How to Live in Peace With Your Mother

What do you do when you can’t be in the same room as your mom, much less be friends? Here are a few tips on coping with a mother who is moody and unpredictable.

“I’m 45 lost my job 18 months ago; and until May, struggled along as best I could,” says P. on How to Handle Problems With Your Mother. “My parents convinced me to ‘come home and allow my family to help.’ My parents have been very generous; but my mother’s mercurial moods are becoming a problem. I’ve ‘schooled’ myself to be as respectful as I can – ever mindful that I am a guest in their house – offered to help around the house as much as possible, started a garden; and continue to plug away at finding a job. I’m told that no help is needed, or given a task and micro-managed to death over how it is done.”

Ah yes, the critical mother syndrome! A great starting point is a book like Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. The more you learn about mother-daughter relationships, the better you’ll be able to live in peace with your mom.

When You and Your Mother Can’t Be Friends

Here’s the rest of my reader’s story:

“I am not stretching the truth or blowing it out of proportion, when I say my mother has stomped out of her room the morning after I made a dinner – which she complimented me on at the time – and accused me of not respecting dietary concerns she’s expressed. And, all in a condescending, rude voice and tone that shreds whatever shreds of self-confidence I’ve got left. For four days, I’ve been ignored, spoken to abruptly and with contempt, shouted at, and given dirty looks whenever I attempt to speak about anything. I swear, I feel like I’ve entered some alternative universe. I have NO CLUE as to who this woman is who LOOKS like my mother!”

A few tips on what to do when you and your mom can’t live in peace…

Accept that your mother won’t change

My mother is schizophrenic; my sister and I were in and out of foster homes for most of our childhood. I spent most of my 20s resenting my parents and envying people with “normal” parents. But I realized that if I want to be happy, well-adjusted, and healthy, I need to accept my mom for who she is. She has a disease that robbed us of our childhood – but I refuse to let it rob me of my adulthood! She and I will never be friends because of her illness, but we can live in peace because I refuse to live otherwise.

I know it’s different when you actually have to live with your mother. But the bottom line is that if you want to be happy, you need to remember that the only person you can change is yourself. Your mom is who she is, your relationship is what it is, and if you want to live in peace you have to accept and flow with your life.

You don’t have to be best friends with your mom to accept that she’s doing the best she can.

Remember that other things may be going on in your mom’s life – but she loves you

Your mom loves you and cares about you – even though she may not be showing it (or may not know how to show it). She may not be acting like a mom, much less your best friend, but she does love you.

Her words and actions indicate that something is going on in her life. Maybe her physical health is suffering, or she’s struggling with emotional or mental health issues. Maybe her marriage is rocky, or she’s unhappy spiritually.

If you can find ways to have compassion for her, to accept that perhaps she’s coming from a place you know nothing of, you might be able to live in peace with your mother.

Initiate a conversation about a happy memory or experience

Here’s an experiment: find a pocket of time, sit down with your mom, and ask if you can walk down memory lane.

mother can't be friends

image by merymay19 via flickr

What fun times have you shared? What was the happiest memory you have of her? Ask her what her happy memories are of you. The more you focus on the joy and peace you have experienced together, the more connected you’ll feel….and the more peace you’ll have in your mother-daughter relationship.

Try it. What have you got to lose? It couldn’t make your relationship with a mother who says nothing is good enough worse, could it?

A similar tip is to write her obituary. Pretend she’s dead, and write what you’d say at her funeral. This may not make you and your mother BFF (best friends forever), but it may help you live in peace. But don’t let her find the obituary…you may not be able to explain it!

Recognize the patterns in your mother-daughter relationship

This is difficult to do when you’re in the middle of it, but it’s often very helpful to see the patterns that keep emerging in your relationship. For example, some mothers are super critical and some daughters are hyper sensitive to being criticized. In this type of relationship, a mom may say something totally innocent, and the daughter may be outrageously offended.

Sometimes it’s not the current words or actions that are causing problems in your relationship, it’s the past. Of course, sometimes you’re simply coping with a controlling mother – and you need to find ways to take your life back.

O yes – here’s one of my favorite quips about moms: “If it’s not one thing, it’s my mother.” ~ unknown. :-)

For more tips on mother-daughter relationships, read When Nothing is Good Enough for Your Mother.

What do you think? If you can’t be friends with your mother, can you at least live in peace?


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3 thoughts on “How to Live in Peace With Your Mother”

  1. Laurie, THANK you, I was checking daily but your reply was above the comment and I didn’t see it! I was looking under it LOL

    I just read the article–first of all I can’t believe how accurate your view is about me by just reading my questions! Secondly, my friends who I THINK are in bad relationships have NOT asked me for advice cause obvioulsy they ENJOY their relationships..I never thought I was doing to them what my mother has been doing to me all my life, ie always encouraging me to break up whenever things became even slightly difficult with all my ex boyfriends. Obviously this hasn’t taught me anything on how to handle stressful/difficult situations in life but let’s not get into that right now :)

    I read a lot and it has helped me a lot and thank you for the books you’re suggesting, I will definitely get them. And I will also try and do what you’re suggesting..Since I wrote this I actually told my friend what I thought of her boyfriend, and I suffered so much after that, that I decided it’s just not worth it..I hope our friendship is not ruined..I decided that as much as I am used to identifying the negatives in people (and using it as an example of great insight!) I will put all my effort in not focusing on that and looking for the positive in everyone (including my mom, myself, and life in general).So far, by doing that, I have even seen changes in my mom’s behavior towards me!

    I’m sorry if this is too long and too personal..I am glad you wrote the article and I hope I will not be the only one who finds it helpful! I will always come back to read it, and maybe also keep you updated on my progress! I wish you all the best :)

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear Theodora,

    Thank you for sharing your questions here! You’re a smart woman with a great deal of insight and self-awareness. I bet you were a handful for your mother :-)

    I wrote this article for you:

    Do You Act and Talk Like Your Mom – and Hate It? How to Stop

    I hope it helps, and welcome your thoughts here or there.


    PS: Did your girlfriends ask for your advice on leaving bad relationships? Just curious :-)

    This article may help:

    5 Ways to Help a Friend Get Out of a Bad Relationship

  3. Laurie, your writing is great! I started reading about How to Leave a bad marriage/relationship (Ive done it, but I wanted to give advice to a couple of my girlfriends), and then I ended up reading about the critical mother-sensitive daughter relationship, which I also found very helpful and spot-on (I am a cliche it turns out!). I have a couple points if you dont mind discussing, even briefly:

    1. Do you think that the mother-daughter relationship HAS to be fixed in order for the daughter to be in a functional and happy relationship/marriage? ie. could the reason why I always end my relationships have to do with the same thinking/behavior patterns that don’t allow me to be in a happy relationship with my mother? (I am currently single obviously)

    2. As much as I can’t get along with my mother because of specific behaviors she exhibits, I catch myself acting exactly the same way to people that are the closest to me (and if we also spend a lot of time together uninterrupted, as in a holiday etc). HELP!!! By dealing with these behaviors all my life (Im 33), I have adopted them!! Advice please??

    3. And sorry to take so long, any ideas why I firmly believe that ALL my girlfriends’ boyfriends are morons (to be polite)? Could it be Im not noticing something about myself instead? Has it ever happened to you, to think that ALL your girlfriends deserve better??

    I really hope you’ll be interested in discussing these issues, even briefly with me..Your help will be hugely appreciated!! Thank you :)