Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Parents are Overbearing Eastern Europeans with No Respect for Personal Boundaries!”

My parents are Eastern European, and therefore very overbearing, with no understanding of personal boundaries. I’m an only child, so, for better or worse, I have all of their undivided attention. Every few weeks we have huge fights because I say something about my needs and there’s a huge fight and I always end up apologizing and as though I have no power or say in anything.

For example, a few months ago my ex boyfriend and I broke up. I had to spend the night at home after the breakup due to an interview that was near my parent’s apartment (I live an hour and a half away). When my parents saw how upset I was, they started yelling at me, telling me how stupid I am for dating guys who won’t commit (i.e. haven’t proposed) and that I shouldn’t feel bad because the guy was only using me for sex anyway… it’s not like he “truly” cared about me. When I eventually had to raise my voice to tell them to stop, they told me that the reason why I get these kinds of problems is because I don’t listen to them – as I was not doing at the moment – and that I need to learn to appreciate the advice they give me. I was so upset that I actually left – and I had to apologize two days later to my dad for making HIM feel bad and unappreciated.

My parents come to clean my apartment every few weeks. I’m 28 and I don’t need them to clean my apartment. When I asked them not to come, my mom got upset that I don’t love her so I just don’t bother now. The last time they were here, my dad opened up some old boxes I had and commented on the contents. It irks me when people go through my stuff when I’m not around, so I asked them not to go through my personal stuff anymore. Then they started yelling at me because in Eastern Europe they don’t have “personal stuff” and I’m a very ungrateful child as they spend their precious time and money to help me and all I can do is complain. They told me that they know that I hate them (um, what?) but they are so loving that they will continue to help me even though I provide nothing in return.

Yea, I know – totally dysfunctional and I have no idea how to deal with it. I’ve tried everything – yelling to talking rationally to expressing my feelings to mirroring – the only thing that works is not talking. I feel like I have this big burden in my life called my parents who just refuse to change the relationship to reflect that I’m not four years old anymore. I’ve heard that, if you have a messed up relationship with your parents, your personal relationships will be messed up as well. I’m not only scared that I’ll find a husband version of my parents but this is also the only family I have in the US so I will essentially never know the love and care from any family that a normal child receives. — Parental Distraught

Wait, did you just refer to yourself as a “child”? I think you did. In the last sentence you said you worry that you’ll never know the love and care that a “normal child” receives. My dear, you are not a child. The problem here isn’t so much that your parents treat you like a kid, because you’ve decided it’s just easier that way (i.e. “I just don’t bother”). Being an adult doesn’t mean avoiding conflict or painful situations. It means dealing with them head on. If you’re sick of your parents showing up at your apartment an hour and a half from where they live so they can clean your place, don’t let them. Do they have keys to your place? Take them away. Or tell them they are not welcome in your home when you aren’t there. Will they piss and moan and call you ungrateful and say that you hate them? Yes. Deal with it.

Obviously, your parents’ lives revolve around you, especially since you’re an only child. Do you think they’re going to drop off the planet if you tell them to stop going through your private things? No! They’re going to piss and moan and then eventually they’re going to move on because they want to be in your life, in whatever way you LET them be in your life. The key here is that YOU MUST set the boundaries for what that looks like. If you don’t want them to act like you’re four, quit letting them. But if you’d rather deal with being treated like a pre-schooler than deal with the fall-out standing up to them will create, that’s your decision. Just don’t act like you don’t have that choice because you do. Of course you do.

As for getting the love and care that a “normal child” would, I have to ask you: what does that look like? I’m genuinely curious what you think normal love looks like, because I’ve known tons of children and tons of families and the love in each home looks different. Some parents, like yours, are overbearing (trust me, that is not a characteristic that is exclusive to Eastern European parents!!). Some parents fail to provide any structure, but instead “love” their kids with an excess of materialistic things. Some parents are super strict and believe that setting high expectations for success is the best way to love. Other parents love by creating a world that is all about the kids. Some parents want their kids to adapt to an adult world, believing they’re preparing them for life beyond the security of childhood. My point is, there is no normal. You may not like some of the parenting choices your own parents have made — and if you ever have kids, I bet they won’t like some of your choices either — but you can’t deny that they love and care for you. They just don’t show their love and care in a way that is appropriate toward an adult daughter.

It’s your job now to teach them how you want to be loved. You didn’t have the means to do that as a child. You didn’t have the words or the confidence or even the understanding of what you wanted. But now you do, and it’s your job to set the boundaries you crave. If you put up a fence around your yard that your neighbors can’t climb, they may not LIKE that they can’t hang out in your back yard whenever you aren’t home and it may feel uncomfortable for you to do something that makes someone else unhappy — especially if you are fond of your neighbors — but would you rather sit with that discomfort for a little bit, or keep coming home to your neighbors loitering in your yard?

I say build the fence. And then brace yourself for the pissing and moaning. And then welcome the inevitable liberation of your newfound freedom. And remember: the best way to change someone’s behavior toward you, is to change your own behavior. If you don’t like the way you’re being treated, start treating the people in question differently. Change starts with you. It’s certainly not going to start with your parents.

52 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Nadine July 25, 2012, 9:12 am

    Excellent advice, Wendy.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Taylor July 25, 2012, 9:24 am

    WWS! LW, I have an Indian mother, and we have gone round and round over time about things like boundaries. It’s not easy, and I am admittedly a wuss, but things are way better with her in my 30s due to some boundary setting. In the setting of boundaries, don’t forget to reassure your folks that you do love them.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    cporoski July 25, 2012, 9:28 am

    LW – My SIL is going through the same thing. She is 28 and recently divorced. Her parents are overbearing because they are worried. They are doing the push pull thing where my SIL likes all the things that my inlaws do for her but hates when they pry too far (which they do).

    Here is the question for you. When they criticize you, do they have a point? Thier words might be harsh but are they also true? Do you confess all these problems about failed relationships and then when they give you observations to you resent it? Just a thought.

    Reply Link
  • FireStar

    FireStar July 25, 2012, 9:29 am

    Wow Wendy is right and you need serious boundaries in place. Everyone needs to redefine their relationship with their parents on adulthood to some degree – you are no exception. Clean your own apartment; keep your own counsel about your romantic life; limit how much information you give your parents about your life in the first place if you value your privacy. Part of wanting to be treated as an adult is to act like an adult. Pay your own way and don’t rely on them for anything. As an adult the relationships in your life should be ones of choice not of obligation. Ignore the forthcoming guilt trips and tell your parents that this is how it has to be – you love them but you are an adult now. Let that be your mantra – repeat it whenever they start up on you and then change the topic to something neutral. Eventually they will catch on. You aren’t a victim of circumstances beyond your control, my dear. Now go take charge of your life.

    Reply Link
  • Budj

    Budj July 25, 2012, 9:31 am

    Also sounds like y’all have communication problems.

    And I may be really sensitive to this because I just recently got out of a situation with someone that would filter conversations into whatever made her look better, but if you were to rephrase your argument with your parents it actually sounds like they are telling you what a lot of people would tell someone who just broke up with an ungrateful/user boy friend…minus the stupid…if they said that…which I am kind of doubting…but again I have personal bias affecting me here….

    So I guess my question would be “Was that a relationship where you shouldn’t have been involved with or were they being overly protective making him instant bad guy?”…because if it’s the latter that could all also be rolled up into the over-bearing thing too which you can work on with Wendy’s advice.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    tbrucemom July 25, 2012, 9:32 am

    I have to add that it also sounds like they are supporting her somewhat financially. If she truly wants to be treated like an adult she needs to find a way to not accept their financial help. When someone is controlling the purse strings you are more apt to accept what comes along with that help.

    Reply Link
    • katie

      katie July 25, 2012, 9:43 am

      what made you pick up on the fact that they are supporting her finantially?

      Reply Link
      • becboo84

        BecBoo84 July 25, 2012, 9:52 am

        I got the same feeling as well. I think it might have been this line: “… as they spend their precious time and money to help me.”

        Link
      • avatar

        aron September 1, 2012, 5:23 pm

        My parents are like that. They will pay for something pretty much just so they feel i owe them back.. so i wouldnt necessarily assume like u guys are.

        Words can be interpreted many ways….

        Link
  • avatar

    Amy July 25, 2012, 9:39 am

    My mother is like this too – and I’ve put up with it for 5 years longer than you have. It doesn’t go away – best to straighten things out now and not waste any more time being pissed at them. I know that sometimes it’s easier to just smile and nod – but they won’t stop treating you like this until you make them. I’m working on it with my mom. I’m not the only one who gets bullied around – my sister says she’s “just as spineless” as I am when dealing with her. It’s unfortunate – but neither of us spend as much family time as we’d like because of how our mother acts. But I’m hopeful a few more months of dealing with her fits will lead to her behaving in a manner that will ultimately bring our family closer.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    bethany July 25, 2012, 9:41 am

    WWS.

    If you don’t want them to be all over you all the time, don’t allow them to. It’s not going to be easy, but it has to be done. You’ve allowed them to baby you for 28 years, so it’s going to be a tough habbit to break, but it’s gotta be done… Just imagine what it’ll be like if you have kids one day, and you don’t set boundaries with your parents… They’ll be at your house all the time, and they’ll be even more up in your business than they are now!!

    Reply Link
  • katie

    katie July 25, 2012, 9:46 am

    to add to Wendy’s lovely advice, i would think about ways that it is ok for them to show you love… like, right now, your mother thinks that cleaning your apartment = love for her daughter. so, while you creating the boundaries you need to create, you need to give them alternative ways to show that love. like, you cant just completely “shut them out” of loving you. so, instead of cleaning your apartment, maybe get your mom to see that cooking you a huge brunch once a month = love for her daughter. give them acceptable ways to show that love, and then you will (hopefully) both be happy.

    Reply Link
    • Budj

      Budj July 25, 2012, 9:50 am

      Great suggestion.

      Reply Link
    • iwannatalktosampson

      iwannatalktosampson July 25, 2012, 9:54 am

      Weird – I have told my mom she can best show me love through lululemon purchases. I didn’t know this was a “thing”. Good for me for setting boundaries.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        MMcG July 25, 2012, 6:12 pm

        Beware the Ayn Rand indoctrination amongst the yoga gear!! 🙂

        Link
  • avatar

    j2 July 25, 2012, 9:49 am

    Give them a puppy. Maybe even two from same litter. Jack Russells.

    They will suddenly have lots to do and lots to talk about that is not your personal biz.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      redessa July 25, 2012, 11:20 am

      Yes! My parents have 2 dogs. They seriously refer to them as my brothers. It actually kind of bothered me for a little while but then I decided I’m glad they something so meaningful to them and an excuse to get my mom out of the house and exercising a little (walking the dogs). It’s really been a good thing for them.

      Reply Link
  • Kristina

    Kristina July 25, 2012, 9:51 am

    I don’t know why you’ve essentially given up on a family that appears to love and care about you. Do you know how lucky you are? None of these things you mention seem like major, dysfunctional problems to me. They are fixable. Set the boundaries like Wendy said, because that will make a huge difference in how you and your parents can interact. Everyone needs boundaries with their family. But also, stop blaming your problems with your parents on being Eastern European – that has little to do with it – it’s just a handy excuse for you to use. I’m Polish and my family is far from overbearing, so stop with the sweeping generalizations. When you start letting go of that idea and realize that this is a fixable problem, things will be much better. So set some boundaries, and don’t give in.

    Reply Link
    • katie

      katie July 25, 2012, 9:57 am

      well, i agree with you about the generalizations thing, but.. there is a vast difference between the american/western european (kinda) way of life relating to children/parent relationships and the rest of the world.

      in america, children are expected to grow up, move out, and then have some sort of weird christmastime/birthday/whatever holiday or special occasion or vacation kind of relationship with their parents. pretty much everywhere else, multiple generations live together, and the parents are much much more involved in the kids life. i dunno if one is better then the other, but that is the way it is. so, if the parents are going at this from a “non-american” place, and she is wanting to have a more “american” relationship with her parents, there is an issue of culture going on… it doesnt mean that everyone who is eastern european will be like that, but it is still a thing.

      Reply Link
      • Budj

        Budj July 25, 2012, 10:11 am

        I think you are really generalizing parent / child relationships in America too…I’m at my parents almost every Sunday.

        Link
      • katie

        katie July 25, 2012, 10:16 am

        well, for one thing, look at how negatively people are viewed when they live with their parents after like early twenties… in our culture, we are expected to have independance and be seperate from our families, to blaze our own trail or whatever…

        Link
      • Budj

        Budj July 25, 2012, 10:19 am

        but that doesn’t include essentially severing ties with your family all but for a vacation or holidays. It is completely possible to balance both. Yes – if I did not live in the same town as my parents I would not see them as often…

        and unfortunately for that stigma there are A LOT of people still living with their parents and I only see that getting more common.

        Link
      • katie

        katie July 25, 2012, 10:43 am

        no, no, i dont mean to imply severing ties…. i just meant to emphasize the indepedence that is expected, or perhaps wanted, as we can see by this letter, a lot more in americas culture.

        and not that either way is bad, like i said. they are just different, and when the parents are trying to act one way and the child wants something different, you get conflicts… the opposite conflict is the adult child who still lives at home and the parents kick them out..

        Link
      • Budj

        Budj July 25, 2012, 11:09 am

        Yea – sorry, read into your comment a little bit more than I should have.

        Link
      • Kristina

        Kristina July 25, 2012, 10:13 am

        I consider myself way more European than I do American even though I was born in the U.S. because of the way I was brought up. There might be some issue of culture, but for a country that is a melting pot of other cultures, there is no ‘American’ relationship with parents. Just because her family is Eastern European doesn’t mean that they live any differently from other Americans. She wants to have a better and more ‘normal’ relationship with her parents, but it’s hard to know how her culture plays a role in it. I just felt like she was blaming it on being Eastern European, as if it were something completely unfixable, with no hope for change.

        Link
      • katie

        katie July 25, 2012, 10:18 am

        i agree with your last sentence very much.. definitely.

        i just know that those kinds of differences are things i have observed in other people and how they interact with their families, and even how people react when i tell them about my life… i knew a lady from mexico once, who when i told her i was making the trip from san antonio, tx back to colorado, and i was doing it alone freaked out. she said that if i had a mexican mom, she would fly down and make the trip with me because thats “what they do with thier children” or whatever she said…

        Link
      • avatar

        quixoticbeatnik July 25, 2012, 10:37 am

        That reminds me of when I was moving home to transfer to another college. It was a 8-9 hour drive, which isn’t very fun. Normally my dad drives up there and back with me, but this time I wanted to just drive back by myself since it didn’t really make sense for him to fly up, plus I had a of stuff to take home. My mom did NOT like that idea at all, but I basically told her that’s what I was going to do since it was the best thing to do and that I would text her whenever I stopped along the way.

        Link
      • avatar

        aron September 1, 2012, 5:29 pm

        Ya people don’t understand eastern Europeans are somehwhat different. While everyone in the west was finding freedom, eastern europe was a strict dictatorship 20 years ago so here parents prolly grew up with some of it…

        I find people in general in the west are narrow mindd in regards to this kind of thing.

        Link
  • genevathene

    genevathene July 25, 2012, 10:34 am

    Oh LW, I just wanted to say…I know exactly how you feel! I am younger than you, and not an only child, but my Polish immigrant parents often pull the same tactics on me. Mine try to tell me that until I am 25, I am completely under their jurisdiction since “[my] brain will not have matured before then”. Heck, they refuse to meet my boyfriend of four years, partly because he’s not Polish and/or Catholic, but mainly because they don’t think I should be dating until my late twenties! (And of course, marry right away after that…) I recently moved abroad, mainly for career purposes, but I’ll admit the vast time zone difference has been a convenient excuse to get some space.

    I also struggle to assert my independence, and will admit to taking the spineless easy way out…I keep telling myself that if I wait until I’m just a little bit older, they’ll finally realize that I can take care of myself, and “let” me grow up. Hearing your story (and Wendy’s great advice) was a huge wake up call for me, so thank you for sharing it (as exasperating as the situation must be for you!).

    One thing that’s helped me is to realize that it’s not ME that’s crazy, it’s my parents. Sometimes, I find myself believing that I really am too young to be on my own, and that I’m an awful person for disagreeing with my own parents, who are supposed to “know best” after all. And this coming from someone who is career focused and financially independent! I realize not all Eastern European families are like this, but it’s not necessarily that uncommon among immigrant families that I know, either. So next time you’re feeling down about this, check out the MLIP (My Life Is Polish — I am sure there are equivalents for other countries) for some comic relief about immigrant parents’ idiosyncrasies. It can be a little corny at times, but it’s helped remind me that I’m not alone in this.

    Good luck learning to stand up to them — please write back about how things go for you! (So I can learn from your experience… 🙂 )

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Sue Jones July 25, 2012, 10:37 am

    My parents were overbearing too (and my ancestors lived in Eastern Europe, for whatever that’s worth…). I dealt with it by finding employment and colleges on the opposite coast. When they moved to the same coast that I was living in, I still limited my visits to 3 days at a time a few times per year. You need to be polite, respectful, and to create some distance. And some therapy would not be unfounded. I am not saying you are crazy, but you need to develop some tools and have a professional to work on these issues. I know that it helped me. Otherwise you will keep getting triggered all the time. I learned to eventually have a sense of humor about them, but it took a lot of work! I was a good daughter to my parents until they passed away, but I must tell you that I did not grieve the way most people do ( I did grieve, but it was not what one would expect), for whatever that is worth….

    And yes, after a particularly painful breakup, my mother started railing at me how people just don’t stay together anymore and how immature I was. He left me and I was devastated! (and it turned out that he did me a favor by doing so… but that is another story) There are some sensitivity pieces missing… but if they are toxic, you need to do what you need to do to stay healthy, not triggered, and to deal with them with a sense of humor. And if they are willing, family therapy may be warranted.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    evanscr05 July 25, 2012, 10:51 am

    Your parents are pretty similar to my MIL, though, your folks are definitely a lot more extreme. Fortunately, my husband has a sister, and she has a son, so he doesn’t get the brunt of the crazy. My SIL is like you; she’s not sure how to handle her mom’s overbearing and intrusive behavior, so she just lies down and takes it because otherwise my MIL will start crying and basically laying the guilt down on her hard. It’s ridiculous. My husband, though, doesn’t have the same issues only because he’s learned how to put her in her place from time to time. She’s still intrusive, but it’s a lot more manageable for us.

    Like Wendy said, what your parents are doing and saying truly doesn’t come from any place of malice, but a genuine place of love and concern for you, their child. But, the problem is, though you’ll always be THEIR child, you’re no longer A child, and that is something they are probably not dealing with well. It’s that whole need to be needed thing. My MIL is the same way. Her kids moved states away, which means her only grandchild is states away, her husband works all the time because he is self-employed, and she hurt her back a couple of years ago so she can’t work full time and she’s plainly bored. She needs to be needed in some capacity, so when she gets to have her children around, she reverts back to that parenting role and overcompensates for the fact that she doesn’t get to provide that kind of guidance and care any longer. I think your parents are doing the same. Does it suck? Hell yes! But I think understanding the WHY makes it easier to deal with it.

    The only thing you really can do, like Wendy said, is to start asserting yourself more. There will be tears or hurtful words, and they definitely will not appreciate it. But you have to just keep putting your foot down. Change your locks, if you can, so they can’t just drop by any more. When they start berating you over things on the phone, hang up, or in person, just leave. Don’t allow them to treat you like a child. Don’t change decisions just to bend to their will because its easier. Do what is best for you. If you can get away with treating people a certain way to get the outcome you want, why change? They might come around after they see that you aren’t doing what they want anymore. They might not change at all, but there’s nothing you can do about that. That’s their issue. Just be persistant in your dealings with them and in time it will become easier for you.

    Oh, and stop apologizing!

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    SherBear July 25, 2012, 10:54 am

    I have spent the past couple years setting boundaries with my parents (in particular my mother) and let me tell you, while it was hard at times it was very much worth it!!! She had a habit of dumping all of her “issues” onto me which made her feel better to vent but stressed me out because her problems became my problems. I told her point blank what I would and would not discuss with her, or if it was something I would discuss but at a different time I would tell her that. I also made sure to have a neutral reaction to her stories and such which is not the reaction she was looking for which in turn made her less likely to want to tell them to me. While their was some resistance on her end and some hurt feelings from me cutting her off while she was speaking she eventually learned the boundaries and adheres to them much better than before. I also no longer feel guilty for not engaging with her – I just remind myself that my mental health is my number one priority and dealing with her life stresses is not healthy for me.

    Be clear to yourself on what behavior you will and will not accept and stick to it! Do not engage with them if they get angry, simply tell them you will discuss it at another time and remove yourself from the situation. It will be hardest at first but over time it will make your life that much better. Good luck!!

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    LANY July 25, 2012, 11:09 am

    LW, good luck in dealing with this – there will be growing pains, but think about how worth it setting boundaries will be in the future if/when you have kids and your parents reach a whole new level of crazy…

    They have defined what “love” means to them, and it will likely be difficult to change years and years of their being this way. They are probably reflecting how their parents treated them to an extent. Perhaps you may want to write them a letter stating how much you love them and WHY, the things they have done which you appreciate, and outlining what does and does not work for you – and giving it to them at their first freak out at your boundary-setting. That way they have something to go back to and read when they are feeling unappreciated (or that you can at least go tell them to read)…

    Reply Link
    • Diablo

      Diablo July 25, 2012, 11:21 am

      I don’t know about this. Having a talk sets the tone, but the details can be forgotten and smoothed over later. Putting it in writing gives them something specific and undisputable to resent forever. Writing things down for people has never worked well for me.

      Reply Link
  • Diablo

    Diablo July 25, 2012, 11:12 am

    You know, it’s funny how the more people try to defend this as not being a “European” thing, the more examples seem to suggest that there is a cultural difference that plays here, though obviously not in every case. My wife’s parents came from Germany after WWII, and they follow this mold very closely. My FIL is like a combination of Colonel Von Trapp from The Sound of Music and the father from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. He was controlling to the point of attempting to prohibit two of his daughters to date particular guys. In Canada, things are pretty similar to the US, with people aspiring to get out on their own as soon as they can make it, and people being free to date anyone they like. Because of this attempt to control, my wife left her family home permanently at 17. By the time I met her at age 26, she had very little relationship with her parents. They tried to bully me out of the picture too, and were forced to accept that I was here to stay. They REALLY didn’t want us living (and OMG sleeping!) together before marriage, and when we would visit at Christmas or Easter, I would sleep in a separate room at their house until we were married, 4 years later. By contrast, the first time I took her to my parents (who are more typical modern folks) in another city, my Dad took me aside and just confirmed “You ARE sleeping with this girl, right?” My inlaws’ resentment still surfaces from time to time, but Wendy’s advice is correct: just assert the life you are going to live and then allow your family to be a part of it on your terms. They railed against us, downplayed our relationship, said it wouldn’t last, that I wasn’t a solid guy, etc. At this point, my wife is the only one of her siblings who has not been divorced, and I think that sticks in their craw more than anything: that I AM the right guy for their daughter, even though we defied them. The defiance mattered more than who I am. Ultimately, you can only control your response, to your parents, or to the world. Very few of us can control our circumstances.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Lindsay July 25, 2012, 11:13 am

    I feel like the LW was probably using “child” in reference to being her parent’s daughter, not as opposed to an adult. But that’s not really the point. Anyway, Wendy made all the right points, as usual.

    I’d suggest that in the process of building boundaries, maybe creating new traditions with your family. Like having them over for dinner sometimes (in which they are to act like guests, not keepers) or having a mom-daughter brunch out. Not only will they feel less like you’re shutting them out, but you will be forming a more adult relationship. The idea of parental love you have is a myth because everyone’s families are different, and a lot of them are screwed up. But I think you’ll be happier with your relationship if you are able to set boundaries and interact with your parents as an adult daughter.

    You also commented on how you don’t want your relationship with your parents to affect you finding someone to marry. I think you’re taking that whole concept a little too literally. Sometimes people do have issues with romantic relationships based on things that happened to them growing up. Like people who are unsure of how loving relationships work because their parents didn’t love each other, or what not. But it’s not a formula. And you’re 28, so you’d know if you had relationship issues already. Don’t worry too much over this.

    Reply Link
    • Fabelle

      Fabelle July 25, 2012, 11:25 am

      I really like your last point– that part of the letter stuck out to me as well, & if the LW keeps thinking that way, she could possibly end up dooming herself in some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    painted_lady July 25, 2012, 11:26 am

    Hey, LW. I have a slightly overbearing mom. We are friends as well (God, please don’t everyone start lecturing me on “Parents aren’t friends,” I swear, guys) and when I started forging my own path, it was mom-disapproves-plus-close-friend-thinks-you’re-an-idiot style self-doubt because my boyfriend and I were talking about moving in together, and she immediately started grilling me on how we were going to pay for that since he’s getting a second degree and will be in school for another couple of years. I told her I would probably be carrying the bulk of the financial weight for the first year or so, and she – who was a SAHM who decided not to go back to work after my brother and I left home – freaked out on me and called me crazy and told me I was letting my boyfriend, formerly my best friend of 16 years so hardly a stranger, pull a fast one on me. Overbearing parents come in many forms, and each forms has its own set of issues.

    Each time I tried to pull away initially and set some boundaries, I got the “I gave birth to you and raised you and now you’re off doing THIS and how DARE you have a life AT me” wailing and gnashing of teeth and it was all very tragic, and I initially just lied about what I was doing because I didn’t want to deal. Then…I realized, wait, I’m a grown-up, and it’s not like I need her to sign a permission slip, so I will do this and SHE WILL DEAL. When I got the howling guilt trips, I would simply say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, and I wish you would stop making my decisions about you. SO, moving on, what’s going on with (tv show/friend/brother who makes way stupider life decisions than me).” I left once. Politely, with a smile on my face, but got up, said, “I think it’s probably best that I go since you really want to have this conversation I have no interest in having,” and left. If I got the “You must think I’m such an awful mother,” the response was always, “Mom, I never said that, but that also doesn’t mean that this particular thing that is making me frustrated right now isn’t a shitty thing to do.” It was like a tantrum. She was doing this to me – guilt tripping me into living my life for her, manipulating me out of holding her responsible for her actions – because it always worked. As much as it irritates me, she’s not being intentionally evil – she’s trying to encourage me to do what’s right, which she’s done all my life – but she wasn’t even aware she was doing anything wrong, which meant I couldn’t just say, “Knock it off.” I had to figure out what end result she was going for and refuse to ever let that happen again. You can do the same. Yelling at you for living like a normal twentysomething? Tell them to stop yelling and that you are the only one who is allowed to make decisions about your dating life anymore. If they refuse to cooperate, walk out of the house. If they come running after you? Keep walking. If they call you a bunch of times? Don’t answer the phone. Refuse to tell them anything about your boyfriends until their behavior becomes more civil. Mom comes over to clean? Don’t let her in. She says you hate her? Tell her no, but you still don’t want her cleaning your house. They guilt you for time and money spent? Tell them you want neither unless it comes without strings. It sounds like you’re afraid of their anger. What happens if they get really angry? What happens if they yell and they scream after you leave or ask them to? You’re not around to hear it. Seriously, what is the worst their anger can do? THEY WILL GET OVER IT. Life will go on , even if you let them stew in their own anger. They will be terribly angry. They will probably call you names that you won’t hear because you have hung up or left, and the world will keep on spinning, and they will still love you because they’re your parents. The first time I ended a conversation with my mom without apologizing to her for her acting like a crazy woman and didn’t pick up until I’d calmed down enough to have a conversation, it felt AMAZING. I felt so powerful. Yeah, it was scary as hell. It terrified the shit out of me! But oh my god, I didn’t have to deal with her mindfucks EVER AGAIN. Try it. Try refusing to engage. See what happens.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      evanscr05 July 25, 2012, 11:36 am

      Really excellent advice! I like the specific example you gave of things you’ve said that have worked. I hope the LW tries to use some of those!

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        rangerchic July 25, 2012, 12:07 pm

        Its funny you mention you are friends with your mom as well. I think that is great! I’m also friends with my parents. As an adult you can do that – not so much as a kid. Just last night my mom texted me asking when I was going to take a half day off to spend with her since I haven’t done that in a while (my job is very flexible). It felt nice that she wanted to spend time with me!
        You have great advice PL. I don’t have anything to add – I haven’t had to go through overbearing parents to that extreme (though I think all kids have to face their parents for being overbearing at some point). Good luck to the LW!

        Link
    • KKZ

      KKZ July 25, 2012, 2:57 pm

      Wow, sounds very similar to what goes on with me and my mom – except she usually doesn’t pull the guilt-trip “I’m your mother and have done so much for you” stuff – she just overflows with unsolicited advice, and grills me over my decisions and opinions. But I can relate to that feeling of “mom disapproves and friend thinks I’m an idiot.” Maybe because I’m the first child, but my parents’ approval has always meant a lot to me, something I am only recently starting to break free from.

      I actually just wrote a post over in the forum about my relationship with her. If you have time, would love your thoughts – but no pressure of course, it would be courtesy if you did!

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      MMcG July 25, 2012, 6:30 pm

      “it’s not like I need her to sign a permission slip”

      THIS!!! I know it can be hard, but LW you are way past the point of asking for permission. It may be touchy depending on your financial situation (if people contribute they get a say) but this just seemed so simple… ask yourself “do i need mom and dad to sign a permission slip for me to do this” and every time the answer is NO you can reinforce in your own mind you aren’t doing anything wrong. REPEAT – YOU ARE NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG TRYING TO LIVE YOUR LIFE!!

      Also, and I haven’t commented that long but i might be known as the question and book lady if I keep this up… but please read a couple of books. I find that taking the leap to therapy and talking about it can be a really big step for people and learning a little on your own, getting some of the vocab down (BOUNDARIES ARE FOR HAPPY PEOPLE) can help determine if you need to take that extra step. My fiance is just coming to terms with his controlling parents and the tentacles that reach into things you never imagined… because you don’t realize you are being hardwired to react in a certain way when you are 5 – 8 – 14.

      Start of looking at this one (http://www.amazon.com/If-You-Had-Controlling-Parents/dp/0060929324/?&tag=dearwecom-20&linkCode=wsw&) and check around the other Amazon recs… you might be surprised what you learn just by using the look inside feature which enables you to read certain sections. And OT tip: if you reload the page different pages may come up to peak at!!

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    Jubietta July 25, 2012, 11:32 am

    LW, congratulations! No, seriously, congratulations…you’ve outgrown your childhood and I see you in the middle of “coming of age” growing pains. This is all good news. You have to go through this to move forward and define your own life.

    My concern is that your critical focus is on the wrong things.

    Number one: you’re looking outside of yourself for direction. Take this opportunity to sit down and list the things in your life you’d like to create in the next 5 years…positive stuff you want to “create” not the stuff you want to stop doing, especially the big dreams that feel outside the realm of reality right now. When you’re clear about your list…follow another person’s advice above and ask your parents to help with these things rather than spending their time and money on things you can handle for yourself. It’s like redirecting a puppy who wants to chew on your best work shoes…you have to give them something else to stick in their mouth or the situation’s never going to change.

    Number two: the deficiency (or maybe just difference) with your parent’s parenting style isn’t about love…it’s about not having an exit strategy. My guess is that they never planned for life beyond their duties parenting for you (in business these types of folks are fantastic at starting successful new companies and then running them into the ground because they stay too long at the party.) Your parents managed you, and themselves, as if the parent/child relationship was a stable, unchanging thing in which they were always the responsible parties. They’re incorrect, and they’ve failed to teach you the skills that would allow this transition you’re in to go smoothly: independence, internal drive, constructive conflict and maybe even the ability to identify and avoid appropriate partners who cannot contribute to healthy relationships. (And they also failed to develop their own skills at being a post-kiddo couple with their own interests and dreams.) And you know what…no big deal. It’s your turn to teach yourself those things and hold your parents accountable to handle themselves. NONE OF US gets out of childhood with all the tools we need to be adults…some things each of us has to learn by falling flat on our faces and picking ourselves up to try again.

    Number three: quit hiding behind labels and stereotypes. If you continue to generalize the issues you’ll work against the wrong things. Your family heritage of being any one thing isn’t something that can change…you’ll always be Eastern European. The real issue is that things don’t work the way you want them to work. If you don’t have the tools to do this on your own, find a good friend or counselor who can help you take those old thoughts put of the equatn when you’re trying to solve old problems.

    Good luck, and remember to be kind to yourself as you transition through this growth spurt. Like a growing body needs the right nutrition, a growing heart needs the right support as well. Good friends, good advice, a break from the stress once in a while.

    Reply Link
  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark July 25, 2012, 11:38 am

    Gee, I wish my parents would show up every few weeks to clean my apartment. I get that it’s annoying to have people going through your stuff, but I’d probably just hide things a bit better or get a trunk with a big padlock and just welcome the fact that I no longer have to be my own maid.

    In all seriousness, I guess, I’d just keep setting boundaries. Oh, and tell them that had they wanted you to live your whole life like you were still in Eastern Europe they would have been wise to have simply stayed there then if it was so fucking great… 😉

    Also, if you don’t want your folks giving unsolicited advice on your relationships, don’t involve them in your break ups. Put on a happy face when you are around them. You have to understand that if you sit around moping and being depressed and crying over some guy — for them to attack the cause of your sadness, i.e. the guy who just broke your heart… that really is only to be expected. It’s actually a very common reaction.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    oldie July 25, 2012, 11:45 am

    I agree with WWS, but will take it a little farther. Part of being adult is not alway apologizing to end and argument or the silent treatment, when you know you are right. Your pattern of ending every dispute with an apology from you simply reinforces your parents behavior. It says you know that they are right and that you are just an overly rebellious child. You need a new approach. Agree to disagree. If that doesn’t work, tell them that their yelling and arguing is non-productive and that you will see them later. Then just leave. Wendy is right, you do behave like a little girl, rather than as an independent adult, in these disputes with your parent.

    I think this is an Eastern European thing, but it happens in a lot of cultures transplanted to the United States or the northern part of western Europe. THose cultures do not allow as much independence to women, especially unmarried women. My sister-in-law is Ukranian. Your parents are more Americanized than hers. She is late 50s and her parents are from the generation where unmarried daughters simply do not live on their own. She at least got to go to college. I’m a little older and grew up with a fair number of Eastern European girls in my HS or in the neighborhood. Some were not allowed to go to college. None were allowed to date in HS.

    You need to both understand that your parents do love you and work on being more independent and adult. This includes being financially independent. My wife is not Eastern European, but she also learned right out of college that if she couldn’t be financially independent, her freedom would be very limited. The purse strings can always be used to exert control.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    AliceInDairyLand July 25, 2012, 10:48 am

    This really hit home for me. I may have stated in the comments before, but my mother and I are going through some serious issues in a way we never did when I was younger or in my teens (I am 22 now). We were really close when I was younger, and I realize now that I was an emotional crutch for her to lean on when my father cheated on her and they attempted to repair the relationship. I spent a lot of time listening to her and providing emotional support that a child definitely should not be providing, and am only now realizing how wrong that is. I have been attempting to draw boundaries and ease my way out of the position of confidante for her, as I feel it is inappropriate and unfair to my father.

    However I started doing this at the exact same time I have been dating my boyfriend, and she is taking her anger at me setting boundaries and channeling it towards him. Every time I mention him or us at home she makes some sort of side remark or how she just doesn’t understand him (he is very quiet, she is very loud in social gatherings). I tend to just tell her that her opinion on him does not matter to me (sometimes in a nice way, but not always) and change the subject. At the beginning this was extremely hard on me as I had always strived for my parents’ approval but almost 2 years into the relationship it is getting a lot easier for me to brush her off and I don’t visit home as much.

    Just this week The Boy and I had a discussion about our future, marriage, kids, etc and a possible timeline (which was terrifying, but a necessary conversation). He lives on a farm roughly 7 minutes away from my parents house, which is where we would plan on living our life together. It makes me nervous thinking about how I will draw boundaries with my mother once we are married and have kids, without completely cutting her out of my life either.

    Anyways, this whole rant is to tell the LW that you are not the only one who has trouble drawing boundaries and that as your life goes on it’s probably only going to get harder so it’s best to start today. We will work on it together. Also I am planning on going to therapy to work on a myriad of issues, but also to look for advice on specific techniques I can use to draw boundaries with my mother and deal with her anger without internalizing it. This might be something to consider if you can afford it.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      painted_lady July 25, 2012, 11:33 am

      Oh wow. Your mom sounds SO much like mine, and a lot of the reason my mom and I have had blurry boundaries is because my dad can be kind of an asshole and she’s always leaned on me. I don’t regret it, but disentangling myself has been rough. Good you’re doing it now at 22 instead of waiting another six years like I did!

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        AliceInDairyLand July 25, 2012, 12:35 pm

        Read your post, will comment on it below. But you have no idea how “relieved” I am to know I am not the only person who struggles with this. I feel like I didn’t have a good way to explain it up until a few months ago and no one had any idea what I meant because my parents are so awesome in so many other ways.

        Link
      • avatar

        MMcG July 25, 2012, 6:20 pm

        Quick tidbit: After the man I was in a long-term, thought we were headed to the alter relationship broke my heart by cheating on me… my mom decided that a way to make me feel better was the share that my Dad cheated on her (with a photo!). There were extenuating circumstances (they weren’t married, he was in Vietnam and not on vacation, she was a pro in one of the places where they went for R&R, etc.) but in that moment I couldn’t wrap my head around what was being said and it made it worse.

        Of course, that guy was a douche and he did me a favor now it’s something that Mom and I can chuckle about… but at the time it was such a shock because she had never acted anywhere close to that before and all of a sudden it was like – you’re in your late 20s let’s just talk like adults. Ummm no, that’s still my dad, and gross;)

        Link
  • avatar

    EricaSwagger July 25, 2012, 11:21 am

    Reading this, I kept thinking about something I read like two years ago… A girl was having a hard time dealing with her parents’ role in her life, and decided to “break up” with them. Just the idea that people are allowed to do this made me feel so free. My own parents are overbearing in a lot of ways, but I know it’s because they love me so much. Still, the idea that if it ever gets to be too much, I can walk away and say “I don’t want you in my life for a while” makes me feel better.

    LW, Wendy’s advice is perfect. You are an adult, so act like one. Your parents might not like it, they might try to make you feel guilty (my parents are great at that), they might push even harder to be close with you. But sometimes parents need that slap in the face. Sometimes they miss the moment when their child turns from a kid to a self-sufficient adult who doesn’t need them anymore. Sometimes parents don’t realize that by trying so hard to help their kids, they’re doing more harm than good. Sometimes parents done understand that their kids need to do things on their own.

    Remind them. It will definitely hurt them to hear “guys, I don’t need you anymore” but it’s the reality of life and they’ll accept it eventually. Once they do, you’ll be closer, as 3 adults instead of parents and child.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Marty July 28, 2012, 10:22 am

    Something I read recently in a book:

    Part of the necessary function of being a parent is looking after the needs of the child, preventing the child from getting into danger, and at times telling the child what to do and not to do. When being a parent becomes an identify, however, when your sense of self is entirely or largely derived from it, the function easily becomes overemphasized, exaggerated, and takes you over. Giving children what they need becomes excessive and turns into spoiling; preventing them from getting into danger becomes overprotectiveness and interferes with their need to explore the world and try things out for themselves. Telling children what to do or not to do becomes controlling, overbearing.

    What is more, the role-playing identity remains in place long after the need for those particular functions has passed. Parents cannot let go of being a parent even when the child grows into an adult. The role of parent is still being played compulsively, and so there is no authentic relationship. If their desire to control of influence the actions of their adult child is thwarted – as it usually is – they will start to criticize or show their disapproval, or try to make the child feel guilty, all in an unconscious attempt to preserve their role, their identity. All egoic motivations are self-enhancement and self-interest, sometimes cleverly disguised.

    If the mostly unconscious assumptiions and motivations behind the parent’s compulsion to manipulate their children were made conscious and voiced, they would probably include some or all of the following: “I want you to achieve what I never achieved; I want you to be somebody in the eyes of the world, so that I too can be somebody through you. Don’t disappoint me. I sacrificed so much for you. My disapproval of you is intended to make you feel so guilty and uncomfortable that you finally conform to my wishes. And it goes without saying that I know what’s best for you. I love you and I will continue to love you if you do what I know is right for you.”

    Awareness is the greatest agent for change.

    If your parents are doing this to you, do not tell them they are unconscious and in the grip of the ego. That will likely make them even more unconscious, because the ego will take up a defensive position. It is enough for you to recognize that it is the ego in them, that it is not who they are. Egoic patterns, even long-standing ones, sometimes dissolve almost miraculously when you don’t oppose them internally. Opposition only gives them renewed strength. But even if they don’t, you can then accept your parents’ behavior with compassion, without needing to react to it, that is to say, without personalizing it.

    Be aware also of your own unconscious assumptions or expectations that lie behind your old, habitual reactions to them. “My parents should approve of what I do. They should understand me and accept me for who I am.” Really? Why should they? The fact is they don’t because they can’t. Their evolving consciousness hasn’t made the quantum leap to the level of awareness yet. They are not able to disidentify from their role. “Yes, but I can’t feel happy/comfortable with who I am unless I have their approval and understanding.” Really? What difference does their approval or disapproval truly make to who you are? All such unexamined assumptions cause a great deal of negative emotion, much unnecessary unhappiness.

    The book is called “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle if you are interested in checking it out.
    P.S. I also have overbearing Eastern European parents…

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Stephanie August 26, 2017, 3:17 pm

    Welcome to the European immigrant family. Move across the country with your boyfriend. Visit one week a year and call once a month or you will end up being a character from Like Water for Chocolate. They don’t change. RUN.

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment