The Yomiuri Shimbun Dear Troubleshooter:
I’m a female company worker in my 40s. I divorced two years ago, taking custody of our two elementary school-age children, and we now live in an apartment near my mother’s place. She visits us almost every day, and it’s a problem.
My mother lives alone, so it would seem she is happy that we live nearby. However, whenever she visits me, she starts complaining about things. And she asks me personal questions about my daily life: “What time did you come home last night?” “Where did you go and with whom?” and “What do you do on your day off?” When she finds out I’ve bought something new, such as an electrical appliance or clothing, she never fails to ask how much it costs, and even adds a snide remark like: “For someone who is divorced, aren’t you well off?”
I understand she feels lonely living alone, but I also have my own life and lifestyle now. It seems that more than being concerned about me, she just wants to interfere. It’s so stressful.
Several times, I’ve implied my feelings by saying, “I want to take it easy on my day off” or “You should make friends and go have fun.” After that, she visited me less, but that only lasted a few weeks. She is back visiting me almost every day as usual.
How can I get her to keep an appropriate distance without damaging our relationship?
E, Nagasaki Prefecture
Dear Ms. E:
So you want to keep some distance from your mother, who frequently visits you. However, your children are still in elementary school. In this respect, aren’t there many aspects in which it is helpful when she visits?
Your mother comes to your place, not just because she feels lonely, but also because she is concerned about her grandchildren. It is no wonder she is worried that you come home late and is concerned why you do so.
In reality, the more you try to avoid her, the more you make her feel uneasy. So I think it would work better if you changed your approach and made it about her helping you take care of your children. You could say, for example: “I will be home late today. I’m sorry to trouble you, but could you make sure the kids do their homework?”
If you only face this from the viewpoint of a mother-daughter relationship, it can feel very stifling. However, if you widen it to include the grandmother-grandchildren aspect, that could break the stalemate. You should sometimes listen to her complaints with the mindset that the two of you can help one another.
When your children are in their teens, having other adults in whom they can confide, other than their mother, will be helpful not only for them, but also for you.
Being a single mother myself, I’m greatly aware of that fact.
Megumi Hisada, writer