When Your Mother Makes Up Stories (Explained With Tips)


One of the most common rules kids learn from parents regardless of culture and background is to not tell lies, so it comes as a shock when it seems your own mother is doing it. What does it mean when your mother makes up stories, or lies to you and others? What is the best way to handle it?

When your mother makes up stories, it’s certainly concerning. Before jumping to conclusions like her having dementia, you also need to consider other reasons like attention seeking, trying to teach you a lesson, or even misguided fear. Look at context to help you figure it out and how to respond.

This is a sensitive topic, because no one wants to accuse their mother of lying, typically, nor do you want to think that your mom is facing bad health like dementia causing her to make up stories. But for some people, it’s a real issue having a mother make up stories and it can be quite problematic for the whole family to deal with.

In this article I’ll provide some information I’ve learned about the subject of mothers making up stories, and some tips I think can be helpful for families dealing with this. As a mom and grandmother, as well as daughter of an aging mom, I’m not necessarily saying this is a personal issue for me right now, but I’ve found my research into it worthwhile!

What does it mean when your mother makes up stories?

Often when our moms start making up stories or let’s just say it, ‘lying’, we immediately jump to the idea she has Alzheimer’s or dementia. Books like Coffee with Mom: Caring for a Parent with Dementia (linked to Amazon) can be a very helpful resource. However, it’s important to NOT jump to dementia right away.

When your mother makes up stories, it could be a personality deficit that you’re just recognizing. Though studies show most people are honest, a small subset tell 6 or more lies daily, and your mom could be one. Whether it’s health or character, how you respond to your mom lying should use context.

A recent study by Drs. Serota, Levine, and Docan-Morgan attempted to figure out just how prevalent regular lying is, and the results were a bit surprising and welcoming, as it concluded most people are quite honest, telling zero to 2 lies per day while some are even super-honest, telling no lies hardly at all.

“That said, there are these few prolific liars out there…And I think this study showed that they are a real thing. There is that kind of top 1 percent who are telling more than 15 lies per day, day in day out.”

Timothy Levine, Ph.D to UAB News

But this study is also proof that your mother could be one of those prolific ‘story tellers’ or liars, as it may. As little kids, we wouldn’t ever presume to think our mothers make up stories, but as we get older and more discerning it may unfortunately be something we discover.

So what does it mean for mothers to make up stories? Well, it can mean a lot of things.

It might mean she elaborates or ‘enhances’ information as she tells it in order to make it more interesting or dramatic. I have a person in mind who seems to do this a lot. And we understand that about her, so anytime she’s telling a story, we generally take it for half-truths. Since we know this about her, we keep that in mind as we take in anything she says and never react without actual proof. There’s an old saying about ‘a grain of salt’ and that’s how we consider info from her…take it with a grain of salt!

It could mean that your mother uses a story to get what she wants. By re-creating events or making stories up entirely, she’s trying to manipulate to get an outcome preferred to her. So for your mother making up stories means using misinformation for her own gain. Kind of sounds like politics, doesn’t it?

It also can simply be taken at face value which is, you’re mother lies. There, I said it!

Below I’ve outlined in more detail the common reasons mothers make up stories, keeping in mind that many of these above ‘intentions’ and below ‘reasons’ overlap and have blurred lines.

Other Ninja Parenting articles like this one:

Reasons Your Mother Makes Up Stories

So now that we know what it ‘means’ or looks like for mothers to make up stories, let’s look at the reasons behind it, or the purpose for it happening. At least, we can look at some of them because it’s all situational and personal to some degree.

1. Your Mother Makes Up Stories To Teach You A Lesson.

It’s A Southern Thing posted a recent video spoofing several stories mothers and fathers told kids when they were growing up…to teach life lessons.

The reason your mother makes up stories initially is likely to teach you a lesson. In my opinion, and experience, it seems that this is probably the most common reasons mothers make up stories. They orchestrate it to guide you, their child.

This might start out very innocent like mothers who tell kids to not do a particular thing because it will hurt them. In actuality, it probably won’t physically hurt them, not at that exact moment. In the long run, it very well may be so and your mom is trying to thwart that from happening.

This is connected to moms who try to steer their kids away from certain bad influences. Kind of ironic that moms resort to lying to keep kids from bad influences, but yes, we moms are apt to do it from time to time.

Example: A mom may tell a story about how something bad resulted in her life due to her choosing a particular path, when it never happened that way. She does this in order to keep her child from what she feels is a bad mistake.

2. Your Mother Makes Up Stories To Get Attention.

Another reason your mother might make up a story is to get attention. This seems more likely to happen as your mom ages and starts to feel left out of your life, but it could also be something that happens as her child enters school age and joins groups and social activities.

In this case, moms use stories to make her life more interesting or eventful, and to get your (her child’s) attention focused on her. This reason is usually a result of your mom feeling inadequate; she may also suffer from low self-esteem.

It could look her telling a story about something bad happening to her to make her a victim and need your support; or it could be her telling a positive story to make her look better in your eyes.

3. Your Mother Makes Up Stories Because She’s Afraid.

It’s also possible that your mom makes up stories because she’s fearful of something.

She might fear being alone, particularly if she is a widow or divorced, or just partner-less. She in this situation is using ‘stories’ to make you fulfill that role and alleviate her fear of being alone.

Or simply put, she might be afraid and the stories she tells are elaborated or exaggerated based on her fear of something bad happening to her like hearing a noise and she makes up a story about a burglar, though there’s no evidence of that.

4. Your Mother Makes Up Stories Because She Feels Unnecessary.

It’s also possible that she is acting out of boredom or from feeling unneeded or unwanted…not ‘necessary’ anymore.

A mother may find that when her children become involved in outside activities and other relationships outside of the family that she is suddenly out of sorts. It may even lead to depression or anxiety, which could in turn lead to the construction of stories in order to bring back their children like before (this of course doesn’t mean it’s reality, only her view of reality.)

5. Your Mother Makes Up Stories Because Of Health And Age.

UCLA Medical Center has posted several helpful videos for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, including one about hallucinations and made up stories.

And last, but certainly not least, as mentioned earlier, it may be that your mother makes up stories because of failing health and/or age. And though this is one we often jump to first, especially if our mother is aged, it’s one we generally would hope for last to be the cause.

Let’s look at each reason individually.

  • Age itself can make someone ‘make up stories’ just because they don’t remember things as easily as before. It’s true that as we age, our reflex time diminishes, and this is true for our physical strength as well as mental acuity. In fact, some studies say this starts to happen as ‘early’ as age 45!

So it’s natural that as mothers recount stories, they make up some missing pieces in order to fill in gaps. They may do this almost unconsciously, thinking ‘it probably happened like this’, or more deliberately because they realize the lack the details once they start telling the story from ‘way back then.’

  • Then there’s the most dreaded reason for mothers making up stories and that’s dementia. Dementia is, according to ALZ, “Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.”

It may start as little things forgotten like where she placed her keys, then progress to more disturbing memory loss like where her house is, and ultimately, forgetting who she is, as well as her family. Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s include the entire body shutting down eventually.

And of course there are a slew of other reasons than the ones listed above, but these seem to be, from my research, the most prevalent reasons behind mothers making up stories. However, because cases vary, use your judgment to discern what’s behind your other lying, and the context connected.

Tips for When Your Mother Makes Up Stories

So now that we’ve established many of the whats and whys for when your mother makes up stories, it’s important to address how to handle it. Here I’ll provide some suggestions. Again, keep context and your relationship in mind for discerning what will be most advantageous and healthy for your situation.

Dealing with your mother who makes up stories because of dementia requires a different technique/response than dealing with your mother who does it for getting her own way (pure manipulation).

Below I’ve created a table of some possible ways to deal with your mother making up stories. Consider your context because what works in one situation won’t work in another necessarily. The appropriate response is closely tied to the ‘reason’ behind making up stories.

1Talk to your mom about the story. If it’s a mild elaboration or change, casually direct it back to what you know to be true. You can use a tactic like ‘oh yeah, seems I remember…’ And then, ‘do you remember that?’
2If the made up stories are potentially harmful, like disparaging someone’s character, and your mom is mentally stable, you should feel confident to put a stop to it. You don’t have to be rude or disrespectful, not at first anyway. You can simply say, ‘I don’t think that’s accurate, Mom. You are mistaken.’ Be sure to stay calm. Now if your mom persists, then you may simply respond, ‘No that’s not right.’ and move on to a different subject if possible.
3If your mom’s stories are being used as evidence or as a guide in someone’s ‘big decision’, then you should feel obligated to set the story straight and let them know your concerns. If they don’t take your advice, then at least your conscience is clear.
4If your mom’s health seems impaired and that’s what’s causing her to make up stories, then talk with her, your dad, and/or other significant family members about it and be sure to follow up with her doctor.
5If your mom is making up stories for attention or to add drama to her life, then it’s vital you don’t let that affect your well-being. Depending on the severity, you may have to limit your relationship. This is especially true if you have children (her grandchildren) because your number one priority as a parent now is taking care of your kids.
6If you feel that your mom is making up stories due to boredom or loneliness (or even fear), then you might want to schedule more time together. As well, help your mom make more friends or add hobbies in order for her to feel more connected and not resort to tactics to get your focus this way. It may even be a good idea for her to move closer to you or your siblings, or to get involved with a senior group.
Tips for How To Handle When Your Mother Makes Up Stories

The Takeaway for When Your Mother Makes Up Stories

The takeaway from this article is to not simply judge your mom for making up stories, but to look carefully at the reason she’s doing it. This is what will help you deal with it effectively and healthfully for you both.

You can start by considering the context around the ‘stories’: When she’s doing it and the immediate and long-term effects or ‘pay-off’ for her afterwards, for instance.

Identifying your mother’s motivation for making up stories is critical to knowing how to respond correctly.

For more about dealing with elderly mothers, try these next from Ninja Parenting:

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a Catholic mother of four, grandmother ("Oma") to two, and wife to Mat since 1994. She is a former public school teacher of 18 years, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she also taught education courses online as an adjunct professor, mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, as well as homeschooled.

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