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"My Mother Depends on Me Too Much"

What to do if your mother is too needy.

Key points

  • Relationships between mothers and daughters are often fraught with confusion about roles.
  • Setting boundaries and parameters is necessary for healthy relationships.
  • Excessive maternal disclosure is associated with daughter distress in the adolescent population.

Dear Dr. G.,

I am a college freshman who has been living at home for the past year during the pandemic. I have been living with my mom and her boyfriend, Stan. My mom and I have always been close. She is very emotionally needy and during the pandemic it has gotten worse since she not been able to see friends. When I was in high school and went out with friends she would always make me feel guilty and say things like, "I'll guess I'll watch a movie alone," or "I wish I had someone to hang with." It got better when I went away to school and there was physical distance. Since the pandemic, it has gotten worse. I'm an introvert so sometimes I like to be alone in my room listening to music and watching TV. She stands in the doorway looking forlorn and asking what I'm doing. When I tell her I'm relaxing she always asks if we can relax together. I don't know how to say no to her without upsetting her, but I really need my space. She also tells me that she loves me more than anything and can't live without me. It's intense. I'm afraid to hurt her feelings, especially when I move out in the next few months. I have a summer internship in another state. She makes me feel responsible for her well-being. If I appear stressed she gets incredibly anxious and wants to solve the problem. Her stress level goes up too. As a result, I hide my feelings from her. How do I create healthy space without hurting her? Please help me and my mom.

A Distressed Daughter

Dear Daughter,

I am so glad that you reached out to me. The pandemic has exacerbated all sorts of relationship issues. Families are spending way too much time together and are experiencing all sorts of issues because of both the amount of time spent together and the limited time spent with friends. Your issues with your mother started before the pandemic and are obviously heightened by the current situation. I am so sorry that you had to spend your first year of college at home. I am sure that you were looking forward to your independence for so many reasons.

Your mother sounds very needy. It is a shame that she makes you feel guilty by acting as if it is your responsibility to be her best friend. You are her daughter, not her friend. She seems confused about her role with you. I am not surprised that she is upsetting you with all of her demanding and needy behavior. A study by Koerner and colleagues (2004) found that excessive maternal disclosure to teenage girls was associated with the daughters experiencing psychological distress. Keep this in mind. You are not alone. I am quite sure that your mother is probably confiding in you way too much.

It is not your responsibility as a daughter to take care of your mother. You have a right to a quiet and safe emotional space particularly when you are home. You also have a right to spend time with your friends. You have the responsibility to grow up. I suggest that you have a discussion with your mother about how she is making you feel. This will be informative for her. Yes, she might act hurt, but more importantly, it will be good for your relationship. Your mother needs to learn about boundaries with you. It sounds to me like your mother might benefit from therapy. I am very concerned about her saying that she can't live without you. That is very worrisome. It is not insulting to suggest both boundaries and therapy to your mother. In fact, it might not only help your relationship but it might change the trajectory of your mom's life. My guess is that her neediness is a problem in all sorts of relationships.

Good luck,

Dr, G.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Koerner, Susan S., Jacobs, Stephanie L. & Raymond, Megan. (2004). When mOthers Turn to their Adolescent Daughters: Predicting Daughters'Vulnerability to Negative Adjustment Outcomes. Family Relations, (49,3) 301-309

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