Let Mom have her say on ‘dead­beat’ boyfriend

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN 360 BETS -

Dear Carolyn: I have been dat­ing a great guy for two years. We grad­u­ated from a great uni­ver­sity last year. I’ve been on-and-off with sev­eral jobs and fi­nally found a won­der­ful, steady one. The sig­nif­i­cant other was un­em­ployed af­ter grad­u­a­tion; found an aw­ful, aw­ful job; quit (with my 110 per­cent sup­port — it was too toxic, es­pe­cially for near-min­i­mum wage!) af­ter six months. He did man­age to save up some money.

I do not think ei­ther of our sit­u­a­tions is wor­ri­some for re­cent grads, but even though he has been un­em­ployed for only two weeks, my mom will not leave me alone about it. He is far from a dead­beat; she thinks he is one. She hardly knows him, yet is very ac­cusatory, with a de­luded per­cep­tion of things around her. She and I have an OK re­la­tion­ship, and this is driv­ing a wedge be­tween us. She is very crit­i­cal of my S.O.s, but this is get­ting out of con­trol. I just want ev­ery­one to be friends.

— Anony­mous

Dear Anony­mous: That’s not it, though, is it?

It looks as if you want your mother to be proud of you for your great uni­ver­sity, won­der­ful job and re­spon­si­ble taste in men. And your mom’s en­thu­si­as­tic dis­like for your sig­nif­i­cant other(s) (here­after “Siggy”) es­sen­tially de­nies you your vic­to­ri­ous adult­hood de­but.

Want­ing Mom’s ap­proval is hardly ex­otic; just count the num­ber of times you hear “Mommy/Daddy, look!” at a play­ground. From the youngest of ages, par­ents are the emo­tional mir­ror we check as we head out the door.

For that rea­son alone, please don’t be so quick to de­fend Siggy against your mother’s crit­i­cisms. I don’t know ei­ther of you and I know you’re do­ing it: She says some­thing neg­a­tive, and you say, re­flex­ively, “The job was toxic!” “He saved up money!” “Mommy, look what a good boy I found!” The more im­pas­sioned and re­flex­ive your jus­ti­fi­ca­tions, the more you’re jus­ti­fy­ing your­self — when the most pro­duc­tive course is to weigh Siggy as care­fully as you can, which in­volves pri­vately tak­ing a good hard look at your mom’s cred­i­bil­ity and yours.

There’s an even more prag­matic rea­son to pre-empt your jus­ti­fi­ca­tions, though: The harder you fight your mom’s dis­ap­proval, the more cer­tain she will feel that you aren’t lis­ten­ing to her — and the harder she’s go­ing to push. If you don’t want to hear some­thing any­more, then of­ten your best move is the coun­ter­in­tu­itive one: pull your fin­gers out of your ears and lis­ten, once.

“Mom, I hear that you’re wor­ried about Siggy’s un­em­ploy­ment. I don’t blame you — his fu­ture is im­por­tant to me, too. But I think it’s too soon to draw con­clu­sions, and I like him enough to wait to see how things turn out.”

Tak­ing her con­cerns se­ri­ously, and say­ing so, will es­tab­lish an im­por­tant emo­tional shift: You’re com­mit­ted to see­ing Siggy for who he is, and not for what his job sit­u­a­tion says (or doesn’t say) about you. That puts you a step closer to a healthy goal for any adult child: the abil­ity to feel good with­out check­ing the mir­ror at all.

If Mom still isn’t im­pressed: “Mom, I’ve ex­plained where I stand on Siggy’s em­ploy­ment, and I’m through dis­cussing it. If some­thing else is both­er­ing you, please say so — I value your opin­ion.” There­after, it’s “New topic, please — how’s Aun­tie Lou?”


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