Dear Dr. G.,
I love my mom and care about her but she doesn’t think I do. I’m a 15 year old girl, my little sister is 11, and my mom is 40 and single. My mom is also a bit, let’s say, mean to my sister, but she is harder on me. I don’t know why she keeps on saying that I’m being mean to her. It’s very hurtful. I have depression which is getting worse. My mother is always stressed and mad especially with me and my sister. She can start getting mad about any little thing. She always complains. She complains about the house mostly. She always wants the house to be clean. I try to clean it but it is never cleaned to her satisfaction. One day I asked for a favor and I told her that I would do my best to clean the house. The day I started cleaning she went to the city to see her dentist and I cleaned the house. To me it looked great. I thought she would be as happy as I was with the house. However, when she came back, she looked around and start complaining and shouting at me. I went to my room and closed the door and started crying so much that I had trouble breathing and moving. My mom was still shouting. I would shout back asking her to stop and she told me to stop sobbing. It was already dark so to feel better and to get some relief from hearing my mom saying such terrible things I went for a walk and looked for a neighbor to help. I only needed to talk to somebody and then when I came back my mom told me that I was not allowed to go out without me asking her for her permission and then I asked her why do you care so much. She responded that it’s not that I care it’s that you cannot do anything without my permission. Now every time I’m at home I’m so scared of her and feel sad and I feel like crying but I’m afraid to. Please help me figure out why my mother doesn’t like me and how I can make things better.
A Distressed Daughter,
I’m so happy that you wrote to me. You mentioned in your letter that you went to talk to your neighbor because you thought talking to someone would be helpful. It’s always helpful to talk and get the input of someone who can help you make sense of a difficult situation or set of situations which are confusing and distressing.
You have brought up a number of issues here. I am most struck by your comment that your mother doesn’t like you. As you said, she says mean things including that she doesn’t care about you. This may be tricky to understand but I am not sure that your mother doesn’t like you. She may be so stressed that she says things that are cruel out of frustration, exhaustion, and even depression. I am not at all suggesting that saying mean things is okay. What I am trying to explain is that angry and frustrated people often say things that they may not mean rather than actually feeling the mean things that they say. This is quite a tongue-twister, isn’t it? You and your mother are trapped in an awful cycle of negativity. I strongly suggest that you find someone to talk to on a regular basis. That could be someone at school, a trusted relative, or perhaps a therapist. I do not want you to become more and more depressed as you try to get your mother’s approval. Getting her approval may be almost impossible particularly while she seems to be so stressed herself. Is there someone who can speak to your mother about getting help for herself? She would very likely benefit from having a safe space where she, too, can express her feelings so that she does not continue to lash out at you and your sister.
It’s bad enough when anyone is unkind to you but it’s particularly difficult when that person is your mother. Everyone wants their mother’s approval. Even people who can identify that their mothers have been abusive continue to chase after their abusive mothers’ approval. I’ve seen this over and over in my therapy office. It is natural for a daughter to want the approval of the person who is supposed to be her role model and the leader of her fan club. This may be very hard to digest but it may be impossible to get your mother’s approval. It is much more important for you, at this point in your life, to work on becoming less reactive to your mother’s frustrated and insensitive style. Keep in mind that her behavior toward you may have less to do with you and more to do with her moods. If you can keep this in mind, then you may not feel as badly when she acts in an insensitive and mean manner. I am not excusing her behavior. I just want you and all daughters out there to be aware that their mothers’ behavior may have little to do with the behavior and personality styles of their daughters. It may have much more to do with the mother’s own personality issues which are unrelated to who their daughters are. In other words, no matter how hard you try, you may end up being frustrated by your mothers. Perhaps, over time and with a lot of observation, you will see that your mothers’ patterns are less related to the person who she is dealing with and more closely linked to how she is feeling about her life at that moment.
I know that you are very young and that my suggestions will not be easy for you. Please try to find someone to talk to. I promise that will make things easier for you. And, if you can try not to work so hard to get your mother’s approval. See if you can be the best person that you can be while keeping in mind that your mother may or may not give you her approval. I hope that there are other people in your life who appreciate you.