My parents only see the negative me and it’s ruining my relationships with everyone else.

It won’t be easy, says our elder. But you can — and must — break free.

Dear EWC

I am 40 years old, and I live across the street from my parents. I am married with an 11-year-old son. My parents are very involved with him because they babysit while I work. My mother is very critical. She is critical of how I dress, how I do everything, and how I raise my son. I understand that she has him part of the time, but I think he respects her more than he does me. I have a temper. I do not get along well with my parents. They try to control how I vote. It is very complicated. I have very low self-esteem as a result. I do not see the point in cleaning my house or doing anything because my parents do not see anything positive that I do they only see the negative. I don’t have good relationships anymore with anyone because of this.

Roxie replies

Most of us find the process of separating from our parents to be complicated, and it can often take a very long time. There are definitely certain parents who make it harder.
The more that you can get your parents’ “voices” out of your head, the happier you will be. Try to run your life by referring to your own tastes, not theirs. If you can accomplish this, you may find that your temper calms down a bit.

I realize that what I am saying is not easy. It would help if you were not dependent on them for childcare. My guess is that you need for their help makes them feel more entitled to express their opinions. Is it possible for you to move farther away from them? Given your son’s age, could you put him in an after school program that would reduce the amount of time that they babysit? In just a few years he will be old enough not to require supervision after school.

Even if you need to keep your parents in their current babysitting role, and if moving is not an option, can you reduce the amount of time that you spend interacting with them? Sometimes our parents are able to control us because we let them. Tell them (calmly, if possible, and not during or just after a fight) that you want to take a break for a little while. Discontinue those activities that give them the opportunity to express their opinions. Don’t invite them into your home where they can pass judgment on your housekeeping abilities, don’t talk on the phone with them, don’t join them for dinner. And, when you are in the privacy of the ballot box, vote the way you want.
I realize that this sounds harsh, but I think that the amount of stress and unhappiness that you are experiencing justifies it. If other members of your family criticize you for this, explain that it is just a temporary situation while you sort out your feelings. Of course, you will be available if there is an emergency.
Your letter doesn’t describe your husband’s role in your family dynamic. Could he “run interference” for you, so that necessary interactions with your parents are channeled through him? Maybe it is a lot to ask of him, but I’m sure that he will be happier when your mood improves.

Finally, you need to take some responsibility for the things in your life. Our parents have a tremendous influence on us, but they are not the whole story. Try to work on repairing your relationships with other people. Having a satisfying life of your own will make it that much easier to say goodbye to old habits with your parents.
I don’t know if you have ever considered counseling or therapy, but even a few visits can be very useful in dealing with tough situations.

I hope this is helpful. You have a big task ahead of you, but, if you try hard, you can make it happen.

Letter #: 437891
Category: Family

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