There’s no handbook on being a mother and you’ve heard the phrase mothers “wear their heart on their sleeves”. Motherhood is a vulnerable time for women. They are filled with so much love for their child and fighting the reality that they cannot control everything their child sees, hears, or touches. Before motherhood, a walk in the park was relaxing and fun and filled with beauty. After having children, you identify 15 ways your child could get injured at the park while you try to relax and enjoy the beauty of the park.
I once heard a new mother say “motherhood is amazing and filled with so much joy” and a mother of adult children respond to her “…and also filled with pain”. There is no doubt the mother of adult children had much joy raising her kids, but she also could attest to the heartaches no one can prepare you for. Because mothers are aware there will be heartaches, they self-preserve by trying to create the safest environment and situations for their children. To the child, this is often translated to them as “no, don’t do that…where are you going…with who…no…you cannot hang out with that kid…stop, wait…no”. However, to the mother, it gives a sense of control and soothes her anxiety.
Early in my career I had to obtain clinical supervision hours to achieve licensure. My supervisor was amazing and changed my view of parent-child relationships. I was presenting a case to staff for direction which involved parent-child conflict. I made the comment, “this mother is just very controlling”. My supervisor looked at me and stated “she’s not controlling, she’s anxious. And until you become a mother, you have no idea about this type of anxiety”. In my mind, I also heard “…so go have a seat” at the end of her comment. This reshaped my work with parent-child relationships.
Mothers, parents, humans do whatever they need to do to alleviate their anxiety. What appears to be “controlling” on the surface is usually just the result of someone trying to manage their fears. For instance, the person that insists on driving and taking a particular route despite suggestions from others comes off as stubborn and wanting to be in control. The truth could likely be that they are very anxious as a passenger and insist on a particular route to avoid tall bridges which cause them to panic. Same for the mother that demands her high school senior text them every hour while they are out with friends. This likely drives the teenager insane and is a bit overboard, but this is what the mother needs to manage her anxiety so she is not ruminating about all the dangers that could be happening to her child. This type of hovering can create much conflict in a relationship and may even be interpreted to the child or micromanaged individual as distrust. In turn, the child may become defensive and therefore resistant to the parent’s attempts to control them and the parent may become more rigid as a result of their increasing anxiety due to losing control of their child.
While there is such a thing as being overbearing, a helicopter parent, and even controlling, it might be helpful to know the source of this response, as it likely may be fear. Knowing the source of the response may not decrease how annoying it is, but may allow you to have a less defensive stance. Here are three tips for adults dealing with an overbearing or “controlling” parent:
- Have compassion for the part of the person that is struggling to manage their fears. While this is not your problem to solve, be empathetic to the part of the person that is trying to find relief from their excessive worrying.
- Understand that this is their fear and their anxiety, not yours. Don’t allow their worries and doubts to cause you to second guess your thoughts, hopes, and dreams. While your parent is well-intended, their fears sometimes scream louder than their cheers.
- Start a dialogue with your parent. Instead of asking them “what’s wrong with you, why are you trying to run my life?” try asking “what’s your fear?” This will likely spark an insightful conversation.
Your mother or parent has your best interest and will always have some degree of anxiety. Some anxiety is good as it strengthens a parents’ ability to protect their children. Do not feel obligated to cater to your parents’ fears, but try reframing your views of their actions, as someday you too may be a parent.
The content on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat, it is for informational purposes only. Please call our office at 404-618-1040 for an appointment or contact a mental health professional in your local area if you are seeking treatment.