Do you have any advice on how to deal with a relationally jealous and possessive mother? Though I'm a grown woman with young children of my own, my mom is still trying to control my life. I'd love to have a close, healthy relationship with her, but she demands more. In fact, she insists that we need to be "best friends." She even turns ugly and nasty if I try to nurture relationships with my dad (her husband) or other family members. For instance, if my aunt and uncle, whom I respect and whose company I enjoy, ask me and my husband over for dinner, we have to take precautions to make sure Mom doesn't find out. Otherwise, we all experience her wrath. Just once, my dad and I would like to do something together, with only the two of us (like my mom and I do), but we can't without there being a heavy price to pay. What can I do?
It sounds like you have a serious need to establish appropriate boundaries in your relationship with your mother. Some people seem to think that there's no place for boundaries in relationships between members of the same family, but this is far from true. Boundaries are good for all kinds of relationships – especially relationships with controlling and manipulative personalities.
We don't know your mother, of course, but based on what you've told us we have to assume that she falls into that category. She seems to have forgotten that you are now an adult with a husband, young children, and a life of your own. We get the impression that she desperately wants to "own" you, perhaps even to keep you from growing up, launching out on your own, and becoming a person in your own right – the person God intended you to be. No matter how you slice it, that's not a healthy situation.
If your relationship with your mom is such that you think she'd be open to hearing your concerns, we suggest you talk to her about your feelings. Naturally, you should take some time to think things through very carefully and plan your strategy before taking this step. You might say something like, "Mom, I want very much to have a meaningful relationship with you, but only on the following terms." Then let her know that she simply doesn't have the right to hold you accountable for the time you choose to spend with other people. If she listens and agrees, you've gained your point.
If she refuses to listen – and your description of her attitude and behavior leads us to suppose that this may indeed be the case – you really have no choice except to back off and keep your distance. Proverbs 9:8 says, "Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you." This principle is as applicable to family interactions as it is to any other kind of relationship. The sad truth is that controllers and manipulators usually turn even uglier when someone tries to confront them. So if you know in your heart of hearts that your mother isn't likely to respect your wishes, don't get involved with her. You can see her on holidays and at major family gatherings, of course, but you'd be wise to keep your connection with her as light, as cordial, and as superficial as possible. You may feel as if you're losing an important relationship, but the truth is that there really isn't any relationship to lose. Remember, the biblical injunction to "honor" your parents doesn't necessarily imply that you have to go along with everything they want you to do, especially when you're a full-fledged adult. There are ways to "honor" someone without giving in to unreasonable demands and sacrificing your own self-respect.
This will, of course, impact other members of the family. It will probably also have implications for your relationships with them. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to remedy this. You can't control another person's behavior, and you can only go so far on your end to preserve a relationship with someone who isn't willing to do his or her part. If you don't succeed in your efforts to resolve this misunderstanding, just draw a line in the sand and stay on your side of it. After that, everything is in the Lord's hands.
If you think it might be helpful to talk your situation over with a member of our staff, we'd like to invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
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Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life
Relational Wisdom 360