How to deal with a parent who can’t compliment you

lover454 asks: How would you interpret what my mom (age 88) said to me (age 59), given the fact she always has to be snide with me. Keep in mind this is the same mother who twice (a year ago and a few years ago) said to me that I was overdressed for an interview. Today I drove her to do some chores and I said to her “Are you really putting down my clothes” and in a sarcastic way she said, “Yes I am”. Anyway I dropped it, and when we finished part of the chores she had one more chore to do, so as I was driving her to that chore I decided to ask her again about my clothes, and she replied, “I would never even tell you if I liked something you were wearing, because if I didn’t say I liked what you were wearing the next day you would get upset.” So I teased her about that answer At the next chore, after she finished, she said to me in the car after I pestered her a little more, “There are some days one looks better than others,” which got me upset and I asked her to clarify, and she said, “The hair can look better some days than others, one has no make up on.” We said a few other things which made her say, “I would never tell you when you look great” (THIS WAS THE LINE THAT GOT ME REALLY ANGRY BECAUSE TO ME THIS IS IMPLYING I DON’T LOOK GOOD UNLESS SHE THINKS SO. We had some fight at home and we are still not speaking. She got really nasty about how I look, telling me all kinds of nasty things. How would you interpret her “look great” remark?

Hi lover454 –



I’m going to make a guess. Now you can be sure, we dogs don’t make correct guesses often, so I know there’s a good chance I’m wrong, but I’m going to risk it anyway:


I’m going to guess that your mother has never been very complimentary toward you. I’m going to guess that when you were young, she criticized how you dressed for school, or how you did on your grades, or how you did in sports – and later, how you looked when you went on a date (and who the person was you were going out with), and who you chose for your friends, and what sort of work you did… I’ll bet she’s always been really tough on you.


The reason I’m guessing that is that most people reach a point in life where they don’t care what certain people think. But one thing that will keep that person’s opinion mattering to you (especially if it’s a parent) is if you’re still hoping to get the honor, the respect, and the affection you’ve always felt lacking.


The awful part of this is that people, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, will believe it’s their fault, that they didn’t do a good enough job of dressing, work, socializing, whatever…


lover454, if I’m right, I want you to take a step back, and realize that, hurtful as it is, she is never going to give you the validation you want and need. You’re going to have to find it elsewhere – some from other people, and some from inside yourself. Your mother might be a great lady in many ways, but this is something she’s not good at. And you need to accept that in order to move on with your life (which is absolutely necessary in a situation like this). You can still be there for her, you can take care of her, you can be an absolute guardian angel to her. But just stop waiting for her to give you that compliment she hasn’t. Because she can’t.


And why? I don’t really know. Maybe she doesn’t like herself much, and sees too much of herself in you. Or some other reason. Whatever it is, it’s real, and there’s nothing you can do about it.


My human friend Handsome usually is the exact opposite of your mom. He’s always telling me how beautiful I am, how lovable, how wonderful… but there’s one big exception that comes to my mind, and that’s when I hunt. It isn’t that he exactly hates my hunting, but he doesn’t appreciate it. Like the other day, when he was taking a shower, and I caught a squirrel and proudly brought it inside the house and dropped it at his feet just as he was stepping out. I wanted him to congratulate me, compliment me, see me as wonderfully accomplished – just like you want your mother to see you. But instead he gave a terrified yell and jumped so high I thought his head would hit the ceiling! And then he wasn’t exactly mean to me, but he kind of shooed me out of the house, and then (I could see through the fence) he went out and put the dead squirrel in the garbage can. Not exactly how to treat a great trophy, was it?!


Now I could have gotten very upset about that, and felt that Handsome didn’t appreciate me at all. But I know that that’s not true. It’s just that he’s too stupid to appreciate what a beautiful gift I gave him that morning!


And I can live with that. I can live with knowing he’s a little dumb in that way. I can still love him and take care of him, and accept his imperfect love back at me.


But in order to do that, I have to give up on needing him to honor my hunting. Just as, it sounds like, you need to give up on your mother complimenting your clothes.


And here’s the funny part about giving up on something like that: now you don’t ever have to dress for her. Some people with older parents dress very formally whenever they see them. But you can wear torn jeans, muddy sneakers, and a ratty old Three Dog Night t-shirt if you want! Since she’s told you openly that she won’t compliment your clothes, dress to please yourself instead!


But allow yourself to dress up too. After all, there are other people out there in the world who might appreciate you looking your best. Ones who might show you how attractive they find you, in ways your mother never ever could!


All my best,




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