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How to Stand up to Your Mother when You’re 42 Years Old

Last week, a new reader of mine left a comment saying, “Perhaps at some point in the future, you could write an article on how to stand up to your mother when you’re 42 years old.”

I thought it was a good idea for an article. So here it is.

In many ways, this subject is alien to me. Neither of my parents has ever been particularly overbearing, and I’ve never had any problem standing up to them when necessary.

But I’ve had plenty of second-hand experience with exactly the type of parent that this article is written to address: overbearing, manipulative, controlling, or otherwise way too involved in the lives of their adult children. And I’ve even helped a person or two escape their mother’s shadow, so this is a topic that I understand as a coach, if not a player.

If you have a strained relationship with an overbearing parent, the first thing you’d do well to understand is that your relationship is unique in all the world, which means that one-size-fits-all advice will not apply. The best I can do here is provide some general guidelines and leave it up to you to fill in the blanks.

So with no further ado, here are 7 general guidelines designed to help adults achieve independence from overbearing parents:

1) Stop looking for affirmation:

As a child, you grew up longing for the respect, admiration, and praise of your parents. If you didn’t get it, you may still be looking for it.

Unfortunately, your desire for unconditional love can undermine your attempts to deal with an overbearing parent. Even if you find the courage to stand up for yourself, you may later regret it, fearing rejection and anger from the person you most want to accept you.

A friend of mine has spent most of her adult life seeking her mother’s approval. Unfortunately, every time she goes out of her way to seek approval, she puts her mother in a position of judgment and ends up playing into all the old family dynamics that landed her in this needy mindset to begin with.

First things first. You have to come to terms with a simple reality: you may never receive the affirmation you crave from your parent, and you cannot live your live pandering for it.

As an adult, you need self (not parental) affirmation.

2) Understand that you are part of the problem:

As a child, you were not responsible for the actions of your parents. But the world isn’t fair, and like it or not, once you reach a certain age, you become responsible for the role you play in all your relationships, including your relationship with Mom and Dad.

I’m not implying you should take responsibility for your parents, but rather for the way you interact with them.

3) Draw a hard line between parental advice and parental control:

Before asking an overbearing parent for advice, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

The right reason: Your parent has vital information, which you need to make a decision.

The wrong reason: You want your parent to approve of a choice you’ve made so you’ll feel better about yourself.

If it really does make sense to ask your parent for advice, proceed, making sure to keep it clear in your own mind that your parent is serving as advisor, not dictator.

Remember, no matter what your parent says, you, as an independent adult, have total control over the amount of influence he or she has over your life.

Conversely, if your parent is the type of person who can’t assume an advisory role, you may have to stop asking for advice altogether.

4) Identify your boundaries:

As adults, it probably doesn’t make sense for us to make a big deal out of every parental transgression. Instead, take some time on your own to make a list of the areas where you feel it’s important to assert your independence.

Are you tired of the way your mother keeps meddling in the lives of your children? If so, write that down. Are you tired of the way your father keeps getting involved in your marriage? Write that down too.

You can throw the list away when you’re done. The purpose of the list is to make note of the battles that are worth fighting so you can let the unimportant ones slide.

5) Declare your boundaries:

If your mother crosses the line and will not relent, make it clear that while you appreciate her advice, you’re an adult and are perfectly capable of handling the situation on your own. Most of the time, there is no need to get into a long, drawn out argument, which brings me to my next bit of advice:

6) Whenever possible, keep arguments short and sweet:

If your father gives his opinion once too often, politely tell him you’ll consider his opinion, and then end the conversation so you can do just that. Most of the time, you won’t even have to mention that you disagree. Remember, once the conversation is over, the decision is yours and yours alone, assuming the matter at hand is under your direct control.

While it may be true that a heated argument may sometimes be productive, by the time you’ve reached middle age, you probably have some idea whether such an argument is worth the trouble.

7) Remember, it’s your life:

If the matter at hand is truly your mother’s business, then she has a right to express herself. She may, in fact, have a right to assert herself. For example, if you’re living in her basement and she wants you to kick your noisy friends out by 10pm so she can sleep, she has every right to say so. And if you’re really 42 years old, she has every right to kick you out too.

But most of the middle-aged adults having trouble with overbearing parents have long since gained their financial independence. The next step? Well, if this article has been an interesting read for you up to this point, it’s quite likely that emotional independence is the next stop on your train of personal improvement.

It’s your life. Don’t let anyone else live it for you.

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33 Responses to “How to Stand up to Your Mother when You’re 42 Years Old”

  • Mary Paddock says:

    Well, I didn’t expect that. Good advice all. Thank you. Where were you ten years ago when I was processing through most of this? I’m clearly still working my way through number four.

    Many years ago, a friend of mine once gave me good advice concerning dealing with my mother. “It doesn’t matter how old you get, your mother doesn’t hear you asking her for advice. Nor does she understand you’re just sharing what’s going on in your life with her. She hears you seeking permission. She told you what to do, when to go to bed, what to wear, and what to eat for eighteen years of your life. That’s not an easy habit to break.” It made it substantially easier to know what to share with her and what to keep to myself as we were working our way through a complicated mother-daughter relationship to the more equal status of mother-daughter friendship.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Mary. Also, thanks for sharing the advice your friend gave you. It’s excellent.

  • Ilva says:

    Thank You very much! I was seeking for it desperately… Thank You…

  • […] meetings, not to mention the household chores, it can be a dizzying and confusing task. But if each family member is committed and communicates effectively, the task of creating a combined family schedule is a […]

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    Note to Dwayne: go pollute someone else’s blog.

  • Jan says:

    This article was interesting. What if your mother lives with you and your family and has no where else to go? How do you keep control of your house hold and your space and keep your cool when you are around your mom for most of the day?

  • […] Some of us a born to be leaders while some get trained to be one. Either way, the role of the leader is one that is tough and arduous. This is the reason why majority of us would not want to take up any form of leadership role because of the fear of the inability to cope with the immense responsibility. […]

  • mary balch says:

    I am 36 years old and am out of a job and am living at home.My relationship with my mother has always been a little contentious.She has reverted back to treating me like a child.I’m having trouble setting limits.I’m a lot less confident living at home and feel like a kid.Does anyone have any good advice?

  • I believe its best to stay patient with our parents no matter what, as roles are reversed when we get old too, and act like children once again, so yet again we will be treated the way we treated our parents, so be kind always………….

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  • Paris says:

    Thank you so much! It’s obvious now but before I didn’t realize how much I have been seeking approval and validation from my mom all of this time. I can’t change her but I can change me!

  • J.C says:

    These things are indeed helpful but at the same time kind of make me laugh actually… In all the endless years I’ve had to deal with my mother none of them have ever really worked. You can try all these things but still she’ll find a way to get attention and gain control… collapsing in the middle of a mall for example or braking the dishwasher, or telling you that the answering machine does not record messages anymore. Not to mention that she’s had a daily migraine for the last 38 years, that includes neck pain, rotten knees, and the distinct “knowing” that her digestive system hasn’t really worked since 1946. When you manage to take her attention away from all these “curses” (otherwise the conversation will go on endlessly since a solution is out of the question… you see, she’s not interested in finding treatments or cures to the problems since she knows that none of these chronic ailments have cures anyway, it was just her daily reminder that she’s been chronically ill for 40 plus years…) then her cat comes next with all kind of diseases diagnosed by her that the vet ($250 blood and urine tests) never heard of … When we brought the cat home knowing he was fine, she “remembered” that his “teeth hurt” (although the vet checked his mouth and said he just had a bit of tar.. she insisted he didn’t check them) and for the first time we knew why she had asked for groceries loans… she’d been shopping and throwing away the “wrong food” until she finds the “right” brand for the last 6 months. On top of that she keeps reminding you also that her memory is gone, so if you say she said something yesterday that proves inconvenient she’ll look at you in absolute shock and disbelief while at the same time swearing she never did… when you ask her if -maybe- she doesn’t remember (since she said her “memory is gone”…) she’ll accuse you of trying to mess with her head by assuring you that one thing she DOES remember… and that is that she didn’t say what you’re saying she said yesterday… Add to that ” I wished I never had you, you think I don’t know that you’ve never loved me…?”

    Welcome to hell folks! Can’t wait until you give advise on how to deal with the devil…

  • Jen says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I am 34 years old and I am dealing with alot of these same issues. Your statement at the very end however sealed what I secretly already knew. It is your life, don’t let someone else live it. My problems with my mother go beyond any of these things you wrote about I just wish somone was out there that could tell me how to deal with the mother who gets angry when you don’t invite her on family getaways and you invite your best friend instead.

  • Howard Smith says:

    NO WAY! I finally stumbled upon this page! I’ve been searching this post for so long!!

  • Hello. This is kind of an “unconventional” question , but have other visitors asked you how get the menu bar to look like you’ve got it? I also have a blog and am really looking to alter around the theme, however am scared to death to mess with it for fear of the search engines punishing me. I am very new to all of this …so i am just not positive exactly how to try to to it all yet. I’ll just keep working on it one day at a time Thanks for any help you can offer here.

  • Brenda Stephens says:

    Hi, Thank you for this article. I am a 42 year old woman who has taken care of her parents. My mother last month decided the children needed to know their father so she buys my ex-husband the place right across the street from her. I might could have dealt with that but when our youngest was in the hospital having surgery my oldest son was moving in with his dad and taking what ever he wanted. If he would have said i want to live with my dad it would have been different. Now my mother can’t figure out why i’m so mad and hurt.I don’t think i’ll ever be able to get over this one. What did i ever do to her?

  • Tai says:

    I am 25 yr old, living with my mom because she doesn’t work and I handle a vast majority of the bills. She tells me that she’s my master, I should do as she says and as long as I live under her roof I should have no freedom. I can’t go out with my friends without having a heated argument first about me going out and she calls every 5 minutes to find out when will I be home. I am told not to date, and I don’t have a social life. I thought about running away and finding a place if my own, but I know that she doesn’t work and won’t survive without me. It will also be a big embarrassment for her because she tells everyone that she takes care of everything in the house icluding me. She’s overbearing and using me, but she is the person that gave birth to me. Please help, I don’t know what to do anymore.

  • Rebroz says:

    Well said JC well said! I know exactly how you feel. I’m 34 and mine tells the rest of the family how bad I am and if I don’t return her phone calls within a week she starts calling the in-laws demanding them to call me…We should start a group on facebook.

  • Exactly what I have been thinking. Your update was amazing. To get an ex back is not the easiest of the tasks But it for sure can cost some time

  • Cool. Thanks for typing this. Its always nice to see someone educate the world.

  • Nedra Perez says:

    I am 42 and this was just a reiteration of my ephiphany. My mom is very overbearing. My sister is on drugs and has made some poor decisions in which she lost custody of her childeren. My mother thinks that nothing should ever come between a mother and her child, while I disagree. Because my mother and I disagree this has rifted our relationship. She constantly tries to bring up my any thing whacky things I have done and how I have forgiven individuals but, not my sister. It is exhausting to have to justify my decision on why I stay with my husband and why I don’t affilliate myself with my drug addicted sister.. What she does not understand is that I am just picking my battles. One is a legal battle and the other is an emotional. I took in my sister’s oldest child her senior yr with no assistance from others and my sisters best friend took her youngest. I testified that the youngest was best with the best friend which futher rifted my parents relationship… While I know I did the right thing, it hurts to know the extent my parents would go to defend my sister. I googled my sister and she was arrested on 12/22. if the courts would have awarded this child back to her, she would be in foster care again.
    Bottom line, to not allow my parents to push their ideas on me allows me to sleep at night.

  • Elisa says:

    WOW!!! This article really hits home for me. I’m a 32 year old woman who has an overbearing mother. I still live at home and is religiously trying to save money to get a place of my own.

    However, my mother have this notion that I will never amount to anything….little does she know that I have given up the fight to win her approval. My sister is the star of the family and who happens to be 12 years younger than me. My mother does not treat her the way she treats me. She gets so much more freedom than me. It does hurt…after all I’m a human being.

    I’ve come to understanding that its my life and I have to be the one to live it.

  • Funny I was discussing with a friend about this just the other day, we must share the same views. I hope it’s ok I added your site to a few of my bookmark lists?

  • Kelley M says:

    I’m 42 yrs old ,have an overbearing mother that doesn’t live with me, she still is very controlling over my daughter,me,and trying her best to controll my husband and he won’t stand for that.My mom treat me like a 16 teen yearold calling 6 to 9 times a day telling me what I can and can’t do.When I tell her that I’m 42 it just goes out the other ear,but your article really brought tears to my eyes because I have waiting for that love from my parent for so long now and it never came and it never will not in this life time.So now I live my life for my little family.

  • Silver says:

    Very good article, thank you very much. I’m 28 years old, moved out of the house at 16 to get away from the overbearing mother, and for a few years it worked, until we started trying to rebuild our relationship. in those few years that we weren’t speaking, I changed my perspective quite a bit, my father passed away, and I began to live my life as an adult. I purchased my own home at 23 years old, have held a very good professional job for over 10 years now, however, even though my mother wasn’t even around when I got the job, and barely spoke with me when I bought the house, she certainly jumped on the bandwagon of my success and gave herself all of the credit. I stopped looking for approval before we started speaking again and live my life for myself, however she doesn’t understand that, and it causes more strife than anything that I don’t consult her for every little thing. OH AND THE FIGHTS we have, just simply because I don’t call for two days (even though I can’t remember the last time she picked up the phone herself.) There comes a point when overbearing parents become addicted parents, and being the object of the addiction is delicate ground. She has a fit and it deeply hurts her if I have anyone in my life that I speak to other than her, including my partner of 11 years, friends, or family that she’s not related to. She believes that family is blood, even though we don’t speak to ANY of our blood family (they think she’s nuts). I have the opinion that family is who you want it to be and have a very large extended family that she refuses to accept as reality. She’s alienated herself at home and only speaks to me now, she even works from home, which I think is a bad situation for her, she needs to interact with other people.

    Alright, enough rambling, thank you for the place to vent and the very nice article :)

  • Al says:

    I would like to point out one thing that kinda bothered me about this article. The age group it’s, conciously or sunconciously, aimed at is largely from mid-20s to mid-40s. I just turned 20 and I have an immensely overbearing mother. Overbearing to the point that I’m sitting here on an online forum crying about it when I should really be sitting in college starting my sophomore year. Why didn’t I? Coz my mom decided I should take a semester off for no valid reason. She’s pulled me down at every instance not showing the least bit of concern for what I want lately. I’m so upset and frustrated right now I feel like doing some physical damage to myself at times just to get rid of her. When I try saying something to her she throws a fit. She demands to know every little thing about my life no matter how unimportant it is and considers this her god-given right coz “she’s raised me”. At no time does she stop making me feel like a failure then when I want to do something like work at a certain place or take a certain course in school she wouldnt approve of it. I’m really frustrated. All I ask from her is a little space and a little independence so I can go out and be my own person and make my own decisions and learn from experience but she wouldn’t. Her controlling nature has taken its toll on everything in my life. My confidence in my self has hit rock bottom, my grades have suffered immensely, my social life has become extremely limited etc. I have no clue where my life is headed this way only coz my mother wouldn’t understand that I’m a guy whos growing up and needs a little space and independence to make his own decisons and I’m not still a ten year old momma’s boy. I feel like a puppet moving to the strings my mother pulls and either im reaching breaking point if anyone has ANY advice for me I’d really appreciate it. More than I can ever express. ANYONE! Please!

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  • Toni says:

    Great article! I am a mom of 4 beautiful children, 3 boys and 1 girl, just like my mother (note the formality here as I had to really rename/identify with her, as the “mom” or “momma” is to my mind really an intimate nickname) who also had 4 children (3 girls and 1 boy) of which I am the oldest.
    My most profound personal struggle to date is with my mother-daughter relationship of past (as I now have a little girl myself, and am attempting to better understand what is a healthy M-D relationship, so I can change this for MY daughter But to realize that sometimes Ms & Ds (sometimes sons) just CAN’T be friends was a huge hurdle that has been very painful to face. This hurdle is made even more difficult by the fact that my mother attempts to have our relationship continue on it’s same path, but I have distanced myself to allow for healing. She has not been given explanation, as of now it’s not warranted.
    It’s not to say that you don’t extend the respect to her that she’s due, by having given you life. But that’s where it sometimes just simply needs to end. She’s not entitled to anything beyond that recognition; the rest is earned just as RESPECT is! Realizing that being at peace in your heart, and respectful to yourself and your values means that you keep your dignity intact even when you’d like to go kicking and screaming crazy. Because this better person is whom you’ve grown out of desperation to be, like a beautiful butterfly changing as you grow into a deeper understanding of your inner self. You have to HONOR that person by your choices and the path you choose to live, do it with integrity and love and kindness to yourself.
    There’s actually a book called “When You and Your Mother Can’t Be Friends: Resolving the Most Complicated Relationship of Your Life”(Paperback)by Victoria Secunda. The book is rated a 4.5 star on Amazon, I was able to make it tears and all to chapter 5 before having to put it down nearly two years ago. I was not at a point where I could start working through some of the deeper emotional issues stemming from my childhood. Nor was I able to begin to figure out what I wanted going further, either to forgive (never forget) or to attempt to address matters with my Mother. There’s always the possibility that she will not acknowledge my feelings, and I am not sure I am at a point that I could put myself out there for that kind of rejection. But under care of counseling, I am gaining the strength to dive deeper into this book and take the rest of that journey. My goal is to find resolution for my past self and to help me define a greater, deeper more meaningful relationships going forward with my children, husband and dear friends.
    What I have learned to date in my 38 year journey, and nearly 3 year realization of just where things really stand (after having my own daughter in 2009), is that the Legacy extends back to the generation prior (my mom & her mom/their mother-daughter relationship, or rather the lack of). Do not misunderstand, my acknowledgement here, as this by no means excuses her choices and actions…as we all know CHOICES ALL HAVE CONSEQUENCES! Sometimes we don’t like the consequences of those actions, but simply said this is the basic dynamics of NATURAL CONSEQUENCES!
    I personally had to hit rock bottom before I could really reflect on where things really were at, how they got there, how to proceed for my own health, sanity and relationships. Most importantly I had to be determined not to let her defeat me yet again, by protecting myself in my time of healing. Because by taking the reins, I am no longer her victim, but growing into the person God intended for ME to be! A beautiful, strong, empathetic, creative woman, who’s raising a beautiful and strong daughter and creating a new Legacy worth writing about and telling the world about it! It’s important to acknowledge your past, present and future. You have the power and presence of mind to take control and guide your future journey, take control of your life! The only person you owe anything to is YOU; you have the right to happiness, to be of sound mind and to be a whole and healthy person! YOU have the right to LOVE YOU!

  • Erin says:

    My best friend is 25 years old and her mother is damn controlling and overbaring and while I do sympathize for my friend, at the same time I think “ummm ok, well you keep complaining about every little thing your mom says and does to you and if you hate how she treats you THAT BADLY, then do something about it!” I love my friend, but she will call me a lot every day telling me what her mom says and does either that day or the day before etc etc. I know it isn’t easy for her to stand up to her mother, but its taking a toll on our friendship as well because its all she ever talks about. I try to support her in any ways I can, but I’m not sure how much longer I can keep supporting her if all she ever says is “yeah, I know you’re totally right Erin. I need to stand up for myself and tell my mom to F off………but” like wtf??!! She let’s her mom walk all over her. She calls her mom like 20 times a day JUST BECAUSE her mom says so. Then when she calls her mom, her mom starts telling her what to do with her daughter. How to raise her. How to dicipline her. What to feed her. Here’s what really pisses me off about her mom…… so, her mom tells my friend stuff like “I’m gonna call you in thirty minutes. Answer your phone when I call.” Then, when she answers her phone when her mom calls, her mom will ask her “so, is Arianna (which is my friends three year old daughter) asleep yet?” My friend says “no mom, I was putting her to bed when you tried to call and she was almost asleep but you told me I had to answer my phone so now Arianna is wide awake again from the phone ringing.” So her mom says the most ridiculous thing ever: “Elena (which is my friends name), Arianna is still awake? You need to put her to bed. Why is she still awake Elena?” Her mother is such a bitch!! Uh hello!! Arianna would be asleep if her mother would stop saying dumb stuff and making it seem like my friend is the worst mother ever. Its like how does her mom have any right getting mad at her when her mom is to blame for why Arianna is still awake. Her mom demands that she answers her phone knowing my friend was trying to put her daughter to bed in the first place and if my friend doesn’t answer, her mom flies off the handle. When my friend calls her back, she still gets a huge verbal lashing from her mom. WHY DOES MY FRIEND EVEN ANSWER HER PHONE FOR HER MOM ANYMORE IF SHE ALREADY KNOWS DAMN WELL WHAT HER MOM IS GOING TO SAY? SHE KNOWS SHE’S GOING TO BOSS HER AROUND. TELL HER SHE’S A BAD MOM. WHEN REALLY, HER MOM IS THE ONE WHO’S THE BAD MOTHER!! MY FRIEND IS A WONDERFUL MOM, BUT HER MOM WILL NOT BACK THE HELL OFF AND I KNOW I CAN’T FORCE MY FRIEND TO STAND UP TO HER MOM, BUT ISN’T THERE ANYTHING ELSE I CAN DO TO KEEP MY OWN SANITY? I refuse to abandon my friend in her time of need, but I’m getting really tired if seeing her be treated like a dog by her mother.

  • Sean says:

    I am 44 yrs. old man, recently divorced, and have had to move back in with my parents. I am instantly now 12 again in their minds! I fu&%ing hate it! I never have really got along with them very well, and now I am close to considering the nearest park bench my home!

  • Sean says:

    I am 44 yrs. old man, recently divorced, and have had to move back in with my parents. I am instantly now 12 again in their minds! I fu&%ing hate it! I never have really got along with them very well, and now I am close to considering the nearest park bench my home! Why do parents never let ya grow up and insist on keeping you a baby?!

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