If you ask my mother, she’ll tell you that she and I are best friends. We do things together that friends often do, like going shopping or catching a movie. She thinks that I tell her everything that happens in my life.
Now, if you ask me, I will say that yes, we do things together, and occasionally have a decent time, but there is no way that my mother is my best friend. She doesn’t fit the criteria that I have for a true friendship. I love her because she is my mother and because she has saved my ass multiple times in my 31 years of life, but most of the time I don’t truly like her.
My mom stayed at home until I was well into my teen years, and I’m her only child. That means, I got 100% of her attention whether I wanted or needed it. She liked to hover, and I never got a break from her.
By junior high, I became her de facto companion. She took way too much of an interest in me and my friends, volunteering at regularly at my school and then chaperoning us on our outings. To this day, if I run into an old classmate, their first question is “How’s your mom?” At 12, all of my friends’ parents were loosening the reins while it seemed like my mom was tightening mine.
My mother refuses to see me as anything but a child, even though I’m now in my 30s with my own child, and it is the biggest issue in our relationship. For example, in my junior year of college, I was living off-campus and working as a waitress at a restaurant/bar. I usually got off work early and would return her calls when I walked home, but one night we got slammed and I ended up working late. Instead of trusting that as a responsible 20-year-old, perhaps I was still working, she called my job looking for me. I was MORTIFIED.
When I tried to talk to her about it the next day and tell her how embarrassed I was and how she needed to treat me like an adult and respect boundaries, she cried about how I didn’t appreciate her and explained that she was “just worried.” I wanted to set firmer boundaries about how often we talked (if we didn’t talk by a certain time each day, she would call me to check in). None of my friends felt obligated to talk to their parents that often, after all. But when I tried to create healthy distance, my mother would lay the guilt on thick if she didn’t hear from me for two days.
No matter many times over the years I’ve asked her for some personal space, she has never given it. Even when I lived all the way across the country (at the age of 25, mind you), she demanded I text her every night when I got home from work. Then she’d subject me to questions about what I ate for dinner and whether I was doing laundry regularly enough. I shit you not. And if I didn’t answer? Well, then she’d start calling around looking for me.
Of course, we do have a good time together occasionally. It’s not all bad. I’ve taken her to Broadway shows for her birthday, and once in a while, we go shopping and I almost forget how much she can frustrate me. But then all it takes is a simple “You’re going out with your hair looking like that?” to bring me back to reality. Every decision I make, from the hairstylist I choose to the laundry detergent I buy, is met with a cocked eyebrow and a “really?” type question. Then she wonders — aloud, of course — why I don’t want to talk more.
This is the same woman who lists her occupation on Facebook as “Queen Bee” of the family. She insists everything is done her way, or it’s wrong. If I dare question or disagree with her, she takes it as a personal affront and then makes me feel so guilty and emotionally exhausted that I just back down and give in so that the bullshit will end.
It has been especially difficult to manage this relationship since I’ve become a mother. I’ve chosen to raise my son significantly different from how she chose to raise me, and it makes her so angry. She recently broke down in tears and told me that she’s afraid to talk to me because I get “an attitude” about everything even though all she’s trying to do is help. But when she starts a sentence with “I’m not saying you’re a bad mother, but I do know more about kids than you do,” what am I supposed to do with that?
I told her countless times that if she stopped being so negative and judgmental, maybe I’d be a little more receptive to her feedback. She always says she’ll “work on it,” but it’s been 30-plus years now, so I’m not holding my breath.
Her attitude, her emotional manipulation, and her refusal to acknowledge and respect my feelings is a huge reason I have moved across the country. Twice.
Look, I’m not some spoiled brat. I will always be grateful for the sacrifices my mom made for me, like when I had just given birth, she took me and my son in when my now-ex-partner kicked us out. And she’s a very loving, doting grandmother.
People tell me all the time how lucky I am to have a mom who’s always there for me, and I know that it’s true in many situations. But honestly, the grass isn’t always greener on my side of the fence. Just because a mother is constantly present doesn’t mean the relationship is healthy. She can still be judgmental and mean and manipulative — it’s just harder for me to escape her clutches.