How to Stand up to Your Mother when You’re 42 Years Old
Last week, a new reader of mine left a comment saying, “Perhaps at some point in the future, you could write an article on how to stand up to your mother when you’re 42 years old.”
I thought it was a good idea for an article. So here it is.
In many ways, this subject is alien to me. Neither of my parents has ever been particularly overbearing, and I’ve never had any problem standing up to them when necessary.
But I’ve had plenty of second-hand experience with exactly the type of parent that this article is written to address: overbearing, manipulative, controlling, or otherwise way too involved in the lives of their adult children. And I’ve even helped a person or two escape their mother’s shadow, so this is a topic that I understand as a coach, if not a player.
If you have a strained relationship with an overbearing parent, the first thing you’d do well to understand is that your relationship is unique in all the world, which means that one-size-fits-all advice will not apply. The best I can do here is provide some general guidelines and leave it up to you to fill in the blanks.
So with no further ado, here are 7 general guidelines designed to help adults achieve independence from overbearing parents:
1) Stop looking for affirmation:
As a child, you grew up longing for the respect, admiration, and praise of your parents. If you didn’t get it, you may still be looking for it.
Unfortunately, your desire for unconditional love can undermine your attempts to deal with an overbearing parent. Even if you find the courage to stand up for yourself, you may later regret it, fearing rejection and anger from the person you most want to accept you.
A friend of mine has spent most of her adult life seeking her mother’s approval. Unfortunately, every time she goes out of her way to seek approval, she puts her mother in a position of judgment and ends up playing into all the old family dynamics that landed her in this needy mindset to begin with.
First things first. You have to come to terms with a simple reality: you may never receive the affirmation you crave from your parent, and you cannot live your live pandering for it.
As an adult, you need self (not parental) affirmation.
2) Understand that you are part of the problem:
As a child, you were not responsible for the actions of your parents. But the world isn’t fair, and like it or not, once you reach a certain age, you become responsible for the role you play in all your relationships, including your relationship with Mom and Dad.
I’m not implying you should take responsibility for your parents, but rather for the way you interact with them.
3) Draw a hard line between parental advice and parental control:
Before asking an overbearing parent for advice, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
The right reason: Your parent has vital information, which you need to make a decision.
The wrong reason: You want your parent to approve of a choice you’ve made so you’ll feel better about yourself.
If it really does make sense to ask your parent for advice, proceed, making sure to keep it clear in your own mind that your parent is serving as advisor, not dictator.
Remember, no matter what your parent says, you, as an independent adult, have total control over the amount of influence he or she has over your life.
Conversely, if your parent is the type of person who can’t assume an advisory role, you may have to stop asking for advice altogether.
4) Identify your boundaries:
As adults, it probably doesn’t make sense for us to make a big deal out of every parental transgression. Instead, take some time on your own to make a list of the areas where you feel it’s important to assert your independence.
Are you tired of the way your mother keeps meddling in the lives of your children? If so, write that down. Are you tired of the way your father keeps getting involved in your marriage? Write that down too.
You can throw the list away when you’re done. The purpose of the list is to make note of the battles that are worth fighting so you can let the unimportant ones slide.
5) Declare your boundaries:
If your mother crosses the line and will not relent, make it clear that while you appreciate her advice, you’re an adult and are perfectly capable of handling the situation on your own. Most of the time, there is no need to get into a long, drawn out argument, which brings me to my next bit of advice:
6) Whenever possible, keep arguments short and sweet:
If your father gives his opinion once too often, politely tell him you’ll consider his opinion, and then end the conversation so you can do just that. Most of the time, you won’t even have to mention that you disagree. Remember, once the conversation is over, the decision is yours and yours alone, assuming the matter at hand is under your direct control.
While it may be true that a heated argument may sometimes be productive, by the time you’ve reached middle age, you probably have some idea whether such an argument is worth the trouble.
7) Remember, it’s your life:
If the matter at hand is truly your mother’s business, then she has a right to express herself. She may, in fact, have a right to assert herself. For example, if you’re living in her basement and she wants you to kick your noisy friends out by 10pm so she can sleep, she has every right to say so. And if you’re really 42 years old, she has every right to kick you out too.
But most of the middle-aged adults having trouble with overbearing parents have long since gained their financial independence. The next step? Well, if this article has been an interesting read for you up to this point, it’s quite likely that emotional independence is the next stop on your train of personal improvement.
It’s your life. Don’t let anyone else live it for you.
January 17, 2008 Thursday at 10:59 pm