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Linda Rubinowitz, Ph.D., LCP, LMFT
Nancy Burgoyne, Ph.D., ABPP
Chaazé P. Roberts, LMFT
Jayne Kinsman, LMFT
• May 10, 2019

The relationship we have with our mother is a primary connection that can make a big impact on our psyche and life. However, as in any other relationship, conflict is inevitable, especially when we grow up and become adults.

Here are a few tips from therapists at The Family Institute to help you improve your communication and ultimately the relationship with your mom.

Manage your expectations

"A lot of times, miscommunication stems from misaligned expectations. As parents age, their role changes but sometimes they don't change with the role, while you, as an adult child, want to break free and test your wings. Maybe your mom wants to be close to you and therefore asks a lot of questions, but to you, she's coming off as intrusive. Have a genuine, heart-to-heart conversation with her, address what is not working in a respectful way and negotiate your expectations.

"To set boundaries, instead of saying, 'Don't ever call me!' which can be hurtful, try saying, 'I need some time and space right now, but I will call you at the end of the week.' Give her a sense of timing for when you can resume the conversation."

- Linda Rubinowitz, Ph.D., LCP, LMFT, Senior Therapist & Assistant Clinical Professor

Remember your mom is a person with a story

"I recall being surprised overhearing my mother, well into her 70s, on the phone discussing a movie. She was relating to one of the characters in a way that was quite disconnected from the mother I knew. She was talking as a woman, not a mother. A woman with experiences that long preceded me.

"Strange as it sounds, children, even adult children often, do not stop and think of their parents as people! Mom is mom. Yes. And your mom is a person with a story. Consider approaching her with curiosity. Look for an opening. Perhaps a photograph has a story behind it? Perhaps she is thinking of her mother on Mother's Day? Perhaps there are more layers to the often-told stories? Get to know your mom in the contexts that shaped her. Have a curious conversation."

- Nancy Burgoyne, Ph.D., LCP, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer & Clinical Lecturer

Respect your mom's sense of self and autonomy

"Remember your place in your mom's life as a son or daughter, not a caretaker. Even if you are in a care-taking role, the same approach applies. You should accept who she is and who she is not, and remember that she has made it this far in life for a reason, and it is not because YOU know what's best for her.

"There are not many mothers who want to be parented by their children. Converse with your mom instead of talking at her. Speak with her with kindness and patience and fully be present with her. And even if the relationship between you two is going through a difficult phase, try to appreciate that you have her in your life."

- Chaaze Roberts, LMFT, Therapist & Community Program Supervisor

When giving feedback, speak about your own experience

"Be clear about your feelings and use 'I messages' (we are not talking about a text message!). Essentially, when using an I message, you are speaking about your own experience rather than mind-reading or interpreting someone else's actions. You describe a fact and then explain how that made you feel. For example, 'When I am always the one who needs to call you, I feel unimportant,' compared to, 'You never call me, I'm always the one to call you. You obviously don't care about what is going on in my life.' The first statement may inspire empathy while the second may inspire defensiveness." 

- Jayne Kinsman, LMFT, Director of Clinical Services Administration & Teaching Faculty

Linda Rubinowitz, Ph.D., LCP, LMFT

Senior Therapist
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology
Dr. Rubinowitz is the former director of Northwestern University's Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program for a decade and spent six years as the director of the Postdoctoral Fellowship at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Nancy Burgoyne, Ph.D., ABPP

Chief Clinical Officer
Nancy Burgoyne, Ph.D., (she/her) is the chief clinical officer at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and a family therapist who abides by the scientist-practitioner model. She has more than 30 years of experience providing direct service to clients, and for more than 20 years, has supervised and served as a leader to her fellow clinicians. In Dr. Burgoyne's current leadership role, she created and oversees The Family Institute's continuous clinical quality improvement team. She led the integration of teletherapy into the practice, established the Clinical Practice Advisory Council, and leads the organization's effort to provide continuous learning opportunities for clinical staff in order to ensure high quality care. Dr. Burgoyne is a faculty member in the Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy program and has extensive experience developing graduate school level systemically oriented curricula. Dr. Burgoyne is committed to approaching her work with cultural humility and believes that every human being is worthy of compassionate witnessing.

Chaazé P. Roberts, LMFT

Community Program Supervisor, Marriage & Family Therapy Program

Jayne Kinsman, LMFT

Director of Couples Services
MSMFT Program Teaching Faculty
Ms. Kinsman is a clinical member and Approved Supervisor of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). She is also a member of The Family Institute's Alumni Advisory Board and the former elected chief of staff (2015-2016).