July 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm #34782
Today’s column about the overbearing European parents, and specifically comments by AliceinDairyLand and Painted_Lady, got me thinking about my relationship with my mom. I didn’t want to comment there because it’s not relevant to that LW but would be curious about your insights.
Alice and PaintedLady both alluded to how their boundaries with their mothers got blurred because their mothers were leaning on them to compensate for issues with their fathers. LIGHT BULB MOMENT: I think my mom has been doing the same, except I’m not a crutch for her because of my father, but because she has no other female friends.
For context, if it matters, I am 24 and grew up in the States, and have been married for 3 years; she is turning 53 in a few weeks and grew up in Switzerland and moved to the States when I was born. So she’s very Americanized (Swiss culture isn’t really all that different from America anyway). She and my dad have been married 25 years.
I’ve always been closer to her than to my dad, not because there’s anything wrong with my dad, but because she was a SAHM for most of my childhood so I was just around her more. She had a good core group of friends, too, for most of that time. Many of them, including her best friend, were wives of my dad’s coworkers, and his company does a lot of business in Switzerland so many of the husbands and/or wives were also Swiss. Well, some of those work relationships fizzled out, and the woman who was her best friend moved back to Switzerland several years ago.
And I think since then, she’s really struggled to form close friendships with women. If anything it’s gotten worse in the past four years while my younger brother has been at college. She doesn’t get out of the house much at all, aside from things she and my dad do together (birdwatching, kayaking, camping). She’s not working – she had a part-time job years and years ago and ran a business out of the home for a while, but toned that down again when it made her too stressed. While my brother was living there she was pals with some of the other marching band moms, but not *close,* just friendly. So, at this point in her life, she truly does not have that many female friends left.
Whether or not she’s aware of it, I think she tries to fill this gap by being buddies with me. It was easy for many years for us to be close because I was still living pretty close to home, within 10-20 minutes. We communicated mostly over email, a habit that started when I was in college and just stuck, and saw each other fairly regularly. We’ve gone through periods where we’ve been very buddy-buddy, telling each other almost everything, confiding, trusting, laughing, etc.
Trouble is, it seems whenever we get buddy-buddy, boundaries get all screwed up. Last year I was going through depression and letting her get WAY too in my head, putting too much weight on her opinions and approval, so I stepped back a little – that was really when I first started realizing we don’t work as friends. This year things were going OK as I maintained a little more distance. Then I wound up staying at their place for two weeks in early June because of a health crisis with my dog that she and my dad helped me get through. We got buddy-buddy again, talking late into the night every night, she made me lunches to bring to work, I helped with household chores, everything hunky-dory… until she took it upon herself to read my personal journal that I had left on the nightstand in the guest room. (She was looking for info I had not supplied – intentionally.)
BAM! Boundaries screwed, relationship totally fucked up. She admitted it was wrong to read the journal but I couldn’t take her apology as seriously when she started also COMMENTING on things she read in there, in a critical way no less. I haven’t spoken to her, emailed or texted her in over a month. If I needed to get a hold of my parents I’ve been going to my dad instead. I know I can’t hold the grudge forever, and don’t intend to, but I wanted to make it clear how hurt I was. I’ll be seeing her next weekend when my extended family meets up for a mini-reunion – I figured that would be an appropriate time to stop the silent treatment.
Except… now I’m not sure how to proceed. It’s obvious, to me anyway, that we can’t be friends. But now that I’ve thought a little about how isolated and friendless she is, I feel guilty about creating more space and more boundaries between us, because that kind of leaves her with no one again. And that’s not good – we tell LWs around here all the time that they need friends outside of their relationship/marriage, need their own hobbies and interests (which she has – just not anyone to share them with). We’ve joked before (herself included) that she’s an antisocial hermit – but it’s kind of true, she doesn’t get out much and doesn’t click with people. I know it’s not my responsibility to help her make friends, I can’t change her, but I still feel conflicted about putting up a fence in my own relationship with her.
Would appreciate any insights you might have that could help me decide how to proceed with her. Thanks so much – I know that was a NOVEL of a forum post, but I felt the details were relevant.July 25, 2012 at 4:25 pm #34811
This won’t fulfill all the needs that your mother has (and I’m not recommending it as a complete replacement for friends), but how does she feel about pets? I’m very, very close to my mother, and honestly, for most of my life, we’ve had more of a friendly relationship than a parent-child relationship. We’re like the Gilmore Girls, but we talk slower. Anyway, she has friends, but doesn’t really hang out with other people often. I’ve found that she focuses less on me when she has other things to focus on. Right now, she has two super high-energy pit bull mixes, and she spends a lot of her time doting on them: she takes them on car rides, posts pictures and videos of them on Facebook, and generally treats them like they’re her children. If your mom doesn’t have a dog or doesn’t want one, I don’t really know how you’d go about getting her to come around to having one, though.
My mom also does volunteer work with Ronald McDonald House and some other organizations, which I think helps fulfill her socializing with humans quota. Again, I don’t know what your mom does in her spare time or whether or not you’d be able to get her interested in doing these things, but if you get really active in an organization, it can become super absorbing, plus, she’d maybe get warm fuzzies from feeling that she’s doing something good.
This doesn’t really help you set boundaries, obviously, but I think that sometimes, if you can distract people, boundaries can form naturally. Then again, I’m pretty non-confrontational.July 25, 2012 at 5:12 pm #34820
Gillociraptor – my parents have two dogs that are definitely at, or near, the center of their lives. Both dogs currently have health issues – one has been experiencing seizures and might have a brain tumor, and the other was just diagnosed with cancer. They’re not exactly high-energy or high-maintenance dogs on a day-to-day basis, though. Theirs is a house where the back door is always open and the dogs roam in and out as they please (they are both breeds that are known for being independent, not attention-seeking). Both parents do love it when I bring my dog over or ask them to watch him when I’m out of town, but it’s a temporary distraction at best.
Mom’s not on Facebook either, and refuses to be. She still uses AOL – she’s a bit set in her ways tech-wise. I’m sure Facebook could help her get in touch with friends or make new friends, but to be honest, I’m glad she’s not on there – because I’m pretty sure she’d only use it to keep tabs on me and my brother. She is always griping that I know more about what he’s doing, or that I find out about things sooner, because he posts it on Facebook before he talks to her about it.
As for the issue of her bugging me because her attention isn’t on something else – I don’t mean to imply that she’s constantly butting into my life uninvited, like the overbearing parents in the original letter. Just that when I do try to include her in my life and tell her about what’s going on, my thoughts and feelings, my decisions, etc. she jumps in with her advice and opinions and questions and judgments. She’s very much a skeptic and a pessimist and the first one to point out the flaws or holes in a situation. I got to the point where I felt I couldn’t tell her anything about my personal life without her examining it to find fault.
That’s where the Mom/Friend boundary gets blurry. I can go to a friend and say “Hey, I just took my first pole dance fitness class and it was SO fun!” or “We are thinking about adopting this dog that needs a home” and the friend will say “Hey Great!” whereas Mom steps into Mom-mode and starts looking for what’s wrong with the situation. Same thing when something bad happens – she’s the first to say “I told you so” or “you shouldn’t have done that”. I know this all comes from a place of concern for me; even so, it makes me crazy. If she were just a friend-friend who acted this way, I would have pulled the fade-out long ago… but you can’t just fade out on your mom. Not when she hasn’t actually done anything *wrong.* (Well, there’s the journal thing, that was pretty serious, but that was a one-time transgression – I can’t just “break up” with her in any kind of permanent way for that alone.)
One thing she and I have in common, ironically, is that we both have hobbies and interests that are more individual than social. My big thing is creative writing. She does ceramics – she has her own pottery studio at home, molds and a kiln and everything. That was her business for a while, now it’s just a hobby. She and my dad have hobbies together – birdwatching, camping, kayaking – but even there they don’t socialize with other birdwatchers, kayakers or campers. The opportunity is there, they just don’t want to.
That’s the thing – I’m sure there are a bunch of opportunities out there for her to get involved in things outside the house, but she’s not interested. Many times she has scoffed at the idea of, say, group fitness classes or book clubs. Either scoffs, or just doesn’t understand the appeal. (This could be the influence of Swiss culture – the Swiss are not the most outgoing people.) I think she considers herself quite content as a loner – but I think she is still lonely, specifically for female companionship.
Anyway, I don’t expect to solve her friendship problem. I just need to know how to create a safe distance from her without feeling like I”m abandoning her, ya know?July 25, 2012 at 5:21 pm #34822
I get that, too. Maybe just try to be guarded about the things you share with your mom. Hang out with her, update her about shallow stuff (what you plan on eating for dinner, shopping, stuff like that) and really big stuff (like, if you’re moving, she’ll probably need to know that), but if you sense that it’s something she’ll be critical about, try to avoid it.
My mom gets critical about things, too, so I either don’t tell her about things that I know for sure will be a source of discord, or I tell her, “Look, I need to vent about this, and I know that you’re going to think I’m being irrational, but I really just need to get my feelings out. I don’t need advice. I just need an outlet.” That has worked well for me, but obviously, you know better how your mother will respond to things. Mine doesn’t get offended by that, though I can see how some people would.
To me, it seems like you might benefit from being a bit judicious with what you share, and when you do share things, telling her that you are not looking for advice. That might not work–I know that some people will criticize or give advice even if you specifically ask them not to–and if it doesn’t, try to explain why that sort of feedback isn’t helpful.July 25, 2012 at 8:43 pm #34866
Hi KKZ –
Oh boy do I get the whole lonely-mom thing. But think about it like this: you haven’t forced your mom into a friendless life. That’s her choice. Maybe even a consequence of how she treats people, if you’re any evidence of how she treats friends. And maybe having you around has become a good excuse not to get out there more and make more friends. My mom used to complain about not having friends around me, and on one hand she was very much, “Oh honey, go have your own life! Don’t worry about me,” but then on the other she would talk about how miserable she was and lonely. And so I hung out with her more than I would have un-prompted. But then I started teaching and got really busy, and I got into a serious relationship, and all of a sudden I couldn’t see my mom but about once a month. And guess what happened – she made some friends!
I would say keep your distance as long as you need or want to. If she says something about it, tell her why you’ve kept your distance. If she tries to tell you that you should be over all that already, tell her part of why you’re continuing to keep your distance is because you feel like she minimized your feelings, and continuing to do so is more proof that she’s not taken full responsibility. Also, trust was broken, and part of trusting someone is trusting them with your feelings, but she doesn’t seem to value yours.
I feel for you, I really do. But ultimately, someone who has set up their life so they don’t have friends doesn’t have much talking room about being lonely. If your mom is lonely, maybe she should learn to treat her friends with more respect.July 25, 2012 at 9:15 pm #34879
Boy do I understand this! My mom is very lonely, but she doesn’t have time or energy to make friends because of how demanding her life is (working 60 hours a week, taking care of my sick grandfather and his entire house, taking care of her own house without my dad because he works more like 80 hours a week, taking care of my dad, and often times having to feed her brother, his wife, and their three kids because they’re so poor.) She relies on me as her only friend, and she refuses to do anything with anyone but me. I’ve been living away from home at college for about five years, and now I’m moving to a new city (not her town) to start a new life, and she’s constantly complaining about how I won’t be there, and asks me to spend every weekend with her doing things like grocery shopping. It’s hard for me to deal with, but I just kind of suck it up. I’m not saying that you have to completely ignore it, but it is important to recognize how much your mother has been there for you when you needed it, and that if there’s any way you can be there for her, you should. Just try to minimize the damage of being there for her, like keeping certain things secret from her. I’ve found that when I want to avoid a topic with my mother, I just keep asking her questions about her own life, and even though I have to listen to stories about dropping off prescriptions and feeding the dog, it means so much to her for me to ask, and it keeps her off my back.July 25, 2012 at 10:29 pm #34905
This is good advice and I thank you all for it. And I’ve been thinking about it too – I’m sure the times when she is critical of me stick out more in my memory than the times she has been supportive. Honestly, though, I can also look back and see a pattern that for a long time I haven’t expected them to support me. Not in the “I’m so independent” way but in that, if I had news, good or bad, to share with them, I was always anxious about their reaction (and importantly, approval), that they would be upset or critical or disagree with me. And when I say they, I really mean she – I let her speak for both of them so long (because she was the one I always talked to), I don’t really even know if my dad always agreed with her or not.
While I’ve been trying to wean myself away from craving their approval all the time, I do still see ways that I have held myself back because of what they might think or say. Not all of them are important. For instance, I sprayed my hair purple for Halloween last year and actually really liked the way it looked, and several people complimented me on it. I always avoided dying my hair any non-standard colors because of all the old warnings I remember from parents – no one will hire you, it’s immature/unprofessional, etc. And somehow it JUST struck me, like, two weeks ago that the only reason I was hesitating was not because of work – I have a great job at a small creative company with no dress code – but because of what my mother might think. Ditto all of that with a nose piercing as well (she once freaked out when I came home with a magnetic earring on my nose, so there’s more danger to that one than the purple streaks). I have plans to have both done within the next few weeks – AFTER the big family vacation, of course. I’ve debated a little on the maturity of this, because it smacks me as a somewhat Rebellious Teen thing to do, but you know what, it doesn’t matter. It’s just hair, I’m 24, you live once. I rarely do anything risky – and on the risk scale, this is pretty tame.
Monitoring what I tell her is going to be tougher than it sounds, I think. When we get into a conversation and the good vibes are flowing, it’s easy for me to fall into a sense of security and open my big mouth – especially if she’s made me one of her killer-potent Cosmopolitans. That’s the whole reason she has now seen the Mom-wasn’t-supposed-to-know tattoo I got last fall. It just goes to show I still fish for reactions, and put a little too much weight on their value. I know the same thing could happen the first time she sees the hair/nose, but it’s an opportunity for me to practice not making it about HER.
I do plan to start talking to her again when we’re on vacation together. I think I might actually have to make a list of things that I should not let myself talk about even if things are going well and review it before I talk to her, just to really hammer it home in my own brain. Like I said, it’s hard in the moment sometimes to resist that impulse (new rule: no drinking Cosmos with Mom). And since I’ll have aunts, uncles and cousins there to talk to who I don’t see very often, I shouldn’t have too much trouble not getting locked into many conversations with her.
The real crazy thing about all this – the possible silver lining – is that at the same time I’ve found I have to distance myself from Mom and be guarded in our conversations, I’ve become more candid and communicative with my dad. Electra complex, anyone?
Thanks again. We’ll have to wait and see if I can successfully keep my mouth shut, and keep peace as well as an appropriate distance between us. Hopefully she does find another friend – but if it’s just her and my dad and she’s content that way, so be it. I know I’ll be happier when I stop being so attached to her every word.July 25, 2012 at 11:16 pm #34909
I’m also going through something similar. I’m 24, currently living at home with my mom, dad and 20 yr-old sister for the first time in 5 years (since I broke up with my ex and had to move out of our apartment.) My mother is extremely lonely and unhappy, I might even say depressed. After working a job she loved for 14 years (antique store manager), the business closed and for about a year she has been home, out of work. My sister has struggled with depression and other issues over the years and it has really worn on my mom. She doesn’t have any social life outside of talking to her sister and former boss now and then. Her relationship with my dad has been strained for some time, but it’s stable I guess. They just don’t go anywhere.
Like others have mentioned, I was super-close with my mom growing up, till college I’d say. It really went downhill from there and I have huge pangs of guilt often, but I really don’t like our relationship now. She is such a sad sack and we are constantly fighting and being resentful towards each other, because I want as much independence as I can get (I know, living under her roof does not help- I’m moving again soon) and she feels I neglect her and am constantly “coming and going.” I’m in a serious relationship now and spent a ton of time at my bf’s house, to get away.
She is turning 60 and for the past year has been saying how her options are so limited and that she can’t do this, can’t do that anymore because she’s “old”. It makes me so angry because I know just how talented and capable she is, 60 is not that old!! I wish she’d get off her ass and apply for some jobs or attempt to make friends somehow. We live a half hour from Manhattan. There are so many opportunities, it’s endless! Her few friends from college barely reach out she says. Idk…sigh.
I struggle with feeling guilty, but like painted_lady reminded me, a lot of these choices are my mom’s and I shouldn’t take them personally.
That was totally selfish and about me, but I had to get that off my chest. Phew. Just saying, you’re not alone.July 29, 2012 at 9:05 pm #35246
So I am not going to say that I have read this book, but I stumbled upon it one late night when I was up trying to figure out why my relationship with my mom was crumbling so much now that I had entered college, and even more after I started dating my boyfriend. And KKZ, so many things that you have mentioned I know has been in my head. The comments about approval, and stress when sharing particularly good or bad news for fear of the reaction particularly stuck out for me.
I don’t have a good answer on how to draw boundaries and/or interact with your mom in a more healthy way. Maybe check out the book? As I mentioned on the weekend thread I am headed to my first therapy session (ahhhhhhhhhh) and I am hoping that the woman I speak to might be able to help me with some coping strategies/boundary drawing as well as some of my generalized anxiety about life.
Stay strong, and although it is soo much easier said than done… Try to not let anyone else’s opinions but your own decide your life. Dye your hair purple! Get your nose pierced! (If you want to)July 30, 2012 at 10:44 am #35294
Thanks Alice. I’ll take a closer look at the book later. My to-read list is already a mile long as it is!
I had a few therapy sessions last summer when my depression got to levels I couldn’t control. I had to get the sessions through the Employee Assistance Program provided by my company so I only got a limited number of sessions, but my relationship with my mom definitely dominated the conversation, even though I thought (at the time) that my depression was all tied to being miserable at work and taking it out on my husband. It was my therapist who first got through to me with the message of “Don’t take everything personally,” and “It’s OK to not tell your mom everything.”
Those were definitely my first steps in the right direction of asserting myself and my independence from Mom, but obviously I’ve had a little relapse. If I think about it and look back on some past conversations, I can see exactly where and why it happens, and I can remember how I felt right prior to divulging something that I should not. If I can focus on recognizing that tugging, desiring, insanely optimistic feeling and learn to see it as a red flag BEFORE I start running my mouth off, I might be able to follow through with this boundary-setting and not sabotage myself. It sucks that I have to keep my guard up so much with her now, but it’s the only way to keep from getting hurt.
I hope your therapy starts off on the right foot. I’ll be seeing my mom on Thursday for the first time since the Journal Incident so we’ll see how that goes too.
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