Your advice is always so full of wisdom and brilliant insight. I really enjoy your column.
I’m 40F and super close with my parents; we chat daily on the phone. My mom and dad, married 42 years, are very much in love.
However, they have a recurring conflict. Step 1: Dad does something incorrect according to Mom’s rules (for example, Dad bought a large sandwich to share, which resulted in leftovers) 2: Mom nags at Dad. 3. Dad is silent, but later explodes. 4. Mom apologizes, and soon the cycle repeats.
When my mom calls to tell me about it, I feel triggered because she sometimes nags at me and my sister in the same bossy tone. If we don’t do things her way, she lectures us. It hurts me when she diminishes Dad’s confidence in his own judgement the same way. Dad is becoming more dependent as he believes she knows best about his clothing choices, cooking methods, time management, etc.
I’ve talked to mom gently, and she HAS improved. Sometimes she calls me to share a victory in which she restrains herself from nagging, and I’m proud of her. She considers me her closest confidante. However, she still believes she knows best, and struggles to understand that others have different ways of doing things.
How do I not let this hurt me, and how do I stop feeling responsible for protecting my dad and sister?
Highly Sensitive Daughter
Dear Highly Sensitive Daughter,
Thank you for your kind words about my column. That is wonderful that you have such a close relationship with your parents. It is incredibly special that you are your mom’s most trusted confidant as well.
You need to set firm boundaries with your mom. You mentioned that you have spoken to your mom gently in the past regarding her nagging to your dad. This shows that your relationship is strong enough to allow for direct and sometimes difficult conversations. This a great foundation to begin the process of forming boundaries.
Start the conversation with something like this, “Mom, I love you and Dad so incredibly much. This makes it really hard to listen to you complain about dad when you are frustrated. Because it’s so hard for me, I am asking you to not share those frustrations with me”. Tweak this to whatever feels right for the conversation. Setting boundaries is always uncomfortable initially, but once they are in place you will feel a sense of relief and security.
As far as protecting yourself, as well as feeling less responsible for your dad and your sister, remember your own personal boundaries. If you aren’t sure what that means for you, you do have some work ahead of you. I personally love this summary of what appropriate boundaries feel like:
This is a great starting point. If you feel it would be helpful, share this information on boundaries with your father and sister. You are very kind for wanting to protect them, but it is truly not your job. Giving them to tools to help themselves would be a great way for them to advocate for themselves.
I wish you luck,