Dear Carolyn: I’m afraid to be a controlling mother to my young adult daughter, but we have a dynamic in which she often seeks me out, seeks my advice, and makes me too important in her life. I admit offering this advice because it’s hard for me to draw a line between healthy support and presence, and wanting her to see and do things the way I want. That is to say, control.
She calls me more than once a day. She asks to come visit her several times a week. She has just finished her college studies and is entering the world of work. So it’s part of the natural transition from child to adult and my learning to move away from the parenting role of education in life.
It seems that I have become her sun, and she cannot escape my gravitational pull. I need to know how to turn off my gravity.
Her father and I were divorced when she was in elementary school, and she can fear being abandoned even by me, which makes her harder to hang on. She recently started therapy by her own decision. But if you have any general guidelines to follow, I would appreciate it. All I want is for her to be healthy and happy. And for me not to play a role in an unhealthy dynamic.
How do you: Stop telling him what to do!
Holds on a plug.
With room to spare.
Yes, I understand that it is not that easy, otherwise you would have already done it. But the difficulty is not to find this path, it is to oblige it.
It’s always easier, however, when the path is clearly marked and well-lit and you know exactly where it leads.
Therefore. Sheet, Sharpie: Stop telling him what to do!
What might also make this easier is understanding other ways to support her. Presence alone is important, arguably the most important: welcome calls and visits knowing that they will diminish as her strength exceeds her needs.
Listening takes a back seat to presence, but is certainly the most underrated form of support. Your daughter is changing, leaving the structure and certainty of school to manage her own goals, money, goal, time. It is mind boggling. No doubt she has a lot to say… and how will she do if you speak?
Which brings us to an overrated form of support. Advice. (Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.) You know her as well as anyone and have hard-earned wisdom to spare – but she is her own person and her wisdom is hers yet to be gained.
So maybe on the back of the form, write this:
“Good question. What do you think?”
“I have a few ideas, but I’d rather hear what you think.”
“These transitions are difficult. It’s good not to be sure what will come next.
“I still haven’t figured it out myself.”
“Your path will be better than mine just to be yours.”
If she presses, advise through her eyes or suggest things to ask herself, rather than doing it.
Try these guidelines, at least – or the therapy, too, for you. But also rest assured that controllers are looking for more control, not less, so most of you are already there.
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