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Carolyn Hax: Mom ‘won’t let’ adult child leave

Hi, Carolyn: I’m 28 and Mom won’t let me move out. I just finished up a master’s degree, I have a job, good friends. Despite all of this, I don’t feel like an adult because my mom has guilted me into continuing to live at home.

A few years ago, I found a great apartment, but decided to ask my mom’s opinion before signing the lease, even though I suspected she’d freak out. Lo and behold, she began crying, yelling and arguing that I was abandoning her, leaving her in a financial tough spot (I pay her $600 a month in rent and buy most of the groceries) and that the apartment I selected was overpriced, too small, etc.

Now anytime I gently bring up possibly moving out this year she coldly responds with “Do whatever you want to do, I don’t care anymore” and gives me the silent treatment for the rest of the day.

How can I gain the confidence to really move out this time without hurting my mom too much or damaging our relationship? – Stuck at Home

My keyboard won’t let my forehead go unsmacked.

I appreciate that your confidence has taken a beating at your mother’s hands. The language of manipulation is all over her responses as you describe them, and I don’t doubt that she pours on or withholds her approval based on how closely you stick to her vision of how you should live your life. It’s very difficult in those conditions to recognize where she leaves off and where you begin.

But your own phrasing offers a way to start. She won’t let me, you say. Really? Are there bars, locks or limb restraints involved?

Presumably, there’s just this: The actual or implied threat that she will Get Very Upset, and accuse you of doing her harm.

So, rephrase accordingly: “My mother won’t let me move out” is now “My mother won’t let me move out without making a huge stink about it, and possibly holding a permanent grudge.”

That’s truth, there. So much easier to work with.

That’s because you can now lay out your choices clearly before you: Either you keep living with your mom, even though you’re an adult with the means and desire to live independently, or you move out knowing it will upset your mother.

We can even go further, with some mild editorializing: Either you sacrifice your happiness for your mother’s, or you pursue your happiness and trust her to sort out her own.

Or with heavier opinionating: You stay put, ceding the last word on your life to your mother, or you move out because the belief you feel you cannot compromise is that your life is your own to control.

I’m walking you in a clear direction. Do you agree or disagree?

Maybe you flinched because you think leaving will estrange you two. But staying might, too, if you feel trapped and resentful.

Focusing on your initial choice of words, and expanding the sentence piece by piece with more information, draws a map of each crossroads you reach, with each path you select taking you to other crossroads. It’s less a map, maybe, than a biographical flow chart. With each decision, you’re not just deciding where you live or whom you upset or how, though each of those choices is significant; you’re also figuring out who you are, as distinct from who your mother pressures you to be.


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