Ask Marwa: My mom is driving me crazy

Date posted: January 7, 2009

Dear Marwa

I am sending you this email because I want you to discuss the parent-child relationship. I am sure that I am not the only one who is suffering because of a parent-related problem. I have a chronic problem with my mother. She is too dominating. She wants her orders obeyed without any form of discussion. I am the youngest among my three brothers and I am thirty years old. That means that I am an adult and that I could be fully responsible for my life. If I were married I would have been in charge of a home and kids of my own. She has no faith in me. My mother does not believe that I could take care of the slightest things that relate to me. In her eyes we are kids and she has to take full care of us. She cannot see that we are grownups.

I will give you a few examples of the forms of torture that I have to live with: I cannot choose my own clothes for until today she dresses me up according to her own taste. She dictates when I am allowed to go out and when I am not. She chooses my friends for me and she monitors my phone calls. I would tell her that I am going out with a certain friend to a certain place and I cannot tell you how many times she had showed up unannounced just to make sure that I was where I said I would be. She blindly follows traditions even if it was at the risk of making us miserable. When we try to object we are accused of being ungrateful and non obedient, then she starts crying and wonders what she did wrong to deserve children like us. She tells us that we would go to hell and that we would never be successful because she is angry at us.

I am really confused. Do you think God will really punish me for not obeying her? Do you think I am wrong for how I feel about her? My brothers cannot get married because every time they get engaged the girl ends it because of my mother; she interferes in the girl's life the same way she interferes in mine. Now I have no vision, no standards, no principles, and no one to really guide me. I lie to her, I cheat, and I even smoke behind her back. I have a boyfriend and I cannot tell her. I am always sad and everything makes me feel guilty. I wish I could talk to her as a friend but I feel that I hate her most of the time. Will God punish me for that too?


Dear H

Thank you for trusting me with your problem and I will do my best to help you out. I am a believer in the proverb that says "Never judge a man or a woman until you have walked a mile in his or her shoes." Your email talks about your mom and her over protectiveness, you and your suffering, and your brothers and their share of problems. There was nothing about your father. This leads me to assume that your father has either passed away, is working abroad, or is passive and has no say in your lives. This leaves me with your mother: a woman who had to raise four children – three of which are males – on her own. My heart goes out to her. This is a huge burden.

The world is no longer a safe place and every other day we here of a new crises, a new addiction, a new scandal, or a new story of a girl or a boy who lost their way. Mix this kind of knowledge with her sense of responsibility and you will realize that your mom was left with no other option other than hovering over you and taking over your lives until she felt that you were all safe. I am not saying that she did the right thing. I am telling you that she was a scared woman who did not know any better. Your mother does not trust the world she brought you to and this is why she has decided to mother you until her very last breath. This is like a mother cat that eats her kittens when someone messes up with their nest or litter. She does not know she that is killing them, she just wants to protect them. Operating on her basic instincts, she wants to put them back inside her womb where they will always be safe.

My advice would be to try to understand where your mother is coming from and why she is behaving that way. Instead of judging her, try to find excuses for her. Have no doubt that she loves you and that she loves your brothers. She just needs to know that you love her back and that you will take good care of yourselves. She needs to be sure that you are capable of taking the right decisions and of making the right choices. Do not look at her as a dominating tyrant but rather try to think of her as a frightened single mom – whether your dad is here or not she has shouldered the responsibility of brining you up alone. This is why she accuses you of ungratefulness. She feels unloved and that the extreme measures she took to protect you have gone by unappreciated. Standing in her shoes, I can tell you that she has sacrificed a lot and feels that it was all in vain; hence the frustration and the extra aggression.

I would also advise you to take baby steps towards her. Do little things to show her that you appreciate what she is doing for you. I am basically asking you to become her mother. Now it is your turn to love her back and to protect her from her own actions. This is the time when you prove to her that if she let go of your hand, you will not fall on your face. Show her that if you walk into a store, you will choose appropriate clothes on your own. If you go out with friends, you will choose the right crowd and the right places. If you are faced with a moral decision at work, you will do the right thing. If you stumble on a tiny stone on the way, you will manage to regain your balance and move on.

Here is the plan: choose three days per week when you tell her success stories. Yes! Your daily success stories inside or outside the workplace. Share with her your achievements. Make her feel proud of the baby girl she raised. Choose one day per week to spend quality time with her. You can take her out or stay at home as long as you get to let her talk and listen to her with attentiveness and interest. Let her talk about her day or about her plans when you and your brothers leave the nest. Let her talk about the toughest times in her life. Let her share her dreams – the one she fulfilled and the ones she had to bury under her pillow. Ask her to teach you something that you admire about her – even if it is how to make a decent bowl of salad. Get her a gift once a month. I am not talking about an expensive gift; a card, a saucepan, a scarf, a bag, or anything that will make her smile would do. Tell her that you love her at least once a week. Let her feel your warmth and she will warm up to you.

In your email you said that you wished to talk to her as a friend but she did not allow it. I am sure if I ask her, she would say the same thing about you; she wishes to befriend you but you push her away. The catch here is that I cannot change your mom but I can help you change how you deal with her for better results. Lying, cheating, smoking, and having a boyfriend behind her back will neither restore her faith in you nor will it heal the trust issues in your relationship. By doing so, you just made yourself look more and more guilty and made her act more and more suspicious. When people lie their bodies exert a lot of effort to hide the lie. This is why they roll their eyes, sweat, blush, or stutter. Your mom gave birth to you. She knows you like the back of her hand. She knows you are hiding something and in her book, only bad things are worth hiding. I am not saying that you are doing something wrong but I am telling you why you look guilty all the time.

Your mom will not live forever and she might not even live to see your own children. Enjoy her presence for as long as it lasts. Heal the past in the present to secure a better guilt-free future. If you look at her lovingly and smile, she will look back at you lovingly and smile back. If you reach out to her, she will take your hand. Your mom is not as strong or as powerful as she used to be and today she needs to feel that her efforts and sacrifices paid off. She needs to feel that she did the best for you and that you were worth it. Prove to her that you are a grown up and that she could trust you. Eventually she will loosen her grip. She is not mean or evil … she is just scared of a mean evil world out there.

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