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Growing apart from Mom

Can we reconnect before I go to college?

I appreciate your maturity, says our elder. Here are a few suggestions for tackling a conversation with your mom.

 

Dear EWC

For some background, I am currently a senior in high school who is planning on moving out for college. Over the past few years, I’ve become more distant from my mom, and while she is a wonderful person, she sometimes scares me, and it makes it hard to talk to her about my life. I get irrationally scared that there’s some thing I’m doing that she won’t like, and that I’ll have to stop doing something that I enjoy because she thinks I shouldn’t be doing it. She also has become more irritable, which is understandable, given the stress of raising a toddler and working from home, but it makes me nervous to try and talk to her. I have tried to bring up conversations with her, but each time she did not seem interested, and the attempt faded quickly. 

I want to reconnect with her before I go off to college. I love my mom, and I don’t want us to continue growing apart. I also want to feel more comfortable asking her for help. She checks my grades a lot, and often points it out when I am missing work so that I will get it done, however, that usually just ends up stressing me out. She often tells me that I’ll ‘be in college soon’, and that I ‘should know this’, but she isn’t giving me a chance to prove otherwise. I want to ask her to stop notifying me about my grades, and to trust that if something happens, I can fix it. I have to talk to her about this, and I want to do it soon, do you have any advice on how I can bring this up to her? What should I say? Thanks in advance, I really appreciate it.

 

John-Counsel replies

You describe a stressful situation, and I appreciate your maturity and wisdom when you acknowledge that you need to talk to your mother about your relationship. Madison, I hope some of the following suggestions are helpful to you.

I think the place to begin the conversation is to tell your mother that you love her and express your appreciation for what she has done to help you develop into an independent adult. Acknowledge that you have noticed and felt tension in your relationship–tension that she too must feel. Because you love her and want to strengthen your relationship, you want to have an adult-to-adult conversation with her to do some problem-solving together. At this point check to see if your mother is willing to engage. If she is not willing, the conversation may simply need to wait for another time. If she is willing to talk, then you might want to organize the conversation something like what follows:

  •  First, establish some guidelines for this conversation as it may be a tough one. Promise each other to speak respectfully, to listen carefully and not interrupt each other, and to stick with the conversation.
  • Take turns to describe the tensions you are feeling. 
  • If the tensions are multiple, you may want to list them on paper and then have a discussion to identify those that are causing the most problems and have the most likelihood for resolution.
  • Once you have chosen the problems you want to tackle, brainstorm some solutions.
  • Pick the solutions that seem workable and feasible and commit to trying them. This is your plan to improve your relationship. 
  • Commit to revisiting the plan periodically. In these reviews the temptation will be to focus on continuing problems which is certainly appropriate. However, do not pass up opportunities to acknowledge successes. 

Madison, the goals of this approach are to affirm your love and appreciation for your mother, to demonstrate your ability to deal with difficult problems in a mature way, and, of course, to come up with a plan that will improve your relationship. Of course, there are no guarantees that this approach will work, but even if it fails, you should feel very proud that you took on a difficult problem in a mature and loving way and did the best you could. Also you can continually look for new opportunities to engage your mother in problem-solving. That said, I hope some of these ideas help you, and I wish you well.

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