Dear Sarah,

My boyfriend and I have decided to move to Florida from Texas to go to college because it’s cheaper to attend school and live there and would really benefit us. My entire family lives in Texas, and I have no idea how to tell my mom I’m moving. I’m her only daughter, and she had me at 16, so she’s really protective and can be a little needy. We aren’t moving until May, but I’m going to have to tell her eventually, and I don’t know how to say it, or when, or if my boyfriend should be there or not. She’ll try to guilt me into staying, she made me feel terrible for months when I moved out of the house to live on my own two years ago. I’m sure she’ll also have something to say about the fact my boyfriend and I aren’t married yet. It’s so nerve-wracking. What do I do?


—In-a-Bind from Texas

Dear In-a-Bind,

As the mom of daughter who will be leaving the nest to go to college next fall, I do empathize with your mom and the sadness and loss she’ll feel. However, it is fully appropriate for you, as a young adult, to head out and make you way in the world. No matter how hard it is for us parents, we all need to work at accepting and supporting our kid’s independence. And, after a sometimes bumpy period, most of us do (including, I predict, your mother).

You won’t be able to control her reaction to your news, but you can control how you deliver it and also how you connect with her during the first painful months after you move. Lately, I’ve encountered so many situations in which people hope to avoid all conflict and compromise, but that’s just magical thinking. Pain, loss, anger, disagreement—all that tough stuff, are an inevitable part of life that we can’t hide from. So, your first job is to release the idea that you might be able to do this without anybody feeling hurt or becoming emotional.

Before you tell her your plans, make sure they are sensible and concrete. There’s no point in stirring anything up until you know for sure you are even going and also have an idea of exactly what you are going to be doing in Florida. What school? Why? Where will you live? How will you make money? You need to figure all these details out anyway and providing them to her will help dispel some of her anxiety.

Acknowledge that you love her and you know its going to be hard for her. The biggest mistake you can make in this kind of conversation is acting like its NBD. Set up a date for a visit back home not too long after you go (or maybe have her come help you set up your new apartment if that’s possible) and schedule regular Skype or FaceTime chats. You won’t have to hold her hand through this forever, but a little sensitivity up front will go a long way.

When you first break the news, don’t bring your guy—she might feel like you are ganging up on her. And, besides, this is about your relationship as mother and daughter. You’ll be okay on your own.

No amount of preparation will make her jump up and down with excitement over your news, but if you act responsibly and lovingly, it will help her see that you are mature enough to be on your own (even if she doesn’t like it much). You say your whole family is in Texas—so, she has a support system which will help her transition. That’s one less thing to worry about!

Part of why you are fretting about this so much, I suspect, is that you are worried about losing her love. You won’t. She might be upset for a time, but she’ll love you just the same.

Love, Sarah

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