How to Put Mom in Her Place... Respectfully

Updated on August 24, 2010
J.W. asks from Hillside, IL
16 answers

I have always had issues with my Mother on occasion being controlling and manipulative. Sometimes her character is so child-like, I wonder if she is going through a change?? She tries to antagonize and belittle me as her way of manipulating (she does this to others also). She's rude and disrespectful. She even taunts her next door neighbor, I could go on.

How do I put her in her place, respectfully and tell her about her disorderly behavior. It's gone on for years! She got upset with me recently b/c I would not honor her request to drive my sister (a fully grown woman) to MN. I told her I wasn't sure if I was going and suggested travel by bus. She became catty and told me I was not family oriented and I should drive b/c my sister has no money to travel by bus (even though she planned to go to MN 2 wks ago). I really don't feel up to driving 6-7 hrs for ONE day, leave Saturday drive back Sunday. My husband and I share our car and my mom could care less how this may impact him and my son (she has expressed this by stating, "he has nothing to do"). My sister, however, is irresponsible, she does not work and has lived with my parents for the last 4 yrs. When she does get money, she spends frivolously. I had enough of her attitude and her conniving, evil ways. She has put me in situations with other siblings as well, bailing them out of trouble. I don't mind helping or assisting in times of need, but if they are living a fast, out of control lifestyle, I should not be held accountable to support them. How would you go about handling this? Thank you very much for your input.

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So What Happened?

Thank you so much for your responses! I think I should clear something up here... some of you seem to think I'm angry with my sister, I am not angry with her or my mother, just wish mom would stop the crap. My sister and I are close and she does acknowledge her lifestyle and poor judgment, she’s 39. She does not blame me for anything and in no way put me in the middle of her business! She even stated to me that she does not want to inconvenience me. I did offer to pay her fare and she stated she has disappointed the family often by not repaying loans, but will repay me. My mother is making this out to be a horrible crime, NOT my sister. My sister knows how my mom is and how she is against me b/c she can’t manipulate me like she has done in the past. My sister however, is the opposite, she will let mom know what’s on her mind –go figure. Thanks ladies!

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answers from Provo on

I second Anna Lee B's answer. I have a mom who is rather childish and I have flat out told her I don't feel like anything I have done for her or the family is ever good enough. That I'm not perfect enough for her. She just ignored it and has continued to do her usual childish ways. Good luck that's all I can say.

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answers from Columbus on

I agree with Anna Lee, nothing you say can or will change your mother's behaviour. The only thing you can do is change your reaction to her. Just let it go, your not 15 anymore, your mom can't MAKE you drive your sister somewhere. Just say that you can't do it, don't explain why and try to change the conversation. It it's not working, make an excuse to hang up.

It sounds like your mom isn't the only issue here though, you sound angry at your sister as well. Same advice, you can't control your sister's actions. I'm sure this isn't the answer you wanted, but it's the only thing that will help change your relationship with these people. Good luck.

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answers from Portland on

Hi J.,

I must agree, that no matter what you say, your mom will only hear what she wants. It sounds like she lives on drama and wants to create it where ever she can.

The best way I've found to deal with that, is to become a broken record, do not engage in the games and to repeat your message. "No Mom, I cannot take Mary to MN this weekend." "I know Mary wants to go to MN, but I cannot taker her." "My answer will not change, I cannot take Mary to MN. If you keep asking me, I will need to hang up."

It's ok to state boundaries, enforce limits and disengage when boundaries are not respected.

Do not feel guilty for watching for your family first.

Good Luck.

R. Magby

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I personally don't think anything you say to your mom will have an effect. I have the same mother as you. The few times I told her where she was wrong or whatever she got all emotional and cried and said no one ever appreciates her and it goes on and on and she NEVER changes. I would talk to you sis. Point blank, "listen you plan on a trip and have no money to travel, you don't take the trip, period. I want to help you when I can but this is asking too much right now so I hope you find another way". Your mom will call you not a family person, seriously who cares. Why should you inconvenience yourself , hubs and son for this "favor". I've faced it long ago, that my mom can give an opinion, demand everything but I can't. Just move on, you'll never get the satisfaction you are after.

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answers from Colorado Springs on

I would say, "No, I have other plans and cannot help." You don't need to go into detail about what the other plans are. You may repeat yourself if you need to, but not too often. Don't get involved in long explanations. Don't get conned into trying to defend your decisions. If you're having a conversation over the phone and she starts belittling you, say, "I have to hang up now. Love you - 'bye!" and hang up.

This is not a one-fix solution. You may have to do this forever. It won't make you popular, but popularity or even love is not really involved here.

You can't change anyone except yourself! It's too bad this sort of thing happens in families, but it can be toxic, and you have your own family to watch out for. Only you can decide whether or not you will be manipulated by another person.

Be very careful how you talk about your mother and your sister to the rest of your family or to your friends. Don't let bitterness get hold of you! "Take the high road" in the matter; you want to model the right actions and attitudes for your son.

If at any time you want to help a family member, you decide what the help will be and how much. If that doesn't suit the family member, he or she will need to seek help elsewhere. And you still love them - 'bye!

You may feel you're having to harden your heart to save your sanity. But a manipulator plays on guilt, so you are probably not as hard as you may be afraid you are! You don't have to play the guilt game.

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answers from Las Vegas on

You just have to say no. It seems your mother has been able to guilt you into doing things you don't want to do and now you are trying to figure out how to stop this. You just have to start to say no.

Just today, I came to some terms with myself. If someone tells me they have no money and can't afford food or child care etc., if it is someone I care about, I feel it is my responsibility to do what I can to help. I take food from my home to my sister because I want to be sure she and her family have something to eat...all the while my niece and nephew had iphone service all summer. I worry about her constantly.

It is called ENABLING!

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answers from Denver on

I agree, there isn't too much you can say that will change her. She won't change at this point in her life. What you can control is how you react to her and what behavior your tolerate. You can respectfully tell her no, and then let her react, and try not to take responsibility for her feelings. Just simply tell her you aren't driving your sister to MN. If she wants to do those types of things, she can take a bus. If she doesn't have the money, and is capable of working, then she can work for the money to go. It's not your responsiblity to be the one to take her. Sounds like they have been overly dependent on you. Set some healthy boundaries - and you will be happier. Good luck!

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answers from Austin on

Maybe your mother should drive her daughter to MN?
Maybe if sister can't ride the bus alone, her mother could ride up with her?
Your mother could rent a car for sister one way..

If sister does not have the money, maybe mom needs to loan her some.

It is not your problem. You have a family and only 1 car.
Just tell her nope, sorry I cannot help.

If she mentions you are not family oriented, just stare blankly at her. No answer needed, since she has set such an excellent example.

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answers from Norfolk on

Just tell her 'No' and if she goes on from there - hang up. Click. End of conversation. Repeat as often as you need to. You are a wife and mother now. Her comment that you are not family oriented means you are not oriented on HER family, and you can tell her she is absolutely correct (it messes with their minds when you agree with them) because you are oriented on YOUR family (your husband and kids). It is not your responsibility to raise anyone but your own children. If your sibling(s) refuse to grow up, it's their problem not yours (and if your mother had her head on straight, it's not her problem either anymore but she might actually enjoy enabling their behavior). If she won't take no for an answer, change your phone number and block her emails.

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answers from Chicago on

Well, since you say that your mom is like this with other people, don't take what she says/does personally.

Be firm. Be polite. Don't do anything that you don't want to do. You don't owe her a reason either other than it's something you don't want to do. If she says, "You aren't family oriented." You could reply, "You're right. I'm not." or "I'm doing what's best for MY family." If she persists, tell her you have to go, and hang up.

Dealing with toxic family members is hard work, but don't let her get to you. You sound like a great mom that loves her family. Maybe a little distance is in order. I did that with my brother and it improved our relationship immensely. Good luck!

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answers from Chicago on

Are you sure you're not speaking of MY mother? LOL. I am 47 and my mother is 75. There is no way to put your mother in her place - she will find some way to turn the tables and berate you for YOUR horrible behavior towards her.
Do yourself and your family a favor and limit your contact with her.

P.S. She may not mellow with age. Mine has gotten worse over the years.

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answers from Chicago on

Dig in your heels. If you and your husband share a car and she expects you to take that only car away from them the entire weekend, well, that's just not right. The bigger question is how is your sister getting back from MN? Is it just a one day up and one day back for both of you? Is her MN trip that important; ie job interview or something? You have a family now and your mom & sister need to understand that (apparently they do not) you need to put their needs first. Sounds to me like you have done more than your fair share of helping the family and that is why they expect this from you once again. You have to stop...pick your situations that you CAN help with, and respectfully decline those that you can't. They are going to continue to use you if you don't put your foot down. It's hard and they may become so angry that they stop talking to you, but you need to focus on your family and their needs. If they stop talking to you, then you were never more than someone to bail everyone out. Eventually all of your financial help and catering to everyone is going to cause a strain on your marraige. Good luck....I know it's hard to say no, but sometimes it just has to be that way.

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answers from Portland on

From years of experience I suggest that you cannot change your mother, you cannot put her in her place. You can only take care of yourself and the way you react to her. I suggest that when she's being disrespectful, demanding, controlling, unreasonable that you says something calm to her such as I have to go now and leave. Do not try to get her to understand why you aren't going to do what she wants you do do. Try never to argue with her. Arguments with a person such as you describe never changes their mind and both of you leave each other feeling angry and out of sorts, even misunderstood.

You could try using a different way of talking with her that might help but perhaps not if she's been this way all of her life or if she is entering a stage of dementia. I suggest you read about non-violent communication. You can find it on the Internet by googling those words. There is also a book talking about the way of talking that does make it easier for people to hear what we're saying and for us to understand them better.

Above all, remember that you do not have to defend your choices. You are responsible only to your self when making decisions. You do need to be able to get along with your husband and children or anyone who lives in your house but your mother and sister are adults and responsible for themselves.

You have the right to say no without even giving an explanation. You'll find that once you're able to say no to the demand and then no to the discussion, by walking out if necessary, you'll drastically reduce the number of fights you have with them and improve the way you feel about yourself. You do not need to defend your decisions to them. The quicker you say no and get out the better off everybody will be. They will eventually stop asking so frequently. A respectful and firm no. Perhaps practice in front of the mirror. silly but it does help.

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answers from Hartford on

I find, as you have found, that people tend to get overly-controlling when they are not in a good emotional place. When I find myself in this situation (someone trying to control me), I try to base my response on a rational deduction of how I feel and what I want. If you have thought about it and your gut is telling you "no" - then feel confident about your decision and stick to it. It is hard to tell someone "no" - especially if you are like me and you try to please, but it is very liberating to stick behind your decision - not to spite someone, but because that is what is best for you.

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answers from Amarillo on

As the others have saidl you cannot change mom. You may not be able to change sis BUT you can change you. The first few times you put your foot down it will feel awkward but it gets easier. Don't feel bad and don't beat yourself up. You are not responsible for how your sister gets to MN you did suggest the bus end of story. Family oriented? Yes, to your immediate family - mom is now on the outside or extended family circle. Stop the bail out program at your house. All the money you have used to help your extended family could have probably sent your immediate family on a very nice vacation. You are only responsible for one person's actions - yours. Perhaps a lot of space is needed and a cool down is required. You will get through this just stand your ground, grow balls and "Just say no!" What a relief you will feel (the dead weight will go away from the neck). The other S.



answers from Kansas City on

Sounds like you have more resentement with your sister, then you do your mother. Is your problem really with your mother or is it really with your sister?

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