A Field Guide To Responding To Your Mother

After much trial and error, we’ve discovered that key to having a productive relationship with mom is knowing the proper way to respond to her — especially when she says things that get under your skin. And my God … she does that a lot. It’s much easier said than done though. When she calls to tell you that she started wearing thong underwear, it’s hard not to say “Ewww” and hang up. It’s instinctual. But it won’t get you anywhere. You need a game plan for these situations to keep your cool and keep mom happy. So, we’ve created a handy guide for responding to the most irritating/annoying/dumbfounding things your mother says.

Scenario #1: TMI
Examples: “I just started reading Fifty Shades of Gray.” “I think my new dress really turned your father on!”
Recommended response: Change the subject ASAP. Use the same kind of approach you would with a toddler, wave a new bright, shiny object in mom’s face by saying something like, “Have you read The Hunger Games?” or “But Mom, what should I wear tonight?

Scenario #2: Insults about your appearance
Examples:“You’ve gained weight.” “Are you sure you want to wear that?” “Your upper lip is looking hairy.”
Recommended response: Shut her down without getting defensive. You want her to know that her opinion matters, but on certain subjects, it’s not welcome. Unless, of course, you asked for her opinion. In which case, deal with it! If you respond with anger to her insults, you’re only engaging her on the subject and she’s more likely to say stuff like that in the future. The very best way not to do this is with a simple: “Thanks for your opinion. I’ll think about it.” It’s foolproof because there’s absolutely nothing else she can say to that. Conversation over.

Scenario #3: Unsolicited opinions about your love life
Examples: “Why do you always date assholes?” “I don’t know what you see in him.”
Recommended response.This really depends on your assessment of the situation. If you know deep down in your gut that your mom is right, that you do only date assholes, turn the conversation in your favor, and ask for her advice. “You’re right, how do I break out of that habit?” or “Did you ever date assholes? How did you deal with it?” If your mother is way off-base, it’s up to you to draw the line with a direct statement like, “Yeah, but I love him” or “I’m working on it.”

Scenario #4: Guilt or emotional manipulation
Examples: “But all my friends’ daughters let them sleep on their couch when they come to visit.” “I can’t believe you’re not spending Christmas with the family. You’re going to break your grandmother’s heart.”
Recommended response: Do not, I repeat DO NOT cave in the face of guilt or emotional manipulation. You’ve made a decision, now have some lady balls and stick with it. It wasn’t a decision personally made to hurt mom. You know that and she should as well. The only thing you need to say here is: “I’m sorry I can’t make it home for the holidays/my apartment is small, but I love you!”

Scenario #5: Moral transgressions
Example: “The cashier made a mistake so I got a pair of $60 shoes for free!”
Recommended response: Just as we hate it when our mothers judge us, they hate it when we judge them too. Avoid moralizing or preaching to your mother about ethics. Give her a high five and compliment her good fortune. Tell her how much you like the shoes. All the while knowing that if you accidentally get a pair of shoes for free, you will alert the cashier to the mistake. Right?

Scenario #6: Nonsensical
Examples: (In response to your recent weight loss) “Do you like your new body? I can tell you like your new body.” “The dog and I have a special way of communicating with each other by growling.”
Recommended response: Fight crazy with crazy. When your mom says something completely loopy, it’s important to say something even weirder back. This will placate your mother without insulting her. “Yeah, I love my great, new shell. I feel like a hermit crab” works as does growling at her as if you were the family dog. Using her dog whisperer skills, she should be able to interpret the subtext of your growl, “You’re a nut job, but I love you.”