Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I have a question about a child’s relationship with his parents the older they (and he) get. My mother is a fantastic woman and caring mother: Intelligent and earnest, she raised four boys to be happy, productive citizens. She and my father have been married for 40-plus years and are starting to enjoy their retirement, and their new grandchildren. All of us have (in our minds) honest, open relationships with her and know how much of a part of our lives she still is.
Lately, however, there’s been an issue with her overstepping her bounds in worrying too much about us, myself in particular. I’m the remaining single child. I have a bit more of an adventurous spirit than the other three, and some of my journeys have been, admittedly, on the dangerous side (often solo).
As a grown adult approaching 40, I’m wondering where the balance is between caring and overbearing? I realize she’s always going to worry about me. I’m her son, of course! But it’s almost reached the point where I don’t want to tell her what trip I’ve planned next for fear of having her consumed with anxiety. Which is a shame … I want to share my successes with her as much as anyone else. What’s the best remediation here?
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Why don’t you talk to her about this? Seems sensible to me for you two to agree that your risk tolerance exceeds hers, and that the time for you to share your adventures with her is after you get home safely.
Of course, maybe she’d prefer to know, in which case you can discuss drawing a line you both can live with between caring and overbearing.
Re: Anxious Parents: I’m in the same boat, and telling them after the fact is the only thing that works. Sure, my mom insisted she needs to know, but she demonstrated she just cannot handle it. (Somehow being married inoculates a person from Bad Things happening, so she has no problem with my married sibs.)
It’s odd because she was never this hyper-vigilant when we were kids. And for those who want to chime in and remind us how grateful we should be to have such a “problem” … while that’s true, it’s irritating to be reminded that my parents can’t even trust me to keep a job or get on a plane.
Thanks for this. You didn’t ask, but …
Maybe your mom is this way about you but not your married sibs because she is operating with a vision of how she wants your lives to be. So, in a sense, she sees your sibs’ lives as “complete” (by her measure), and so she has breathed a psychic sigh of relief that she hasn’t allowed herself with you.
If this is what’s going on, it’s dated and narrow-minded and it devalues a single life, for sure; my typing it out is not an endorsement of any kind. Just throwing it out there as a possible explanation.
There’s also this: It’s not uncommon for people to grow more anxious as we get older. Staring down our mortality is hard. Projecting that onto people we love is harder. Understanding that might help you both.
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