The mother-daughter relationship should be one marked by nurture, love, support, and proper correction. Sadly for many women, their relationship with their mom is marked by dysfunction, blame, self-centeredness, and manipulation.
It’s difficult to hug a porcupine, even when she’s your mother.
And if you’re being honest, there’s no other relationship where you would tolerate such behavior.
Over the years, I’ve seen more women negatively affected by toxic mothers than any other life issue. And nearly every time, I witness these loving women hoping their manipulative mothers will miraculously change IF they could just do enough, be enough, and explain enough.
This never works.
Instead of focusing on trying to love your mother enough that she magically transforms into a marvelous mom, or continuing your relentless attempts at pleasing her, it may be time to learn how to set boundaries with her.
Let’s talk today about four crucial keys to setting biblical boundaries with a manipulative mother.
Key #1: Accept her
I don’t mean accept her behavior and submit to her demands, I mean accept the fact that this is how she is and that she may not change.
Proverbs 13:12a says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Hoping that mom will change is not faith, it’s foolishness. Constantly trying to get mom to understand how you feel when she has clearly shown that she can’t or won’t care will only serve to exhaust you and lead to further disappointment.
Of course, continue to pray for mom, but as the late Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Key #2: Stop shoulding
Maybe you find yourself saying things like the following:
She should care about my feelings.
She should stop expecting me to drop everything and help her.
She should be able to take the garbage out herself.
Or maybe, you ’should’ on yourself, saying things like:
I should do this for her, after all she is my mother.
I should put others first, especially my mother.
I should say something but I don’t want to hurt her feelings or get into an argument.
When you find yourself constantly ‘shoulding,’ it’s likely you’ve developed some codependency with your mom, meaning that you need her to be OK with you for you to feel OK.
This isn’t OK.
I encourage you to check out my online course, Conquering Codependency Biblically if you need help breaking free from the dysfunctional opinions and expectations of others.
Key #3: Share your heart and give her a chance
I can almost feel your blood pressure rising as you think, But Kris, I’ve given her a thousand chances!
And I have no doubt you did, but have you done it biblically? Oftentimes, we think giving someone a chance is a matter of letting the offense go and letting them do it again.
That’s not biblical. God holds us accountable for our sins and others should be called out for their sins against us as well—including Mom.
If you truly want a shot at having a potentially healthy and godly relationship with your mother, apply the Matthew 18:15 principle: If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Yes, even mom. A title doesn’t give a person free rein to sin against you. So go to her, share with her your heart and how you’ve been hurt by her actions.
To prevent defensiveness, avoid accusations and blaming with YOU statements.
For example; avoid saying, “You’re so manipulative.” Instead, say, “I feel manipulated when you say things like ____” (and fill in the blank).
If someone truly cares about how you feel, they will acknowledge your feelings and give thought to the actions that contribute to it.
Just remember, you’re not responsible for a perfect delivery in order to have communicated this properly. Only a toxic person will blame you for HOW you said something in an effort to avoid responsibility.
Key #4: Lay down the law
How you communicate your boundaries can be the difference between success and frustration. You want to be clear, conclusive, and compassionate.
Being clear means that you express EXACTLY what the boundary is or will be if the behavior doesn’t change. It’s unclear to say, “I won’t tolerate you speaking to me that way anymore.”
Instead say, “The next time you start yelling at me when we’re talking, I will hang up the phone or leave the house. I will come back when you’re ready to talk to me in a respectful manner without yelling.”
Being conclusive means that YOU decide what the boundary should be. Remember that it will likely not be met well, so if you are struggling with any fears of rejection or backlash, be sure to check out my online course on Conquering Codependency Biblically.
Compassionate means that you still keep the other person’s feelings in mind. This is not a time to bash all of her bad behavior. Compassion recognizes that even if she is interested in changing, this will likely take some time. But it does not mean that you give in to toxic behavior all in the name of ‘peace.’
Unrepentant behavior should have consequences.
Remember: just because you lay down a boundary, don’t expect your mother to get in line and realize the error of her ways. More often than not, you will have to tolerate inappropriate behavior, often worse than before as your mother tries to reestablish her position of dominance. It may come through angry outbursts, manipulative tears, or total withdrawal. If you can remember that these tactics are meant to get you back to the place where she has control, you can weather the storm easier and stand your ground.