Unfortunately, some of us learned to be controlling and disrespectful by the poor examples of our mothers. If we have witnessed a dominant, type-A, perfectionistic, manipulative, overly emotional, resentful, bitter, controlling, fearful, anxious, disrespectful wife and a passive, unplugged father for 20+ years – these dynamics can seem “normal” and “right.” These moms did the best they knew how to do. There are reasons why they behave the way they do. If they knew how to be godly wives and were filled with God’s Spirit, they would be godly wives. I don’t want to blame mothers for grown daughters’ sins. But, when we grow up around certain sinful patterns, it’s easy to assume that is just how marriage and relationships are supposed to work. Of course, even those of us who didn’t have moms like this can end up learning to be like this, too. (That was my situation.)
Today, we are going to talk about those of you who have controlling moms and how you can respond in a godly way now. It is difficult to unlearn the wrong things and to reinforce the godly truths of the Bible when you are constantly being exposed to the same ungodly example that helped you develop an unhealthy, destructive way of thinking, feeling, speaking, and behaving. It can be difficult to understand what it means to live by the Spirit and to be Spirit-filled when you see the most influential woman in your life constantly making decisions based on fear, anxiety, anger, and resentment/bitterness.
Relationships in our families of origin are often where we learn the most dysfunction. They also are some of the most difficult relationships to heal. If your mom is demanding that you act a certain way, if she is pressuring you, if she is being negative, complaining, manipulative, critical, and dominant – what can you do? How can you respond in a godly way instead of exploding in anger or hiding quietly in fear or turning to something else that is destructive like comfort-eating, self-loathing, depression, people pleasing, martyrdom, manipulation, guilt, bitterness, anxiety, fear, or lashing out at others?
Here is one sister’s example:
I am really struggling with my mum. It’s like I am seeing all the complaining, sarcastic comments, jabs at my dad, arguing, and disrespect all rolling out. It is so painful. She started hammering me a few days ago saying that my fiancé better get his act together and marry me or else. I had to confront her and say “I am sorry but I am the one causing the delay because I don’t have the tools I need to be a godly wife. I am learning them and it’s taking time. He has free will to do as he pleases.”
She started moaning again in the car today and I said, “Hey, mum, these are the types of patterns I am trying to unlearn.”
She was quite shocked but she got the message. I feel quite upset that I didn’t get the tools, but it’s not all her fault. I failed to learn them myself! I can’t have a pity party and I don’t want to be distracted!!! So please pray for me during this tricky season that I can grow and learn in peace and that the Holy Spirit will help me unlearn all the bad habits I have inherited or picked up myself. I know there is a MUCH better version of me and I am desperate for her to come out. Pray that as I go through this painful stage that I am marked by God’s love and joy and not by bitterness or pain.
I really love how this woman responded to her mom. She loved her mom. But she also spoke truth. She was courageous in confronting her mom’s sin and in sharing that these are the very things that she is seeking to unlearn. Allowing someone to continue on in sin is not a blessing or a gift to that person or to anyone else. We don’t need to hammer them over the head, be hateful, be vengeful, or be hurtful as we confront someone. (Here is a post about how a wife can confront her husband in a godly way, but most of it applies to how we may need to confront others, as well.) We can be respectful, polite, tactful, kind, and gentle. But we can also be truthful, bold, and Christlike. Jesus didn’t gloss over sin. He confronted it. He is the perfect example of speaking the truth combined with power and love. Truth on its own without love is just hurtful.
I believe that this adult daughter’s willingness to speak to her mom about her mom’s sinful behavior and example may be part of God’s design to open her mom’s eyes to her own sin so that the Holy Spirit might convict her. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this mother and daughter repent of sin together and learn to become godly women and wives together? That gets me excited!
Please keep in mind, as you learn healthy boundaries and as you gently but firmly require your family members to honor your boundaries and as you change – there may be a lot of push back against you. Some parents and siblings may get really angry that you are not following the same old song-and-dance routine in how you handle conflicts. Some controlling parents may be very upset when you stop caving to manipulation, guilt, pressure, and their over-involvement and you begin to heal from being “enmeshed” in a family where there were no healthy spiritual/emotional boundaries between people. If you are a grown adult, you can honor your parents but that does not mean you must do everything they demand – particularly if they are asking or telling you to sin.
I don’t want us to blame our parents or try to make them responsible for our sin. We are each responsible for our own emotional well being. And we are each responsible for our own spiritual growth. But – it is important to look back at the examples we had as children and to look at the examples our parents had and the dynamics of our grandparents’ marriages and our parents’ marriages as we seek to unlearn any ungodly ideas and rebuild on Christ and His Word alone. It is important to remember that they are broken people, too, and that they probably didn’t have the tools they needed to be godly men and women and are not perfect. We can respond to them in the power of God’s Spirit with grace. Freely we have received, freely we can give to our families, even those who may have misguided us. Maybe God will use us to point them to Himself in time?
From this same single sister in Christ:
I think the other thing I am learning is to respect my boundaries. I say things politely, but firmly. The mother/daughter dynamics can be difficult and at first, I felt pushed to always meet her demands. But that is not healthy. Now I say, “I can’t,” or “No thanks,” firmly and even if she doesn’t like it at first, she has started to respect my boundaries. It is making the relationship better because I am not overwhelmed! So, apart from speaking and confronting in love/truth, I think there has to be an element of re-assessing and establishing healthy, proper, God-honoring boundaries.
Are you having difficulties with a controlling mother or father?
Has God shown you healthy ways to respond to a controlling parent?
What Things Are in Your “Keep” and “Throw Away” Piles? – this post is about looking at the examples we saw in our families growing up and purposely choosing to get rid of ungodly ideas and ways of thinking and keeping and building on godly ideas and godly ways of thinking.
Control and Healthy Boundaries – helpful if you are dealing with a controlling person
Husbands Share What Is Disrespectful to Them – Did your mom treat your dad in these ways? Do you treat men you date in these ways?
What Is Respect in Marriage? – Did you witness a lot of godly examples like this? Is this how you treat the men you date?
Signs a Husband May Be Feeling Disrespected – Did your dad feel like this? Does your man feel like this in your relationship?
Respecting Our Husbands as Fathers – Did your mom do some of these things, if so, you are much better prepared for a godly marriage yourself and you have a much more accurate view of God, most likely. If not, you will have some heart work to do to relearn how to honor your own future husband and to unlearn some things about God’s character, relating to God, submitting to God, marriage, masculinity, femininity, and parenting.