Do you have mother issues?

You don’t need a psych degree to know that all relationships are complex.  In fact you only have to know one person to understand the reality of  how complex relationships with other humans can be, but is there any relationship more complex than that of grown adult and mother?  Jane* writes


“I am writing this after my once every 10 yearly dust-up with my Mother and after a day to think about everything we both said, I got to thinking about how nearly everyone woman I know has a ‘complicated’ relationship with their mother. By complicated I mean a relationship where there is love, but also a lot of frustration. I know I certainly feel that with my mother, my sister-in-law feels it with her mother, friends feel it with their mothers. Personally, my frustration stems from the fact that I see personified in my mother undesirable attributes I know I possess. Alternatively, for one friend, her mother’s ‘girly-ness’ is at complete odds with her own tomboy heart.

My mother has come to Sydney (with my father) to look after my sons for a few days in the school holidays while I attend a course for my job. She leads a very busy life and I am very grateful to her and my father for making time to help us. I have expressed this gratitude verbally many times, bought them gifts to say thank you, made sure dinner was always cooked and ready. However, my gratitude is at times completely overwhelmed by my frustration at her ‘tsk-tsk’ behaviour with my parenting (she thinks I am too soft on my kids), my clothing, my choices in life.

I did snap at her this morning because of a silly little thing and she was very upset. I tried to apologise, but this unleashed a terrible fury of ‘you’re always so critical of me, you look down your nose at me, you say ‘thank you’, but don’t really mean it, you always turn things around so that you’re the victim, I think you’re just an unhappy person’ type of comments. When I thought about it, I realised that all the things she was upset with me about are the EXACT same things that upset me about her. Implied criticism, constant disapproval, never really feeling like I’ve lived up to her expectations. I am successful in my career, with a masters degree and an excellent job. I have two beautiful sons, a successful, loving husband, we own our own home. Frankly, there’s not a lot to be ‘disapproving’ of as far as I can see. I have taken her comments on board and have vowed to be more respectful and to try and hide my frustration more effectively. She is not the kind of person who would be particularly willing to ‘talk about it’ – preferring to sweep things under the carpet (not particularly effective, in my opinion).

My mother is an only child and has always had a ‘selfish’ disposition. Her and my father have a rather unhappy relationship and whenever I speak with her it turns into a bitch-session (one-sided) about my father and my elderly Grandparents (who, at 89, are very well, live on their own with very minimal assistance, drive themselves around, do their own shopping, cook their own meals and so on). My brother can do no wrong, on the other hand. She is always talking about how my brother is so much like her and how I am so much like my father – I am sure I don’t need to spell out the implications in that!

The crux of my ‘Group Therapy’ is that I am sure other Mama Mia readers have ‘complicated’ relationships with their mothers and I am wondering how best to manage mine – some advice would be greatly appreciated.”