March 22, 2020


Dear Khala Jaani
I am a 17-year-old girl, and I feel that my relationship with my mother is becoming more and more strained. At least that is how I see it. She frequently undermines and mocks me. She calls me indolent and makes fun of my occasional absent-mindedness.  When I convey to her that her comments upset me, she refuses to acknowledge my complaints. As a result, I often feel very frustrated and annoyed. I also find that this angry or aggressive behaviour affects my other interactions. How can I convince her to stop making these exasperating and hurtful remarks?

Dear Niece,
For someone who is so young and in a difficult situation, you are remarkably self-aware. You understand that your own negative behaviour is stemming from the criticism that you are being subjected to by your parent. Since you already understand this, let’s look at your situation and your mother from the same lens.

Your mother’s behaviour and her need to pick and criticise you comes her own negative image of herself. It is exactly similar to you displaying negative behaviour after being criticised by your parent. Your mother probably grew up hearing a lot of criticism herself and probably does not like herself too much. Because she grew up hearing so much criticism, she probably thinks this is ‘normal’ behaviour and is the way most families function. This is simply not true and it is certainly not okay.

I would suggest you deal with your mother with the understanding that she was also bullied. Instead of seeing her criticism and jibes as an attack on you, see it in the context of your mother’s upbringing. She was probably conditioned by the people she grew up around to deal with others, including her own child, like this. The best way to react to her criticism is to stop letting it affect you. Or, if you cannot stop it affecting you, stop making it obvious that it is affecting you. So the next time she criticises you, reframe the situation and think: my mother is trying to hurt me, because she was also a victim. After that, curb the urge to react. Or say ‘I am sorry you feel that I am lazy/not smart/ absent-minded, etc.’ In fact, in such an environment, it would be extremely important for you to remind yourself of your own good qualities every day.

‘I have strained relations with my mother’

Here’s a tip: wake up every day and tell yourself that you are active /intelligent /good-looking, etc. Do this every single day. Make that your inner voice and don’t believe what your mother is saying about you. This is not easy and you will need a lot of patience to work on becoming stronger and protecting yourself from your mother’s innate need to criticise. But you need to stop giving your mother the ‘high’ of reacting to the criticism.

At the same time, change how you are interacting with her. Start saying nice things to your mother and also doing things for her. If she does something for you — and I am sure she does a lot for you — always say thank you and truly appreciate it. This would be your attempt at changing the way your mother sees herself. Again, this is difficult because families tend to become set in their patterns. However, you need to work on changing your mother’s inner narrative. So the next time she looks good, tell her. If her new suit or a new lip colour looks good on her, compliment her. If she cooks something delicious, tell her. Avoid criticising your mother; instead reframe the criticism as a positive remark. 

Now is the time, during this unprecedented global crisis, when so many of us are hopefully self-isolating, that we learn to get along with our families to navigate a changing world. I hope this helps. Hugs!

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Published in Dawn, EOS, March 22nd, 2020