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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dealing with a Critical Parent

Dear Bro Jo,

Hi Bro Jo, So this question doesn't have to do with dating, but I thought you could be of some help in this tricky situation.

Basically, my mother is very critical and judgmental and I just don't know how to properly deal with it.

She feels the need to point out every flaw or problem going on in mine and my siblings' lives, and often makes judgmental and frankly rude comments about others. It bothers me that she always seems to see the glass as half-empty, feeling pessimistic and cynical about people.

I am 19 years old, and while I was off at school this past year, it continued.

I know she is having trouble letting go of her children as she and my father will have an "empty nest" in a few short years and my older brothers have started their own families. I understand how hard this must be, and that she is having a hard time letting go of control.

Nonetheless, I still feel like she really does need to let us go, allow us to live our own lives, make our own decisions, and even mistakes sometimes.

I do go to my mom for advice sometimes and I think her experience is a good source for guidance. I just wish she would stop meddling in my life unasked.

I try to tell her that while she has the right to her own opinion about decisions I make, I still am a financially independent 19 year old young woman who has her own agency.

I pay for all my college and other expenses, and feel like this should warrant some respect from her as I make my own decisions. It also just hurts me to see her be so critical of people who love and care for her.

She always reads into people's words and actions as being backhanded or "just being polite" and she doesn't feel that anyone at church cares to truly be her friend.

I know that people really do want to be kind to her and help her, but I'm afraid she pushes them away with her negative attitude and pessimistic perspective.

I would love nothing more to be able to instill some faith in my mom somehow. I wish she would have more hope and more unconditional love towards others.

It saddens me that she feels the need to be a perfectionist, and I think this behavior stems from her overly critical parents.

I want to help her, but I don't know how to react. It hurts to feel constantly like you aren't good enough or meeting her expectations.

I remind myself that I am good enough, that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me, and that I have divine potential. I have fantastic friends, coworkers, and siblings who are supportive, build me up, encourage me, and even give constructive criticism.

But, my mother rarely ever praises me for what I do right. I don't need her approval to know that I am making good decisions.

I am doing well in school, working hard to pay for it, have good friendships, am preparing to serve a mission, and do my best to be a righteous person.

But I never hear anything from her about these accomplishments.

Like I said, I still feel confident in myself, but it would be nice to know that my own MOTHER feels proud of me.

Her criticisms are typically about insignificant matters to me, such as how messy my hair looks today, or how wrinkled my shirt is, or how acne-spotted my face has become and that I should take care of it better. She exaggerates a lot and just makes a big deal out of small matters.

Sorry for the long rambling message, but I guess my question is, how do I show Christlike love towards my mom when she is acting so petty, critical, and mean?

How do I respond when she criticizes me that is respectful, but still firm, without causing an argument?

I want to have a good relationship with my mother, but her negative spirit makes me want to run to the more positive people in my life.

I want to be able to spend time with her without getting angry, offended, or feeling put down.

Help?

- Criticized




Dear Criticized,

What would Jesus do?

Sorry. I don't mean to be cliché or flippant; I'm serious.

How did Christ respond when people were unfairly critical?

Or when they didn't show him the appreciation he deserved?

I read your email, I thought: this girl is in denial, clearly conflicted, and could perhaps benefit from re-reading her own email.

Try this exercise: go back through your email and separate each sentence / idea into two columns. 

One column is positive stuff.

The other column is negative stuff.

Some sentences might be split in two (your use of the words "and" and "but" will help you see where).

It might help you better see what's going on.

Because, I'm afraid Little Sister, your problem isn't your mother; your problem is you.

Oh, she's critical and bossy and negative and judges you unfairly; she holds you to standards that she doesn't hold others to (including herself); and she's just not the person you wish she was . . . I get it. 

And I believe all of that.

But you need to remember that we need to treat people the way we want to be treated.

Yes, in an ideal world everyone else would treat us wonderfully first, without any effort on our part, but life just doesn't work that way.

No, you don't have to change to suit her.

Not change who you are.

Just change your attitude.

Change the way you take what she's saying to you.

You want your mom to be supportive and make an effort to understand you?

You want her to be kind and loving and forgiving of your faults and shortcomings?

Then you're going to have to go first.

And not just once.

Not just today.

But all the time.

Every day.

Maybe she'll pick up on that and soften . . . maybe she won't.

But by being "the bigger person" you'll feel better, even if she never softens or you never understand how and why it is she's the way she is.

See . . . you can change you, but you can't change someone else.

You can only seek to love and understand them . . . show them kindness, even when they don't deserve it.

Love them even though they may not be showing love and respect for you.

THAT"S what Jesus would do.

And He does.

Everyday.

- Bro Jo

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