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Does Your Mother Have an Under/Over Style?

There are many reasons why your mother may be confusing.

Dear Dr. G.,

I am an 18-year-old male in my first year of college. So far, I have been enjoying school. It's been challenging to make a lot of friends because of Covid but classes are good and mostly I am so happy to be living away from my mother. My mother is the most confusing person I have ever met. Anyone who meets her thinks she is the friendliest and nicest person around. Maybe that is the experience that people that don't live with her have. I, on the other hand, find her exhausting and confusing.

Let me explain my mother to you as best as I can and then maybe you can help me sort out my feelings. Ever since I was young, my mother would act as if she was very involved and aware of what was going on in my life. She has always acted like she knows all of my friends and their parents but in reality she has never really taken the time to get to know any of them in a real way. She would tell her friends that she was so proud of me and that I was doing so great in school. In fact, despite the fact that I was doing very well academically, I was always a bit sad and anxious during my childhood and teen years. I didn't feel comfortable telling my mother about this so I spoke to my aunt instead. My aunt is a truly great listener and she helped me figure out how to handle my issues with peers. I am truly grateful for my aunt.

My mother is sort of a loud person who talks a lot. She would probably pride herself on asking me a lot of questions about my life including my current college life but in fact she never seems to be really listening. She will ask me the same set of questions the next time she calls me so my interactions with her are so frustrating. She never follows up on threads of conversations. I must tell you that my mother is constantly buying me things that I don't need. My friends seem to think that I am lucky. I feel a bit guilty because I don't really want her to buy me these things. I don't need half of them. I feel like she is just trying to look like a good mother.

So, my question to you is how to make sense of my mother who feels like she is so involved in my life but actually has little idea of who I really am despite attempts to be real with her.


Dear Joe,

I am very familiar with the type of parent you are describing. In fact, throughout my years of working with frustrated children, I have referred to these parents as having under/over styles. These parents, like your mother, present as somewhat over-involved but in fact are under-involved in that they lack attunement. They may be talkative and attempt to insert themselves in all areas of your life but sadly this is sort of a smokescreen for a parent who is not really understanding or listening to their child. I am so sorry that you are having this experience. I hope that you find some peace knowing that you are not alone here. Please try to develop relationships with people who both listen to and get you. You may want to lower your expectations for your mother. I am delighted that you have your aunt in your life.

See if you can focus on what is positive in your relationship with your mother while simultaneously understanding her limitations.


Dr. G.

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