ADVICE 14: How Do I Break Up With My Parents?


Photo Credit: Brent Stoller

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On to today's question...

(Questions have been modified for space and clarity.)

My story is a complicated one. I'm an only child, and I have anxiety and depression. After work I just like to come home, eat, clean up and go to bed. I don't go out to bars or clubs. No drinking, no drugs.

I have a healthy relationship with a boy. We live together, and I'm head-over-heels in love with him. We fight, communicate, compromise. He'll be my husband one day.

My mother is bipolar. She has horrible anxiety. She thinks no one likes her or wants to be around her. My father is hard-working. Their relationship isn't perfect, but they love each other.

As an only child, I was always very close with my parents. My mother relied on me solely when she and my father fought. Girl time. Growing up, I always said I'd move next door and live there with her forever and always be her best friend. Now, I live about 10 miles away (if that), but I work full time, pay my own bills, and live with my boyfriend.

I'm not sure at what point my relationship with my mother got toxic. I go and try, but I know it's going to be a fight. The minute she says something mean, I tell her I love her, hug her and leave. I won't put up with it, and I won't put up with her being rude around my boyfriend. This makes my blood boil thinking about it.

It's my understanding that parents are to raise their child to be independent, happy and healthy. But with my mom, she seems to want me to rely on her constantly, even at the age of 27.

I can't cut my mother out of my life. Life is short; she might not be here tomorrow. But without being a completely horrible daughter, how do I break up with my parents?
--Jesibird; Charleston, WV

It's easy to understand why you're so heated. You suffer from anxiety and depression, yet you've figured out how to manage those challenges. You have a job, a loving relationship and a life of your own. So it's only natural that you'd wonder: Why can't my mother do the same?

STANDARD DISCLAIMER ALERT: I am not a doctor, and I have no medical comprehension of bipolar disorder. But as you explained it, your mom's seems to have manifested in the beliefs that nobody likes her and nobody wants to be around her. Lucky for her, she's always had you.

You said you didn't know when your relationship with your mom turned toxic. My guess is it started when you began establishing your independence. Maybe it was when you started paying your own bills, or maybe it was when you got serious with your boyfriend.

From your mom's perspective, each step you've taken toward independence has been a step away from her. She's seeing that you're not going to be moving next door, that your life is not going to revolve around her, that you'll no longer be playing the role of safety net.

It goes without saying that your mother needs help. She's not healthy, she hasn't been healthy, and the only way she'll become healthier is by working with a professional.

You, on the other hand, seem to be doing well. Despite your mother's troubles, she raised a fine daughter. And as you've demonstrated, the best way to ensure that trend continues is to create a healthy separation with your mother. You've been her rock, her best friend and her therapist. But it's now time for you to just be her daughter.

This might be a cop-out, but I think you should keep doing what you're doing. It sounds like you're on the right path. You've established physical boundaries by moving out of your parents' house, and you've established emotional boundaries by 1) creating a life of your own, and 2) telling your mom that you won't tolerate her mistreating you -- and removing yourself from the situation when she does.

Beyond that, it might help adjusting the way in which you view your mother. On the surface, she comes off as unappreciative, meddlesome, even mean. But beneath that is real pain. She's ill, and to some degree, she can't control her behavior, which is why she needs professional help.

Remember that the next time she lashes out. While you don't know what it's like to be bipolar, you are familiar with anxiety and depression. That awareness can help you be more sympathetic and less affected by her outbursts.

I'd also suggest continuing to work on yourself. If you are battling anxiety and depression, talk to someone about it. Get into therapy. The best thing you can do is to keep getting stronger. That will not only increase your own happiness, but it will bolster the boundaries you've already built while making you that much more capable of supporting your mother.

COMING FRIDAY: On Marital Rape...

Need more ADVICE? Check out the most recent installments:

ADVICE 13: Lessons From The Bachelor Love Triangle

ADVICE 12: Is My Boyfriend Suicidal?

ADVICE 11: The Conversational Trick Everyone Should Know

ADVICE 10: How Do I Become a Writer?

ADVICE 09: I Was Sexually Abused by My Brother and Father

ADVICE 08: My Husband's an Alcoholic

To send in a question, please complete this short Google form. All submissions are anonymous, even to the author.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.