updated 29 Mar 2012, 20:36
user id password
Wed, Mar 28, 2012
The Star/Asia News Network
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Step out, gently


I AM 45 and I live with my mother. I've never been away from her, except during company trips that prohibit us from bringing non-employees.

I have no problems supporting the both of us financially, but I feel increasingly strained from exclusively supporting her emotionally and physically.

My parents fell out of love with each other early in their marriage, but stayed together as divorce was taboo back then.

My childhood and youth were filled with restrictions, which my mother told me were laid down by my father. I discovered that was not entirely true when he died 12 years ago.

Until then my life was strictly school/college/office and back. I eventually became a loner as friends grew tired of my excuses for not being able to join them for even a simple tea break.

Still, I pushed aside thoughts of "what could have been" and focused on starting life anew as I thought my father's demise would set my mother free too.

I was wrong. My mother told me it was now my duty to take care of her and she never fails to use this as my guilt trip.

I take her, and accompany her, wherever she wants to go because she has one excuse after another for not driving herself despite having her own car.

I take leave the minute she hints that she is not well. I take her along to all my company get-togethers even though at times it hurts to see colleagues with their spouses and children.

Signs of stress became apparent as I approached 40; she promptly insisted they were caused by my work, despite my hinting otherwise.

Some months ago, I sat her down and gently told her I needed to have a life of my own, independent of hers, and vice versa.

She was not happy, but I thought she understood my feelings as she didn't throw any tantrums after that.

But a few days later, her sister called and said mother was livid about what I'd said because it is selfish of me to think only of myself, and to abandon my duty as her daughter.

My mother is (wrongly) convinced I have been influenced by outsiders and wants my aunt to find out if I've been telling the truth about my work and friends.

Is it wrong of me to think this way?

Dutiful daughter

NO, it is not wrong for you to feel the way you do. Your mother has, successfully over the years, made herself the centre of your life.

She has used manipulative methods to do so - using your father's name to control your behaviour, using guilt to make you feel responsible for her, and manipulating you emotionally as well.

This does not mean that your mother is bad. She has probably had a hard life and is looking out for herself.

She is afraid of being abandoned or left alone. Her bad marriage could be one reason for her feeling like this.

You should not make light of your stress. Left unattended, it can develop into resentment for your mother and maybe, even yourself.

The first thing you will have to do is to convince her you love her and will look after her. She will need a lot of assurance and this may take some time; bear this in mind and do not show her signs of irritation.

Does your mother have her own circle of friends, relatives or social support? Encourage her to spend more time with them, get involved with activities and cultivate a life of her own.

Baby steps may be needed and you can expect to accompany her for a few of these activities.

Once she is sure of not losing your affection and that you will take care of her, it will become easier to start doing your own thing.

Now, you have to find the courage to step out on your own and find ways to engage yourself. You sound like you want to, but years of having your mother for company may have made you comfortable with that. You may have to learn how to socialise.

You do not have to completely cut your mother out of your life, though. You can still involve her in some events and activities.

It will be good if you do, actually. Then she will be more certain and secure in knowing that you will not leave her.

Why do you feel guilty? You own your feelings and no one can make you feel anything. Put yourself in your mother's shoes and imagine the life she's had.

Empathise with her, but do not sympathise. Do not feel sorry for her as that will lead you to feel guilty.

I'm sure you appreciate all that she has done for you, but that does not mean that you should be in servitude to her. You are not responsible for the choices she has made in her life.

As much as you want her to understand you, she would like for you to understand her too. Get her to talk to you about her fears and hopes.

Allow her to talk freely about the ups and downs in her life. Share with her yours as well.

Just remember to persevere. Old habits die hard and you may have to work that little bit more to get your mother to see things the way you do.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2012 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.