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My family is smothering me. How do I tell them I need space?

The question:


I’m approaching 30 and living at home to help support my mother. I’m very devoted to my family, but starting to feel a bit smothered by all the responsibility. How can I demonstrate my need for alone time and independence – without offending my family – while I’m still living at home?


The answer:


Supporting a parent when you are so young can be a very challenging situation – juggling the devotion you have to your family, while trying to maintain some semblance of an independent life can be extremely difficult. I can personally relate, as I was placed into the role of primary emotional caregiver/support to my mother when I was in my 20s, after my father died unexpectedly at a young age.


You are at an age in your life where the majority of your peers are focusing their energy on building their careers, having fun, fostering intimate partnerships, and thinking about starting their own families. Living at home and being placed in the position of supporting your mother certainly can thwart these efforts for you, so it makes sense that you are starting to feeling smothered by the responsibility.


Your guiding motto needs to be the age-old adage of honesty being the best policy. If you are not up front about your needs, frustration and resentment may build up. This will not help your mother, nor will it allow you to live true to the family values you clearly hold near and dear to your heart.


Think about what ‘alone time’ and ‘independence’ look like for you, as this can be a very individual thing. Do you have a literal need for space in the home that is separate and your own (to watch TV, talk on the phone, entertain friends)? Do you feel a need for more flexibility in being away from home (going out with friends, or on dates)? Do you need to offload some of the day-to-day tasks you are taking on (housework, cooking)?


Try to clearly articulate what it is that you need – and then brainstorm what potential solutions look like. Could you lean on other family members to help with chores? Could you reconfigure space in the home? Could you set some boundaries around certain days that your mother knows you won’t be home such as Saturday nights?


Once you have come up with some solutions that work for you, have a heart to heart with your mother. Communicate the truth about how you feel – that you love her, and that you feel very devoted to her and that it is important to you to continue to support her the best you can. Then gently yet assertively let her know that you are starting to feel somewhat torn between pursuing some of your own activities and having your own needs met. Be specific about what you mean. Try to have a collaborative conversation with her, asking her what she thinks could help in having both of your respective needs met. Involving her in the process is a respectful way to bring up the topic, and may make it less likely that anyone’s feelings get hurt.


Remember that ultimately you have a choice in what you choose to do – and that supporting your mother and having some independence do not have to be mutually exclusive options.


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