Your marriage has been hijacked enough, says Mariella Frostrup. Stop taking on your mother’s problems
The dilemma I’m 50 soon. I’m happily married, I have friends and my work is fulfilling – but I’m desperate. My mother has Avoidant Personality Disorder. She’s getting therapy, which she says won’t work. She never remarried or had a relationship since I was a baby, and she has no friends. Over the past few years, my husband and I have taken her on holiday. Now she keeps hinting that my husband “needs a holiday” – I know exactly what she means. I don’t know how to tell her that we need time to ourselves. She looks for chinks in my armour and is delighted when I’m wrong. I’m exhausted by her bullying, catastrophising and ridiculous silent treatment. I can stand up to her, but she denies her bad behaviour. She hit me once – she knew she’d gone too far and could see I was angry. She uses her illnesses, jealousy and loneliness as a lever against us. I’m forever treading on eggshells. I want a holiday, with my husband, alone, but it feels like I’m asking for too much. I feel like a crap daughter.
Mariella replies You’re certainly not. Though if you stopped accepting your mother’s load as though it were your own you might be an even better one. Supporting her struggle to lead a normal life is the decent thing to do, enabling her not to have to confront her peccadilloes is altogether different. There is a natural evolution in the relationship between parent and child that culminates in the end of dependence, but hopefully not of love and mutual care. It’s a clear line that needs to be respected on both sides of the generational divide and my sense here is that her situation has engulfed you in a tangled jungle of compassion, responsibility and guilt.
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