Dear Charlene: “My Mom Wants to Do Everything with Me”
Every month, writer and actor Charlene deGuzman answers your questions about love, loss, and loneliness.
Hi everyone! I’m Charlene deGuzman!
I’m a writer and actor in Los Angeles. Some of you may know me as @charstarlene on Twitter, or maybe you’ve heard about my feature film, Unlovable. (You can see Unlovable in theaters and on VOD! Check out the trailer here.)
I’ve teamed up with FLOOD to offer you all advice, support, and hope! Every month I’ll be answering any of your heart’s questions on life, love, happiness, and any of the deepest places in between.
Let me introduce myself. I was depressed at age eleven. I never thought I could ever feel happy or lovable. I spent my whole life trying to escape the pain. My life was a mess until I got fed up and did something about it. And now, as a recovered sex and love addict, I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been.
I’m here to listen and help. Ask me anything at email@example.com. Your identity will remain anonymous.
And if you need one-on-one guidance, check out the work I do on charlenejoy.com. I would love to help!
I need to start off by saying that I love my mother very much. She is my best friend and has always been my best friend. She raised me, an only child, on her own, and I’ve lived with her for twenty-three years. We used to do everything together, but things started to change when I got a boyfriend a year ago. Now I’m moving in with him.
My mom tells me she’s happy for me, but she’s different now. She’ll snap at me sometimes when I talk about the move, then act like it didn’t happen. She feels even more smothering than usual. I feel like I can’t breathe. She wants to do everything with me. If I have plans with my boyfriend, she’ll beg me to do something with her instead, saying something to make me feel guilty.
Now I have the worst anxiety about moving. I feel like I’m doing something wrong, like I’m a bad person. I am so stressed out. I feel like I’m seriously hurting her. I feel so confused and I don’t know what to do to make everyone happy.
Thank you for reaching out to me. This sounds tough. I could only imagine how difficult and scary it would be to separate from family—a best friend—after twenty-three years. Your relationship sounds incredibly special and I’m sure there are a lot of fears coming up for the both of you. It makes sense that your mom would be behaving this way, and that you would be feeling stressed out and confused. Sometimes our fears can make us act weird, mean, defensive, or clingy. And maybe your mom doesn’t want to admit it, because she doesn’t want to feel like a burden. Which, of course, makes everything even worse.
I would like to reflect back the last thing you said: I don’t know what to do to make everyone happy.
Without healthy boundaries, it can be easy to become enmeshed with someone without even knowing it.
It isn’t your job to make everyone happy. Your job is to do whatever you need to do to make yourself happy. I know as a society, we are taught that this is “selfish,” but it’s actually the best thing you can do for yourself and the people you love. If you aren’t taken care of, if you aren’t happy, then you aren’t showing up to your relationships and experiences as your best possible self. I wrote about this “caretaking” mentality before—you may want to check that out.
What would you make you happy? What do you want to do? If you would like to move in with your boyfriend, that is a completely valid, normal, common desire to have. Change is good. Change is how we grow. And yes, change is scary. But usually, the bigger the fear, the bigger the reward. You deserve the rewards!
When we truly love someone, we want what’s best for them. We want them to be happy. Underneath all that fear, I’m sure your mother wants what’s best for you. Trust in this. And, most importantly, trust that you know what’s best for you.
It’s awesome that you and your mother are so close. But without healthy boundaries, it can be easy to become enmeshed with someone without even knowing it. Enmeshment is when two or more people lack clear boundaries and act as if they are one unit, not separate from each other. When this happens, a sense of individuality and identity is lost.
Here are some signs of enmeshment:
– When your family member/friend/partner feels an emotion, you take it on, too. For example, when they are angry, you are angry, and vice versa.
– This person alienates you from your other relationships, or any experience that doesn’t involve them.
– This person shares inappropriate information with you. This can especially happen with parents who treat their children like best friends.
– This person is overly involved in your life, your feelings, and your actions. They are controlling and manipulative.
– You find yourself keeping a lot of things to yourself because you don’t want to hurt this person.
– You feel like you can’t disagree with this person. You are shamed for having different thoughts or opinions.
– Privacy is hard to come by.
– You are either the one always being taken care of, or you have to always take care of this person.
– You have trouble recognizing your own thoughts and feelings, and constantly need the validation and opinion of this person.
Again, most of the time, we aren’t even aware that we are enmeshed with someone. We can easily see these types of relationships as strong, healthy, close, and special. But it’s something to consider if you ever find yourself unable to fulfill your individual needs, or your other relationships seem to be suffering.
If anything, I think this awareness of what enmeshment looks like will help keep you aware of where the boundaries between you and your mom are right now. And because you are so close and love each other very much, I think an honest conversation about how you are both feeling will be healthy and fulfilling for the both of you. It isn’t your job to make her understand, or for her to make you understand—you are simply expressing how you feel. Speak from your heart and allow each other to be heard.
As we set boundaries for ourselves, we are loving and respecting ourselves. We allow ourselves our full potential. And that is the best thing we could do for our loved ones, our relationships, and the world.
It always starts with you. FL