Life According To Lenson
My Mother Is Unbearable...
By Eileen Lenson
Sep 11, 2012 - 5:26:25 PM

LOS ANGELESLife coach Eileen Lenson provides advice and support to readers who want to improve their lives. This issue addresses questions about an overly controlling mother, parents who lose their home and more.

Q:  My mother is overly involved in my life.  I used to like it when I was young, because it made me feel special and more loved than my siblings.  But now, as an adult, I am resentful of her interference in my life.  She is critical of my friends, my boyfriend, my neighbors...pretty much everyone in my life.  I used to trust her judgment about people, but am beginning to realize that she has successfully sabotaged my relationships to keep me close to her.  How do I break free?

A:  Unfortunately, parents sometimes target a specific child as an emotional crutch, expecting that individual to take care of them, rather than vice versa.  You are demonstrating good insight into how unhealthy the relationship has become for both of you.  As an adult, you are entitled to live your life as you wish, without her approval. 

I suggest you nicely, and matter-of-factly, explain to your mother that she did a great job raising you, and that you now realize it is important to make decisions as an adult, even if she does not approve of them.  Assure her that in no way does this mean you are abandoning her, but that you want to live life fully, as you are sure she wants you to do. 

Expect that she will protest, and perhaps try to manipulate you to prevent these changes.  Recognize that she may be coming from a position of fear of abandonment.   With the passage of time, she will see you living a happier and less resentful life.  Your shared time together will be less conflict ridden.  A byproduct of your personal growth may be your mother learning to take care of herself better, developing new friends, and discovering new activities to participate in.

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Parents lose house; son loses their love

Q:  My elderly parents recently lost their house.  After 20+ years of living in their home, it was foreclosed.  As if that wouldn't be bad enough, it seems that I've lost my mother and father as parents.  We used to have a nice, friendly, and caring relationship. I've tried to help them as best as I can.  I've even gone to the bank with them, hoping something could be worked out on their mortgage, but it didn't help.  I bring them meals from time to time, and help with the electric bill.  Now they both seem angry at everything, but especially at me.  What can I do?  I'm finding myself getting irritated and short with them now.

A:  It's likely that your parents are grieving the loss of their home and everything it symbolized for them.   At a time in their lives when they were expecting stability, they are facing uncertainty.  As if that wasn't enough, they are experiencing a role reversal with their child.  After years of providing support, encouragement and financial support to you, they may be feeling the shame and humiliation of depending on you for emotional and financial support. 

Be patient with your parents as they adjust to their losses and changes.  If possible, try to identify other ways they can make contributions in your life.  If they can participate in an activity such as babysitting grandchildren, or a project such as helping organize your garden or your photo albums, they will be reassured they still have value and meaning in your life.  

Finally, attempt to have an open discussion with your parents about your unconditional love for them.  They may be relieved to have the opportunity to express their worries openly with you.  Personal growth and increased closeness can be the byproduct of misfortune, if you work to make it happen.

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Finding oneself after divorce

Q:  My husband divorced me last year.  At first, I was shocked and upset.  Then, I realized that my life had been in a rut, and that I wasn't so happy being married to him. He was very controlling, and insisted we always do what he wanted to do.  Over the years, I seem to have forgotten who I am, and what makes me happy.  I have tried to change things by being open to new opportunities that I might have previously overlooked.  But now it seems that I am wasting a lot of time and energy, exploring different paths. What do you recommend?

A:  The process you are going through in moving forward is exciting but understandably scary.  As you go forward, realize that you are learning more about yourself as you expose yourself to different experiences.  With this newly acquired information, you will be able to make better choices.

Over time, you will learn how to better trust your inner voice.  This will help you in making authentic decisions that will help you calibrate the correct path you wish for your life.  In the meantime, keep in mind that even an experience that is not rewarding can enhance your personal growth.  So long as you look for what you can learn from an experience, there is no downside. 

There is a saying, "The life you are living is the life that you have created. If you don’t like it change it. Nothing will change it for you." The significant message here is that each of us has the power to make changes in our lives.  But all too often we view ourselves as powerless and victims of external circumstances or other people.  I commend you for owning the responsibility for changing the aspects of your life that are not making you happy.  Embrace the exploration process and enjoy!

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Mother-in-law is a unbearable

Q:  I really, really, really, do not like my mother-in-law.  She never cut the apron strings with her son - my husband.  She tries to come between us, and undermines my role as his wife.  When I am home, she finds fault with everything; my cooking, my appearance, and even how I discipline my dog. I can only take so much from her.  I thought that over time, she would learn to accept me and become nicer. That didn't happen.  Instead, I get stomachaches when I think of her coming over my home, and resent her immensely.  I find that raising my voice to her is the only thing that gets her attention and interrupts her negativity towards me.  My husband wants me to have a civil relationship with her, but I don't see any signs of her changing her behavior.

A:  Your problem is experienced by many.  Just because you love your spouse does not ensure harmonious relationships with their family.  The secret to transforming the out-laws into in-laws involves re-examining your perception for how you view your responsibility in this relationship. 

It appears to me that you are waiting for your mother-in-law to change.  Under these circumstances, that is highly unlikely to occur.

Your despair in not being able to have a civil relationship reflects a feeling of powerlessness.  This is because you are seeing her as responsible, and you as the victim.  I am not saying that she is correct in how she relates to you.  But by blaming her, and seeing her as unbearable, you become the victim. Victims are powerless and remain stuck and unhappy in their relationships, and nothing changes.

I don't want that for you!  Recognize that while you have no power to change your mother-in-law, how you relate to her will influence how she responds to you.  By assuming full responsibility for the relationship - your conversations, behavior, and responses - you will find her responding in a healthier manner to you.

The effort you put into assuming responsibility for your communication and behavior when relating to your mother-in-law will bring about more positive experiences than the resentment and fighting that you are currently encountering.

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Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW, Board Certified Coach, is a life coach in private practice.  Prior to becoming a life coach, she was a licensed clinical social worker for 20 years.  For further information, write to her at Eileen@LensonLifeCoaching.com, or visit her website at www.LensonLifeCoaching.com

Do you have a question about something in your life you would like to learn, change or solve? Submit your questions to Board Certified Life Coach Eileen Lenson.


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