My question is about honoring my toxic mother. I’ve always believed in honoring my mother even when I didn’t agree with what she said or did. She dominated my time, and it drained me. But if I didn’t do what she asked or even expressed feelings that didn’t go along with hers, she accused me of being disrespectful. My husband divorced me because of it and now that my kids are teenagers, they are always angry at me because of it as well. I’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities in life in many areas because of it. Now I’m 43 and I and at a point where I’m tired. When I’m doing for her, she’s happy. And, when I can’t do what she wants, I’m no good to her. She’s emotionally and verbally abusive but I always wait days or sometimes weeks now and go back around her. It hurts that I’ve worked so hard my whole life to please her and it’s never enough.

Now that I’ve began to take breaks from her to guard my heart, she lies and tell people I do nothing for her and accuses me of stealing from her (when she finds things she never apologize or clears my name). She talks about me to my kids and gets mad at them when they don’t agree. She gets mad when I rightfully defend them when needed. She hates it when people call to check on her or come by because she doesn’t want company, but in the same breath she’s mad because people don’t call or come by. I’m tired of going through all of this and much more while she feels it’s ok to do and say whatever she wants and must listen but never giving me a chance to express my feelings. People at church and neighborhood look down on me when they don’t know the truth. Everyone thinks she’s the perfect lady but don’t know her true character. I still believe God has commanded me to honor her. How I do that under these conditions?


It’s confusing to be in relationship with a family member, especially a parent, who sends mixed signals, manipulates, and abuses. While it’s clear you love your mother and want to honor her, it seems you’re caught in a pattern of behavior that’s damaging not only to you but also to your relationships and mental health. This isn’t sustainable and something needs to change.

I believe there’s a lot of confusion about what it means to honor our parents. I’ve encountered parents in my counseling practice over the years who use this concept to guilt their children into doing things for them, spending time with them, and capitulating to their demands. Of course, an offering that is forced is no offering at all. The commandment to honor our parents isn’t a weapon used to guarantee loyalty. Instead, it’s an invitation to see our parents through a lens of gratitude and love, even if they are unhealthy.

Please recognize that I will never encourage anyone to put themselves in harm’s way. Children should never subject themselves to abusive treatment as a form of honoring another person. Honoring someone else can be done from a safe distance, if necessary. Honoring is more about our heart than it is about the physical proximity we keep. In fact, it is a very sad and tragic thing to feel a desire to honor your parent while keeping distance due to abusive treatment.

You’ve already lost so much due to this troubled relationship with your mother, so I’m encouraged to hear you reaching out for support. Your primary responsibility is to care for your children’s emotional and physical needs. Of course, you feel pulled to care for your mother, but your children have first claim on your resources.

Your mother’s actions reflect her own struggles and personal journey, not a failing on your part.  Practically speaking, setting boundaries is essential. It’s okay for you to allow your mother to care for herself or seek care from others while you tend to your children. Even though they’re teenagers, they still require your attention, awareness, and support. In fact, if you’ve spent years tending to the whims of your mother while neglecting your marriage and children, it’s important to focus your energy on repairing these relationships.

She may not understand, but you understand it enough to explain it to me. It’s important to communicate what is acceptable behavior and what is not. These limits not only protect you and your children, but also open an opportunity for a different type of relationship with your mother.

It’s also important to seek support. Connect with a professional counselor or therapist, who can help you navigate your feelings and the challenges you are facing. Additionally, reach out to your bishop and ministering brothers for a priesthood blessing to help you receive additional counsel and strength. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Honoring your mother also means you can pray for her, forgive her, and wish her healing from whatever emotional distress leads her to act this way. But you must remember that honoring her does not require you to jump into the crossfire of her blame and criticism. Again, remember that your first responsibility is to your own wellbeing and that of your children. Honor yourself and your children first as you learn what it means to honor your mother.

President Spencer W. Kimball taught that in “truly honor[ing] [our parents], we will seek to emulate their best characteristics and to fulfill their highest aspirations for us.”[i] I believe that if your mother was healthy in mind, body, and spirit, she would want you to be the healthiest version of yourself. You can live a life that honors the best in her, even if she’s unable to access it herself right now.

Another way you can honor your mother is to extend forgiveness to her. Please note that forgiving her doesn’t mean you’re required to spend more time with her or do her bidding. Instead, it means that you allow God to remove the pain and bitterness from your own heart while trusting that he’ll take care of her in his own way. Elder Richard G. Scott spoke compassionately and directly about this challenging doctrine. He outlined a way we can begin the process of forgiving someone who has injured us:


“Begin by withholding judgment. You don’t know what abusers may have suffered as victims when innocent. The way to repentance must be kept open for them. Leave the handling of aggressors to others. As you experience an easing of your own pain, full forgiveness will come more easily. You cannot erase what has been done, but you can forgive.”[ii]

It’s okay to give yourself the time and space you need so your heart can begin healing. Again, working closely with competent and compassionate supports can help guide you through the challenging decisions of how to balance closeness and distance as you seek healing.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com  

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.


[i] The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 348.