Dear Carolyn: I am afraid I may be a controlling mom of my young adult daughter. We have a dynamic in which she seeks me out often, solicits my advice and makes me too important in her life. I admit to offering that advice because it is hard for me to draw a line between healthy support and presence, and wanting her to see and do things how I wish she would — i.e., controlling.
She calls me more than once every day. She asks to come over for visits a couple of times a week. She is newly graduated from college and moving into the world of work, so some of this is the natural transition from child to adult, and my learning to move away from the parenting role of instruction in life.
It seems I have become her sun, and she cannot escape my gravitational pull. I need to know how to turn off my gravity.
Her father and I divorced when she was in grade school, and she may fear abandonment even by me, which makes her cling harder. She has started therapy recently by her own decision. But if you have some general guidelines for me to follow, I would appreciate it. All I want is for her to be healthy and happy. And for me not to be playing a role in an unhealthy dynamic.
Carolyn says: How's this: Stop telling her what to do!
Fits on an index card. In Sharpie. With room to spare.
Yes, I understand it's not that easy, or you'd already have done it. But the difficulty isn't in finding this path — it's in making yourself walk it.
That's always easier, though, when the path is clearly marked and well-lit and you know exactly where it leads.
What also might make this easier is to understand other ways to support her. Presence alone is significant, arguably the most of all: Welcome the calls and visits, knowing they'll taper off as her strengths overtake her needs.
Listening takes a back seat to presence but surely is the most underrated form of support. Your daughter's in flux, leaving the structure and certainty of school for the wilds of managing her own goals, money, purpose, time. It's staggering. No doubt she has a lot to talk through, and how will she if you are talking?
Which brings us to an overrated form of support. Advice. (I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.) You know her as well as anyone and have hard-earned wisdom to spare — but she is her own person and her wisdom is hers yet to earn.
So maybe on the back of the index card, write these:
"Good question. What do you think?"
"I have some ideas, but I'd rather hear what you're thinking."
"These transitions are tough. It's OK not to be sure what comes next."
"I still don't have everything figured out myself."
"Your way will be better than mine just for being yours."
If she presses, advise through her eyes, or suggest things to ask herself, vs. do.
Try these guidelines, at least — or therapy, too, for you. But also take comfort that controllers seek more control, not less, so you're already mostly there.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.