Ask Sahaj: My mom’s upset I don’t take her parenting advice

Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli

Q: My mother wants to be a family elder and wants to be respected through us seeking her advice or listening to her opinions, particularly around how we are raising her grandkids. I don’t have a lot of respect for the parenting choices she made. As immigrants I know my parents faced a lot of hardships and did the best they could. But I’ve organized my life and parenting decisions pretty opposite of theirs (they prioritized making money and establishing themselves over connection and presence).

It’s a point of contention when I don’t seek or take her advice or defer to her as an elder. I stay in connection with my parents because I believe that intergenerational support is valuable and that kids can learn a lot from interacting with elders. And I think they did the best they could with what they knew at that time. I just don’t necessarily agree with that style of parenting or decisions for who me and my partner are and what kind of parents we seek to be. Thanks for any advice!

– Resisting Daughter

A: It’s common for immigrant parents to cling to that sense of authority. It doesn’t matter if you’re an independent adult, and it certainly doesn’t matter if you’re a parent yourself. To your mom, you’re the child and she’s the adult. She raised you, and you turned out fine. She has been through it, so she knows better. See what I’m getting at?

This dynamic is incredibly hard to change especially when your mom may wrap her identity around her role as your parent. It can feel infantilizing to be constantly treated as “the child.” This can cause feelings of incompetence, leading to self-doubt, decision paralysis and a lack of trust and safety in the relationship. You may not be able to change your mom, but you can change how you respond and engage with her, and manage how her behavior affects you.

You can try vocalizing your feelings and needs to your mom in non-threatening ways. This may sound like, “I know you want to help, and I’m so glad that worked for you, but we are trying a different technique.” Or, “I really appreciate how much you want to help. For now, I want to try to get there on my own and your support means a lot.” Focus on the emotional meaning behind your mom’s comments or advice-giving to build compassion and find new ways to engage with her.

Often, with parents or people who are fearful of losing their dominance or importance, the best approach is to find ways to allow them to feel like they are “winning.” This is a technique I use with children of immigrants who want to maintain a relationship with their parents but also recognize that their parents lack the emotional tools to have a different, or healthier, type of relationship. In your case, this may be asking your mom for advice on something low stakes for you. Or you can listen to her advice and learn more about how it worked for her – even if you don’t intend on taking it. You can even consider what specific parenting-related tasks you can hand off to your mom to help her feel useful and involved, while avoiding situations that upset you.

Even more, you may want to consider how you show up in the relationship so you can try to do things differently to ease the internal tension you feel. Instead of trying to get her to agree with all of your choices, you can focus on how long you visit her, or how you respond and engage with her – especially because your kids are likely observing this dynamic, too. If there is always a specific topic that really activates you, practice changing the subject, or excusing yourself to the bathroom or outside for some breathing room.

You don’t have to agree with your mom, or do everything she says, to maintain a relationship with her. Instead, consider what you are willing to compromise on and what you are no longer willing to tolerate to help you focus on what is important to you.



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