Q: I'm in my mid-20s, but my mother seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge that I'm an adult. How can I help her understand I'm not a kid anymore?
Jim: It's not uncommon for parents to struggle with the idea of a son or daughter moving ahead into full adulthood. There can be any number of factors involved; for example, this issue often arises in families with a history of marital conflict and divorce. The empty nest years can seem especially threatening to a woman who, for whatever reason, has been pouring much of her emotional energy into her children.
With that context, I'd suggest a good starting point would be trying to understand -- but not necessarily excusing -- your mother's viewpoint. If you can grasp an idea of her motivation for clinging to your childhood so tenaciously, that awareness can help inform a productive discussion as two equal adults.
From there, you'll need a degree of assertiveness to outline healthy boundaries. As gently and lovingly as possible, affirm that you love her -- but explain that you need to start establishing more emotional independence. While your mom may initially feel rejected, she needs to understand and acknowledge that this is a normal part of anyone's growth and maturation.
Meanwhile, make sure that you're not "enabling" your mother to keep you in a childlike role. If you allow her to do your laundry every weekend, or count on your parents for financial support, you're contributing to the problem. And if you're still living under the same roof, this would be a good time to think about moving out and getting your own place.
Once you've established some healthy margin, I'd advise you to keep the lines of communication open and continue to be sensitive to your mom's feelings. The ultimate priority is your lifelong relationship with her.
Q: My husband and I both struggle with anger. We end up taking our frustrations out on each other, even though neither of us want to live this way. How do we break this cycle?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: I think most couples deal with this in some form at some point. Note that anger is a secondary emotion, not a primary feeling. It generally disguises other emotions -- usually fear, frustration, hurt or some combination of these three emotions. And sometimes anger is triggered by disappointment over unfulfilled expectations.
So always remember that there's more to the picture than the surface anger. Sometimes it's easier to feel compassion for others -- and ourselves -- when we realize that a deeper form of pain is hidden underneath smoldering anger.
Of course, that certainly doesn't give anyone the right to explode in rage at someone else. And physical violence is NEVER OK.
When we mismanage our anger, we risk destroying relationships -- especially with those we love the most. Poorly handled anger leaves a trail of damaged relationships in our wake. And unhealthy ways of dealing with anger are often passed from one generation to the next, causing even more destruction.
What it all comes down to is that we each have a choice in every scenario. We can recognize that our emotions are normal responses to everyday life, or we can ignore our emotions and stuff them. But eventually the bad stuff will surface. When we learn to deal with anger in healthy ways, it can lead to greater understanding and intimacy in our marriages.
Realistically, that's best done with the careful guidance of a professional counselor to help identify and address underlying issues. Our counseling team would love to help you get started; you can call 855-771-4537 for a free consultation. I wish you all the best.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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