Carolyn Hax: Mom’s Emotional Addiction Clips A Grown Child’s Wings


Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Caroline: I love my mother, but her emotional dependence on me is a burden. The only thing she ever liked to do was be a mom. She got a part-time job at my father’s insistence, but she hates it. My father always tried to involve her in his interests, but she refused, saying that her children needed her. My mother constantly remembers when we were little and she was happy. She actually says that. Sad, right?

All she’s looking forward to now are grandchildren, but none of us are going to get there anytime soon. My dad does his own thing (sports and volunteering) while my mom cooks, cleans, does a job she hates and hangs out with me.

When my older sisters moved out, it felt like the end of the world. Since then, she has totally focused on me. If I even spend the weekend with a friend, she fights with me while I pack my bags to leave.

I want to have my own apartment soon, and when I mention it, she breaks down sobbing. Truly. I feel so guilty, but I tried for years to get him interested in something: hobbies, books, volunteering. Nothing took. And now?

Anonymous: Understand that this problem is entirely hers to solve.

There are nicer ways to say this, but the straightforward version is the easiest to tuck away in the back of your mind whenever you need it. It is his problem to solve.

As you plant your feet on this truth, your actions can remain caring, loving, and involved. You can hang out with your mom whenever you want, without turning her on or getting sucked in. You can get into the habit of not answering his complaints anymore, or just throwing them back at him: “Yeah, tough. What do you think you are going to do? His next reference to his expected grandchildren is an opening to say, once, plainly, “Waiting for other people to improve your life feels like torture to you.” It’s not fair to us children either. We can choose our lives now, just as you chose yours.

And: “If you don’t like our choices, then it’s not a choice.”

These points are consistent with “not your problem to solve”, as they are steps towards eliminating yourself as the solution to everything. She may believe otherwise, but it doesn’t make sense if it’s without your consent.

The important thing is to plant this flag “I will not be your life”, then to live there without more explanations or defenses. “Hmm. Yeah. Have you thought about what you would do? Repeating this is a shield for you and a call to action for her. Her continued commitment to you is a form of manipulation, where your responses emotionally (and feverishly) reward her for not moving forward.

Second to last thing: there is no “leave” in “have my own life”. Your life is yours, and no sorrow is His to grant it to you. To know is to live.

Last thing: why doesn’t she work with young children? (I guess you would have said if she was.) There is so, so, so much need. And while your mom’s big, screaming boundary issues don’t make her an ideal candidate, jobs come with limits. (You have to go home at some point.)

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