"Help! My mom's relationship is driving a wedge between us."
I’m having mom issues so I’m hoping another mom can give me some insight. I’m in my mid-20s and I’ve found the man I’m going to marry. We’ve been a couple for 10 months but have known each other for years, and plan to make it official sometime within the next 6 months. Life seems pretty perfect for me and I should be extremely happy, right? Well, my mom and her life are getting in my way—or at least getting in my head. My parents are divorced, my father is remarried, and my mother has had two serious relationships. She started seeing the most recent boyfriend, whom she met online, about 5 months ago and they are already living together and talk about getting engaged. Her boyfriend even told me he has a ring designed and a date set to propose.
What really hurts is that ever since she started seeing him, she hasn’t been acting like my mom anymore. She is very defensive of her boyfriend and now we barely talk. I gave them my blessing and said I’m happy for her, even though I don’t like her boyfriend. I don’t understand the rush especially with all of the tension it’s causing between us. She keeps saying I come first, but her actions speak way louder than her words. Every time I try to talk to her about me and my boyfriend, she just compares it to her and her boyfriend. Anytime my boyfriend does something sweet she one ups me with a story of her own. I finally stopped talking about my relationship at all.
When she started living with her boyfriend, I asked her not to get engaged before me and my boyfriend did (I even cried about it). I dreaded showing her my ring only to have her say, “What a nice ring, but look at mine!” I’ve shown her some pictures of wedding dresses and she’s already saying “That’s too sexy for you, but I wonder what my second wedding dress should be!” I wish she could just be happy for me. Getting married is a huge deal for me. Why can’t she just step back and let my fiancé and I have our moment?
I talked to her about it again recently and she responded with, “Don’t worry about my personal life anymore, I won’t overshadow you.” So now I know she’ll get engaged in secret and keep it from me to avoid hurting my feelings—and then it will feel like she doesn’t want to include her daughter in her life plans. Anyone I’ve talked to says she should respect my request and let me have the mother-daughter experience I’d like. I don’t need a “girlfriend” to compare weddings with. I want my mom to celebrate my special day with me, and then I can celebrate her day with her—separately.
—Needing a Mom in Wisconsin
Dear Needing a Mom,
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just chose the parents that we want? Unfortunately, we are stuck with who we have and all of us, to a certain extent, have to learn how to work with that so it doesn’t drive us nuts. Your mom seems engrossed in her love life and you are all tied up in knots because you are craving her undivided attention and excitement. You can keep trying (I commend you for talking directly to her about it), but I am skeptical that you are going to get your perfect, princess-y mother-daughter wedding experience. Instead you’ll need to create your own bridal support group. Who will dote on you, pore through every possible wedding dress, and make you feel special and adored? Identify those people now and gather them around you, before this dynamic with your mother sours a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
That’s sort of the easy, external part. Here’s the radical internal part: Accept that your mother is a human being with unmet needs, imperfections, weaknesses, pain, and unfulfilled wishes herself. We want our parents to be Gods, but they are small, fragile, sometimes frightened people just like us. Your mom isn’t being abusive (thank goodness), she’s being disappointing. If you can somehow empathize, get into her head, figure out why she’s clinging to this new relationship, I promise it will help liberate you. You aren’t letting her off the hook; instead you are being a clear-eyed young woman and stopping yourself from obsessing about something she’s not able to deliver. In retrospect, she may have many regrets and wish that she had been there for you 100%, but right now, all you can do is conduct yourself in a way that’s going to make this the best possible experience—despite the fact that it’s not your dream scenario.
Meanwhile, let your mother give you what she can. She said that she wouldn’t overshadow your engagement and your reaction was that now she’s cutting you out of her plans. I know you feel all tangled and emotional, but you can’t have it both ways. Perhaps you got through to her, even in some small way. Be open to her trying to please you, her daughter, whom she really does love.
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