Dear Dr. Darcy:
I’m a female in my 20’s and I have the most horrendous relationship with my mother. We don’t even live together (thankfully), but you’d never know it because she knows my every move, every day of my life. She insists that I check in with her wherever I go, I have to tell her when I change location and I have to tell her when I get home. The worst part is that she criticizes my choices of places to go and of friends to hang out with. The information that she nearly demands becomes the fuel of her anger towards me. We never have a light hearted conversation. And god forbid I not call her ~ she becomes ballistic. I don’t understand why she wants all this information when none of it meets with her approval. When will the fighting with my mother end?
Huh. An adult woman who has a conflicted relationship with her mother... This alone is not news worthy, however, the specifics of your mother’s behaviors put her in her own special category of up-my-daughter’s-ass. How she breathes with that level of penetration is nothing short of a mystery.
Now you’re not going to like my feedback, but here it comes: The problem is you – not your mother. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade mothers with you for a second (feel the love, Mom?), but since we can’t change her, we need to change you. And what we need to change is your ability to tolerate her ballistic behaviors. Specifically, the ones she engages in when you don’t call her. You have GOT to extricate her head from your anus, for both of your sake. And the only way to do this is to disengage a bit, which as you pointed out, will send her into a tantrum; one which you need to learn to tolerate.
So let’s talk about how to tolerate it. Tomorrow, call her to say good morning and let her know that you’ll call her the next day. Give no excuses. Do not look for permission from her. Just inform her. When she begins to escalate (either in that moment or at a moment later in the day), confirm for her that you hear her frustration: Mom, I hear that you’re frustrated and that this is difficult for you, however, I can’t maintain this level of communication with you as an adult. Beyond that, there’s nothing left to say. Keep the conversation short. A nice out is Mom, this conversation isn’t productive anymore and I need to go. I love you and I’ll call you tomorrow. When you get off the phone with her, the real work begins. You’ll be riddled with discomfort but you are NOT to call her. Setting idle boundaries is like making an idle threat to a child: Once you breech that boundary you’ll have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously in the future.
You’ll need the support of a therapist for sure. Email me for names. And as far as a timeframe for when the fighting with your mother will end, I’m still waiting. But I’ll let you know.
Writer’s Stats: Female, heterosexual.