Now that I'm in my mid-20s, how can I help my mom understand I'm not a child anymore? I'm the youngest of three. Because of my position in the family birth-order, my mom seems unwilling or unable to recognize that I'm now an adult. Is there anything I can do?
Your problem is probably more common than you suppose. Many parents have difficulty "letting go" or allowing a child to separate from the parent-child relationship and move ahead into full adulthood. You can take an important step in the direction of resolving the conflict simply by making an effort to understand your mother's viewpoint. Precisely what is it that might be motivating her to hang on to your childhood so tenaciously?
We can't give you a direct answer to your question without knowing much more about your situation. But we can tell you that this is often a huge issue in families where the parents have a history of marital conflict or have grown apart in the recent past. The empty nest years can seem especially threatening to a woman who feels distanced from her husband and who, as a result, has been pouring all of her emotional energy into her children. This is just one of several situations that can account for a parent's unwillingness to release his or her child. You know your mother, so you have a much better idea of the reasons for her behavior than we do. The point here is that it helps to try to see things from her perspective.
If your mother refuses to let go, you will need to start establishing healthy boundaries. This will require a degree of assertiveness on your part. As gently and lovingly as possible, let your mom know that you love her, but that as a young adult in your mid-20s you need to start establishing more emotional independence. She may feel rejected and hurt by this, but it is important for her to understand that it's just a normal part of a child's growth and maturation process. Meanwhile, make sure that you are not "enabling" your mother to keep you in a childlike role. If you count on your parents for financial support or allow your mother to do your laundry every weekend, you are contributing to the problem. If you're still living at home, this would be a good time to think about moving out and getting your own apartment.
Once out on your own, remember that there are a number of things you can do on your end to keep your relationship with your mom as healthy as possible. Here are just a few suggestions to keep in mind:
- Always tell the truth.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
- Be sensitive to your mom's feelings.
- Respect your mother, despite differences in opinions.
- Don't hold on to the past or judge your mom's decisions. We all make mistakes, and each slip-up provides an opportunity for a life lesson.
- Don't play the blame game. Blame is rarely necessary and it's often unhelpful.
- Decide that your relationship with your mother is more important than most disagreements.
We hope these thoughts have been helpful. If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your concerns at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.