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Mother Is Using My Daughter to Control Me

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From Australia: I am recently divorced and looking at possibly moving to start over. My parents have been great helping with my daughter by watching her and making sure she gets to her activities and such. The divorce and the circumstances were quite difficult on my daughter and myself and as a result she has been going to therapy to deal with some of the issues.

Recently my mother has become quite vocal and forceful about telling me that I need to really need to think about this moving business and that if I do move it is going to do nothing but hurt my daughter because I will be tearing her away from her family. That I am a big girl and can take care of myself, but who is going to take care of my daughter while I am working and having a career.

My daughter is 9 and as she is now she is pretty good by herself but would be fine to go to an after school program as well. Her repeated accusations that I never think about my kids when I make these decisions and that I am going to just hurt them is becoming very hurtful and making me very resentful towards her. Whenever I try to approach the subject with her she starts listing off all of the thing monetary and non monetary she has done to help me in the past all of the way back to when I was in college.

Help me please! How do I deal with my mother so that I do not hurt her feelings but make her understand that she needs to quit trying to control me all of the time and that the decisions that I make are for my kids and my well being and are not made just to hurt her.

It’s unfortunate that what should be a helpful discussion has turned into a power struggle. Your mother does have a point. Your daughter has already lost her original family with the divorce. If you move, she will be facing the loss of her grandparents who have provided some stability and an extra dose of daily love during a difficult time.

What you see as attempts to “control” you may in fact be a desperate effort by your mom to preserve the kind of relationship she has with her granddaughter. What you see as a big step forward is a big loss for her. Is it possible that she doesn’t experience empathy from you for her feelings? Are the two of you able to calmly talk about how to best support the child as well as the adults in another transition?

My suggestion to you is that you stop seeing this as a win-lose battle with your mother. You both love your daughter and have the best interests of the little girl at heart. Invite your mother to a session with the therapist to talk about how to help you move on with your life and at the same time keep the strong ties with your parents that have been a lifeline for both you and your little girl.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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