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Your mother is meant to bore you

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Your mother is meant to bore you

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I have a 48 hour serenity limit when I am with my parents. After two days, it’s like an alarm goes off inside me and sends me back to 1999. I am again a petulant teenager with a bad attitude, and everything my mother says, no matter how trivial, inspires the response. : “Ugh, mom, stop harassing me!”

This unstoppable regression, which has been going on since I left college, only got worse once I became a parent myself. I’m an extremely mature woman now, I thought. I am beyond that. But, like clockwork, on day three of exposure to my mom and dad, I’d be back in the ’90s, scowling and blowing up the ranchers in a borrowed Honda.

I am far from being the only one in this case. Psychologists even have a term to describe how we fall back into predictable and infuriating behaviors when we are with our original family. This is called family systems theory – the notion that families have a balance and that each person has a fixed role that “is at the service of keeping the family system intact,” said Pooja Lakshmin, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. So whatever your established role – whether you’re the pacifier, the family clown, or the petulant – you’re going to be sent back out there as soon as you walk through the door of your childhood home.

Kira Birditt, Ph.D., an associate research professor at the University of Michigan who has studied tensions between adult children and their parents, said 94 percent of those polled in her study on the subject reported some sort conflict in their relationships. Research also shows that the bond between mothers and adult daughters is particularly strained; Dr Birditt has described her as “the closest and most irritating” of almost any relationship. (One of the most life-changing episodes in my early adulthood was noticing my own mom was sulking something her the mother said.)

So how can you spend the holidays with your loved ones without losing your mind? Here are some tips for maintaining your sanity.

Prepare for your inevitable regression. It’s not a question of whether the regression will happen, it’s when. Dr Lakshmin advised you to do some mental work before visiting your family to avoid triggering your worst behaviors. Ask yourself: Are there particular conversation topics or physical locations that tend to make your family dizzy? And then try to avoid these topics and places. Even the change of scenery can help you break out of old patterns, so if the family dinner table is still spiraling into chaos, try going out to eat one night and see if that improves relationships.

Try to find empathy. The most typical negative mother-daughter interaction involves this dynamic: Adult daughters feel criticized by their mothers, and mothers think their daughters are overly sensitive, said Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., professor of linguistics at the ‘Georgetown University and author of “Are you wearing that?” Understand mothers and daughters in conversation. The way grandchildren are raised is a major trigger in this dynamic, said Dr Tannen: “A lot of women have told me that they can take criticism about anything but their motherhood skills. ”

Dr Tannen’s advice to grandparents: bite your tongue, because even the most benign suggestion (to you) can come across as a criticism. Her advice for adult girls is, “try to remember that this sounds like criticism, but it is an expression of benevolence.” Your mom just wants everything to be okay for you, and she is trying to help you out (even if it makes you want to scream into a pillow).

Make room for yourself. You will need an escape hatch every now and then. “Whether that means hiding in the bathroom for 10 minutes to cool off, structure the length of visits, or rushing to a hotel rather than staying in your parents’ guest room,” be sure to create a space where you can get some emotional distance from your family, said Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of “The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships.” I always make sure I can exercise in the morning when I’m with my family – it gives me a break and it’s also a good medium for the ambient rage.

Don’t expect change. The last thing to remember is that there will be no magic solution to your family trauma during the holidays, Dr Lakshmin said. December is a stressful time – mental health professionals say it is especially difficult for their patients – and now is not the time to bring back old baggage and expect to overcome it.

PS Follow us on Instagram @NYTParenting. To rejoin us on facebook. Find us on twitter for the latest updates. Read last week’s newsletter on how to deal with Santa Claus when you did not grow up with this kind of Christmas.


  • We have a whole article on how to deal with grandparents crossing borders. Carla Bruce-Eddings has spoken to the experts, and they can help you navigate this bumpy new terrain. It’s important to remember: you always have the final say in how to handle your own child.

  • It can be painful to have grandparents who can’t or won’t visit. FaceTime can help you connect, and Bridget Shirvell has more tips for forging that distance.

  • Paula Span writes a beautiful column for The Times on modern grandparents called “Generation Grandparent”.

  • Even though our parents may drive us crazy, many of us feel lucky enough to have them with us. Sara B. Franklin wrote a heartbreaking essay for us on how caring for her parents during terminal illness helped her prepare for motherhood. She describes herself as “carved by the furrows of loss”.


Parenting can be a chore. Let’s celebrate the small victories.

I asked my 7 year old daughter, who has autism, to hum “Steppin ‘Out” by Joe Jackson, which was one of my favorite songs as a kid.

– Adriann Ravizee, Silver Spring, Maryland.


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