The desire to have a healthy adult relationship with my mother is something that's been plaguing my mind lately. I see so many variations of adult parental relationships in my path and I wonder how to tweak mine to get the right fit.
I recently met a woman who is on the path to entering my profession. Her every sentence it seemed began with "mommy says". This happened to the extent that I had to include her in an activity which included revealing one's age because I thought she couldn't be beyond her early 20's and still need this much guidance in her daily life. As a matter of fact, most of my teenage students don't need that much guidance in their daily lives. Lo and behold, she was almost 40 and still holding to fast to the belief that her mother was all knowing the way a young child would.
Her constant references to her mother reminded me of the relationship between Howard and his mother on The Big Bang Theory. His mother recognizes that he's old enough to have a sex life (late 20's), but still takes him to the dentist, does his laundry and asks if his friends have permission from their parents to come over and play. In the immortal words of Keith Sweat, something just ain't right!
This scenario though over dramatized is not so farfetched. I've dated men who seem either completely content with or just on the verge of taking a step away from being enabled by their mothers. One, at the age of 38 told me that he had just made his first doctor's appointment for himself! In response to my confused and befuddled facial expression (which I've come to call "the Scooby Doo face"), he explained that he went from a mother who mothered him to a wife who mothered him and now he finally had to start learning to stand on his own.
I know other men who became their mothers' pseudo husbands and drop everything to abide by their every wish and command. This is even the case oddly enough when the mother has a man in her life.
I know several women who for various reasons don't speak to their mothers at all. This generally goes along with distancing themselves from their entire families. In some cases this involves a quest for long sought after parental approval of the adult child’s decisions or lifestyle choices.
Some listen to their mothers' advice/instructions with rapt attention in her presence, then rebel the moment she leaves. Why not just stand up for yourself, I wonder? It's okay to just say no.
Then there are the rare few, both male and female who have found this miraculous way of maintaining their own lives & families while having a friendly and supportive relationship with their mothers. That's the playground of happy medium where I want to play!
How do we make that happen? How do we repair a disjointed connection & transport ourselves to the land of Happy Medium?
A 2009 ‘Study of Relationships Between Adult Children and Parents’ conducted by Medical News Today indicates that the parent and adult child relationship, though one of the longest lasting social ties that human beings establish, is often a tumultuous one. So if you're like me and still trying to figure it out, fear not, we are not alone!
The problem, according to researchers stems from the developmental need to shift the parameters of the relationship over time and one party's (or in some cases both parties) struggle with effectively managing the subtle shifts which lead to paradigm shifts over time. The study suggests that parents are more likely to be invested in the relationship with their children because they operate from the perspective of launching their children into successful adulthood.
Both mothers and fathers who participated in the study reported experiencing greater levels of tension in their relationships with their adult daughters than with their sons. Both adult sons and daughters reported higher levels of tension with their mothers than with their fathers. This tension often stemmed from personality differences and unsolicited advice. Aha! We may be on to something here. The study further suggested that in most cases daughters tend to have closer relationships and more frequent contact with their parents which provides greater opportunity for tension in the relationship.
I see my mother about once a week on average and our relationship is at best strained. We never found that comfortable balance whereby we can have a conversation without her trying to dictate my every move. She seems to simultaneously be proud of me and struggle with the fact that I am a confident and competent adult. I have a career, a home and an adult child of my own. I don't need her to dictate my actions.
Sometimes I just want to hear an alternative point of view but she evidently missed most of those shifts along the way and never moved past the directive phase of parenting. If I were compliant with her demands, she would be quite content to tell me what to do with every moment of my life, but that is so not the case! I am in fact quite firm in my convictions. This makes for some dicey interactions.
Even as a pre-teen and teenager, I didn't require much direction. I went to school, got pretty good grades and spent time with my friends after. Yes, I needed structure, as every kid does but as I grew older and wiser, I needed less and less, which is the model I put in place with my son. I trust the foundation that I put in place for him and his ability to make decisions in his own best interests. Why has my mother still not made the adjustment?
Her approach goes against nature. Every species has a period of nurturing & direction which transforms over time to growth & independence. My mother on the other hand, still thinks she should be able to tell my sister and me how many vegetables we should have on our dinner plates. When we ignore her, she takes to saying our names in her “stern” voice as though that will whip us into shape. Really?? At ages 33 and 39 respectively, you still expect us to respond to "the mom voice"???
If I ask her advice occasionally on very specific matters, she takes that as an opportunity to pepper me with “shoulds” and “need to’s”and then follows up to make sure that I adhered to her prescription. She even offers unsolicited advice in areas in which she has not even an inkling of expertise. This leads to either arguing or blatant ignoring. Neither of which is healthy or fits into the pattern of the other relationships in my life.
If anyone who was not related to me took this approach, I would end the relationship and keep it moving. Since it's my mother whom I love, I keep trying to find a "happy medium". My struggle has been trying to find a way to get us both on the same page when we are clearly reading very different playbooks.
Healthy relationships cannot exist without compromise and mutual respect. One person cannot always be right or always get their way. How can we get our mothers to recognize this fact?
Guest blogger- © 2013 Shavon C. Evelyn