I love my parents deeply, but I’m starting to feel that I’d be better off having a more distant relationship with them. My fiancé and I are even considering moving an hour away. I just don’t know what to do anymore, and wish I could end the drama once and for all.
Coral Springs, Florida
I am so sorry that you’re going through this. Many women struggle with mothers who have different ideas about how to raise children, whether the issue is discipline, diet, sleep, or manners. Because grandparents have raised kids before, they tend to think that their advice is for their grandchildren’s benefit. But now they are in an unfamiliar role. If grandparents get all the freedom of not being directly responsible for their beloved grandchildren, they also get none of the agency they had as parents. They don’t get to decide what their grandchildren eat, how much TV they watch, whether they send handwritten or electronic thank-you notes, when they should wear a coat, whether they’re allowed to quit the soccer team, or how to handle their tantrums.
When grandparents intervene in these situations, in their minds, they’re coming from a place of love and concern. There’s a difference, however, between concern and control, just as there’s a difference between a suggestion and a criticism. You don’t say what your mom was like when she was raising you, but it sounds as though she has a hard time seeing other people as separate from herself. She believed that how she felt about divorce should be how you felt about divorce. And now she believes that if she feels that your fiancé’s parenting style is restrictive, then your daughter should feel that way too.
In many cases, when a child grows up with a mother who has difficulty seeing where she ends and where the child begins, the child becomes an adult who has difficulty tolerating differences between what she wants and what her mother wants. That may be what’s happened with you and your mother. For instance, on the one hand, you disagree with your mother’s point of view; on the other, you keep trying to merge with her by either pleasing her or getting her to see things your way. There’s no room for you to be two separate people, and for that separateness to be okay with both of you. You can’t seem to agree to disagree about whether you say yes or no to one of your daughter’s requests; you each try valiantly to get the other to think and feel exactly the same way.
To change this dynamic, you can start by recognizing that your mom brings her own emotional history and makeup to this situation, and that your job isn’t to change how she thinks or feels. It’s simply to get comfortable with the discomfort of her being separate from you. You might start by noticing how intense your mom’s reactions have been to your decision to leave your marriage and to your fiancé’s involvement with your daughter. She didn’t just share her view about divorce with you; the situation became “a family crisis.” Similarly, she doesn’t just want your fiancé to say yes more often to your daughter; she wants him to have no role in caring for her whatsoever (“in any way, shape, or form”), despite how strong their relationship seems to be.