Going to university has strained my relationship with my parents. We were always really close, especially me and my mum.
But recently, I've noticed how controlling and paranoid my mother is compared to other parents. She continuously calls and asks me probing questions. She just doesn't seem to trust that I know what I'm doing. She says horrible things about my friends and tries to emotionally blackmail me into leaving them just because she doesn't find them suitable. One time, I caught her going through my texts!
She does it all out of love, no doubt, but I'm beginning to feel suffocated and irritated at even the tiniest of things. The other day, I exploded at her and stormed off to my room upon returning home after hours of classes, only to realize that all she did was ask me if I was tired.
I just don’t understand what happened. I feel like it was just yesterday that we were problem-free, but now every exchange leads to an argument. I know my grandparents gave her nothing but freedom growing up, so shouldn’t she know to give me some too?
Please help me – I don’t know what to do. How can I maintain our relationship but still set healthy boundaries?
My mum’s son
Dear My mum’s son,
I really admire your maturity. You gave voice to your mum’s side and remembered that at the end of the day, she’s your mum. You reminded yourself that she does all this out of love... you even make it sound like a given! You have no doubts – “Duh, I know my mum loves me”.
This might sound like nothing to you, but it’s a huge deal. So many times, we young adults encounter problems with our parents and somehow forget who they are. People who love us unconditionally. People we love unconditionally. And, importantly, people.
As much as she loves you, she’s not perfect. She makes mistakes, like you and me. She’s also a lot more than just your parent. I remember when I found that out the hard way when I was four or five about my own mum – she was filling in a form and I saw her write “May” in the name section. Without hesitating, I corrected her, only to hear her explain that her real name was May and that while she was Mummy to me she was May to everyone else. I cried out of shock.
So… turns out, mothers are people. And I think you thought of that too when you alluded to how your grandparents raised her. She too had her childhood, teenage years, and past experiences that made her who she is today, and that continue to shape her life and the decisions she makes. She has her work, and her joys and troubles – out of which, while a lot is about you, a lot also isn’t, and all of it has a part to play in how suffocated you’ve been feeling lately. For example, have you considered that maybe your grandparents having given her so much freedom in her adolescent years is precisely why she has trouble doing the same to you?
Again, these all sound like common sense but we forget them sometimes. So I’m really glad that you haven’t and I really hope you continue to keep it in mind, because it truly is the crucial first step in solving the problem you raised – to remember that your mum loves you, that she has a lot going on in her life, and that she makes mistakes.
Similarly, you love your mum, you have a lot going on in your life, and you make mistakes too. Like that day you stormed off only to realize you didn’t mean to. Or perhaps, your mum might find your friends unsuitable because (surprise) they might actually really be unsuitable for you. Put those together, and it’s no wonder that two people who love each other so much can still encounter obstacles in their relationship. But don’t worry! It’s also precisely because you two love each other so much, you’ll find a way to overcome these obstacles.
You mentioned setting healthy boundaries, and I think that’s exactly a step in the right direction. But before that, it’s crucial that you reflect on why your mum has been treating you this way recently. Narrow it down: Where did she cross lines? Was your behaviour sometimes a cry for help that made her do so? Is there a common thread that runs through everything? You also mentioned that you only noticed all this recently, after comparisons with other parents – how (un)helpful might these comparisons be? Why the sudden comparisons in the first place? Imagine if you had had these friends instead when you and your mum were still extremely close – would the same situations have played out?
Somewhere along the way, the complexities of your respective lives have led both of you to where you are now. We get so caught up with life that it's too easy to lose track of everything and not understand when things happen the way they do.
So don’t be afraid to do a little i n t e n s e self-reflection, and initiate some honest (though hard) conversations with your mum. Considering how close you two used to be, I’m sure they will go a long way to helping you understand what happened and strengthen your relationship.
But perhaps I can provide some thoughts to jump-start your reflection; some guesses as to what may surface from conversations you'll hopefully have with your mum. As a fellow young adult with parents, I feel that this all may have some relation to the fact that we’re growing up faster than our parents can handle. I’ve heard that being a parent is like letting your heart walk around outside your body. During adolescence, this heart is no longer just walking around. It’s driving around, hanging out with strangers, and sometimes even storms off after you ask them if they’re okay.
At this stage of our lives, we have a tendency to stray away from our parents, whether in a healthy “don’t-worry-mum-I-can-start-looking-after-myself-now” way or a less healthy “back-off-mum-I-don’t-need-you” way. Either way, this leaves our parents with a mix of very conflicting feelings – proud, worried, elated, lonely. We’ll always be a little kid in their eyes, or so an Ikea ad tells me.
I know things are a bit rough now, but I’m sure you and your mum will be BFFs again in no time. I can feel how much you both love and miss each other, even through this screen, and that it’s more than enough to get you through this weird patch.
Thanks for sharing with me; you’ve really made me think. I hope I’ve helped you think through this too.
Dear Madison is for general informational and entertainment purposes only, and does not constitute or substitute medical, legal or professional advice. Always seek the advice of a professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any situation that would so require such advice.