Controlling Mother? Tips to Ease the Tension

You are an adult with your own career, your home, and maybe a few kids. Does your mom still try to be in control of your life and every decision you make? You can set boundaries with a controlling parent without hurting your relationship, experts say.

“I think the key to having a controlling parent is having kindness and boundaries with them. Be both firm and kind, don’t disrespect them, but set limits in your life and your choices, ”says Cara Gardenswartz, PhD, psychologist at Group Therapy LA in Beverly Hills, Calif.

A controlling mother can be unhappy when you push her advice away. Let her know that you hear her words, but that you’ll make the final decisions about your life, she suggests. “They are used to being in control. Give them space to share what they think. “

Signs that you have a controlling mother can range from mild annoying comments to frequent arguments. She can often:

  • Offer you unsolicited advice
  • Criticize your decisions about your relationships, career, or money
  • Openly disagree with your parenting or housekeeping style
  • Try to beat yourself up if you don’t agree with his advice, or if you feel guilty

When do you take charge?

There is no specific age when you are automatically an adult in the eyes of your parents, and the process of taking responsibility for your own choices can be gradual, says Jay Lebow, PhD, clinical professor of psychology at Family Institute of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Some parents may not want to let go for the sake of your well-being.

“At some point you become an adult and start making your own decisions, but your parent gets nervous. It gets trickier when you don’t make good decisions, ”says Lebow.

Your mother may want to protect you from negative consequences, like trying to control your spending for fear of going into debt, he says. “A parent may think, ‘Am I letting my child have bad credit?’ A truly controlling parent may have a child who is perfectly capable of becoming independent, but he or she does not want to let it.

Control can start early in your relationship, but it can cause problems for adult children for years to come. A study published in 2020 followed 184 children aged 13 to 32. Those with dominant parents in their mid-teens were less likely to be romantically involved or to be successful in school, even in their early 30s.

Money, a common source of conflict

Many young adults are not yet financially independent, even if they live alone in a dormitory or college apartment, or if they have a job, Lebow says. This can blur the line between parents and children about who should make decisions.

“You may be in an emerging phase of adulthood. You are not fully adult and you are financially supporting. So what’s the downside? Parents may feel like they have more of a say in what you do, and that doesn’t always have to do with the money, ”he says. “But money can become a tool to control your adult children. A young person is expected to develop and begin to have an independent life. The older person should be ready to let go of control. “

If you rely on your parents for financial support, it can create a dysfunctional dynamic where your mother attaches the right to make certain decisions about your life to the loan, he adds.


When you have children, your dominant mother can become an interfering grandparent, Gardenswartz says.

“It can be very difficult for some grandparents not to judge you for the way you raise your children. They may have a conflict over how you set your child’s feeding or nap time, ”she says. If you rely on your mother to help you babysit, she might not want to follow your rules about when to put the child to bed for a nap, for example.

Define your limits

Now that you’re an adult, even though your mom has always been in control, it’s time to set some limits, says Gardenswartz.

“First, use detachment. Don’t go into battle. Engage your mother to actively listen, ”she suggests. Active listening means paying attention to what your mother is saying without being judgmental. Let her finish what she has to say before responding. “Have the confidence to say what isn’t working for you and why.”

When setting your boundaries, a controlling mom may just take the opposite point of view and dig in. Your discussion can escalate into disagreement, where it’s hard to find a way to meet in the middle. “This is where detachment with love comes in. Use a consistent, measured tone even when your mother is very anxious or controlling,” she says.


If you want your mom to be in control, be sure to take charge of your own life. Be responsible for your own decisions and mistakes, says Lebow.

“Make a statement by telling them who you are and what you need,” he says. Express that you have your own values ​​and goals for your life and your family. “Be respectful and try not to let every difference of opinion escalate into hostility. You can say, “I am raising my child as I wish, but I realize you have a different point of view. A grandparent’s job description should be clear: you can offer a little advice, sometimes unsolicited. But you’re not the parent running the show. “

Here are some tips to help you deal with a controlling mother:

  • Don’t always present yourself as the victim. This can make your mom feel defensive and cause more conflict. Try to use “I” more than “you” so that she doesn’t feel attacked.
  • Take responsibility for your own happiness. You cannot blame all the mistakes you have made in your life on your mother’s controlling behavior.
  • Let slip some differences. Minor differences of opinion can erupt into a fight. Ask yourself if each debate is worth the potential trouble.
  • Be prepared to compromise. Keep an open mind and ear when discussing your plans or limitations. Try to find solutions that you and your mother can accept. Summarize it so you both know what you agreed to.

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Jothi Venkat

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