It’s a terrible choice to have to make.
Feeling like you have to choose between Mom and your partner can be gut-wrenching.
Your childhood self is programmed to obey and respond to mom. You feel guilty if you don’t choose mom.
On the other hand, you know you need to choose your partner to establish trust and closeness. When mom puts you in this untenable position & doesn’t let go, this makes it hard for you to connect with and invest in your partner.
Here is how this breaks down-
When a daughter leaves home and makes a healthy separation from mom and dad ideally she transfers her primary emotional connection from her parents to her partner. This is healthy and necessary. Mom’s task is to let go and her daughter’s task is to grow up and leave.
Each has her own separate emotional task.
Leaving and being left is a necessary developmental task for both the adult daughter and her mother. If this doesn’t happen the adult daughter will not be free to invest fully in her relationship with her adult partner.
This transfer is vital to the health of the newly developed partnership.
It is a mom’s job to let go and accept her daughter’s leaving. She needs to connect with and get her emotional needs met by her peers.
It is a daughter’s job to enter into an equal relationship with a peer and leave behind her role as a child.
This is the way of healthy development.
Each task has its own challenges and responsibilities. Leaving home and making a home of your own is the healthy trajectory, one paved with both loss and gratification.
Letting go is the path toward growth.
However, when mothers make their adult daughters feel responsible for their emotional well-being, things are topsy-turvy.
Only dysfunction and misery follow. Daughters resent having to care for mom emotionally. Underneath it all, they feel something isn’t right. This emotional burden prevents them from making the healthy separation they need to make for themselves. This is especially true for the daughter trapped in the role of the good daughter and part of the good daughter syndrome.
Here is how this happens –
It is one thing for a mother and daughter to re-establish closeness after a period of healthy separation.
If the period of healthy separation never happens then a genuine adult closeness can never take root.
However, if a mother clings to her daughter and doesn’t let go- her daughter can’t help but feel growing resentment that ends in a mother/daughter tension that is never-ending.
Can mothers and daughters ever be close in a healthy way?
Yes, but first, mom must release her daughter into her own life in order to set the stage for a no-strings-attached adult relationship.
If your mom can’t let you go and you see yourself in the “good” daughter role there are steps you can take.
If you need a script to tell mom to take a step back and stop giving unwanted advice here is one that is kind and respectful. If you suspect mom might be Narcissistic, Borderline or Histrionic, or has traits of these disorders here is a way to tell.
To find out if you are trapped in the Good Daughter role -go here.
What is your experience? Let me know in the comments.
Raise Awareness. Tweet It Out.When mothers look to their daughters to be their primary partner, this interferes with their daughter's emotional growth. Click To Tweet It is mom's job to let go and accept her daughter's leaving. Click To Tweet It is a daughter’s job to enter into an equal relationship with a partner or peers and leave behind her role as a child. Click To Tweet It is one thing for a mother and daughter to re-establish closeness after a period of healthy separation. If the period of healthy separation never happens then a genuine adult closeness can never take root. Click To Tweet Leaving and being left is a necessary developmental task for both the adult daughter and her mother. Click To Tweet
I am divorced for three years. I have been dating my boyfriend for 6 months. We are completely committed to each other and our kids get along so well. The issue is that my mother lives with me and I want him to move in with me. She is not feeling him and says that he thinks he runs the home. She doesn’t have to worry about paying anything. She works part time and makes a car payment only. Everything else I take care of. Once my boyfriend moves in the responsibility will be shared it will release a lot of the burden. We love each other but my mother doesn’t want to have nothing to do with him. I’ve tried to talk to her but she will not budge. What should I do?
Although I can’t know everything about your particular situation I can tell you what I’ve told (and asked) clients who have been in similar situations.
First I would need to know why your mother doesn’t live independently. Is this because of necessity or choice, your choice or hers? If I am to assume it is your choice and you have willingly taken her in, in my opinion, you have the authority to call the shots about who lives in your household. Having said that combining households that involve children is a huge step-one not to be taken lightly. I would advise you to focus less on convincing Mom and more on thinking this through for yourself.
Ask yourself if you have gotten clear on the division of labor, finances, childcare, etc with the boyfriend? What can you expect from him and what do you expect of yourself? I know those discussions can throw cold water on the “in love” feelings but are necessary in order to set expectations to empower you- not to convince Mom.
Here is an all too common trap that a lot of daughters of difficult mothers fall into-their mother has called the shots for so long, they put all of their efforts into convincing Mom instead of taking the time to make decisions that are best for you.
Once you know where you stand and are ready to take complete responsibility for the success or failure of the new union, you set the expectation that you all as a team will be calling the shots. Mom can come along or not, her choice.
That’s a big leap and one you need to have plenty of confidence in order to make.
A middle road might be to keep dating and look together for a new place- one that would be a fresh start for you both and you bear equal responsibility for maintaining. Then you could invite Mom to join you all as a couple with the clear expectation that you all are the heads of the household and a unified front extending your hospitality to her. I imagine this might feel like a ton of work. It is. But, it is also an opportunity to set on the path to leading a grown-up life, one that Mom doesn’t control. Best of luck to you.
Hello I need help my boyfriend has cheated on me several times I have done so to him as well but I confessed down to all details and stopped completely while he swept his affairs under the rug and consistently denies everything. His mistress took his phone mid conversation with me and insulted me when he got the phone back he denied everything the proof is in the proof. My mom knows about it all and she will NEVER have anything to do with him and demanding I leave now or she leaves me. I still am addicted to him and tried leaving several times to no avail. He seems to have changed but still lies about the affairs and brings her up to taint me. I need to cut him off cold for my elderly mother and myself. What is your advice?
It sounds like a very upsetting existence- one in which you can find no peace if you go on this way.
From what I understand, you feel like you have to stay with a cheating boyfriend and cheat yourself (to feed your addiction) or cut him off because your mother threatens to leave you if you don’t.
While I agree would agree with your mother that he is a bad apple threatening to leave you sounds more like a romantic triangle than a loving mother concerned about her daughter’s well-being.
Since you’ve said she is elderly I am guessing you are a grown woman.
I am going to answer based on some assumptions which may or may not apply to your situation so take what applies to you and leave the rest.
It seems likely that the relationship template you have been operating on is flawed. And my guess is that you learned this in childhood. It has left you going from the frying pan into the fire and telling yourself this is how a good relationship works. It isn’t.
Threats, lying and cheating are more about manipulation and power struggles than love. I have seen daughters of difficult mothers assume that they don’t deserve to be treated well. The truth is, you deserve so much better but you have to be trustworthy to set a new standard for yourself.
If I could wave a magic wand and change things for you these are my wishes.
1) You establish your independence first before you get into a relationship so your mother doesn’t factor into your decisions about who to be in a relationship with so her threats “to leave you” have no weight.
2) You go slow and only let trustworthy men into your life.
3) You don’t cheat, knowing this degrades you and reinforces the notion that cheating is a necessary part of relationships.
It’s never too late to break cycles of addiction, find your willpower and learn to rely on yourself. You can let your pain lead you to a better way of life and love.
Best of luck,
Thank you for this article. I just really hope that my mom will realize this. Just to give you a context. My parents were separated since I was 1 year old. To provide for us, my mom worked as a domestic helper abroad leaving me and my brother under my grandma’s care. She is working abroad since I was 10 years old.
I graduated when I was 20 years old. Right after graduation I was hired at an NGO. So I moved out of our house and become independent financially since then. I provide for myself and helped them with their finances as well.
Here’s my dilemma. I am now 23 years old and my fiance’ proposed to me last January 2021. It was supposed to be one of the happiest moments of my life. But nope, they rained on my parade! They are angry that my fiance’ didnt informed them the specifics of the proposal.
And until now, I am having a hard time talking with my mom since we are in a different wavelength. I feel so suffocated. We want to have our wedding last year, but she disapproved and became angry. and she makes me feel guilty that I am making adult decisions even if she disapproves. My fiance’ and I moved in together right after the proposal. We are now in a relationship for almost three years.
Because of my mom always playing the “guilt card” on me, I am thinking of moving out of our house (my fiance’ and I have our own house right now). Since they are insisting the cohabitating degrades you as a woman. (they always tell me that I am somehow less than a dignified woman because I moved in with him). So yep, I am thinking to move out, be alone, and I also dont want to hear anything from her anymore because I am so tired of my mother having these endless issues. and endless arguments with her.
Here is what I’m hearing- you are 23 years old, financially independent, (even helping out your family with finances), a homeowner, and have established a relationship that is almost 3 years running. Can we stop right there and celebrate your successful passage into adulthood!
Okay good… deep breath and deep bows. These are massive milestones and you have plenty of reason to be proud of yourself in my book.
In my way of thinking freedom is earned by assuming responsibility. You seem to have more than earned your right to make your own decisions about how you want to live and love.
Now for your Mom. It must have been incredibly difficult to make the decisions she made to make ends meet and to have to leave you in someone else’s care. And to have her marriage not work out when you were so young must have been a huge disappointment especially given her conventional( I’m guessing) ideas about men and women. There are certainly more questions I would have at this point such as…
-Did she regret not being the one to raise you and now wants to make up for lost time?
– Is she trying to protect you from being taken advantage of by a man- even though you are in a different kind of relationship than she was?
– Is she ashamed of her past and is projecting her shame onto you?
Obviously, I can’t know the answers to these questions but it seems likely she is projecting some unfinished (possibly) traumatic business of hers onto you.
So, if that is the case what should you do?
First, you refer to endless arguments.
I would ask you –
Are you trying to convince her (of your ways of doing things) as a way of asking for her permission?
Are you hoping if she sees that you are willing to sacrifice your happiness she will finally be satisfied and stop guilt-tripping you?
If your answer is yes to any of the above I would ask you-
Can you stand firm in your decisions and lead the way to a better more empowered way of living realizing you will never be able to “convince her” but you can lead by example?
Can you realize it is the little girl in you that is yearning for her mother’s approval even though the adult woman in you needs to get on with her life?
I’m betting you have it within you to take this next step into adulthood not buy into the shaming messages (that are from another place and time) that are no longer relevant in your life. Will you let guilt control you or will you say, ” Mom we feel differently about this”, let’s move on?
And yes, with resolve, it can be a simple as that. Not easy, but simple.
Best of luck,
Hi, Thank you for this article. I am 24 years old living with my mom and my younger brother. My parents have been separated for a while now and we don’t receive any financial support from my dad. Close to 90% of what i earn goes towards the living expenses.
I have been in a relationship for over a year and a half now and I was honest to my mom about it from the beginning. In the span of 2 years, she has made me choose her over him twice and wants me to be the good obedient daughter despite all the verbal abuse and trauma I have received that had even resulted in me getting severe haemorrhoids and bleeding as i was told to eat food from outside and i was only permitted to live there. I was going back and forth with his boyfriend only because of this.
He wants me to get out of such a toxic situation and put me happiness over hers. I can’t leave home because they literally don’t have anyone to support them. My boyfriend has taken a stance saying he can’t be with me unless i learn to stand up for myself and decide the choices that will define my life. He feels like he’s been a dummy in the relationship for so long catering to everything i expected out of this relationship in terms of spending time together and feels like he had no say in anything. He says he can’t be with someone he could lose at anytime and he wants to put his mental state first.
I want him. He’s completely right in saying that i need to fight for my happiness. He says I need to put myself first even if he was not in the picture.
But how can I make this choice with this co-dependent relationship I have with my mother? I need to choose myself. I have realised that but how do i tell her that when she’s erratic and has self-harmed before?
Oh Becky – this sounds really hard. It’s hard to put your happiness first after so many years of abuse and the fear that your mother will harm herself if you don’t follow her orders.
But, as hard as this is to hear, if you are anything like many of my clients, you need to establish your independence before you are ready for a relationship. Many clients I’ve seen go from boyfriend to mom and back again – bypassing the necessary step of establishing yourself as an independent person first. If you don’t put yourself( not him or your mother) first you will stay forever torn between two people and subservient to their wishes.
If you are like many of my clients- there are more choices than you might originally see.
Take care and best of luck,
Hello I am in a situation where I have to choose either my parents or my boyfriend what should I do? We have known each other for 6 years and always been wanting to get married but my parents would never accept, so now I have to choose one of them please help me.
Boy, that’s a tough one. Given I know very little about your situation, I probably have more questions for you than answers. I wonder what has transpired over the 6 years? Have you been in an ongoing relationship, or is this someone you have had as an acquaintance and recently formed a romantic attachment? And why marriage, now? What are the reasons your parents would never accept your boyfriend? I could be more helpful if I knew these things.
Your article has been enlightening, i can only wish my mother and i can come to an understanding. I have 100% The Good Daughter Syndrome. She is a single parent, brought me up all by herself since i was 16, i am now 31.
I am very close to her, but this closeness comes at a cost, and that is anything i do that is not to her approval is punishable. I am the “best daughter in the world” when i obeyed her, did everything she said, tended to her needs; she then will return the favor by splurging on me sometimes, doing everything around the house and helping me financially even. I graduated from my university with a nursing degree then a couple of years afterward, she wanted to move countries – with me in toll of cause.
I catered to her desire for a better lifestyle, reasoning i will be paid way more, there will be a better life-work balance, i have a chance to finally own my own house for the future etc. So i bit the bullet, left my job, my friends behind, afterall i have mum right? mum is everything right? Things were hard at first due to COVID and we were truely isolated, but eventualy with my new job, i found new friends, i moved out on my own as my new job is in another city and its the perfect opportunity to “break out” of my mummy prison, started establishing my own life. My mother went as far as supporting me with funds for a deposit for my very first home, saying it’s an unconditional gift to give me a head start to a better future.
Things came crashing down when she found out i started seeing a man, at first it was because we were not the best pair in the beginning and i voiced my hurt to my mother thinking we will not last long. My mother’s worries came from a place of love ofcause. But eventually months goes by, we mended things, we stayed together and are committed to eachother.
Then it turned to something else – mum started to monitor my every movement. Calling me at ungodly hours, checking where i am, who am with. She developed hate towards my partner due to his financial instability? (although she seemed ok with the idea of me dating at first), and said “he will use you for your money”, started degradingly insult me, calling me all sorts of words. I’ve only spent money on myself or if we are going out, i contribute abit more as he is still studying. In no means i am having him living off me. i have made multiple excuses for my mother – she only want the best for me, shes worried i will marry poor and have hardship in my future, she is showing tough love.
Recently my mother has completely gone overboard. Threatening to cut ties, accusing me of betraying her, “it’s me or him!” forced me into writing and signing a “lease agreement” to say i will pay her back the money she gave me. This had me reeling, but i told her i will not choose, i will not play this game. I love my mother and my partner, i will not fight or “disown” my mother over a man, nor will i allow my partner or myself to be disrespected. If paying her money back means to settle her “worry’ and my freedom then so be it.
However it soon became more puzzling -she started asking to see my roster, and asking me to be back home whenever i have days off. I told her that is not possible as i have my own life, and it was her threatening to cut ties with me and paying her back the money would mean i will eventually “owe” her nothing financially (even though she gifted it to me). She said “i will not allow you free time to roll around in trash” – this really struck me, so after all this, she won’t meet me half way, and im back to being a child, a tool even as she believes i am too well educated and beautiful and i should be marrying a rich man, my time is wearing thin due to me entering my 30s and i am wasting my time and money on “trash”.
Her ultimatum have completely confused me, as i no longer know if she is doing this out of love or her own selfishness to control me, as i have many times voiced that this is not about a man – people will come and go, even the best relationships can change and end, this is about me, my freedom to live my life, my choice to be happy with whatever i’m doing or whoever i am with. She simply can not accept any of my reasoning.
Your insight would be greatly appreciated.
May I say how struck I am by your insight, sense of fairness maturity, and ability to express yourself? And congratulations on all you have accomplished in life. At 31 you do indeed have your whole life ahead of you- and how you handle the situation with your mother now will set the trajectory for many years to come.
Without knowing her, I do have empathy for her situation as do you- a mother at 16 and raising you all by herself. It sounds as though some real dysfunction has crept in and you are left fighting for your emotional life. It’s almost as if Mom can’t take the victory lap of feeling good about raising you because she can’t take the loss in letting you go. And it is a loss our culture doesn’t give mothers enough credit for.
I love your statement here- “people will come and go, even the best relationships can change and end, this is about me, my freedom to live my life, my choice to be happy with whatever i’m doing or whoever i am with. ”
If you can live by this statement without (and here’s the hard part) trying to convince her to be reasonable, I bet she will come around…eventually. Becoming a mother at 16 she never had the chance to mature in some ways. What she is doing is incredibly selfish and desperate. It is also immature. And I don’t mean that as an insult, I mean it factually.
My guess is that she never had the chance to develop the capacity to let go and know that life can still go on. All she knows is to cling to what she knows and hurl insults. That’s why she can’t “listen” to reason. If you can… stick to your resolve, let her have her temper tantrums without giving in or trying to stop them. You have to be prepared to walk away- for the moment.
I think it is very likely that you have reached a maturity level she has never had the chance to reach. You are now in a role reversal, you are the parent and she is the child- still needing to grow up.
Best of luck to you in this pivotal chapter in your life and in hers.
Many thanks Katherine. I felt more at ease once i stumbled upon your site. I felt validated for the first time in my life that something is not right here. I understand my mother’s worries stem from possibly her own experience and fear of not being provided for and the hardship she has endured as she never got the opportunity to have gone through higher education; whereas i have completed my bachelor, gone ahead to do post-graduate studies and will be continuing my studies hoping to finish masters, all the while working in an emergency department. I have many times communicated that times are different, I am my own person and does not fear not being “looked” after by a well-to-do man. However to my mother, it is almost as if she’s raised a daughter to be educated, pretty to look at just to be paired to a decent earning man so she won’t suffer financially in the future. Her frustration and anger stem from a place of over-bearing / protection and love, but it has manifested in the worst way, and the method of her showing it has gone horribly wrong, and instead it makes me want to distance myself further. Being the only child this is almost too hard to bear too, as i can not imagine leaving the person that has sacrificed her own self for me all those years.
I am, however, will do as i said and you have suggested – stick to my guns, i will not back done from my plan on doing this for MYSELF. This is NOT about a man or any man for that matter. I can break up with this man tomorrow and i will still live by my words. This is solely about me earning my freedom to live as an adult. Drawing boundaries, limiting contact will be my method of starting to mold our “grown-up” mother-daughter relationship. I can not go no-contact just because i just can not bring myself to abandon the woman that has done so much for me. However i will not tolerate her narcissistic way of expression. If i create some distance between us, i’m hoping it will give both us space and time to be individuals, this will help me to be less attached to her as if i’m still a small child, and i sincerely hope it will also help her to be less clingy to me as an extension of herself.
Only time will tell now. But i am here to fight the good fight for the sake of both of our futures! <3
Many thanks for your wise and kind words,
I know this article is a little old, but I am going through something right now.
I have been seeing a guy for ~4 months, my first relationship since going through a bad divorce. I am 29 with no kids, so those aren’t an issue. I thought my family was happy I was seeing someone new. I think I was wrong. First let me say he is a great guy: nice, respectable, treats me well, loves my dog etc. There is no apparent reason they would dislike him. He has met them on various other occasions (birthday parties etc.), so he isn’t a stranger to them.
The issue is, they told me that he can’t come to thanksgiving. I am invited still, but he can’t come. They said it isn’t a place/time to bring ‘flings’. This is extremely upsetting to me as he is not a fling, I haven’t spent time like this with anyone since I was married. I feel like they’re making me choose between them and him. I don’t know what to do, or what words to use to correctly convey how hurt I am. When I tried to talk to my parents, they said “they were sorry I was upset, but it’s their decision and I don’t have to agree with them”. I understand that, so is my only recourse here not to go? My boyfriend doesn’t have any family nearby and would be alone with me this holiday. Plus, this is the principle of the matter now as well for me. They have always preached about treating others with kindness and doing what you can for others. They made a huge deal about how poorly my ex-husbands family treated me, but now it seems like they are doing the exact same thing to this man. Just ugh.
Ahhh, I feel your frustration. And, I guess you can’t really know what is behind their thinking.
One wonders if they feel so betrayed by your ex that they can’t let anyone else ” in.” I guess the truth ” (as I see it) is that you can’t “save” your kids- even grown ones- from pain- if that’s what they are trying to do.
It sounds like you are happy with your new person and don’t see it as a fling. Referring to it as that is a little condescending on their part.
In my experience, when parents try and “save” their children from heartache (if that’s how they see it)- they run the risk of over-stepping and alienating their children.
It also leaves me to wonder if this is their modus operandi or if this control move is a one-off. If it’s a pattern, you might need to assert your independence on more fronts… but if it is a one-off, it might be worth trying to explore the feelings behind their actions- if you want to.
A sample script might be- ” Hey, mom and dad, while I respect that you have the authority to do so, your unilateral decision to refuse to invite the person I am dating is very hurtful to me, and I think destructive to our relationship. While I don’t need to agree with you, I’d like to understand your thinking since your actions are hurtful to me.
If you suspect they feel so upset from the divorce and are, in their own way, trying to protect both you and them, you could say, Mom and dad, while I imagine your decision to not allow me to bring my current boyfriend to Thanksgiving is protective, it actually feels disrespectful of me as an adult and my ability to make judgments about my dating life.
Just thinking out loud here, but it occurs to me that you could come by for “dessert” or “appetizers” and excuse yourself to go have your Thanksgiving meal with your new beau. That way, you honor their authority and also honor your desire to call the shots for yourself.
Take all I’ve said here with a grain of salt and take only what fits your situation.
Best of luck,
Please help me
I am 24 and married, I’ve been with my husband for 8 years off and on. I also have a very controlling manipulative mother. My marriage is currently falling apart. When I first met my husband he was my dream guy he was kind attentive, non judgemental. I was desperate to get away from my mom so he joined the military and we went to another state. Unfortunately I am damaged and I have cheated through out our relationship. I’ve watched my husband turn cold, angry and verbally abusive. My mom tells me I should leave him. I don’t want to leave my husband but I can’t be with him if he’s going to be cruel. He tells me I should stick with him because he stayed through my cheating. Like I said my mom is telling me to leave him and move back home. My moms been different she’s being the mom I needed when I was a teenager. It’s very confusing. But I do like this new relationship I have with her. My husband says it’s an act and that once she gets me to leave him she’ll go back to her old ways. I guess my question is do you think my relationship can be mended ? I love him and I don’t want to give up on my marriage. I wonder though if it’s time to move to a new chapter
I hear your desperation and eagerness to make a decision- however, I doubt the real problem is deciding which person to throw your lot in with. The real problem is learning to trust and love yourself.
Although there are lots of things I don’t and can’t know from what is written here- I can tell you what others who have found themselves in similar situations are dealing with and what helps them.
So with- that in mind- here we go.
It Is not uncommon for daughters who have been abused by their mothers to have trouble completely trusting anyone. And why would they?
Perhaps your chronic cheating has its roots in – trying to keep from being vulnerable to one person because that’s never been a safe option for you.
Also, making a commitment involves trusting one person with your vulnerability. If that hasn’t been safe with your original attachment figure, chances are it will not feel safe with anyone else.
The main person you need to learn to trust is yourself.
For example- stop cheating, not only for your husband, although that is important. But the most important person here- is you. You need to learn to trust yourself. You need to prove to yourself that you are a person of integrity and honor- worthy of being treated well.
Can you see how both cheating or moving back in with Mom (as an adult) are escape hatches? They seem appealing at the time and then leave you confused and a prisoner later.
If mom treats you badly, you will say, “but she rescued me from a bad relationship”. And if your husband is verbally abusive, you’ll say – “well, what can I expect? I’m a cheater.”
Until you establish some independence, you will forever ping pong from Mom to husband, not knowing what you deserve.
If you are like many others in similar situations, when you learn to stand on your own two feet, you can see, really see, who is “good” for you. And once you can see clearly, no one can take that away from you.
Best of luck to you,