“My Mom Got Matching Friend Tattoos and Now I Can’t Relate to Her”

I’m a 20-something living about an hour away from my hometown for work, and I’m pretty close to my mother. We usually talk every weekday morning as I walk to the bus. My mom is in her late 40s, and she’s rediscovering her youth with new work friends who are around my age. She goes out drinking, goes to concerts, and she got matching tattoos with her friends. I’m happy for her, but she also seems like she’s emotionally fragile lately and I’m having trouble relating to her and feel guilty that I’m beginning to feel closer to my dad and stepmom.

Lately, when my mom and I have talked, she’s been sounding really stressed out, or like she just got done crying. She has friend drama as well as relationship drama. Her current boyfriend is a recovering alcoholic, and when he lost his job a few months ago, he went on a drinking binge, then stopped drinking again. So he’s not the most stable. (He’s better than the exes, sadly. At least this one has savings to get through a period of unemployment).

My mother also has money issues that I can’t relate to. We make comparable salaries, but she works a second job two days a week to help with money and has a lot more financial responsibilities than I do, like a house and my younger siblings to care for. Money’s always been tight for her since she and my dad split 13 years ago, and she doesn’t have much savings, if any.

On the flip side, my dad and stepmom have done more to cultivate a family environment, and I feel guilty that I’m closer to my dad, when my dad kind of sucked when my parents divorced. Like, my mom definitely did more work to raise us. And my dad could have helped more, especially financially, but he didn’t. He’s gotten better about it now that my youngest sibling is over 18 (and still living at home), but he’s still had a pretty cushy financial existence while my mother has not. And so I feel bad that I related better to my father than I do to my mother.

I guess I’m wondering how to deal with these feelings of guilt. I’m also worried about my mother and her various dramas — with money, her relationship, and her friends — and want to know how I can help her be happier. Advice? — Worried About Mama

It may feel like your mom is “rediscovering her youth,” but she’s still very much an adult (in her late 40s) who raised her kids on her own with little help from her ex-husband, and I think she can probably handle her current drama just fine. It’s one thing if you have a legitimate reason to worry about her safety or well-being, but if you’re simply concerned that her feelings are being hurt, stop worrying and let her live her life.

It can be confusing when lifelong relationships and relationship dynamics shift. Up until recently, your mother was an authority figure and care-giver in your life, and that seems no longer to be the case. But that doesn’t mean there’s any less love between you or that you aren’t as close as you once were or could be. And living such different lives or having different sets of priorities will never change the fact that she is your mother and she loves you.

Even you becoming close to the man who disappointed her — and likely, you — for so many years can’t change that. You will always, always be your mother’s daughter, and that is a bond that, for as long as you want it to be, is stronger than almost anything. No change in dynamics or relationship drama in either of your lives or feelings of guilt on your part for not being whatever it is you think your mom wants or doesn’t want you to be is ever going to change what you are to each other.

You aren’t responsible for any part of your mother’s life, now or in the past. Maybe one day, hopefully far in the future, you will have to opportunity, should you want it, to take responsibility of caring for your mother like so many adult children care for their elderly parents. But that day is not now. And it certainly wasn’t years ago when you were a teenager and your parents divorced.

You have no responsibility to your mother but to continue being a loving daughter and to be as happy and satisfied in life as you can. That’s all any good parent wants of her child. And as long as you are using the tools and skills your parents taught you growing up, you have zero to feel guilty about. You are already giving your mother a great gift simply by being YOU. That the you you are today is different than the person your mother is now doesn’t lessen that gift in any way. And it is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. Yeah, WWS. LW, relationships can definitely change with time, especially those with your parents. It’s hard when you feel like you’ve got your shit together more than your mom (I know that one from personal experience), but you have to trust that she is an adult and will figure it out.

  2. cut your mom some slack….she raised her kids….now is her time to have fun….if you want her to be happy don’t be so down on her for going out and enjoying life

  3. you shouldnt feel guilt that you are closer to one parent at this moment in time, or that it just seems you are closer to one parent, or if you literally are closer to one parent. sometimes thats just how it works, you know? i dont get along with my dad. i hardly ever talk to him, we hardly ever see each other. my sister, on the other hand, is very close to him, i think they talk almost daily. and thats just how it works, that is how we have grown and changed and structured our lives. it doesnt mean i dont love my dad or anything, when we see each other we have a good time, he stays at my house sometimes, ect, we just arent as close as either others are or our culture tells daughters and fathers to be, or as close as my sister and he are. i think the moral of it is that you cant compare yourself and your life to any other measuring stick other then: are you happy/fulfilled/content?

    also, my mom is like this, minus the drama. or at least, if she has drama, she doesnt tell me about it. my mom goes out more then i do, and sort of frequently when i call her she has to go because its almost bar and dancing time. i think its hilarious. she is having a great time with herself right now, free of me, and sort of free of my sister and my other sort of sister, and so she is living it up. i welcome that. i dont balk against that change in dynamics or that change in relationship because i know my mom is a big girl and has the ability to make these choices for herself. plus, she is way more fun at weddings now. haha

  4. WWS & also WKS. It doesn’t seem like you’re too, TOO ~worried~ about the way she’s conducting her life—you’re just feeling ~out of sync~ with her due to the way she’s conducting her life? And that’s cool, & NOTHING to feel guilty over. If your dad & stepmom are providing you with more of a sense of family right now, that’s also fine. Even if your dad was “shitty” during the divorce. Sometimes parents act shittily, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make it up to you later (assuming acting “shittily” doesn’t encompass abuse or the like, obviously). Ebb, & flow, & all that.

    1. Also, to sort of give an example from my own life— after my grandma died 12 years ago, my grandpa sort of got himself a whole different life? He was always healthy & active, but he started scuba diving again (it had been a hobby he had as a teen/early twenties guy) & made friends with all these young, affluent types. Now that he’s 85 (almost 86) & has developed some health problems, we definitely worry over him, & worry whether these people he hangs around with have his best interests at heart. But he’s still an adult of sound mind, like your mother is, so we take a relatively hands-off approach (although, of course, due to his age, more hands-on that you should/need to be in your situation).

      Oh, as a side note— did anyone else read the “I’m in my early twenties, my mom is in her late forties” & assume the mom had the LW when she was super young? Then I did the actual math, & realized no, that’s normal. My parents are just old. haha

      1. Not necessarily super young. Let’s say daughter is 22 and mother is 48.

      2. First kid at 24, last kid before 30.

      3. Your grandpa sounds awesome! And I had the same realization that my parents are totally old!

      4. Ha, ha. I was thinking the mom was on the older side if the LW is her first (she does mention younger siblings but not older). Then I did the math and realized she’s not. It’s just that I had my kids kind of young (not teen mom young, but starting in my early 20’s) .

      5. Yeah, I thought she had a young mom too. But then, my mom was pushing 60 when I was in college.

  5. Sunshine Brite says:

    I would try to understand that relationships ebbs and flow through the years. This could be a phase or something to deal with for some time. I read somewhere that 40s is the new 20s where women go through a bit of a reckless phase. Your mom probably deserves a bit of a reckless phase. You don’t give exact ages, but if her youngest is 18 and your mom’s in her 40s she probably didn’t get much of a 20s to mess around and develop her personality the way some get the chance to by making her mistakes. Let her make her mistakes now. Try and separate that from your relationship; tell her you don’t want to hear about her nights out unless there’s a safety concern.

  6. Avatar photo landygirl says:

    I know children tend to put their parents up on a pedestal. When I was 18 I realized that my Mom wasn’t perfect, she was just a human being like I was. She was allowed to make mistakes and to be overwhelmed and awkward. Once I took her off of that pedestal our relationship changed for the better.

    1. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

      Yes, exactly this. Your mom (and dad!) is human. She’s flawed, she will do crazy things, you’ll like her more one week then the next. Realizing your relationship with your parents will ebb and flow is a big part of transitioning to adulthood.

  7. LW did not indicate that she had full knowledge of the causes, etc. of the divorce of her parents.

    I might add a bit of caution here on judging parents during/after a divorce in the absence of such knowledge. Several of those I know were stunned when they learned things later. Some of those same friends were ashamed of themselves for what they had thought, what they had said, and how they had acted during the years before they learned. In some cases, they were literally taken aside by third parties because those outsiders could no longer stand watching how they were acting.

    1. But she did indicate that her father didn’t do nearly as much to help raise / support his kids, and regardless of the cause for divorce, that’s shitty.

      1. Milla –

        Let me give you two real-life examples where the dad got a bum rap.

        One: the wife had hidden an affair, the guy knew he could not get custody anyway, as his job was an hour away from the residence, there was not enough money to fight in court, etc. Since the mother was going to raise them, he never told the kids about the affair because he felt it would only harm things more. Meanwhile, the kids ended up blaming their dad, only to learn the truth six years later from another.

        Two: the wife had taken out multiple credit cards in the dad’s name, forging the signature, and used the money on bling and, well, stuff consumed while the guy was on the road earning the living. It mounted up and eventually she could not hide it any longer. Big confrontation, lots of bitterness back and forth, she threatened to claim he had beat her or whatever and he moved out. Divorce. He ends up taking the debt in the settlement because he would have had to file charges against her to have any chance to make her end up with it, and she had essentially no income. Like #1, he knew she would end up with custody, and never told the kids. It also came out eventually, when her own parents finally told their kids after they heard them saying bad things about their father.

        I was not taking LW’s father’s side, as LW did not share the details and “we” did not know if she knew them. My only point was that children of divorces often do not learn the full story at the time, and should therefore try to keep as open a mind as they can until they do.

        The guy in my #2 above had more income than the mother, but had all the debt she had run up. His daughter felt ashamed of herself when she learned later.

      2. I think there’s a difference between “my dad left so he’s the one at fault” and “my parents got a divorce and now I never see my dad because he’s busy with his new wife and kids,” and the latter is what I’m talking about. I think we’re discussing two different things.

        As a child, my parents had a bad relationship (no divorce, though) and I blamed my mom. Why? Because she was the one who complained to me and involved me in their marital troubles. My dad didn’t discuss it. So regardless of who was at fault (now I think it’s an even 50/50 with undiagnosed Aspergers contributing) I appreciated the parent who did their job and didn’t dump on me. I’m uncomfortable blaming kids for “taking sides” when they have limited access to the situation. It’s the fault of the parents and not the kids when that happens, even if one parent is innocent and trying to protect the other. In your examples, I think shaming the kids is misplaced energy.

    2. It took me a long time to have sympathy for my father in the divorce, mostly because he was the one who moved out. And my mom was always the favored parent. (My mom stayed at home, my dad worked an hour away.) But no, I don’t know the full cause of the divorce. Both my parents were in new relationships within weeks, though.

  8. Bittergaymark says:

    Tattoos? Ke$ha? Talk about a midlife crisis at its most pathetic. Sadly, I don’t think there is much you can do here other than brace for your feelings of guilt to give way to abject embarrassment. I suppose a sex tape is next…

    I must say, Wendy’s take left me baffled. NEWSFLASH!! Any Mom with money troubles (oh, and with young kids in the house to boot!) who is blowing coin on bad tattoos and shitty concerts all the while wasting time on unemployed alcoholic boyfriends ( oh, and remember, he ‘s the best one in a long string of losers) is simply NOT somebody who can handle their own drama well… Far from it.

    1. She doesn’t have young kids in the house. The youngest sibling, while still living at home, is over 18 as the LW clearly stated.

    2. I was a sole parent on a low income for some years. I also got a tattoo and went to a few concerts. I saved for them, same way everyone saves for a little indulgence now and then. Or are poor people supposed to be endlessly self-sacrificing saints?

      1. lets_be_honest says:

        I heart you!

  9. You don’t mention how much of an age difference there is between your mom and her current boyfriend. Nor what your mom does for a living. This could very well have an impact. If your mom WORKS with younger girls all the time, or is having to become friends with younger girls and feels the need to compete for her paramour’s affections, this could be affecting her.

    Your mom could be going through a mid-life crisis right now. This isn’t your fault, nor something you can or should be fixing. Your mom needs to work it out on her own.

    Don’t feel guilty for feeling that your father and stepmother are more parental and have their shit together. Your mom hasn’t had it easy since the divorce, sure, but she isn’t making it any easier on herself. If your siblings are in danger, step in, until then, butt out.
    Keep trying to communicate with Mom, but don’t expect the same relationship. They evolve as you become an adult.

    Good luck.

    1. She’s a teacher, so it’s either a younger crowd or a much-older crowd. And there’s not competition among her friend group – two of them are gay guys and the other woman is coming off a long relationship.

      And thanks for the luck!

  10. Bittergaynark says:

    18, 19… 20. Eh, that’s young enough to me. And impressionable. No, wait. My mistake… Of course, fortunately young adults STOP being impressionable the very moment they turn 18. Talk about tragically lousy role models…

    1. Yes, but do you have any advice? And fwiw, somehow my siblings and I are pretty damn good at relationships – we joke that it’s because we’re rebelling against our mother’s example.

      1. ‘Yes, but do you have any advice?’
        LW, I like you!

      2. Bittergaymark says:

        Nope. I sure don’t. There simply isn”t much you can actually do.

        And for the billionth time, Nadine. This is the COMMENT section. If I wanted to endlessly dream up advice — I’d start my own damn website. 😉

      3. Hah!

    2. Because going to a concert and getting a tattoo are the worst things that a parent could do. Maybe I’m just odd, but at 18 years old, I certainly wasn’t taking cues on dating from my mother.

      1. bittergaymark says:

        Um, if you are pretty much broke and working two jobs just to make ends meet — blowing cash on such absurdly stupid items is pretty fucking foolish. As is dating an out of work alcoholic…

      2. It’s not like he was out of work when they started dating. He actually had a solid job that had allowed for international travel. (He took her to Greece before he lost the job.)

        And she’s good with money, but it’s tight. She budgets well. It’s just that she’s prioritized things other than her savings.

      3. Do you feel like this might be the root of the issue- “she’s prioritized things other then (thing I think she should be prioritizing)”?

        Just because she is living a life with different priorities now, and especially different priorities then *you* believe she should have, doesn’t mean she is doing anything wrong.

  11. kerrycontrary says:

    WWS. So, something I’ve been thinking about lately is that I’ve always assumed that if you’re a parent, you have your shit together. Like you’re an adult and you know how to act and behave and respond to situations. But I’m 26 now. I could theoretically be a parent by this point in my life. and I don’t always know how to make the best decisions. Parents are just people. They make mistakes. Sometimes they make the wrong choices. Sometimes they behave poorly. Sometimes they don’t deal with their feelings in a very healthy way. So this goes for this LW’s mother as well as her father who may have behaved poorly during the divorce process. You have to realize that during a divorce, no one knows 100 percent what is going on except for the 2 people getting divorced. This includes children, no matter how many of their arguments you overhear or how much they gossip about each other, you don’t know what is going on behind closed doors. A lot of parents make mistakes during the divorce process so I don’t think the LW should feel guilty about having a closer relationship with her dad/stepmom during this stage of her life.

    1. Sometime last year I made an offhand comment to my mom about how I still feel so connected to my inner child, like my kid-self is lurking just beneath the surface “playing pretend” at being an adult, and she smiled and said “You never stop feeling that way, no matter how old you get.”

      And that was like a WHOA moment for me – what, you mean it’s true, that adults are just kids who don’t really know what they’re doing and are just trying to make it up as they go along? Suddenly the world makes a lot more sense! And here I was thinking that Child and Adult was some sort of switch that would flip automatically once I’d become “mature” enough and that, until then, I just had to do my best to fake it.

      1. I keep hoping I’ll feel like an adult someday.

      2. kerrycontrary says:

        Yeh my mom says she always feels 25. I think we’re all just faking it till we make it.

      3. I was having this conversation with an 89 year old woman this weekend, and she said she feels young inside.

    2. snarkymarc says:

      Sometimes you can have your shit together as a parent and then things can just go off the rails. I know it’s a cliché that life is short, but sometimes the opposite can feel true. If you are in your career for 10 or more years, it can feel long. If you have only have had sex with one person for 10 or more years, you can get itchy. If you go to the same restaurants, watch the same TV shows, and have the same conversation over and over again, life can feel long. The good news is that, for better or worse, things will change. The kids grow up. You’ll eventually have to change jobs. And you have to manage change in your relationships.

  12. I agree with Wendy, but at the same time, I don’t think you’re overly worried. It doesn’t sound like your mom is in a great place, and while you can be concerned about her, it’s her problem to deal with. I get this feeling that you want your mom to be a parenting and authority figure to you still, but that she may feel like less of a parent when she’s out going to concerts and exploring her youth. Maybe you feel like she’s trying too hard to be your friend and be on your level. You’re both adults and she may not want to play that same caregiving role anymore. A parent-child relationship changes a lot when you’re in your 20s. I think your mom rebelling a bit is really normal after the children get older. And it sounds like you think she’s making really poor choices. Maybe she is, and I think it’s okay to be concerned, but you have to take a step back because you’re not her parent. I think a lot of us would like to think we know what’s best for our parents, but it’s not always true. If you’re not that fond of your mom’s new lifestyle, it’s okay to take a step back from the relationship. And it probably hurts to know that you two aren’t close in the same way anymore, but all relationships change throughout the phases in our life, and that change can be really hard at first.

    1. Kerrycontrary says:

      I know my mom started drinking a lot more when I left the house. Like not in an alcohol abuse way, but I think she no longer felt like she had to set an example anymore or try to get me to not drink. So I think you’re on to something with parents not wanting to be a full authority figure anymore

  13. So, on one hand, I understand what you mean. I lived with my mom growing up, but now that my dad and stepmom have a real home and somewhat normal lives, I feel more like a “family” with them. They do normal, traditional holiday stuff with our huge extended family, and are actually pretty fun to hang out with. We cook dinner together, watch movies, go on walks, etc., and they act like what I consider “normal” parents. My mom is a little kookier and I have trouble relating to that because I’m fairly practical and stuff. You shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling that way. Of course, you still love your mom, but you can enjoy the family atmosphere you get from your dad.

    On the other hand, I think it’s odd that you’re so concerned with “relating” to your mom. Maybe you mean it in the way I do, where my mom and I have different values, but you don’t really need to “relate” to a parent. Even as an adult, they’re still your parents, not your BFFs, so you don’t have to understand what it’s like to be a middle-aged woman. So, I think maybe in that regard, you need to let go of the idea that you need to relate to where your mom is at in her life.

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