By Dr. Margot Kirschner –
“My mom and I are so close; we’re like best friends.” It’s an expression that you commonly hear. But being too close with Mom can come with complications.
Mom as your only source of advice
Growing up, it may have felt comfortable to frequently turn towards Mom for advice on anything under the sun, figuring that “mother knows best.” After a while, it may have started to feel like you needed her opinion, as if you weren’t sure what your own opinions and thoughts were without her input. This over-dependence may have undermined how certain you were about your own decision-making abilities. In effect, being too close with Mom in this way may have hindered your ability to see yourself as a responsible adult, capable of tackling life’s challenges.
Child as caretaker
Perhaps you were a caretaker of sorts for Mom – always being upbeat when she was down, or coming to her rescue when things became difficult for her – and you came to equate this with closeness. In effect, this caretaker role may have gotten in the way of you being the “kid.” It may have prevented you from taking chances or exploring your own interests and needs, for fear of upsetting her. It may have taken years to realize that you felt stifled and held back by these roles.
What keeps us from making changes
Breaking away from these roles and changing the mother-child relationship can be challenging. Why? As an infant, just as you were beginning to make sense of the world around you, Mom controlled everything – when you ate, when you slept, when you received nurturance, and so on. In order to survive, you had to be close with Mom. Through latency age and adolescence, this likely continued in the form of your bedtime and your allowance. Although she may have shared “authority” with another parent, she was often in charge. While moms often have the best of intentions, it it can be difficult to relinquish that level of control over what you do. So once you’ve decided that you need to change the nature of your relationship with mom, you might expect resistance (or at least discomfort). If you encounter this resistance, know that you are doing the both of you a big favor.
Achieving healthy independence
While it’s wonderful to enjoy a friendship with your mother, in which you enjoy each other’s company and offer emotional support, it is important to achieve a healthy independence, free from unreasonable roles or demands. Of course you would like to know that she’s available when you need her (and vice versa), but if patterns of intrusiveness and caretaking have developed, it is important to recognize that and start on the path towards change. By setting appropriate boundaries and achieving the right amount of emotional and physical proximity or distance between you and your mom, you can feel more empowered in your own life, learning more about what you need and what you want, developing your own sense of self, self-esteem and confidence.
Psychotherapy can be enormously helpful for developing a clearer sense of self, figuring out what direction you would like to go, and negotiating and navigating a new and healthier kind of relationship with your mom.