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Continued: Mom's nitpicking of boyfriend causes rift

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • Last update: July 18, 2010 - 1:24 PM

Dear Carolyn: I have been dating a great guy for two years. We graduated from a great university last year. I've been on-and-off with several jobs, and finally found a wonderful, steady one. The S.O. was unemployed after graduation; found an awful, awful job; quit (with my 110 percent support -- it was too toxic, especially for near-minimum wage!) after six months. He did manage to save up some money.

I don't think either of our situations is worrisome for recent grads, but although he's been unemployed only two weeks, my mom will not leave me alone about it. He is far from a deadbeat; she thinks he is one. She hardly knows him, yet is very accusatory. She and I have an OK relationship, but she is very critical of my S.O.s. This is getting out of control. I just want everyone to be friends.

Carolyn says: That's not it, though, is it?

It looks as if you want your mother to be proud of you for your great university, wonderful job and responsible taste in men. And your mom's enthusiastic dislike for your significant other(s) (hereafter "Siggy") essentially denies you your victorious adulthood debut.

Wanting Mom's approval is hardly exotic; just count the number of times you hear "Mommy/Daddy, look!" at a playground. From the youngest of ages, parents are the emotional mirror we check as we head out the door.

For that reason alone, please don't be so quick to defend Siggy against your mother's criticisms. I don't know either of you and I know you're doing it: She says something negative, and you say, reflexively, "The job was toxic!" "He saved up money!" "Mommy, look what a good boy I found!" The more impassioned and reflexive your justifications, the more you're justifying yourself -- when the most productive course is to weigh Siggy as carefully as you can, which involves privately taking a good hard look at your mom's credibility and yours.

There's an even more pragmatic reason to pre-empt your justifications, though: The harder you fight your mom's disapproval, the more certain she will feel that you aren't listening to her -- and the harder she's going to push. If you don't want to hear something anymore, then often your best move is the counterintuitive one: Pull your fingers out of your ears and listen, once.

"Mom, I hear that you're worried about Siggy's unemployment. I don't blame you -- his future is important to me, too. But I think it's too soon to draw conclusions, and I like him enough to wait to see how things turn out."

Taking her concerns seriously, and saying so, will establish an important emotional shift: You're committed to seeing Siggy for who he is, and not for what his job situation says (or doesn't say) about you. That puts you a step closer to a healthy goal: the ability to feel good without checking the mirror at all.

If Mom still isn't impressed: "Mom, I've explained where I stand on Siggy's employment, and I'm done discussing it. If something else is bothering you, please say so -- I value your opinion."

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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