A grown woman feels guilty she can’t be her mom’s best friend

Published: July 11, 2011 | Last Updated: July 11, 2011 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading

Sometimes we have to come to terms with an imperfect mother and set boundaries to maintain a reasonable relationship.



Hi Irene,

My mom and I have had a very complicated relationship. Even before my parents had an awful divorce 14 years ago (and they still can’t attend any events together), we butted heads. I have a hard time talking to her; she constantly talks about the past and in the last two years has begun alienating my younger sister.


I try to stop any conversations that go in this direction but last week she pushed it too far, and I snapped back. I love my younger sister, and have a close relationship with her. After this conversation, my mom went from calling me several times a day to not at all. I worry about her because she doesn’t have many friends and is constantly lonely, so I have tried to be a friend to her, and that seems to have backfired.


We’re back to not speaking again, but this time I have young children. Luckily we live several hours apart so they haven’t noticed anything amiss. They adore her and I have never said anything bad about their grandma to them. It’s all very painful and it makes me anxious and depressed. I’ve admitted may times I’ve made mistakes, and I’m far from perfect.


I am convinced she has some kind of mental illness. I have gone through therapy in the past, and the best advice I have gotten is to set boundaries, but it is really difficult to keep this up. It often feels like she wants me to fall apart – talks about me getting divorced, or being on my own – though I am in a very happy marriage. I am just tired and don’t know what to do next. She has always refused medication and therapy, and honestly I am tired of asking her.


I know this is a friendship forum, but was hoping you could give me good dvice on what to do here. I am out of ideas.




Dear Cassie,

From what you say, your mom sounds like a difficult person: She’s had continuing problems maintaining close relationships (with your father, your sister, and friends) so I’m not surprised that your relationship with her would be stormy as well.


Many mothers are less than perfect — some very imperfect — and I respect your efforts to be a loyal and supportive daughter (and sister) despite your mom’s limitations. It’s understandable you would get frustrated and "snap" back once in while.


If you’re feeling as anxious, tired, and depressed as you describe, you need to take a step back from her for the time being. Your first responsibility is to take care of yourself and your own immediate family and to not let your mother drag you down.


My guess is that after your mom calms down, she will start calling you again because she’s quite dependent upon you. When you speak next, whether you call her or she calls you, tell her you’re sorry you snapped, put it behind you, and get together with her and the kids for a couple of hours.


Continue to encourage her to seek professional help. If she sees an internist or primary care doctor, you might call the doctor in confidence, describe her behavior, and ask his or her opinion of your mom’s mental and emotional state. If he concurs there is a significant problem, he may be able to coax your mom into getting treated.


You’re never going to be able to change your mother’s personality or demanding nature so try your best to set some reasonable boundaries. Calls several times a day sound like too much. Perhaps, you can limit the calls to no more than once a day although that will be difficult given the pattern that’s already been established. You also might want to meet with your own therapist to get a "booster" session every now and then to help you deal with this difficult situation.


I hope this is somewhat helpful.

My best,



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  1. Laurie Lee says:

    I so identify with this post. My mom is 85 years old and a very difficult person. She insists on living on her own even though we’ve suggested assisted living because she’s lonely. She has always been a loner type personality and has no friends other than a few old neighbors she stay in touch with by phone. She also has an anxiety problem she refuses to be treated for. My sister and I both help her out with various things and she sometimes “plays both sides” which has put a huge strain on our relationship. She also will call several times a day if she’s anxious about something and hit everyone’s cell phones too including my teenage children. I’m all about boundaries but I’m constantly having to re-establish them with her. I do love my mother very much as she was a great mom while I was growing up. Unfortunately she’s put a huge strain on the entire family. I don’t have any solutions for this. I’m not about to abandon my mom and she actually often spends the weekend at my house (on her best behavior). I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone!

  2. kathy says:

    I don;t wish bad relationships on anyone, but I have a very similar dynamic with my mother – including that nagging sense that she isnt thrilled when things are going great for me, and this odd excitement she seems to have when they dont. it makes me feel less alone knowing i am not the only one who feels this way. If I don’t accept my mom for who she is, then we’re constantly getting in fights because im voicing the way i think she should do things and my opinions regarding the ways our relationship is deficient. If i accept it and try to make the best of it, that acceptance comes along with a profound sadness that this person i love seemingly leads a very lonely, unhappy life. Either way, it isn’t fun. I try to make the best of things, bite my tongue, and just feel sad all the time for my mom. it is hard.

  3. Anonymous824 says:

    This letter really hit home to me. I’m dealing with a very similar situation and I truly appreciated reading that there is someone out there that understands, as well as your helpful advice, Irene. Thank you for addressing this publicly.

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