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How to Make Things Better if You & Your Mom Have a Really Bad Relationship

by Sheri Oz, studioD

Maybe you’re angry at her or very sad that it’s so hard for the two of you to get along. You just wish that being with your mother was less tense and more pleasant. Whether you are a son or a daughter, young or old, you continue to need your mom’s love and positive regard. You’re afraid if you don’t do something to clear away the barriers that seem to keep you emotionally distant, you will never be able to develop the relationship you really want to have with her.

Steps to a Better Relationship with Mom

Pay attention to instances when your mother does something that feels good to you. For example, you may be particularly pleased with how she praises your stories of success or laughs at your jokes. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that positive feedback can motivate people to seek more ways to succeed so tell her how much you love that about her.

Suggest fun things to do together. Perhaps your mother's company is more enjoyable when the two of you are sitting at a coffee shop or going to a movie than when visiting her at home. Maybe she has a hobby you can share. In an interview posted on CanadianLiving.com, clinical social worker Sheila Herron says that fun and playing is as important for adults as children and can improve a poor relationship.

List those behaviors of hers that you find objectionable. If you keep in mind the behaviors that you find intrusive or hurtful, you are better prepared to define your boundaries. For example, if your mom puts you down, calmly tell her that you are not willing to tolerate that kind of behavior; then get up to leave, promising to talk to her later. Your mother's hurtful behavior may gradually disappear if there is an immediate response that cuts the interaction short without the threat to cut off ties entirely.

Remember the good times you have had with your mother. Body language expert Carol Kinsey Goman claims that people can unconsciously sense how others are feeling. Before you meet up with your mother, fill your mind with good memories of your relationship with her. These positive thoughts may then be reflected in your tone of voice, your stance and other subtle aspects of body language, helping your get-together begin on a more favorable note than usual.

Take an interest in your mother as a person in her own right. Mothers were people with hopes, dreams and disappointments before they became mothers. A wonderful way to open your mom’s heart is to ask her about those hopes, dreams and disappointments – her hopes for herself as well as her hopes for you and your siblings. This sharing may set the stage for a better, more satisfying relationship.


  • Congratulate yourself on taking steps to try to improve your relationship with your mother. It is not easy and you wish she would have made the first move, but you show your maturity by taking responsibility for initiating change.
  • If the difficult interactions with your mother are too deeply ingrained to change without help, you may ask her to consider coming with you to family counseling.


  • If your mother behaves in clearly abusive ways and she is not willing to consider counseling either alone or with you, you may be better advised to significantly reduce the amount of interaction you have with her.

About the Author

With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.

Photo Credits

  • Janie Airey/Photodisc/Getty Images