Adapted from the book Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily by Susan Newman, Ph.D.
When you return to live with your mother as an adult—or she moves in with you—the issues and comments that set you off years, even decades, ago can become magnified. Age and accomplishments don’t give you immunity against insults and personal attacks, or the anger and resentment they create. First order of business is to try to let go of old hurts and grudges. If it’s time to move in together, it’s time to move on.
Change how you think about your mother. Focus on her positives rather than what you view as negative. Work around the things you believe your mother can’t or won’t change. Said another way, lower your expectations. You have memories of the years you lived together the first time, some divine, some not so great. Those recollections may color how you think about the new arrangement. What you remember from the past and hope to attain become expectations for the “new regime.” Don’t expect more than you received years ago, and you just may be pleasantly surprised. Being realistic is paramount.
Rethink how you feel about living together especially if the circumstances underlying the move are or were unpleasant. Keep the benefits and bonuses in the forefront.
Understand that there will be an adjustment period, so give it time. It will work out if you and she agree that living together is the best or most sensible arrangement for now.
Putting Boundaries in Place
Boundaries separating you from mother occurred automatically when you were independent, formed either by the physical distance or the amount of contact you orchestrated. When you live together again, boundaries can blur quickly. You will want to install ground rules that reshuffle the boundaries to ensure your mother’s and your freedom, comfort, and happiness.
If you want changes, you will have to ask for them calmly, not in an authoritative way—more in the manner you would tell a friend or partner: “I know you would want to know this.” To protect your privacy, for instance, make your room off-limits. It’s hard to believe, but there are mothers of grown women who enter their daughters’ bedrooms without warning, as if the occupant were still in grade school. Let’s say that you don’t want your mother in your room or cleaning up after you, tell her that you will tend to these things. Or, explain that you will do your own laundry.
Establishing boundaries may include what’s in the cupboard and put on the table. If you are dieting or have strong preferences or nutritional needs, discuss the matter, or decide you can live with your mother’s choices. You can also put yourself in charge of grocery shopping to resolve food issues.
Because you live together doesn’t mean you must spend every waking moment with each other. It’s important to see friends and remain involved in whatever you did before you “joined forces” in the same house. In short, retain your separate life. If one of you is new to the area, seek out groups and organizations that interest you so you get out on your own and are not dependent on one another to fill your time.
Be sure to set aside alone time. You need that time to build or maintain friendships as well as to solve problems that don’t involve your mother. If you can’t be out of the house, go into another room.
For the mother who would like nothing better than to monopolize you, these time-protection options help reaffirm that you are not abandoning the home front, and will allow her to adjust her level of neediness and dependency to your availability.
- Figure out if the desire to be together or compunction to be accessible is a problem—and if it is your problem or hers.
- Refuse to tend to time-eating tasks your mother should be able to execute on her own.
- Assess if giving in to her wishes will curtail your freedom significantly.
- Go over your schedule to demonstrate how restricted your time is.
- Determine the time you want to devote to your mother so that it doesn’t disrupt your life and giving it doesn’t pressure you.
In whatever lines you draw, explain how much you love her. If your mother does something to upset you, talk about it. Don’t let it fester. She may not realize that her comments or actions bother you, many of which can be leftovers from your mommy-child years.
You can be considerate without allowing your mother to overstep your physical and emotional boundaries. Say “Thank you” for all things she provides, be they monetary or otherwise. Call on the way home to see if you should stop at the store to pick up groceries, or at the cleaners to pick up the clothes that are ready. Surprise her by buying flowers for no reason or give her a technology lesson if you’re expert in such things. In this way, a whole scheme of cooperating evolves.
As you embrace a “New Normal,” life together will fall comfortably into place as long as you keep your boundaries sharply delineated and secure. And, when your mother oversteps them, be sure to let her know. Remember, as well as she may understand you (or think she does), she can’t know what you are thinking all the time.
For more information about living with your mother, buy Under One Roof Again.
Social psychologist Susan Newman, Ph.D. blogs for Psychology Today Magazine about parenting and small families and is a member of The American Psychological Association. She has written 15 books including The Case for the Only Child,The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It–and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever,and Parenting an Only Child, The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only. Visit her website at www.susannewmanphd.com or follow her onTwitter.