Dear Annie: I am a 35-year-old man. Years ago, my mother developed a bad habit. Whenever I was in the passenger side of the car, if she stopped short, she would put her arm against my chest to prevent me from going through the windshield. This infuriated me. I’m already wearing a seatbelt, and there is no way a woman her size could protect me. Every time she did this, I would yell, “Keep your hands on the wheel!” Eventually, she stopped.
My mother has always looked for ways to control me. She complains about every problem under the sun, and when I offer a workable solution, she says, “Well, some people can’t afford to do those things,” and we end up arguing. Her arguments are always stupid, and she’ll flip sides to make me look like the aggressor. It’s very manipulative and makes me furious.
In the past two years, I’ve avoided seeing or speaking to my parents. Recently, Mom asked me to see my grandmother. Against my better judgment, I went with her, and out of the blue, she did that thing again, putting her arm across my chest when she stopped suddenly.
I told her to pull over. She said, “I’m sorry, but I get nervous.” I said, “Then I don’t think I can trust you to drive” and walked home. I don’t know anyone else who does this. It’s not normal. I suspect my mother wants to feel like the boss of the situation. What do you say? – N.Y.
Dear N.Y.: Every parent we know does this. You interpret it as controlling and manipulative, but it is done out of an instinctive impulse to protect someone they love. Try to recognize that your feelings could indicate a skewed perspective about Mom’s motives and may be coloring your entire relationship. The two of you don’t seem to communicate in the same language. Please explore this with a professional counselor and work on ways to relate in a healthier and more productive manner. And ask your mother to go, too. We suspect she could benefit, as well.