Even when she was playing dictator over my life, part of her panic was that I was trying to create space between us when there had never been any. That desire for space created an anxiety that lead to these fights. I know this because save for the pragmatism I inherited from my father, I largely have my mother’s brain. Her quirks are my quirks. Her anxieties are my anxieties. I’m more out-going and she’s shyer, but both of us are emotionally intense people who once we’ve found “our person” can become territorial bordering on nonsensical if we think that bond is being threatened.
We just want the best. Although, I’m a bit more self-aware at the downside of thinking you always know best.
The impossibly close, tell-me-everything, never-leave-me relationship I had with my mom mirrored my relationship with my baby sister. We went everywhere together and did everything together. We told each other everything and when my sister started to pull away as she was seeking to define herself outside of being “Danielle’s Little Sister,” I took it personal. It hurt my feelings and I cried and pouted and still can’t say I’m 100 percent mature about it. But, I am self-aware. So while the urge to still say “do this!” and “don’t do that” still lives in me, I’ve mostly learned to shut my mouth and not dump my insecure emotional baggage on my baby sister.
All I and my sister were ever trying to do was create healthy boundaries. Needing time apart isn’t a rejection of my mom (even though at times she seemed to think it was that way), just a part of becoming an adult. And it’s an ugly mess to untangle from someone so deep into your life (as I was with my sister), but it can be done.
1) Communicate clearly. Make it known now that you are an adult what is acceptable and what is not. That the terms of spending time together now that it’s adult parent and adult child should be mutually agreed upon, not a “My way or the highway.”
2) Be understanding, but don’t indulge. Our parents are the way they are for a reason. Be respectful and understanding of that. But don’t fall into the trap of validating their desire for control by belittling how it affects your life. And if they go the pity party route (“I feel like you don’t love me and that I’m a terrible mom.”) divert them back to the path of “fact land.” You’re upset about this specific thing they’re controlling about – not everything. No changing the subject in the desire for validation.
3) Hold firm. This is actually the hardest one. The path of least resistance (giving in to a controlling person’s desire for control at the expense of your own) is second-nature to you if you were raised under the thumb of a strict parent. Once you’ve redefined the terms of your relationship and agreed upon them, you have to be consistent. If you waffle they’ll know you’re not for real and nothing will actually change.
My relationship with my mother is not perfect. But it’s a loving one marked by how much we enjoy our time together, how loving we are to each other and how we continue to work at it. How we continue to negotiate a way for us to grow and love and live on this same planet without me being six-years-old and my whole world beginning and ending with my family and the role I played in it.
After all, the option of not talking it out and working on it, is not being involved in my mother’s life. And I couldn’t even give the woman the silent treatment at eight. I doubt I could do it at 34.