Negotiating Us

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When I returned from a temporary hiatus I mentioned one of the reasons for my break was my need to address some familial issues that had surfaced. I am relieved to say the issues I was grappling with were not too serious in nature and I do feel they are getting better now. They were my own issues, things I needed to workout for myself first and then with my family. Now that I feel a corner has been turned I am ready to discuss this part of my journey.

My Mother and I have always had a very close relationship. She has played one of the most instrumental roles in raising me into the self-reliant, free thinking feminist I am today, for better or worse I might add. Part of that was in her words but more often it was through observing her actions. In fairness I cannot hand her all the credit for anything good I have turned out to be, my father is the other half of the equation and I am told all the time that I am my father’s daughter.

Planning my wedding by working side by side with my Mother was difficult at first, and that is being nice. We clashed quite frequently, it felt like we were at odds over every silly little detail. It often came down to issues with her ideas about tradition and my want for simplicity and ease even at the cost of traditional formalities. One example was wedding cocktail napkins, I saw that as a frivolous expense, my Mother disagreed. When we met an impasse like this her response would often be, I’m just going to get them anyway, you don’t have to pay for it. I constantly felt undermined, like my opinion did not matter. For me it wasn’t just I don’t want to spend the money, on a fundamental level I (I am saying I but Todd and I agreed on this) did not agree with spending the money on it.

From the very beginning Todd and I had made it clear that we did not believe in spending a lot of money for one day of festivities. We wanted a small, no frills, family wedding somewhere that we felt connected to. That is exactly what our wedding was and we could not have been happier with how everything turned out. Fortunately at the end of the day (or experience really) my Mother and I were able to see eye to eye. This only happened because half way through the planning process we had a much needed heart to heart. Our relationship, while close, has certainly seen times of strain and planning the wedding brought any cracks to the surface. Things were being to spiral and I saw two choices, have an honest conversation about our feelings and needs or take a break from the relationship all together for a while. The second option wasn’t much of an option, I was getting married, I did not want to miss out on this experience with her.

She came over to my house one day and we talked, for over an hour. We talked about the way we treat each other, we talked about her relationship with her Mother (which I have almost zero concept of because I was 9 when Nana died), we talked about my dreams for a future relationship with my own daughter. We were honest and vulnerable and it was painful and wonderful all mixed up together. In one day we mended years of damage to our relationship. Planning going forward was a breeze and when the big day rolled around we were both elated.

After the wedding, our honeymoon and our trip to Chicago we came home to settle back into our life as husband and wife. With that came some changes. Not to our own relationship but to my relationship with my Mother. It was time for another talk. When I was single and living downtown in my one bedroom apartment my parents came over once or twice a week and would help me with little things around the apartment. I think my living alone like a did during that time unnerved my Mom. When my ex and I broke up and our lease was up my parents tried to get me to move home but I knew that wasn’t an option. I was the office manager at a medical facility and I had recently accepted a position with the hospital, I was making plenty of money and had no intentions of moving home. To me I saw that as back sliding, I was only interested in forward progression. I am glad I made the decision I did because that year I lived on my own was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. My Mother’s way of reconciling her anxiety about my being on my own downtown was to come over and “Mother” me a few times a week. It didn’t bother me at the time, I looked forward to their visits as I did miss them and it was a nice opportunity for my Mom and I to catch up while we folded my laundry together or cooked dinner together.

Fast forward to now. Since Todd and I have lived together I have tried to gently encourage my parents to back off a bit with the “mothering” behaviors as an effort to set boundaries and help them to see me, and us as a couple, as adults. I started becoming more assertive once we moved into our home we bought. This our home to keep as we choose, that was important for them to understand. A few months after the wedding I finally had to break down and have another heart to heart with my Mom. I have been talking about boundaries since last year and she has been surprisingly on board, I have even seen some changes in how she interacts with other people in the family. She definitely seems to see the necessity for boundaries in relationships and how healthy having them is, great. We did have to renegotiate our own relationship though.

I would run into issues with her on things like wanting to help around the house when I did not request the help. For example, Todd and I do not make our bed. We see it as a waste of time and only do it if we are having a gathering at our house where we know our bedroom may be seen. On an average Wednesday though, no way. What’s the point? We are just going to sleep it again in a few hours, complete waste of energy in our opinion. So my Mom would come over and walk right into our room and start making our bed. I would ask her not to but she saw it as her helping and doing us a favor. Another example is if I had a load of clean laundry sitting in a basket in our room to be put away, she would go in and start folding clothes even though I asked her not to. I understand she is just trying to be helpful and probably wants to feel useful but for me, for us, that is a violation of personal space. After a few talks about how we both feel about these things we have finally found common ground.

She explained that she wanted to feel needed and if she sees something that needs to be done she enjoys taking care of it, she likes to feel like she is taking care of us. I explained that I do need her but in a different way now. Todd and I are capable of keeping up with our home, which I know she knows because it is never is disarray, we do not need her to act as our maid. I explained that when I invite her over it is a social visit, I need you as a friend, as a confidant. When she comes over it is to spend time together doing fun things like talking or shopping or baking/cooking together so I can learn her recipes etc. I have not stopped needing her just because I got married but there is a shift that has to take place. She is no longer Mom/Caregiver, she is Mom/Friend. I told her this is really the most exciting time in our relationship as Mother and Daughter because her work for the most part is done and now we get to enjoy the fruits of her labor together by having this awesome friendship. It’s not that I will never need my Mom’s help going forward, I do and I will, but I needed her to understand that I will ask for it when the time comes. I also explained that the same goes in reverse, I know her and my Dad are going to start needing me as well and I will be there when they ask but I will not impose myself on them either.

Things have vastly improved. I enjoy this new version of us so much. I feel like being friends has softened both of us so much and we have a new understanding of each other. I no longer see my Mother as just my Mother, I see her as a woman and I do feel this mutual. I am glad I have the kind of relationship with my family where we are able to talk openly about our feelings and resolve issues in this way. I am also glad that my quest to establish boundaries, in all aspects of my life but in this case with my family, has not only been successful but well received.

Everyday I feel like I am coming into my own, I feel my relationship with Todd growing as well my relationship with my family growing. I am thankful for this continued growth and am hopeful about the future.

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