaries, separate if necessary, and heal.

Please read our Important Disclaimer.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by on and last reviewed or updated by Pat Orner Oliver on .

Ask the Psychologist provides direct access to qualified clinical psychologists ready to answer your questions. It is overseen by the same international advisory board of distinguished academic faculty and mental health professionals — with decades of clinical and research experience in the US, UK and Europe — that delivers CounsellingResource.com, providing peer-reviewed mental health information you can trust. Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. CounsellingResource.com is accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Copyright © 2023.