Should I confront my mother? (Alamy/PA)
Should I confront my mother? (Alamy/PA)

Dear Fiona: My mother is so nasty to my children and husband – should I confront her?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine encourages a concerned mum to speak up.

Fiona Caine
Thursday 09 September 2021 07:30

The problem…

“My mother has never been particularly close to my children, but after the birth of my third child four years ago, something changed. She’s become hyper-critical of everything they do and is often quite aggressive towards them. She doesn’t single out any one child; she’s just generally unpleasant towards them all.

“Recently though, things seem much worse. She’s nastier than usual and often screeches at them if they make too much noise, do something silly, or leave too many of their toys around the house. She has even hit them a few times.

“My husband isn’t spared her venom either. She blames him for everything that’s wrong in our lives and doesn’t hesitate to tell him so. Yes, money is tight and we don’t have a lot of material things, but what we do have is a loving, happy marriage. Surely that should be something to celebrate not criticise.

“Should I confront her about this behaviour? If I do, I know there’s every possibility that she’ll stop visiting, and that’s not something I really want. I am an only child and there’s nobody else in her life, so I suspect she will be hurt very badly. I genuinely do care for her, but on the other hand, I do not know how much longer my family and I can cope with this.”

Fiona says…

“I admire your sense of duty and perseverance for putting up with her behaviour this long. Your mother sounds like a very angry and bitter lady, and I can only guess at her reasons for feeling this way. Perhaps she’s jealous of the fact that you have been able to have a large family – whereas she had only one child? Perhaps she resents growing old and is taking it out of those younger than her? Whatever the reasons, her behaviour is unacceptable.

She has no right to hit your children...

“Like it or not, you are going to have to speak to her – if for no other reason than the safety of your children. She has no moral or legal right to hit your children – that needs to stop right away. Even if it hurts her to hear this, the point must be clearly made right away. Tell her she must not hit them and at the same time, let her see how much her behaviour has hurt you and your husband.

“You may have relied on her to help with the children but, for now, please don’t leave her alone with them. She has to learn to control her behaviour and, if she can’t, then you and your husband will need to consider stopping her visits until – hopefully – she proves that she can.

“You don’t say how old your mother is, but I wonder if it would be worth suggesting she visits her GP for an assessment. Her behaviour may be triggered by depression, but I’m sorry to have to point out that aggressive behaviour like this can sometimes be a sign of dementia too.

“It may be a horrible thing to have to contemplate, but the safety of your children must be your priority here so please encourage her to see a GP and perhaps talk to her doctor yourself.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.