‘Mother Knows Best’ – High Court Ruling Shows That is Sadly Not Always So


The idea that ‘Mother knows best’ guided children’s upbringing for generations. As a High Court case concerning the relationship between a determined mother and her vulnerable adult daughter showed, however, it sadly does not always reflect reality.

The daughter, aged in her 30s, suffers from a constellation of physical and mental health disabilities, including paranoid schizophrenia. Her mother, however, had an unshakeable belief that she was being wrongly medicated and that she was being harmed and abused by a conspiracy of medical and other professionals.

Following a series of court hearings, a judge ruled that the daughter lacked capacity to make important decisions for herself. Her mother had behaved in an abusive and unpleasant manner towards care workers and her enmeshed relationship with her daughter was having a negative impact on the latter.

The local authority with responsibility for the daughter’s care was granted permission to move her to a residential placement away from the family home. Difficulties in the mother-daughter relationship persisted, however, and the council applied to the Court for restrictions to be placed on communications and contact between them.

Ruling on the application, the Court noted that the mother viewed herself as fighting alone against a great injustice being done to her daughter. No amount of reasoning or evidence could change her views. Her confrontational approach was to berate all those who disagreed with her, effectively everyone involved in her daughter’s care and the court process.

Her conduct was corrosive to the morale of those trying to care for her daughter, who found themselves on the receiving end of numerous official complaints expressed in the strongest terms. Her communications with her daughter were contaminated by her beliefs and her battle against the medical and caring professions. Contact with her had become a negative experience for her daughter.

The Court acknowledged that the daughter enjoyed seeing her mother and wished to have contact with her. However, she lacked insight into her own condition and her mother’s negative influence. With considerable regret, the Court ordered that her mother’s contact with her should, for a period of about five months, be restricted to monitored, fortnightly telephone calls. The mother was directed not to discuss certain matters during the half-hour calls, including her daughter’s medication, placement and care.

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