Free Therapy: My Mom Is Always Agitating Me—But Am I the Problem?

Free Therapy: My Mom Is Always Agitating Me—But Am I the Problem?

Hey, you! Welcome to the little corner of Cosmo that we call Free Therapy. We’re glad you’re here. This is where we take reader questions—about family feuds, work woes, friendship fiascos, mental health headaches, and everything in between—and get answers on how to deal from our advice columnist extraordinaire, therapist Minaa B.

If you need help setting boundaries, standing up to your boss, or finding the right words when talking to your toxic mom…you’re in the right place. And if you’ve got questions of your own for Minaa, send ’em right here: No health insurance (or $$$ at all, for that matter) required.

Dear Minaa,

I’m wondering if I could be better at dealing with my mom’s increased need to communicate after I got pregnant during the pandemic.

We’ve lived on opposite coasts since I went to college, and I like it that way. It’s not like my mom and I have a bad relationship—I just don’t feel the need to be physically or geographically near her all the time. For the most part, we’ve communicated in a normal, healthy way. But when my dad died several years ago, things changed. My parents were divorced and had been since I was a little kid. But my mom kept pressing me for more information on how I was feeling and what I was going through at the time. It felt really invasive, like she wanted to be a part of my grief even though I didn’t want to talk about it with her. I could tell that she wanted that experience to be a shared one, but it wasn’t.

the holy grail issue

Since then, I’ve tried to put up more boundaries, but it seems like it’s only made her want to reach out more. She’ll call me on a Tuesday afternoon and start asking deep questions I just don’t have the time or emotional bandwidth to get into. Other times, she’ll comment on one of my Instagrams from, like, seven years ago and then text me to see if I saw it. It feels like the more I try to explain the best way to communicate with me, the more frustrated and confused she gets. I thought that expecting my own kid would give me an empathy boost, but to be honest, it’s done the opposite.

I know she’s coming from a good place, but I have less and less patience. Am I in the wrong? Or just the worst daughter in the world?

Dear Reader,

First, you are not the worst daughter in the world, and nobody is in the right or the wrong here. The overall issue is a mismatch in communication, and the way you two interacted after your father passed is actually a really good example of that.

When you say that your mom wanted to be a part of your grief, that could be true. She might have also been dealing with her own sense of loss and wanted someone to help her navigate it. I want to be clear: It’s okay that you weren’t willing to go there. Sometimes a parent thinks their child can give them all the nurture and care they’re looking for, but you can’t be everything to everyone. Fast-forward to today, and despite you setting limits, those disconnected vibes continue. I’m not sure what type of boundaries you established, but try to remember that their purpose isn’t to put up walls. They help you preserve a relationship by communicating your needs to the other person and how you expect them to behave in return.

For you, that might look like ignoring her call when you don’t feel like talking and following up with a text to let her know you’re busy and that you want to make sure everything is okay. When you do pick up the phone and she takes the convo to a place you’re not comfortable with, let her know you don’t want to talk about that and change the subject. When you see those Instagram comments, put the phone down, take a deep breath, and don’t respond to them.

What people do isn’t in our control, but our reaction to them is. So when someone’s behavior makes us feel dysregulated (agitated, annoyed, anxious, or just uncomfortable), it’s up to us to stabilize our emotions in that moment by asserting our limits.

The most important part of setting boundaries, though, is upholding them, and it seems like that’s tough for you. But don’t judge yourself for being straightforward with your mom. This isn’t “bad daughter” behavior; you’re being true to your feelings. You might get some pushback—she might ask why you don’t want to talk or engage with her comments. You don’t owe her an explanation unless you want to give one. You can just say, “I don’t feel comfortable addressing this right now.” You might have to repeat yourself or your boundary, and you should if she isn’t getting it. Mom has to make room for your needs.

That said, I think there’s hope for you two to figure out how your communication got off track. When you feel like you can approach her from a patient, calm place, you could say, “It seems like we used to connect in a normal and healthy way, but I feel like there’s been a disruption and that’s why my boundaries increased.” Then you can discuss how her behavior after your dad’s death might have set this off. She might be totally unaware that you felt she was intrusive.

It sounds like you still want to be connected to your mom, and having this convo can repair the disconnect. Until then, stand firm in your boundaries. You’re doing the right thing.

Headshot of Minaa B.

Free Therapy Advice Columnist

Minaa B., LMSW, is a therapist, writer, and speaker and the founder of Minaa B. Consulting, where she works with busy professionals on enhancing their well-being and developing workplace boundaries to improve their mental health. She is a cohost on Sydel Curry-Lee’s podcast Because Life and sits on the mental health advisory committee for Wondermind, a mental-fitness company cofounded by Selena Gomez.

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