how to tell your mother to back off - image via Unsplash

Let’s kick this off with a clarification, shall we, a disclaimer of sorts. How to tell your mother to back off? Uh oh, Suger and her Mum mustn’t get along very well… Oh no. But that’s not the case. My mother and my mother-in-law are great! Both are in fact delightful in their own unique ways and have never found any reason to put me down or implied the plans I have for my life are crap.

This is for that girl I met one in the City Chic change rooms in Brisbane. I told you then that I thought you should tell your mother to fuck off. This is my way of expanding on that now that we’ve both recovered from the shock of me saying that! Eeek. This is because your mother challenges your confidence daily, judges and criticises your body and general appearance and because she is mean to you. It’s for you and every other woman out there who feels the same way.

Here’s the cold hard truth of it. Mother’s are people who make mistakes. While we love them they are not the be all and end all authority on all the things. For their generosity and love, mothers are working with the skills they have, the knowledge they have and the ideas they have. You’ll recognise them, you would have picked up a few of the same ideas along the way. But not all of them are right, or right for you or even helpful AT ALL.

Today for the second or third time this week women have told to me that they have run into issues with uninvited “advice” {criticism} from their mother that is impeding the development of their self-esteem and body confidence. If I was a mother I wouldn’t MEAN to do that. It wouldn’t be my idea of a good plan. But sometimes these things just happen.

But this worries me because mother’s have had the same issues in varying degrees relating to confidence, ambition and the ownership of their bodies for goodness knows how long. It worries me because if something is to change {and soon} we need to know when it is time to tell your mother to back off, step down or plain old get lost. Same goes for aunties, grandmothers and women of their ilk. Times they are a’changing and someone has to tell them.

Do you plan to allow your mother to speak to your daughter in a way the reaffirms the current, unachievable ideals of body shape and size? Well why let her do it to you? Maybe you think your Mother has THE WORST taste in men ever and the relationship history to prove it. Well would you then allow her to interfere or comment on your marriage? Probably not. It’s time to consider the advice you receive in the same way you would if it came from anyone else.

It is not about being disrespectful. It is about the changing of the guard. It might not ever be a conversation that you need to have to with you mother at all. Maybe your mother never even needs to hear the words back off come out of your mouth. Maybe there’s a conversation to be had… But with yourself. I suggest it going something like this…

“Self! Hi good to talk to you again, hope you’re well. I wanted to talk to you about Mum. She’s great and everything {or not} and she did a bang up job of raising us. But here’s the thing, she’s not always right and she certainly does not know everything. So from now on self, we are going to consider her advice and then decide for ourselves. If she pushes us, we will nod and smile and say thank you for loving me and move on. Do you think we can do that, self?”

And you either will agree with you or not. Easy peasy. It takes the power away from her and places it firmly on your shoulders. It’s your job now to decide. Your job to treat your mother in a respectful manner while still maintaining a life that YOU designed. Your relationship with your mother is going to thank me. I promise.

But what happens if there is a conversation to be had with your mother? What if no matter how many conversations you have with yourself to let her do her thing and you do yours she still manages to push your buttons? I’ve never had the conversation with my mother, but I have had it with out, more annoying types. Here’s what I would do.

Firstly, do the conversation with yourself again. Sure your Mum is a pain but like Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt said “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent” so some of it lands on you. Remind yourself your Mum is not the boss of you no matter what 5-year-old you thinks.

Then next time it happens stay calm and broach the topic with her. CALMLY. Mum, I feel like when you say that you are criticising me, please stop doing that. OR Mum, I have heard your opinion on this, I’m not going to change my mind, please drop it. And if she won’t acknowledge your request and continues with the same behaviour, leave. Always come back {another day, week even} but be clear that you are leaving now because you don’t want to discuss it or be spoken to like that. Full stop.

Over time by reminding yourself that your Mum is human AND reinforcing how it is acceptable to speak with you or contribute her ideas you will forge a new, shinier, adult version of interacting. If, and this is the big, she let’s go a little too. So if your Mum is like the lady in the change room’s Mum then I hope this works out for you. Keep practising, be assertive and you’ll find your confidence and self-esteem will thank you for it.

Tell your Mum to back off today and be the better for it.

Weird but I have this feeling like I might be getting some message from Mum’s sometime soon saying what the HECK Suger, what were you thinking… I urge you to read this post a few times and let it sink in. This is not a free pass to go and dump decades worth of hurt feelings on your mother. You’re a grown up now too. Move on. 

And as always, there are exceptions to every rule, you should consider your personal safety or mental health before tackling something like this is you feel it is outside of your capability right now. Speak to a professional, your GP can point you in the right direction. 

  • Cara Hann

    I have exactly this problem with my mum. Over the last year or so I have come to realise that she and I hold VERY different opinions on a bunch of things, and yet I still continue to measure myself and my beliefs by her yardstick. She is the critical voice in my head, the voice that tells me that I am not performing up to the standards that I am capable of. Her values and opinions are the ones that I measure others by, and yet, when I actually take a step back to think about them, I don’t always agree.
    For the last few years the big struggle has been my career (or lack thereof) and her continued determination for me to keep trying to get into teaching, even though I no longer want to for sooooo many reasons. I have given up on it, and yet every conversation with her comes back to how I should keep trying. No matter how many times I tell her I don’t want to, because of the heartache and soul-destroying effect it has on me, she keeps pushing me to do it. Gah!!
    Oh I could go on and on and on at the moment (really I could). I just have to keep reminding myself that she loves me and is just trying to help in the best way she knows how. And also that just because I am not made exactly in her image that does not make me a lesser being.

    • It really doesn’t Cara make you any better or worse than her, just different. I think you should take some time out and work out what it is you want from your career and then go for it. There’s something about someone who is certain about something that others just don’t bother arguing with. My experience has always been when I’m wavering or unsure, then people are able to impact me most with their ideas on what I should or shouldn’t do. Just my two cents, take it or leave it. Thanks for weighing in on the post. x

  • Dana

    This post made me tear up a little. My relationship with my mum is a complicated one. I remember seeing her in the morning with a split lip, I used to get so mad as the man who did it and had always done it, was sitting there drinking a coffee she just made with a smile. 20 years later she raises her eyebrows and makes snide remarks about my partner who is a good man. She used to say “a minute on the lips forever on the hips” if I even looked at chocolate. She said it again the other day and I stopped myself from going ballistic, I actually sat on my hands! Then I remember the times she ate a cheese sandwich for dinner while my brother and I had steak and three veg and the Christmas we had chicken nuggets because she was so broke. Thank you for a great post, I will definitely refer to this a lot when dealing with my mum and my reactions to her “well meaning” criticisms.

    • Ahh Dana, so difficult. All the very best with your mother and I hope you guys can find some common ground. x

  • Well said Suger. You can choose your friends but NOT your family, and sadly, some of us have less than ideal mothers. Mine had severe mental health issues and for the sake of my own sanity I had to cut all ties with her quite young. Fortunately I enjoy a great mother/daughter relationship with my own daughter who is now 17!

    • I do think that is so true. I’m glad to hear your relationship with your daughter is a good one. x

  • sheribombblog

    Oh boy. Yep. Mums, they’re pretty great but they can be surprisingly clueless at times. My mum’s awesome and I love her to bits. She’s not too bad when it comes to these sorts of things, although is by nature quite a negative person and she’s a bit of a martyr. She can also say things that seem obviously (to other people) inappropriate, rude or potentially hurtful but she doesn’t seem to notice. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt that she doesn’t realise and that it’s not something she does on purpose. It used to really bother me but I didn’t feel I could say anything. Neither do the other people around her apparently. These days I’ve found my peace with it. I can’t be bothered saying anything because there are so many layers to it and it’s just her way, it’s ingrained in her, no doubt from her own past experiences and hurts (of which she’s had plenty). So rather than make a big deal about it or risk affecting the great aspects of the relationship it has now become a source of amusement and entertainment for my sister and I. When she says things I can (inwardly) roll my eyes and chuckle while smiling and nodding politely before taking the conversation in a different direction. She’s entitled to her opinion, and I share it later with my sister as we chuckle about the unbelievable things she says. It’s a much better place to be at with it all.

    • Not so surprising when you consider that they’re just people, doing human type stuff. I worked with my mother for a number of years and got really present to her flaws and humanness. It was the best thing that ever happened to us. And it sounds like your sister and you have done the same thing. So awesome.

  • I think it’s also important to note that if you have a mother who CONSTANTLY makes you feel terrible, it’s perfectly ok to choose not to see them anymore. Like you said, if you try ask them to stop and they just won’t (or won’t acknowledge they are actually hurting you) perhaps you need to consider whether that relationship is more important than your self esteem and quality of life. But that’s just my super cynical opinion haha!

    I hope that girl reads your post Mel and also finds a better shopping buddy 🙂

    • Yes Sunny, I agree with that. I think if you assert yourself and make it clear that the behavior is hurtful and making you feel bad as a person and it continues? Well that’s just not going to work for anyone, it’s time to protect yourself. I do like to think that you can always go back, find a way to make it work, but I know that’s not always the case. x

  • Oh suger. Thank you for this advice. I need it. Not in appearance, but in other ways. I am current mentally working and physically writing my way through my issues with mum. So thank you for your timely advice. It’s sensitivity and kindness. xS.