Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax: A 20-something living with an overbearing mom

Dear Carolyn:

My parents are wonderful people, and have been kind to allow my sister and me to move home due to the recession/higher education.

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of “relationship cartoonist” Nick Galifianakis. She is the author of “Tell Me About It” (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon.


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However, my mother has shifted her overprotective nature from “good intentions” to “overbearing,” wherein she feels she can dictate whom I associate with.

I can understand this for a teenager, but now that I am in my late 20s, I think I am more than capable of deciding who I associate with. I have always been a good student, have an accomplished résumé and pristine record, have never been into the party scene, and have well-mannered and mature friends. I have never given my parents a reason to worry.

However, should my friends even breathe wrong in her presence . . . that’s it. She tells me how so-and-so “is wrong for me,” how I need to find better friends, that I am too complacent/need to broaden my horizons. It has gotten to the point where I have stopped inviting friends over who are on her “no-fly” list and started lying when I go out with them. I didn’t do that when I was a teenager!

I’d move out, but that’s really not an option due to graduate school.

I just want my mom to trust me and not badger me over “what people will think of me if they see me with” so-and-so. How can I draw boundaries with someone who constantly swoops down like a vulture to rip my confidence apart? Sometimes the fights are so bad, I cancel my plans.

Watching Her Friendships Sink

Stop engaging, stop behaving as if your mom has any say in your social life, stop explaining yourself.

That last one especially. High-achiever, substance non-abuser, good character judge — great stuff! And irrelevant!

What is relevant: 1. You’re an adult, and it’s your social life. 2. It’s your mom’s house.

These realities allow you to decline to engage when your mother goes off on your friends. This is where your excellent track record does matter; at a calm moment when you’re not discussing your friends, say: “Mom, do you trust that you did a good job raising me?”

Pause while she responds affirmatively.

“Good. Now it’s time to show that by letting me handle my own friendships.”

If she makes an argument for interfering, even though there isn’t one, hear her out.

Then say you love her, appreciate how much she cares, and respect that she is entitled to her opinion. Then remind her you are also entitled to yours: that your social life is not a topic of discussion. Say this once.

Thereafter, excuse yourself from whatever conversation she takes in that direction. Do not engage. You’re already seeing these friends off-site, so you have boundary enforcement already built into your habits. No more lies, just, “I’ll be home by _____.”

She can, of course, kick you out, and those “so bad” fights suggest she might. If so, summon the discipline to remain so very very calm, and say: “That’s your prerogative, Mom. I’ll start looking.”

Then, the kicker: Do it. If you’re unwilling to make the freedom-for-housing trade-off, then start job-apartment-loan-hunting. A non-overbearing mom grants adult privileges to adult children, sure — but for some kids, freedom lies only in full adult responsibilities, vs. ordering a la carte.

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