Running From Control

I have edited her email to remove names and other identifying information:
“I have an 18 year old who quit school her senior year because she is in love with a 20 year old guy. I am furious because this guy wanted her to quit school to get her away from the other guys. She moved out of our house and has been living with this guy. We are definitely estranged. What is a mother to do with a daughter so messed up?”

I have bolded key words in that message and the ones that follow. I had a very short answer in response: “You don’t try to ‘do’ anything with her until she comes to you for help. Keep the door and your arms open. It’s a shame she quit school for such a stupid reason and no doubt she’s going to regret it, however, right now anything you say is not going to be accepted as other than criticism. Just my opinion.”

This was the next email I received: “Are you an expert on troubled teens? What causes kids to go nuts? She was such a darling little girl that my husband and I are in shock. I have expressed my great dislike and disgust for this boyfriend and I have told her I will never accept him. As hard as it is I am praying for her and I’ll leave her alone. My heart is broken but maybe someday she will come to her senses.”

And my next response: “No, I am no expert. I’m drawing on being a teen and having difficulties with my mother — in particular when she thoroughly despised the guy I thought I loved. He wasn’t the right man for me and if I hadn’t been trying so hard to do EXACTLY the opposite of what my mother said I should do I wouldn’t have married (and divorced) him. You were her age. Switch roles for a moment and think of how you’d react torn between ‘true love’ and what your mother said was best for you.”

And, her follow-up email which I have edited of personal information:

“I would buy all of that except that X was madly in love with the love of her life and then all of a sudden they fight break up and she meets the next love of her life a few weeks later. How many do you get? I can’t relate to her or anyone who doesn’t listen to the voice of authority. I loved my mother and listened to her. I married the love of my life and our life has been wonderful. I’m afraid X thinks all relationships are like her fathers and mine and they are not. …X has had everything she has ever wanted and more. Without an education she is in for a life of hard knocks. Thank you for listening–I don’t understand stubbornness because the only person who really gets hurt is the stubborn person.”

There is no easy answer for the parent who believes their child is making a mistake and who wants to shield them from the inevitable pain of that mistake.

My mother was the authority figure in our house when I was a child and she pushed her way to the limit. My father found it much easier to go along with what she said than risk her anger by disagreeing with her. We kids tried to do the same. I remember being a very obedient child most of the time at least until I got into my late teens. By that time I had opinions of my own as to what I wanted to do with my life and many (or most) of them were in direct conflict with my mother’s opinions of what I should be doing.

One statement my mother made many times: “As long as you live in my house, you will abide by my rules.” I understood this and it was a great incentive to become self-sufficient so that I could make my own rules. Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t ready to give up her control of my life.

I was of legal age, had a job, and could support myself, but each time I found a place of my own my mother insisted that I belonged at home. Single women belong at home. You’re only putting yourself in danger. You’re breaking your father’s heart. What will the neighbors think?

I wasn’t confident enough that I could make it on my own and so those times that I actually moved away I returned within a short time unlike my brothers who early on opted for life in the military over life at home.

Then I met a man unlike the previous guys I’d dated. He was a few years older and, although I didn’t recognize it until many years later, he was also a person who needed to be in control. My mother despised him but she couldn’t drive him away. He wanted me and I wanted to be free. I had finally found someone strong enough to take control of my life away from my mother.

My first husband and I dated for over three years before we eloped. By that time the relationship between my mother and I had turned ugly; she demanded I quit seeing my boyfriend and when I said I was going to marry him she did a good rendition of “going postal” and I joined the ranks of other daughters disowned when they married the man not of their mother’s dreams.

When I met my first husband I didn’t recognize that he was a controlling personality. I did recognize that I felt extremely comfortable with him. Why wouldn’t I? I was in my “controlled” comfort zone with him. It took 15 years of marriage for me to grow strong enough to walk away from him taking with me that which I valued the most: my freedom.

Once I made the leap from my mother’s house to my husband’s there was no going back. The door was closed and bolted shut which is what she told me when I left home. I did hope that eventually my mother would come to acknowledge that I had gained enough world experience to be able to make my own decisions but her need to be the voice of authority remained strong throughout her life and she reminded me many times that I was still her “child” which translated to “I’m your mother, obey me.” Over the years I was disowned several times.

It was not so much that my ex-husband or my mother took control of my life as much as it was that I gave them control. I enabled them to take control. Once I became confident enough in my ability to accept the outcome of my decisions I was able to give up the need for someone else to tell me how I should live my life.

Throughout our lives many of us find ourselves faced with controlling individuals. Which person is the strongest? The controller or the person who enables them?