Q: Now that I’m in my mid-20s, how can I help my mom understand I’m not a kid anymore? She seems unwilling or unable to recognize that I’m now an adult. What can I do?
Jim: Many parents have difficulty allowing a son or daughter to separate from the parent-child relationship and move ahead into full adulthood. There can be any number of factors involved. For example, it’s often a significant issue in families with a history of marital conflict. The empty nest years can seem especially threatening to a woman who, for whatever reason, has been pouring her emotional energy into her children.
In that context, I’d suggest that trying to understand your mother’s viewpoint could be a good start. What might be motivating her to hang on to your childhood so tenaciously? That awareness can help inform a productive discussion as two adults.
Establishing healthy boundaries will require a degree of assertiveness on your part. As gently and lovingly as possible, let your mom know that you love her, but you need to start establishing more emotional independence. While she may initially feel rejected, she needs to understand and acknowledge that this is a normal part of anyone’s growth and maturation process.
Meanwhile, make sure that you’re not enabling your mother to keep you in a childlike role. If you count on your parents for financial support or allow your mom to do your laundry every weekend, you’re contributing to the problem. If you’re still living at home, this is a good time to think about moving out and getting your own place.
Once out on your own, I would advise that you keep the lines of communication open and continue to be sensitive to your mom’s feelings. Ultimately, your relationship with her is more important than most disagreements.
Q: I’ve been dating a very good, kind young lady for about three months now, and in the process I’ve spent a lot of time with her entire family. I didn’t anticipate beginning to feel a stronger attraction to her sister, but that’s exactly what has happened. Bottom line: I’d like to pursue a deeper relationship with the sister, but I don’t want to be responsible for causing dissension within the family. Any advice?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I suggest that you politely break up with the girl you’ve been dating and take a hiatus from any further contact with her family for a reasonable period — maybe six months or so. That will allow time for the emotional dust to settle, for the girl and her family to heal, and for you to get in touch with your own feelings. At the end of that period, you can think about gradually re-establishing contact with the sister — if you still feel inclined to move ahead in that direction.
Some people might experience pain in the process, but you can’t control that. It isn’t necessarily your fault, and you needn’t view yourself as being directly responsible for that aspect of the situation.
At the same time, you do need to conduct yourself as a responsible person in all your dealings and interactions with these people. You need to respect the young lady you’ve been dating, and you also have an obligation to display a proper regard for the relationship you’ve enjoyed with her and for the feelings of every member of her family.
So I don’t think it would be a good idea to simply dump her and rush straight into a new relationship with her sister. Back off and let things take their course for a while. At that point, everyone will be in a better position to proceed — or not — with wisdom and sensitivity.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.