"Why can't I get along with my mom at age 17?"
The young woman asking this question continues with more details, which I'll paraphrase;
"My mom does NOT want the worst for me, I’m her only child. She puts everything in me, and wants only the best for me. She loves me so much that she is willing to die for me- I know that very clearly.
Despite this, we have boundary issues which are very difficult for me, and which feel toxic. I studied abroad for 7 years and now I'm living with my mom again, and I'm really struggling to know what's OK, and how to deal with her invasiveness.
She regularly invades my privacy. I'm not allowed to lock the door to my room. She pushes me to take classes and to do things her way, without me getting to decide what I want.
What should our boundaries be? How do I confront her?"
Here's how I responded.
Why Parents Often Seem Difficult to Teenagers
I read your notes, they’re very insightful and show a lot of maturity, and you’re asking the right questions.
The most important thing to understand here is these things;
- Yes, your mom loves you deeply and wants the best life for you
- She feels a deep responsibility to help you become the best adult possible. That’s for your own life happiness, and for the world’s benefit- but it's for her own self-esteem as a mother as well. You’re part of her mission in life.
- She feels huge pressure that you’re almost a fully independent adult, and that this is her last chance to influence your development to adulthood. She’s feeling anxiety about all of that.
- She wants connection and friendship and appreciation and understanding and LOVE, with you, but she also feels these parenting responsibilities very strongly. Sometimes they conflict- her desire to be loved and have you feel happy, versus her sense of duty as a mother. This creates confusion, and stress, for both of you.
Meanwhile, you’re nearly an adult, you’re actively developing your independence, and learning to make your own decisions and life choices. Those freedoms and independence can easily come into conflict with your mother’s efforts to be a good mom.
How to Build on That, and Resolve Your Problems Together
And that’s exactly where I’d start the discussion with her.
Rather than thinking of this as a conflict - you versus your mom - reframe it in your mind as a problem that you both share, and that you both want to find the best answer to.
The frustrations you're feeling are due to differences in perspectives and family roles. But your underlying goals are exactly the same.
What are those goals?
- To launch you into the world as an amazing, independent, successful, happy, and self-sufficient adult.
- To make sure that you're fully equipped for adulthood, with the education, skills and perspectives you need to thrive.
- To protect you from harm, and bad decisions. Your mom loves you, and so she will worry about you.
- To make your mom's contributions, and her role as your mother, feel meaningful. She needs to be able to look in the mirror, and smile, and say "I did OK. My daughter is awesome. I helped make that happen."
- To maximize the connection the two of you share, in the last year or so before you move out and start your own life separately from her. For your mom, this is probably especially important, because she effectively missed getting to be your mom for 7 years of your life. She'll feel that deeply.
You can sum most of that up in one question...
“How can I learn to develop my independence, autonomy, boundary-setting, self-responsibility, and my skills in becoming an adult, while fully respecting your concerns and needs to be my mom and guide me?”
It's a big question, one that the both of you will spend two lifetimes finding the perfect answers to.
But here's what's important...
This question is one that you can both work together on, cooperatively.
Simply starting this discussion will open all the doors you need to resolve these smaller annoyances and boundary issues, because you will have a common ground, and clearly identified shared goals.
Build that together.
When you're allies in solving a problem, boundaries can be negotiated rather than forced. With a forced boundary, you are establishing a hard line in the sand... and if someone crosses it, game over.
You're done. You're leaving. Bye bye.
But I don't think that's what you really want with your mom.
Instead, you're both looking for a dynamic in your relationship that makes both of you happy, and fulfilled. Find that together. Discuss where you're feeling friction, and share ideas for how it could be resolved.
You'll find that the more aware and open and communicative you are about these things- the more easily you can raise these issues and discuss them- the more your mom will see your maturity, and respect it.
She'll know you're on top of your life, and she'll be able to relax and give you the freedom and privacy you crave.
Boundaries are Personal
You also asked what boundaries should exist between you and your mom.
I think it’s also important to note that any boundaries you negotiate between the two of you are something no one else can give you.
The needs each of you feel are unique to each of you, and therefore the priorities you have, boundaries you set, and compromises you make are unique to your relationship.
No one else can say, for example, “you should be allowed to lock your door”, or “you should not be allowed to lock your door” without a deep understanding of each of your perspectives and needs.
Don’t look to others for those answers, you’ll just find frustration and aggravation. Seek them together with your mom, and you’ll find answers that you’re both happy with.
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The problems this writer is asking are ones we've all faced in our relationships, however for those who are interested in this girl's specific situation, the full unedited text of her original question is below.
"My mom does NOT want the worst for me, I’m here only child and she puts everything in me, as well as wants only the best for me. She loves me so much, that she is willing to die for me if something ever happens with me, I know that very clearly from some life situations.
Though, at some point, some factors are getting a little toxic. I’m not sure if that’s because I studied for 7 years abroad(just moved back in Sep. of 2020) or because of my own personality, or actually her traits.
So, as I mentioned, I’m 17 and I don’t have friends in US because all my friends live abroad. Because of that, I spend most of my time at home and now I think I’m just tired AF of her behavior that I can’t stand because of my own.
What I really need, is for someone to explain what our borders should be. I don’t have any friends near me right now to ask face on face. I have to know what part she does have the right to control in me, and what not.
Also some info if needed, I have a part time job-so I never ask for allowance, but she keeps disrupting my privacy. Like now she got mad that I locked my own damn door. Is that even ok lol? She said "it’s my house, u don’t pay rent" and stuff like that. I found that really stupid.
She also wants to constantly have me in graphic, and I’m annoyed that it’s supposed to be my graphic and I get to do changes for myself and etc. but she’s like "nooo". So please someone explain me where our borders should be, lol. Thanks."