Independence Day

1 May

Dear LetterBalm: I’ve been on my own since I worked my way through college and paid for it myself. It’s now 12 years later. I’m single, have a good job, own my apartment and car, and I’m setting aside money for retirement. My friends say I’m the most responsible one in our group. The problem is my mom puts me down for everything. She belittles me if I cook a good meal (I love to cook, and I’m good at it) or do a big project at work, decorate my home, throw a party, travel with friends, whatever. She tells everyone that I don’t have the ability to look after myself. It’s like she doesn’t want to recognize that I’m an adult capable of managing my own life. She’s a healthy, active woman in her early 60s, and she wants me to give up my apartment and move back into the family home with her. All this shouldn’t bother me, but she tells people she needs to “take care of my daughter because she can’t take care of herself.” What can I say to her to make her stop this hurtful condescension?

–All Grown Up, Thank You

Ms. L.B. isn’t sure anything you say will stop your mother’s behavior once and for all. It’s too ingrained in her, and she draws comfort from her misconception that she has to take care of an adult daughter who needs no help. If you think your mother’s cognitive abilities are in question, alert her doctor and arrange for a check-up. If you think she’s insecure and doesn’t want to live alone, you can gently address this. But if you think she’s just being mean and jealous, tell her you have no intention of giving up the life you have worked hard to create for yourself. Pick your battles – you might try laughing off her less egregious insults until she realizes they don’t make a dent. In the meantime, make one of your fabulous dinners and have a heart-to-heart with her:

Mother, I need to know where you got the idea that I must move in with you so you can take care of me because I can’t take care of myself. Do you really, really believe that? I’m strong and healthy, and I’ve been looking after myself very well since I went away to college. I’m an adult successfully managing my own life. You don’t have to look after me, and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop saying this to people because it’s not true. I think this is more about you getting older and worried about who will take care of you. Sweetie, I want to assure you that I’m not going anywhere. Years from now, I’ll be there for you when you need me – you should know that. But I won’t be moving in with you anytime soon because you’re a healthy, active 63-year-old who can take care of herself very well, just as her daughter can.

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