Dear Dr. G,
I need help understanding my mother, my entire life she’s acted unlike most mothers. Her behavior resembles a teenager's behavior, while I’m the teen who has to parent her. She has body issues but loves to spend money on clothes for my sister and I, while I insist my clothes are perfectly fine and that everything costs to much. My mother worships our slim figures, when I couldn’t care less about weight. She dates constantly, and I never approve of her choices (the one she has know got her to start smoking again). She texts me all time (I hate texting). She lacks compassion and often berates me for donating and wanting to help others (she doesn’t see the point). She gossips and takes thirty minutes to do her makeup! My mother fails to understand that her actions affect more than herself.
There are more examples I can spew but I don’t understand why she has always behaved this way. She does function as an adult, working-paying her bills and such, but she has the mentality of a teenager. My father, her ex-husband, has choked me and hit me but she refuses to acknowledge it when I tell her. She’s like a child who thinks their invincible, ’oh that could never happen’. Help! She just won’t grow up!
A Frustrated Teen
I am delighted that you wrote to me and that you provided so many examples of how your mother has been behaving. Although I am not sure exactly how old you are I must say that you seem to be both mature and intelligent. You also have some very healthy expectations of how mothers should behave. Unfortunately, sometimes roles get reversed and mothers act as if they are the children and may even expect their children to parent them. This is both sad and unfair for everyone involved. While I feel badly for your mother who seems to be very self-absorbed and has difficulty parenting- this letter is about you so I will attend to your needs and concerns here.
First, I want to tell you that it is unfortunate that your mother is not being a positive and healthy role model for you. That is sad. Every daughter would like a mother who models how a mature woman behaves. I suggest that you try to find other female role models. Perhaps you have a relative, a friend's mother or even a teacher who you admire who can serve as a role model. Throughout your life you will benefit from having female role models.
Second, it sounds like your mother does not have a good sense of boundaries. Of course, you don't want her to text you constantly. You have a variety of tasks to attend to and texting excessively interferes with the task at hand and is quite distracting. Here, I suggest that you ask your mother to text you less frequently. If she does not respond to this request then perhaps you can respond to her text messages less frequently. Behavior tends to decrease in frequency when it is not reinforced.
Third, I wonder if your mother is embarrassing you with her emphasis on appearance and her dating patterns. If this is the case, then try very hard to remind yourself that even though it may seem like your mother's behavior reflects directly on you that you and your mom are two separate people.
Fourth, I agree with you that it seems like your mother lacks empathy. Gossiping and berating you for your compassionate behavior are clearly not related to empathy. I am so sorry that your mother did not support and help you when your father was abusive. I don't know if your father's behavior if is still going on but if it is I hope that you will tell an adult or someone at school so that you can get support around this issue. You can also call Child Services in your state if this behavior is ongoing.
Finally, I want to say that sometimes in life things don't work out the way they are supposed to. Your mother has her limitations. You do not,however,need to mother her even though it feels like you should. It is your job to grow up and figure out who you are. Find a professional or trusted adult to give you the support that you don't get from your mother and who will continue to help you handle your feelings about her.
I wish you all the best.
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