Asking for a Friend: Help! My mum’s outdated stereotypes about girls are hurting our relationship

  • Each week, we respond to a question from our readers and give advice and resources they can turn to
  • This week, we help a teen who says her relationship with her mum is suffering because of her traditional views on what a girl should be like
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What do you do when your mum just doesn’t get you? Photo: Shutterstock

Need an answer to a personal question that you’ve never mustered the courage to ask? We’ve been there. Whether it is about school, family issues or social life, share your thoughts with us. If you have a question you’d like answered (about anything at all), please fill out this Google Form. Don’t worry – you will remain anonymous!

Dear Friend,

I’ve been struggling with my relationship with my mum. She believes girls need to fit a certain stereotype, saying I need to be graceful and decent and to prepare for marriage. When I express my frustrations, she just says “I am your mum; I just want what’s good for you.” It makes me feel so sad and disappointed, and it makes me want to isolate myself from her and ignore her. How can I improve our relationship?

Signed, Not Your Perfect Daughter

How do I come out as genderfluid to my transphobic parents?

Dear Daughter,

We can understand why you’re feeling so frustrated. It appears your mum has some traditional, outdated stereotypes of how girls should behave and plan for their futures. We appreciate that you, as a teen, are brave enough to acknowledge that you don’t need to follow that path.

We understand why you want to work to improve things at home: you still have plenty of time left living with your family, and you don’t want that time to be stressful – plus, having a good relationship with your family can be important. But remember that it’s not your responsibility to persuade your mum to have a more liberal view on gender, especially because trying to discuss it may just create more tension.

I’m a good student, so my friends and family don’t take my stress seriously. What do I do?

Why does your mother keep pushing these ideas on you? Is it the way she grew up? It might be worth exploring why she thinks these ideas are so important.

We’re not saying you need to accept what she says or change your mind – simply that learning more about why she holds these views can help you understand her better. It may be useful to ask her about it, but in a non-confrontational way.

Our parents often see us as extensions of themselves, so as we grow into who we want to be, we must gently remind them of our individuality. But we appreciate the aspects of our parents that make us who we are. So, find out alongside your mother what parts of her you’d like to emulate, and guide her into understanding the parts of you that you would like to craft beyond her rigid norms. This could involve doing an activity together that you both enjoy, and having a conversation about what’s important to you.

My dad is under a lot of pressure – how can I help him relieve his stress?

Perhaps you could talk to a trusted family member or friend that knows your mother well about the best way to express your feelings to her. You could also speak to your school counsellor for tips on how to cultivate a healthy relationship with her.

Don’t let your mother scare you away from doing things you enjoy, even if they aren’t “graceful”. Keep on being yourself. Hopefully, she will see that these activities make you happy, and she will stop pushing her views on you. But remember that you’re not responsible for her emotions, and while you should respect your mum, you don’t have to follow the path she sets out for you.

Hope that helps, Friend of a friend

The question was answered by clinical psychologists from the Department of Health under Shall We Talk, a mental health initiative launched with the Advisory Committee on Mental Health.

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