I’m 26 years old. I live on my own, I’m engaged to a guy my parents love, and I’ve always been a very responsible person. However, my mother is extremely overprotective and always has been. I’ve hit my breaking point with it. She texts/calls me at least 3 times a day (when I get home to make sure I’m safe, then at some point at night, and then she has me text her when I wake up). If I tell her I’m at a party or something, she wants to know when I’ll be home and makes me call her when I’m home.
This isn’t normal.
I need space, and I need to find a way of telling her that her behavior is unhealthy for both of us. I feel bad because she’s a great person, but she doesn’t have any hobbies or anything and I think it makes her focus on me too much. I hate the idea of hurting her feelings, but I can’t deal with this anymore. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for how much she loves me, but she’s not going about it the right way. Anyone my age shouldn’t need to text their parents every single day and when I’ve tried to tell her that, she laughs at me or gets upset. I don’t know what to do.
How do I have this conversation with her?
Oh, that’s easy: you don’t. Because the time for conversation is long since past, my darling Sparkler. What you need now is more along the lines of a proclamation. An announcement. A fiat in the name of autonomous personhood, because you are TWENTY-SIX YEARS OLD and THIS IS COMPLETELY INSANE. Your mom’s expectations are unreasonable, inappropriate, and holding you both in a profoundly unhealthy pattern that (you’re right!) doesn’t serve either of you. It’s not just that you should be able to live your life without checking in with mommy multiple times per day; indulging her anxious impulse to check up on you at all times isn’t good for her, either.
In short, there is no discussion to be had. There are only boundaries to be drawn.
Here’s how you do that:
1. Tell your mom you appreciate that she loves you, and you understand that this is going to be hard.
2. HOWEVER: this is an unhealthy pattern, and it has to stop now. You need to live your life free from parental supervision, and your mom needs to trust that she raised you to do that, and leave you to it.
3. From now on, you will call her at reasonable, regular intervals not to check in, but to catch up — because that’s what adults do. To begin with, you should set a schedule: 1-2 times a week, same day, same time.
4. Finally: From now on, she is not to contact you unless it’s an emergency. And if she does contact you outside the agreed-upon schedule, you will
a) Ask her if it’s an emergency, and then
b) Unless the answer is a legitimate “yes,” then you’ll say, “Then I’m hanging up now, and will talk to you on Sunday at the usual time.” (At which point you hang up and ignore any further calls/texts.)
All in your own words, of course. What matters is that you set this boundary, and calmly enforce it no matter how much your mom stomps or pouts or laughs or cries or generally tries to railroad you—which, for the record, she almost certainly will. People with control issues do not respond well when someone else takes the reins, even when those reins desperately need to be taken… or in your case, should’ve been surrendered to you ages ago. (I notice that you haven’t mentioned your dad’s feelings about all this, but if he, too, understands that your mom’s behavior is untenable, then maybe he can help you redraw the lines.) For the most part, it’ll be up to you to hold firm while Mom adjusts to this new normal… and probably to stand your ground while your mom tries to redefine the word “emergency” to include a whole bunch of scenarios that are nothing of the sort. For instance: “I get anxious when I don’t talk to you every day!” is not an emergency that requires your involvement; it’s a problem your mom has to learn to cope with on her own.
I’ll tell you right now: this isn’t going to be fun. But then again, neither is having to phone your mom three times a day just to let her know you’re still breathing. And while the constant checking-in just reinforces your mom’s control-freaky tendencies and ensures that she’ll keep them up in perpetuity, the act of setting boundaries, while frustrating, will eventually reward you with the freedom you crave.
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