How to Deal With an Overbearing and Smothering Mom

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Conflicts between a parent and child can continue long after the child has grown up. In fact, many adults still find themselves struggling to deal with overbearing or smothering mothers. It's particularly difficult to deal with an overbearing mother if you are caring for her, but for the sake of your sanity and her safety, you need to be able to create boundaries without disconnecting entirely from her.

Listen to Her

Mothers who are overbearing or controlling often act that way because of issues such as fear of the empty nest or anxiety about aging and being alone. It can sometimes help if you encourage your mother to share her feelings about why she is controlling. If you can get to the root of the problem, you can work together to find a solution. For example, if her fear of being alone is causing her to show up at your house every night for dinner, work out an arrangement where you will take her out every Friday night -- just the two of you, and then she can have dinner with the whole family on Sundays.

Choose Your Battles

Clarify what is important to you. If your mother is overbearing, chances are that she tries to control every detail of your life. This means that you need to pick your battles. Choose issues that are most important, and then get ready to talk to your mother about them. For example, if your mother insists that you wear the scarf she lovingly knit for you, it might be easier to give in and wear the scarf to please her. If she keeps criticizing your career choice, however, take a stand as to your position. Be firm, but loving. Remind your mother that her opinion is important to you but that you are an adult, and as such, you make your own decisions.

Lend a Hand

Help your mother find something else to focus on, besides your life. If she is overbearing because she feels like you are all she has, suggest that two join a gardening group or take up another hobby together. At first, go with her -- but after she makes friends -- bow out of the next round. Help her organize her schedule so that she knows what she is supposed to be doing on each day; this might help her focus more on her life, instead of on yours.

Get Some Help

Often, a mother will be overbearing with her child but not as much with an adult who is not her own child. For example, if you are caring for your mother but she is so controlling that she won't let you clean her house, consider hiring a housekeeper. Your mother may allow a housekeeper to touch her stuff, even though she did not let you come near her belongings. If your mother's overbearing, smothering behavior becomes excessive, consult a medical professional for help. It's possible she might be showing signs of dementia or another health problem.

Be Kind to Yourself

Sometimes, you have to let go of wanting to make your mother happy. Try to block it out. Remind yourself that it is not your problem -- it's her problem. You may have to limit the time you spend with her and you may have to tell her to stop being critical of you. Do whatever is necessary, without being cruel, to set some boundaries to protect yourself and to preserve your well-being.