Mother-daughter relationships never get boring, no matter how old we are. There's always some kind of drama happening. Things get even more interesting if we have comparable personalities — and that's exactly how it is between my mom and me. We couldn't be more alike; we talk the same, we act the same when we're hungry (cranky and unreasonable), and we both get upset about the same stuff. Our likeness also means we know how to get under each other's skin better than anybody else. Although she's never admitted it before, I think she knows that passive aggressive remarks are the things that topple me over the most, because she sure uses them effectively.
Lisa Brateman, a clinical social worker and family therapist in New York, told the Wall Street Journal that passive aggressive talk is very common among mother-daughter pairs. It can be hard for moms to say the truth, like "I miss having you around all the time," so they instead make underhanded critiques about their daughters' life choices. It's a way for them to avoid conflict and their own pain, which is pretty much the essence of passive aggressive communication.
So the next time your mom tosses an annoying comment at you, try to take a deeper look into where it's coming from. In some twisted way, it's only coming from a place of love. That doesn't necessarily make it OK; in fact, you may have to have a serious chat with her about maybe easing up a bit. But at least it won't result in a blow up fight every time.
Here are eight passive aggressive things moms say to their daughters, and how you can respond to them.
1. "I Blame Myself, Really..."
My exasperated mother said this to me when I got my most recent tattoo, proclaiming to everyone present that she had failed me as a parent. Aggravating as this can be, it's a pretty common passive aggressive stab. Moms pretend like they are guilty for something that doesn't even call for guilt in the first place — and what happens next? We feel guilty. Don't let yourself fall into the trap!
How To Respond: This isn't a bad time to use some humor. Poke some fun at her by telling her it's probably also her fault that you landed your dream job and are now a happy, healthy adult. I know it might be hard to retort back with nice things, but you'd be surprised at how effective it is.
2. "I Get It! You're Busy!"
Our moms just want some attention (OK, some of them want it more than others), so they don't like to hear that we're unavailable. It's even harder for them to explicitly ask for more time with us, because then they would have to actually admit the truth — that they miss us dearly.
Before you get all riled up from it, remember where she's coming from. You'll never know what it's like to have a daughter who doesn't spend nearly as much as time with you as she used to until you have one of your own.
How To Respond: Stand your ground as an adult. Don't apologize for being busy either. Just tell her that you love her and can't wait to catch up with her later. Then, when you both have the time, talk honestly about how you feel when she says stuff like that. Simply uncovering the truth can be an effective way to improve your relationship.
3. "You're Gonna Do Whatever You Want Anyway"
Mama thinks she knows best for you, and she'll hold onto that belief until the day she dies, most likely. When she feels like you're not accepting any of her advice, however, she feels hurt and ignored. She might even feel like your differing set of values is a wedge in your relationship. But she would never admit any of that, so she says the above passive aggressive comment instead.
My dear mother says this whenever talk of marriage comes up. She insists that my partner and I must have a wedding before we even think about having kids, but he and I don't feel the same. It used to drive me bananas until I finally figured out a way to deal with it.
How To Respond: Let this slide in the heat of the moment, but come back and address it later. Mom might need to hear the hard truth: you are going to do whatever you want. You're a grown-ass woman. It's just difficult for your doting mother to get a hold of that, but there's a better chance she will if the two of you sit down when heated emotions aren't in the mix. You can explain to her how that having the final say in important decisions doesn't diminish the strength of your relationship.
4. "Oh, You're So Important Now"
It can be hard for moms to watch our careers take off. It might make them feel uncertain about whether our relationship will stay strong; it might even bring up insecurities about the success they've had in their life. She's just reeling from these heavy emotions when she says this in a huff as you hang up the phone to make it to a meeting. She's not attempting to sabotage your day.
How To Respond: Don't respond heatedly to this one. It will only spiral out of control and probably end in a fight that neither of you need. Brush it off in the moment and have a talk with her about it later when the feelings have died down. Kindly remind her that it's not fair to make your successes all about her. If she's got an issue with how your relationships is going, she should bring it up in a non-threatening way.
5. "Well, If That's The Look You're Going For..."
That tight bodycon dress you love might not bring out the best in your slightly more conservative mother. With that generational gap, you're bound to disagree on certain fashion choices, and your mom will use phrases like this because it sounds a whole lot better than "I hate what you're wearing."
How To Respond: Answering with a speech about body positivity and tossing patriarchal values to the wayside probably won't stick. Instead, try a little humor again. Joke about how you'll be in the same position as her in twenty years, when you have a daughter who wants to wear something you don't approve of. Or wink and ask if she wants to borrow the dress tomorrow night.
6. "I Know I'm Such A Burden"
Here's that guilt trip again. They make you feel bad about something that you shouldn't feel bad about at all. Moms usually toss out this passive aggressive gem when they are asking you for some help, no matter how minuscule or grand the favor might be. Sometimes it comes from a fear of aging. They're scared that the day when they need your full-time help is right around the corner, and that they might actually be a burden when that time comes.
How To Respond: Avoid getting into a long explanation about how happy you are do something for them. Just keep it short with something like "Don't worry about it, Mom. I don't mind doing this for you" and change the subject. Anything more will only acknowledge and enable her behavior.
7. "... But It's Not My Business"
They say this in the exact moments when they make our business their business, right after they've pried into our dating life and given detailed advice on how to carry ourselves on the third date. Tacking this phrase on the tail end of things is their way of lessening the blow of advice that wasn't requested in the first place.
How To Respond: It's almost like moms are looking for permission to offer guidance when they say this to us, so a good way to respond is by actually granting that permission. Say something like, "Mom, you know I appreciate your help." Unless, of course, you don't want her help at all; in that case, silence will do the trick, or even responding "no, it's not".
8. "Sorry I'm So Embarrassing"
I thought I would never have to hear this after my teenage years were over, but I couldn't have been more wrong. My mom said this at all my graduations and she announced it when I brought home my partner from Australia for the first time. The thing is, I think moms actually do worry about whether they're making a good impression to the people we consider important, and this annoying comment is probably just a reflection of that.
How To Respond: I find humor to be the best medicine here too. You can respond with a joke about how your dad is so much more embarrassing, which will make her slightly satisfied. You can also point out that this is payback for all those years when you were a toddler and threw tantrums in the middle of the mall. She'll love that.
Images: J.K. Califf /Flickr; Giphy (8)