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Guess what, Mom – I’m an adult

Alcohol, a boyfriend and atheism: How do I tell my mom about my real life?

Your mom was 19 once too, says our elder. Why not open up to her and have a real relationship?

Dear EWC

I’m 19 and I wanted advice on my relationship with my mother. So the issue I have is that she isn’t really open to a lot of things in my life. I drink alcohol, have a boyfriend and am an atheist. She doesn’t know any of these things and I can’t tell her because I don’t think it’ll be taken well. I want to be able to talk to my mom about these things but I’ve been hiding them for years. She’s religious but we do have conversations about where some religious beliefs go wrong, and she does critically think about a lot of things from her religion. I don’t know how she will react to my news and I don’t want this to affect our relationship. 

I’m at university in a different country so for now this doesn’t really have any effect on my life but I would like her to know eventually. She’s asked me not to drink till I’m 21, but I have been drinking since I was 17, so maybe I don’t need to say anything till I’m 21? I don’t tell her that I go clubbing with my friends either; I don’t know how she’s take it. Again, I want to be able to talk to her about it. 

Lastly, about my boyfriend. She’s made it clear that she wants to me focus on my university and career right now and I am, I’m getting good grades and doing what I need to. She likes my boyfriend (she thinks we’re friends). She once asked my sister if I’m dating anyone and said she wouldn’t mind if I was, but my sister and I didn’t really believe that. I want to tell her but I don’t know if she’ll be OK with it and I feel like these things could really ruin our relationship. At the same time I want to be able to talk to her and get her advice on this stuff, I’m still trying to figure out how to progress into adulthood and all this, and I feel like she would really be able to help me. What do I do?

Lloyd replies

Hi there. Your letter, Connie, is well written and I really get a sense of your feelings for and your issue with your mother. I will try my best to give you some helpful feedback. I think one of the ways that EWC works is just having a complete stranger listen to your story. Very often a stranger (or elder in this case) can see clearly what the letter writer is unable to see because they are too close to the situation or have reason not to want to know the answer or for a dozen other reasons. So I don’t think we help so much because we are brilliant (though some of us are ;)) but because we listen and can be neutral and feed back from that perspective, I believe, can help the writer see things differently and make breakthroughs.

So to get to the point, Connie, you want to have a relationship with your mother but you’re afraid to tell her much about your life. What I get from your letter is that you don’t have a relationship with your mother that needs to be protected because you don’t have a relationship with your mother. There’s this perfectly behaved, by the book, never colors outside the lines fantasy young woman who is having a relationship with your mother, but, well, she doesn’t really exist, does she. So what you are protecting isn’t real, so why protect it. You have nothing to lose by introducing your mother (can be slowly, don’t need to overwhelm her) to the real Connie and see what happens. I’m not saying there won’t be some pain along the way, but even if the road is bumpy for a while, you will be having a relationship with your mother as an adult, that is honest and meaningful.

So that’s my take, Connie. You can’t ruin what you don’t have. If you just want to keep the peace and have a superficial, “how’s the weather back home” kind of interaction with your mom, then the status quo works. But if you want go for the real thing, open up – you might be surprised, after all your mother was 19 once. I’m rooting for you.

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