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How To Respond to Your Interrupting Parent

Dear Crucial Skills,

My mom continuously interrupts me when I’m speaking to her. She’ll sometimes finish my sentences, as if she knows what I’m thinking. Or she’ll start in with something that occurred to her based on something I’ve said. I’ve asked her to please allow me to finish and explained that when she interrupts, I feel disrespected. She didn’t take it well. Since then, I’ve sometimes gently reminded her, “Please, let me finish” and sometimes not so gently said, “How do you know what happened next?” Sometimes I just give up and let her do all the talking. She doesn’t seem to notice that our relationship is becoming, well, not much of a relationship. Any suggestions?


Dear Stifled,

If you want more peace in your life, you’ve got three options:

Revise Your Expectations

Stop expecting your mother to behave in ways she has demonstrated repeatedly she is unwilling or unable to do. Of course, I know nothing about what’s behind her pesky habit. It could be that her own sense of weakness or emotional need causes her to fight for conversational airtime. It could be that interpersonal insensitivity is part of her aging process. Who knows? What you do know is that you’ve asked for a reasonable consideration, and she is not offering it. So stop expecting it of her and make a decision about what you really want.

If you want to spend time with your mother, reset your expectations. Make it all about listening to her. Expect little interest or curiosity about your life. There are a few people in my life that I understand have little room for exploring what’s going on with me. When I spend time with them, it will always be about them. And since I love them, I’m willing to spend time on those terms. However, because of the limited agenda of our visits, I limit the visits. I ensure that when I am with them, I am doing so willingly. And when my willingness expires, I terminate the visit. I want my time with them to be genuine, not forced, so I engage as long as I have something real to offer.

Get Better at Asserting Your Needs

You also have the option of becoming more responsible for asserting your conversational prerogatives. Since she isn’t ceding them herself, it’s up to you to seize them.

I had a dear friend who could literally talk for an hour without noticing that I had not participated once in our conversation. I loved him and was fascinated with what he had to share, but found myself leaving our conversations at times feeling resentful. Then I learned that my resentment was not a product of his insensitivity. My resentment was produced by my unwillingness to assert my own needs. I made myself a victim in our conversations by waiting for him to tend to my desire to talk. He never did. I found myself avoiding him when I’d see him at events or in our neighborhood. One day I came to the following conclusion: If others don’t honor ordinary rules of politeness, I don’t have to either.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not offering justification for spite or petty rudeness. What I’m suggesting is that if others are interpersonally insensitive, you must give yourself permission to assert your needs in ways that might otherwise seem rude. Assert yourself as strongly as you need to, but no more. For example, with my friend, I listened sincerely to his monologue, but when I felt a desire to change topics or add my view, I would interrupt him. I sometimes had to talk for a few uncomfortable seconds before he registered that I was seizing the baton, but he would then stop, listen, nod and engage. Our friendship continued for years, and the pattern never changed. I had to fight for my airtime, but he surrendered it when I did. My resentment disappeared and my willingness to spend time with him genuinely grew.

With your mother, you may need to do the same. When she starts to cut you off, continue talking. Firmly raise your voice a few decibels to signal your determination to complete your thought. Stop making yourself a victim of her interruptions and you’ll stop resenting them. Stop taking it personally and you’ll stop feeling offended. Her behavior is not a measure of your worth, it’s a facet of her personality. Accept that this is who she is and how she’ll be, and take responsibility to assert your needs.

Spend Less Time with Mom

If options 1 and 2 don’t work for you, you’ve got one remaining option: Take responsibility for your own well-being by limiting the frequency or duration of your time with Mom. Again, stop blaming her for being who she is, and start deciding how you’ll care for your own needs given this reality.

The ultimate invitation life offers all of us is to learn to live happily with imperfect people. I hope some of these ideas help you find greater happiness as you do.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

17 thoughts on “How To Respond to Your Interrupting Parent”

  1. Kelly Taylor

    I have a friend like this. She runs a long, continuous dialog and if I start to say something when she takes a break, she just starts up again right on top of me. It’s frustrating. It’s a way for her to vent. Sometimes I listen/participate by listening and other times I let her calls to go voice mail.

    1. Kelly

      oops, I wrote dialog where I meant monologue

  2. Dan Mortimer

    When I’m interrupted, I patiently wait until the other person stops talking and then, without acknowledging what they said, I say, “As I was saying before you interrupted…” and go back to what I was saying. Sometimes the other person is offended but usually, they’ll be stunned for a moment and then apologize.

  3. Robin

    I know several people with this most annoying behavior. With one, she constantly interrupts me as I talk. I have resorted to raising my voice until she stops or saying, “As I was saying…” or even sometimes, “Please let me finish”. I also limit my time with her. Another friend I’ve learned to just tell her I need some air time and she listens. She is aware that she often dominates the conversation and it is mostly about her. Because I have known her for a very long time and do love her, I accept this. I do have to add, that relationships are built on shared experiences and sharing stories and problems in our lives. If it is not reciprocated then there is not much shared and the relationship suffers. In the case of my first friend mentioned, I limit my time and our relationship has become more superficial.

  4. Joan

    My husband likes to interrupt me & what I started communicating when we are out with friends & family. I thank him for his help & tell him I’ve got this. He gets the message!

    1. F Little

      Genius! And kind.

  5. Carl J Thomas

    My two adult children and I have this challenge with my wife of 40 years (and their mother). We’ve learned to be more assertive as you’ve suggested. You’ve challenged me to reflect on the resentment element I still feel because she (and others I know with the same habit) don’t seem to want to improve. I understand that we are all imperfect, but I do feel we owe it to ourselves and those we love to at least work on those things that our friends/loved ones have helped us to become more aware of. In my personal experience, I have never seen this behavior get better with those that I know have received kind feedback about it.

  6. Mac McClellan

    I’ve observed this, and I’ve concluded that what’s considered polite or rude isn’t a fixed thing but is on a spectrum. Each person has their default location on that spectrum (or distribution curve) and issues occur when expectations aren’t in sync.

    On one end are people who expect conversations to be a continual two way dialog where both persons can interrupt the other when a comment or response seems appropriate. Interjecting is allowed. For example, you make a point and start to make another and I interrupt you to comment on your first point. You anticipate that and don’t mind, because you’re going to do the same thing.

    Conversely, other people may expect to be able to say all they have to say (or a large portion of it) without the other person feeling free to interject. When talking with people like this I often find myself making notes so I can go back and address their earlier points.

  7. Shannon Tucker

    The piece about letting go of expectations has been a huge game-changer for me. When I really dig into why I feel resentful about something, it always comes back to my expectations of that person or relationship. Often those expectations are unable to be met (for a variety of reasons). Once I let go of the expectations I have, I find myself feeling freer, happier, and better able to navigate what I want from my relationship with that person.

  8. Janice

    It really does feel like disrespect or selfishness or just cluelessness, however, there are some people who have a medical condition that causes impulsivity and it manifests most noticeably in adults in conversations. People living with attention deficit disorder have a chemical imbalance in their brains that makes controlling impulses very difficult if not impossible depending on the severity of the imbalance. If they are medicated for the condition they improve their chances of not being that person who interrupts all the time but it does not eliminate the propensity for them to do so. What I can tell you is that they do not want to have their lives and relationships impacted negatively by this manifestation of the condition and are always deeply sorry when they are made aware that they have interrupted. Those living with this condition deserve grace and compassion in the form of understanding that the behavior is born out of a medical condition with gentle reminders that they have interrupted.

  9. Judith Williams

    Thank you for the insights and options. It’s helpful to consider both relationship and capabilities in choosing an approach.

    Option 1 is my go-to for my Meals-on-Wheels clients, whom I see weekly when I bring them their Thursday meal. Most are elderly and isolated, all are infirm, and I figure no one listens to them, so if they want to talk (some don’t), I listen. I have a ready stock of “uh-HUH, wow, I hear you, that’s something.” I’m genuinely interested in the variety of ways people navigate the difficult journey of age and infirmity. Some are worried, some philosophical, some disappointed, some grateful, and some just like to talk about the past.

    Best story: Miss F was an office worker in downtown Fort Worth when World War 2 ended. Everyone was out in the streets celebrating the end of the war. She and some coworkers bought a watermelon and ate it. They didn’t have any place to put the rind, so in the spirit of the moment, they dropped the rind into a postal box. She knows that’s a federal offense, and still wonders about her crime.

  10. Beth McNamara

    I have a confession to make… I often interrupt people. It’s not done on purpose or out of malice or a need to be heard… it’s how my brain works. I have little filter, especially with those I’m most comfortable with (i.e. not at work), so what I think comes out of my mouth as I think it. I do not mean to interrupt my loved ones and I’ve tried to improve. Sometimes it’s easier than others to stop myself, let them finish their thought and then speak. Sometimes I’m in overdrive. I have worked out a system with my husband… he will call me out on it or give me a look. And he now understands it’s not a critique or disrespect to him… it’s just who I am. When he does this though, we can adjust in the moment and keep going. It is hard through your question to tell if your mother understands your feelings or not or how her actions impact you. I totally agree with what Joseph has recommended. If you’ve had a conversation with her and she’s not willing to accept her ‘foibles’, it will come down to you deciding what you want out of the relationship and what you can accept. Best wishes to you as you figure this out.

  11. Marguerite

    What a great article! It is heartening to hear someone espouse this perspective. I wish authors would employ their characters to illustrate these perspectives. It would validate this as a valuable expression.

  12. Peaches

    Thank you Joseph for these great options.
    I am an interrupter albeit a minor one according to this account and I value the insight to my habit. It gives me a greater capacity to inspect my behavior pattern.
    I realize I get excited about a conversation and then interrupt!! This can be changed!!!

  13. Chris

    Great answer! What the article does a great job underlining, and what many of the commenters don’t seem to get, is that just because someone has a different conversation style, doesn’t mean they are intentionally being rude. “Interpersonally insensitive” is a wonderful turn of phrase. Just like an insensitive instrument requires a greater signal strength before it registers a reading, an interpersonally insensitive person is not capable of recognizing subtle signs of discomfort in others – even though those people might feel they are broadcasting them very clearly. When you were in high school and came to school with a bad haircut or a new pimple, you probably thought everyone immediately noticed, when almost none of them did. YOU were highly sensitive to this stimulus, and others were not – despite what you might have believed. We continue to encounter these disparities in perception every day as adults. Don’t crucify a scale for not measuring to the microgram, and don’t crucify a person for not being as talented as you might be in the skill of understanding what other people want or need. It won’t get you what you want, and it leaves everyone feeling unhappy and frustrated. This is not a moral failing. It’s a sign of of the diversity of human beings.

  14. Jeremy Thompson

    I want my mom to stop talking to me and stop invading my privacy.

  15. Mary Novotny

    One consideration is that interrupting and impatience during conversations is also a characteristic of both ADHD and autism spectrum disorder.
    Maybe mom has undiagnosed ADHD. Exploring that possibility might make the dynamic make sense. The intervention and expectations would then be different.

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