My mom is driving me crazy. Help?

Summer greetings, readers, and happy fourth of July. This week, we have a double-header, and it’s on the subject of mothers. (I can hear the fireworks already.) My, do we have a lot to say about our mothers. Read on:

Dear AMG:

I’m a senior in college pursuing a degree in English, and after graduation this fall I’ll stay at my alma mater to earn a Masters in English. After serving a mission for the LDS church in Europe, I married a wonderful man about nine months ago, and we’re both still in school. During our engagement and really ever since then, we’ve been praying about when to start a family. The answer has been consistent: go to grad school. Although we both want kids, it would be difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to swing financially since we’re both in school. Given the state of the economy, we’re also reluctant to incur major debt. I also would love to get a masters because it would allow me to more easily jump back into some kind of career after kids are grown. All of these reasons would be thrown to the side, however, if our answer from prayer were to have kids right now.

Now for the hard part: my parents still adhere to the mandates they were given as newlyweds at BYU–that is, if you’re married, you have kids. Right away. No delay. So in their mind, I’m not complying to prophetic counsel.

My family is pretty conservative. This is the very first time in my life I have disagreed with my parents about a moral issue. I know that’ll elicit eye rolls from many, but that harmony has come because they’ve always treated me like an equal, reasoned with me, and based their decisions on love. The gospel has been the foundation of their lives and character, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

As I realized I wasn’t going to have kids, and as I realized just how entrenched my parents are in their attitude against birth control, I wasn’t as bold as I should have been. I didn’t tell my mom I was applying to grad school until, while scheduling a lunch date, I had to mention I was taking the GRE that day. I mumbled something about prayer and feeling like I needed to go to grad school. When we do have one-on-one time, she doesn’t ask much about grad school and I don’t bring it up.

The topic of when I’ll have kids came up at a recent family function; I tried to change the topic (which my joking siblings called me out on) and my mom commented, “She just doesn’t want to be a mom.” In another incident when I mentioned that delaying kids for grad school was a decision made through prayer, my mom jibed, “Did you pray about it together?”

Basically, I haven’t confidently and maturely explained why I’m not having kids ASAP because I knew my parents would disagree. As far as I can tell, that reluctance has been interpreted as uncertainty about my choice (and to be fair, it’s been an internal battle that’s forced me to own my own spirituality and answers and not rely on my parents’ choices as completely as I have before). I know I need to sit down with my mom and explain why I’m doing this with my life – even though I don’t need her approval, it sure would be nice. At the very least, it will prevent this developing into a drawn out, passive aggressive conflict I don’t want to come between us. Agreeing to disagree would be so much preferable to these side comments that hurt.

So how do I do this? How do I explain that I respect and admire her obedience, I see the blessings of her decisions to follow the prophet, but I’m following the counsel given in my time (that family planning is between you, your spouse, and the Lord) and that my personal revelation is different? Do I cite True to the Faith, recent prophetic statements, and personal prayer? Most importantly, how do I explain my stance without attacking hers? The very last thing I want is a bitter battle and hurt feelings (and frankly the battle wouldn’t happen because we are an extremely non-confrontational family – at least in terms of obvious disagreement).

Thanks,

Grad School Future Mommy

And here’s letter two:

Dear Ask Mormon Girl,

My mom is a conservative, uber-orthodox Mormon; I’m an increasingly liberal, feminist Mormon woman and mother of one. Quite frankly she just scares me most of the time when we converse about anything political or church-related and then I’m left scratching my head wondering what in the world we have in common. The quality and depth of our relationship continues to dip, particularly as I make choices that she just doesn’t get. For instance, she couldn’t be more enthused about my husband applying to Ph.D. programs this fall, but when we discuss that I am simultaneously applying to Master’s programs she hasn’t tried too hard to hide the fact that she is confused about my life goals despite the fact that I’ve walked her through it several times.

I had never suspected when I was younger that my relationship with my mom would deteriorate so much by the age of 26. All of my other siblings have a good relationship with her and seem to treat her “spiritual interventions” (I had a prompting I should tell you to do this…) with great respect and admiration while I mostly want to tell her to mind her own business. She has some idea that I’ve become more liberal but refuses to take it seriously and likes to attribute it to my supposedly liberal professors. Honestly, I have no idea how to have a relationship with this woman and I find myself wanting to distance myself from her which makes me sad. Perhaps you’ve had similiar experiences?

Sincerely,

Dissidentdaughter

First of all, ladies, let me congratulate both of you on your educational drive and ambition. If your moms aren’t saying so, let me say it: I’m proud of you! Go get those advanced degrees!

Heartbreaking it is, but true: there comes a time when we must break up with our parents. As an adult and a married person you have the right to autonomy and dignity in your personal decisions. (Especially for you, Grad School Future Mommy: your mom has no place being up in your . . . . your reproductive business, no matter how many old-school General Conference talks she cites.) Your parents are adjusting to their new role as parents of adult children and may need your example in setting proper boundaries. You are not obliged to explain everything to them. That may be difficult if they’ve had backstage passes to your life for the last few decades.

It’s my observation that in Mormon culture the parent-adult child relationship sometimes functions a bit differently. Our theology teaches us to project parenting through the endless eternities. It never ends! Some Mormons premise their eternal identities on the act of parenting. And they keep parenting—hard—long after the children are grown. A beautiful Mormon doctrine, that is, but one that needs careful application to the real facts of adult family life. In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve are commanded to “leave mother and father” when they pair up. A lot of heartache and dysfunction comes when even well-intentioned parents meddle in their grown children’s marriages and lives. In other cultures and families, believe it or not, some parents of adult children see their roles as just enjoying and even growing with their children through the years, stepping in to lend a hand only when asked. Imagine that.

If it’s a matter of growing apart from your mom, here’s my advice: it’s okay to mourn the relationship you wish you had with her. It’s okay to wish you were closer and to feel—even to ache—for her company and understanding. What you will need to do is find a crew of adult women sister-friends who can play a motherly role when you need them, providing support, understanding, encouragement, and a touch of nurturing. That’s what grown women can do for one another. Over the years, the brunt forces of life will inevitably rearrange your relationship with your mom, and if you’ve nurtured yourself and learned to understand what you can and can’t expect from her, you will be able to come back to that relationship with more to give. And in the long run—remember this—she may need you more than you need her. That’s one of the great secrets of this life.

Now, if it’s a matter of mom openly casting judgment on or teasing you in front of other people about your life choices, you need to summon the adult inside of you, take her aside privately—one on one, and with every ounce of authority, grace, and generosity you can muster tell her to knock it off. If you don’t feel like a face-to-face will work, write her a letter. Don’t go to scripture or doctrine or conference talks. That’s her game. You lay down a new set of rules: “Mom, I’ve heard you make several comments about when we’re having children. You raised me to be prayerful in my decisions, and I am. And not having children right now is my decision. I’m sure you don’t want me to feel this way, but it hurts my feelings and makes me not want to be around you and the family when you undermine my decisions, especially when you tease me in front of other people.” The end. Ball is in her court. And if she continues to badger you, you have the right to remind her that it hurts your feelings. And then, painful but true, if there is no change in her behavior, you may consider limiting how much you expose yourself to her. It’s important to your dignity as an adult and to the privacy of your marriage to draw boundaries with moms, even (especially?) super-righteous ones.

See, readers, I told you we all have a lot to say about moms. I’m guessing a lot of you have been down this road and have wisdom to add. Who’s first?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, follow askmormongirl on Twitter, or friend Joanna Brooks on Facebook, where she promises not to get up in your business.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “My mom is driving me crazy. Help?

  1. recessioncone

    When my mom told me I was not following the counsel of the prophet by delaying our children, I told her that the beauty of having living prophets and modern revelation is that they tell us the things we need to hear in our day. 30 years ago the prophet felt it was important that people don’t use birth control. But today, the prophet tells us that everyone needs as much education as is practical. That doesn’t mean the counsel of the early 1980s was wrong, but that particular counsel is not being emphasized today. Since the function of modern day revelation is to warn us against the dangers of our time, and the prophet is not warning us any longer against birth control, to insist that birth control is a great evil actually undermines our modern prophet: such insistence is equivalent to claiming that our prophet is no longer speaking for God and warning us against the dangers of the day.

    Being anti-birth control is therefore anti-modern revelation, if you think about it. And I’m sure your mom doesn’t want to imply we have a fallen prophet!

  2. Excellent common sense advice, Joanna. I’ll second that, and add that it sometimes it can take a daughter several efforts at reinforcing appropriate boundaries with her mother. It is a needful process, though, to help mother and daughter shift to a healthier mother/adult daughter relationship. I like the advice to find ‘a crew of adult women sister-friends who can play a motherly role when you need them, providing support, understanding, encouragement, and a touch of nurturing.’

    Daughter is now making adult decisions about her life and Mom may need some help as well as time to come to the recognition that she is now taking a peripheral role and somewhat of a back seat to her adult daughter’s decisions. Mom is used to encouraging her children to make decisions, and now it’s time for Mom to trust that she has done well by her children and trust their adult decisions. In this time of transition, helping Mom to learn to be a cheerleader to her daughter is a way to help Mom learn to let go and adjust to her new role with her daughter. A transition time for both, and daughter can help Mom adjust to the new balance in the mother/daughter relationship.

  3. Annie

    I have had a very similar struggle with my own mother and have learned to distance myself from her. It pains me to see that I do not have a close relationship with her, but at the same time I can’t hold back my hurt when I am around her. I guess I can just learn from the experience and try to be a better mom to my children. It was comforting to read this and not feel alone with my “mommy issues.”

  4. Joshua

    “Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God’s purposes for humanity. When husband and wife are physically able, they have the privilege and responsibility to bring children into the world and to nurture them. The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is a private matter for the husband and wife.”
    ~From the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org

    There have been several General Conference addresses throughout the last dispensation which confirm that the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. Some of these addresses use language which specifically discourages the practice of married couples limiting how many children they will have for selfish reasons.

    No prophetic counsel or divine commandment anywhere, however, dictates how many children a couple should have or when they should start having them. If your parents believe otherwise, that is the sad result of Pharisaical law – i.e. extrapolating counsel and commandment beyond their intended context. In that sense you’re right and she’s wrong, but that doesn’t solve the problem of how to address the issue, does it?

    While you were absolutely right to temper prophetic counsel with personal revelation, her choices do present a wonderful example of faith and obedience. In an effort to confront her, you would probably do well to emphasize this praise and conveniently leave out the fact that she’s acting like a pharisee and that nothing in ancient or modern revelation supports her views. You might cite Dallin H. Oaks’ AWESOME talk on Two Lines of Communication – which emphasizes the harmony of Personal revelation WITH Priesthood revelation.

    http://lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/two-lines-of-communication?lang=eng

    The most important point you need to make, though, is that regardless of how she feels about the subject of your family, The Lord has given you and your husband sole stewardship on this matter, and your mother needs to respect that. Politely and respectfully, but also firmly tell her that, while you respect and appreciate her input, her behavior in this matter has been disrespectful and is not appropriate. Politely but firmly request that she keep any disagreement she has with your personal decisions between the two of you, and not put your personal life on display. Tell her that this is a matter of trust, and you don’t want to see this issue drive the two of you apart.

    Try to remain in control of your emotions through this proccess, which will be hard if your mother doesn’t respond appropriately. The only way to approach this subject is to remain both kind and firm, and that’s going to be a tough line to walk. But in doing so, you will be confronting it in the most responsible, mature, and effective method possible. If she doesn’t respect you enough to change her behavior after that, then you have done everything in your power and will not be complacent in any damage to your relationship that results from this disagreement. I’m sorry you have to face this at all, but clearly you are approaching this from the right angle and with the right attitude. Good luck, and my prayers will be with you :)
    ~Josh

  5. Tiffny

    My husband and I waited 10 years into our marriage to have kids, and I am so glad we did. So stay strong, and carry on in you educational and career goals while keeping an ear tuned to the Spirit. You will be a better woman (and mom) for it, I promise.

    And some day when your daughter gets married at 19 and has a kid 9 months later, try very hard not to distance yourself through your judgments of her decisions.

    All relationships ebb and flow. Your mothers, if as prayerful and spiritually tuned as you believe, will come around. They’re still learning, too. Have faith that the same Spirit that is influencing your decisions is trying to do the same to your mother. It just takes time. And humility. And a willingness to depart from our own traditions, culture and personal ‘logic.’

  6. Mark S

    I have the perspective here of being old enough to be the intruding parent. To both of the questioners, and to legions of others in similar situations, I’d remind you that most parents are making it up as they go along, trying to first do right, then trying to react and adjust appropriately when the relationship or the lives of the kids goes in different directions than you’d hoped or expected.

    So establish some space in your relationship, to ensure you have the ability to live your lives the way you choose. But also cut your mothers some slack. They care, even if it doesn’t come out right, and they have given you more than you will ever, ever, ever give them back.

  7. I take the opposite approach. My wife and I are actively encouraging our daughter to avoid marriage and parenthood until she at least has her Masters, in whatever subject, if not a higher degree. In doing so, we constantly have to explain why this is different from what she hears in Church. She will be in YW soon, and this will be all the more difficult.

    In a world where economic problems are legion, and higher education is more important than ever to financial stability, I do not know why the Church fails to recognize that we are no longer in the 1950’s.

  8. Nom007

    Gah! Go to grad school. Trust yourself and the inspiration you feel. As you plan with your husband and pray, you’ll figure out your path. It may mean waiting on kids, juggling kids and school, alternating which spouse is in school, student loans, whatever. Have some faith that the details will work out. And get some models and mentors – LOTS of Mormon women have figured out various ways to do grad school and babies. Find those women!!

    • warfsonofmog

      Amen-

      When I served as Bishop (my hair will never recover and the lines are permanent ;) ) I had couples come in many times asking for counsel on this question. The handbook (btw – how utterly awesome is it that we all have access to that?) seemed pretty clear to me that it is a private matter. The brethren teach the doctrines, we decide for our own families how best to apply them, and everybody else gets to be supportive or lump it. It was kinda funny how amazed these kids were that I wouldn’t tell them what to do. I would teach them principles for effective decision-making, like the Franklin pros/cons table, and then encourage them to have faith in the reality that they were the leaders in their own family and could trust in that authority to receive revelation. My job was to teach them how and empower them to lead, not what to think. Regardless of their decision, my response ALWAYS was, “Good for you! How can I help from here out?”

      To J Abraham (awesome name) – you are no different than the mom. Quit telling your adult kid *what* to think and instead teach them *how.* I can’t tell you how tired I am of people, especially from within the church, who regularly tell me how irresponsible, crazy (don’t you know what causes pregnancies?), oldschool brainwashed etc we are for having a large family. And frankly many “unorthodox progressives” are every bit as judgmental as any card-carrying Beckite. We did what we thought was best for our family – and it’s none of your doggone business regardless of how irresponsible you think I am. My sweet bride has an advanced degree AND a whole passle o’ kids, every one of which is totally awesome!

      I have been lurking on amg for a while – you rock woman. We may differ on some points of doctrine, but on the substantive issues of love, patience, forgiveness, sensitivity… I feel a harmonic resonance. I hope that isn’t creepy.

  9. mellifera

    Just found this.

    Fwiw, higher education vs starting a family is not a choice you have to make. My daughter is about to turn 3– she was born in the middle of my second semester of a doctoral program, and I’m just finishing up now and about to start a postdoc in plant genetics. My husband is in a PhD program as well.

    Especially now that I’m trying to finish school and launch the actual career part, we’ve found that if there’s any chance that you’ll be working after graduation, life DOESN’T get any less busy or crazy when you graduate. Establishing yourself as a new professional is *hard.* Now, if you feel emotionally, physically, or *completely* financially unprepared, then definitely respect that– wait until you are ready to start a family. We waited a couple years after we married because I needed some time to clear my system of the shady home environment I’d grown up in before being in charge of small children, and it was absolutely the right choice.

    But if the reason you’re waiting is strictly because you don’t know how you’ll find the time, uh… bad news. It’s probably not going to get any better. The good news is that in grad school you actually do have plenty of free time– most grad students just spends it partying. Then they complain about how they have no time because grad school’s so busy.

    In a lot of ways we’ve found that having our daughter while in school has been a big benefit. We don’t have to figure out, as young professionals, how to do Work And Family from scratch– again, it really doesn’t get any easier after school. Thanks to years of equal parenting partnership (because neither one of us was “the stay-at-home-parent”), my husband already knows how to care for his daughter and keep house.

    Also, whether you like it or not, every employer you interview with is trying to evaluate whether you’re going to drop them like a brick if/when you get pregnant. I’ve already got a family and am still interested in my professional life, that’s one huge obstacle that I don’t have to cross when courting potential employers.

    Ok, and my last two cents (this time completely unsolicited)– this comes from my experience of being a science person married to a humanities person (DH is doing his PhD in the history of Haiti, a cheerful subject if ever there was one)–

    DON’T DO IT! The only thing an MA in English does for you is make you overqualified for teaching high school! If your goal is to become more employable, an MA in English is not what you’re looking for! It’s actually worse than useless! If there is anything– *anything*– that you are also interested in, provided it is not history or anthropology– let’s say welding or artificial insemination of livestock– do that instead. Your professors, et al will tell you how smart you are and what a great benefit more education in English will do you… yeah, they’re full of it. They want your cheap slave TA labor. We thank God every day that I didn’t listen to a lifetime’s worth of YW lessons and went for that doctorate in agriculture, so that we’re not depending on my husband finding a worthwhile job in teaching college. (Sorry Ms. Brooks– I’m glad academic English worked out for you. : )

  10. D'andra Taylor

    I read with great interest the postings from adult children about the problem with intruding moms. What I do not see though is what I experience….I am asked to babysit over and over, and I feel compelled to do so because a) I adore my grandchildren – they are the utmost blessing in my life, and b) I feel sad for my grown children because I know they need time away from their kids, time for ‘date night’ in their marriage, and c) I know that paying a sitter can be a hardship especially in these hard economic times. But, babysitting is about the only thing that I feel needed for. There are no fun conversations, no sharing of other topics and discussions – in fact, eyes roll and mocking and dissatisfaction occurs anytime I ask a question or say anything at all! I have two master’s degrees, I am not someone who crawled out of a hole and is trying to find someone to talk to. I work full time, I teach part time. I have friends. But my grown children have come to a point where absolutely nothing positive occurs unless they need a sitter. Because of this, I feel very sad to have to distance myself from them rather than them distance themselves from me. And, to top it off, one of my grown children has had cancer in the past year, is in remission now, but it may reoccur as a chronic disease. I would like to stay close to her, but there is just so much tension – with all 3 of my grown children.

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