What do I do?

by on November 14, 2012

in Bernice responds

Hello, I’m 28 and an only – my father passed away when I was just shy of 9 years old and to be quite honest he was an abusive drunk. My mom and I have always been a “team”, we’ve always had one another but with age and time I’m finding that I just want a sense of freedom, but suffer tremendous guilt with the thought of “being free” and just enjoying life to the fullest. Every decision I make, I have my mother in mind and feel guilty planning a vacation, shopping for myself, or even having social gatherings without a level of guilt from my mom. Every apartment complex I’ve moved to she generally follows living either within the same building or perhaps a building over.

Do you know how sabotaging that is? To not have a guest over when you want, because your parent shows up without notice, daily, or the fear of an interruption whilst having a dinner date or some sort. The thought of moving far away crosses my mind often. I went to college out of state to develop a sense of self but had to move back due to financial hardships. I’m 28 and still feel like I’m 8.

I’m missing out on so much, out of fear and guilt. My love often turns to disgust, anger, frustration. I’m miserable. As I try to progress in life I feel that my mother digresses, becoming more and more needy, acting incapable of doing small task. Cleaning, cooking- she’s 46. I clean her apartment, I cook most her meals, I run her errands I feel like the parent and she is a teenager – my respect for depletes with each day. She raised me to be this strong independent woman but then contradicts everything she’s tried to teach me.

I love her dearly but you have to understand she’s 46… She’s still young and acts like a hybrid between a 14 year old and a 94 year old. I want her to live life and enjoy it, she suffers from depression- I want her to find happiness that is outside of me.

If you’ve ever seen the movie/documentary Grey Gardens I don’t want to end up like ‘Little Edie’. What do I do?

Bernice Replies:

Thank you for your heartfelt email and permission to share it with our ‘family’ of onlies. I was very moved by your story and I know that you are not alone in this situation so I hope my reply will be of benefit to you and others. I can see from you email that you have always had your mother’s best interests at heart, so much so that I think you are not really acknowledging your own needs.

Grey Gardens is a particularly good analogy you offer with regard to your fear of the present situation with your mother. In Grey Gardens the mother is unable to distinguish between herself and her daughter . This is reflected in the fact that the mother gave her daughter the same name. The mother is named Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie).  The emotional incest which is revealed during the film shows that Big Edie is really only concerned with her on needs and insidiously disables Little Edie to such a extent that so she can no longer function independently.

This is the type of emotional incest I wrote about in ‘Why are only children more prone to enmeshment than sibling children?’. Emotional incest is toxic and as in the film very hard to remove oneself from. It can be a characteristic of only children because they are the only ones to carry the family into the next generation so all the hopes and fears fall upon them. Whilst this is not inevitable, it can happen that the only child adult becomes enmeshed with a parent/s because of the difficultly that parent/s have of allowing their child and then adult become a separate individual Often in these circumstances there are two conflicting message “Be independent” and “Depend on me” which later becomes “I depend on you”. It is very hard to know where you stand when messages conflict in this way.

In general I would say to all adult onlies it may be useful to read my post ‘Do you need to separate psychologically from your parents?’ as this will give you an indication of some of the problems arising if you haven’t. In the post ‘Cutting the Ties‘ offers  some solutions if you have answered ‘Yes’ to a lot of the questions.

In particular for you, as hard as it may sound, remember  you are not responsible for your mother’s happiness and as she is still young, helping her as if she is elderly is not solving but compounding the problem. You need to take a step back and let go.  She needs to get her own treatment for depression you cannot help her with that. Your duty is to be the independent woman she has taught you to be and make boundaries on your relationship together. Ultimately I suggest you move away whilst your mother is still young and healthy. Don’t feel guilty about wanting to ‘feel free’ the best thing you can do for both of you is to cut the ties and live your own lives separately.

I am sure that others may also be prepared to share their experience of the difficulties you are faced with. Many thanks for sharing these with us and don’t feel guilty for wanting to be separate from your mom.

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