#591: How do I tell my nosy mom about my ummfriend?

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a slightly complicated situation that I don’t know how to talk (or better yet, avoid talking) about with my parents.

Recently, I’ve met a guy and had a couple dates with him. We hit it off and would like to continue seeing each other. Fortunately, he has his own place; unfortunately, I still live with my parents (yay poorly paying retail jobs), and my mother in particular feels like she needs to know everything going on in my life. It’s impossible for me to just say that I’ll be home late from work, or going out in the evening on my day off without her wanting to know exactly why and where I’m going. I’d be willing to tell her that I’m going on a date, except:

I have a wonderful boyfriend of several years that the parents have met and like. Sadly we live in different countries and only manage to see each other about once or twice a year. This is not a cheating letter! We have an open d/s relationship in which we both are switches, and we’ve both encouraged each other to find other people to play with, although neither of us has taken advantage of it until now. My boyfriend has known about this play partner since I met him, is aware of the play dates, and finds it sweet and very hot.

So if I tell my mom that I’m going on a date, she’ll be wanting to know if I’ve broken up with boyfriend, or think I’m cheating on him, and I don’t really feel comfortable trying to explain an open relationship or that it’s strictly a kink thing to her. (Even more complicated to explain since it’s not sex, either.) >.< Using generic excuses or saying I have work only works for certain times of day, and will no doubt be discovered at some point by calling work when I’m not there. I can’t even say that I’m going out with friends because … well I don’t have any local ones. I don’t really want to get too tangled up in maintaining a lie – this isn’t something I’m ashamed of or feel a strong need to hide, but I really don’t feel comfortable trying to explain it to my MOM.

I guess basically I need some help putting together scripts to either try and explain this or politely tell her it’s none of her beeswax without provoking a tantrum. She has no real sense of privacy, and when I’ve asked her to not do things I find invasive before (like ignoring my closed bedroom door/refusing to knock, or going through my trash) she’s acted offended that it bothers me and then hurt because ‘I never tell her anything’, so I don’t really see a way to set up strong boundaries that isn’t going to result in disaster and endless fights, which I’d love to avoid.

Thanks!

I know people want to be open and honest in all of their relationships, but you get to hold certain things close to the vest if you want to, especially with nosy/judgy parents who go through your trash and can’t knock before entering your room.

Obviously honesty is usually both the best AND easiest course. Do you think that if she knew about the dates it would affect your ability to live at home? If the answer is “no,” then why not just level with her? I sense that your mom is a Highly Difficult Person (because: tantrums) and one way to defuse the HDP is by answering their questions with great forthrightness as if it’s no big deal, i.e. “I have a date. Before you ask, boyfriend and I are still together, but we’re also trying a thing out where we date other people.”

She’ll probably have a lot to say about that, to which you say “Thanks for your input, Mom, but this is something boyfriend and I are working out together. You asked me where I am going and I want to be truthful” and then let her screech if she wants to. Throwing tantrums has worked so far to keep you cowed and/or to keep you from presenting her with information that she won’t like. But what if she learned that you are now totally unfazed by tantrums? And that you don’t tie yourself in knots trying to figure out how to break news to her? Would she still throw them as much? “I’m okay if you are unhappy with my choices” is a pretty powerful message to convey if you want to be treated like an adult.”You said you wanted to know about my life, so, now you do!” If she gets upset, ask her, “Mom, where is this coming from? What are you really worried about?” Then listen to her and remember that “Thanks, I’ll think about what you said” is a good way to end conversations in a neutral way. You have nothing to apologize for, so try not apologizing for it.

Now, if you think that she might kick you out of the house or make things truly unlive-able, It is okay to refer to this date-person as a friend if that’s the easiest explanation that gets you out the door when you need to go and keeps a roof over your head while you need to stay.  And it is okay to put out a general “I’ve been feeling a little lonely so I’m trying to meet new local friends” story to seed the ground if you need to. It’s not false, it’s just not all the way true about what kind of friends you’ve been meeting.

Your mom thinks she wants to know everything about you, but she doesn’t. Some people really set themselves up to be lied to by having a history of very unreasonable reactions to other people’s boundaries and privacy. So this is a strategy for anyone who is feeling stifled/stalked/over-monitored at home and like you don’t want to negotiate every time you leave the house. My older brother was the master of this when we were growing up with parents-who-go-through-the-trash, but I wasn’t so bad myself. The main thing is to be out of the house a lot as your basic default.

1) If you are able, take up biking. “Where are you going?” “For a bike ride.” Bike to and from your friend/date’s house.

2) Learn to love the library. “Where are you going?” “The library.” Most times, actually go to the library. Check out lots of library books and bring them home and read them. Books!

3) Or the public pool, if there’s one nearby. Or the gym. Or extra shifts at work (extra money to move out with!). Or the local coffee shop.

4) Join a Meetup or take a class, somewhere you will meet lots of new people. Mind-expanding and plausible!

5) Make one friend your mom likes. I don’t know if my brother was actually “at Ted’s” every waking moment for his teenage and college years, but it was a good enough explanation for my parents.

6) Make your friend into friends, plural. “I’m meeting some friends.”

7) Don’t ask, inform on your way out the door or by text message when you’ve already gone. “Hey mom, I’m going for a bike ride and then I’m going to meet some friends. I’ll call you if I’m going to be later than 10:00″ then GO GO GO. Wait, you said you live with your parents, plural. Try telling your DAD when you are on your way out the door if he’s the one who asks fewer questions.

8) Schedule regular quality time with your folks so they don’t feel neglected. It’s a little easier to let go if Sunday dinner is a sacred routine with their child.

9)  Practice giving out less information. When you grow up with over-protective or controlling parents, especially ones that wield the “Weeeeeeee’ll see” to delay giving permission but avoid not giving permission so that you’ll be set up to try to “earn” going to the party all week, when you make requests it tends to sound like this:

“Can I sleep over at Susie’s house tomorrow after school and yes her parents will be home and I’ve already checked and they have fruit in the house for healthy snacks and her mom is going to pick us up after school and drive me home the next day after swim practice and you literally have to do zero work or thinking about this and she has already pre-selected three age-appropriate movies and I already finished all my chores and my homework and next week’s homework and yes I have clean pajamas and my swimsuit will have plenty of time to dry and I have ziploc bags just in case so please please please can I go?”

Then you grow up and and hopefully along the way some kind person in your life tells you “Wow, you don’t have to justify ANYTHING that much to me, what’s going on with that?” and you unlearn the habit.

My dear Letter Writer, it is your task to unlearn this habit even without the benefit of moving away. You’re not asking permission from your mom when you go out, you’re letting her know, considerately, so she won’t worry about you and can plan her own life accordingly. “Mom, I’m going to Susie’s house after work tomorrow, I should be home by 11, so don’t factor me in for dinner.

10. Give it time. It won’t change overnight.

Once you’ve adjusted the routine and the expectations about how often you’ll be around, the other trick is to actually do what you said you’d be doing 90+% of the time. Be out of the house, living your life, doing cool stuff, not at home with your mom, and not being a lying liar. Keep your phone charged, but get in a habit of not picking up right away (vs. texting or calling back in a few minutes), i.e. “I turn the ringer off when I’m at work and sometimes forget to turn it back on.” Call if you’ll be late. Get back to her promptly.

The other 10% of the time, have your fun.

I realize I just gave people a template for lying more successfully, which is a shady thing to do if you come from a normal, happy, healthy family. Please use your powers for good! I guess you’ll have to trust me that some people are just paranoid in an unreasonable way and use it to tromp all over the people in their lives. In my opinion, those people are asking to be a) told really uncomfortable truths, bluntly or b) lied to if that’s what protects your safety and sanity.

You have an opportunity here to renegotiate your relationship with your parents a bit, where hopefully you won’t have to ask permission if you are going to be Not Home. You want to let them know when you won’t be around and how late you’ll be so that they can plan things, like meals, and you want to be out of the house more so you can be more social/make friends/give them some privacy because you want to be considerate and form an adult relationship with them. And that’s a script you can use with your mom. “I’m so grateful for your support and the opportunity to save up money for my own place, but in the day to day I’m happier when I can have a little space and be more social with people my own age. I don’t want to worry you, but I also could do without the interrogations whenever I want to go out. It makes me feel like a child, and that makes me react like a child, instead of having the close adult relationship I’d like to have with you. What is it that you’re worried about? What can I say to reassure you?

I am rooting for the honest conversation, but know that I don’t judge you if it has to go a different way for now. You don’t need to make yourself homeless or submit yourself to a ton of slut-shaming and concern-trolling for the principle of honesty if you are dealing with someone really unreasonable.

 

 

214 comments
  1. FTC LTL said:

    Knowing the age of the LW might be helpful here.

    • JenniferP said:

      Why?

      • Somniorum said:

        I was gonna say!

        Even an underage person should not be treated like this. One of the ways that kids grow into successful(-ish?) adults is by being told that they are trustworthy and responsible via their parents’ actions and words. If a parent is constantly telling their 17 year old that zie can’t even handle hir own social/dating life, they’re sowing the seeds for a young adult who is going to feel paralyzed with all of the sudden Grown-Up Stuff. Maybe not always, but I’ve lived and seen it happen.

        Until I was 12, I lived with a father like this, except add some abuse into the mix. I essentially didn’t have friends until my mother swooped us up and got us out of dodge. He would monitor my phone calls (pre-common-use-of-cellphones era), would disallow me from going to school dances, birthday parties or even sleepovers. If I played outside I had to go check in once every half hour to ensure I wasn’t “doing anything [I] shouldn’t be.” He even read my diary regularly and would shame me for its contents.

        Imagine how capable I feel as a late-20s adult! And that was despite my mother’s frantic attempts to undo my dad’s authoritarian grip. As well as years and years of therapy.

        Anyways- point is that nobody deserves to have their privacy constantly invaded. Not even if they are under 18. Not just because privacy is something everybody should just have, but because constantly invading it is so so so so so so bad for children and teenagers. It gives the kid a serious handicap in learning to have and defend their boundaries, and can also contribute to anxiety and feelings of capability to other worldly matters.

        • I agree sooo much. My dad was the same way only until I moved out at 18. Once I was on a work trip over a weeend and my phone died and he looked up the number of a co-worker online and called her and made her find me so he could make sure I was really there. One of many wonderful memories.

          People need to do things for themself to learn; I doubt even the most controlling parent wants a child who’s unprepared for the reality of living alone. Actually, no I don’t.

          • Erin said:

            I doubt even the most controlling parent wants a child who’s unprepared for the reality of living alone. Actually, no I don’t.

            Yeah right? I’m not saying they’re plotting their evil plan while rubbing their hands together evilly (??), but if your child never learns to be independent, it will forever be in your clutches.

          • J. Preposterice said:

            “I doubt even the most controlling parent wants a child who’s unprepared for the reality of living alone. Actually, no I don’t.”

            …yeah. I have a friend whose mother has successfully created an intelligent, funny, creative law school graduate who is absolutely incapable of moving out of her mother’s house or having a full-time job because either thing would upset her mother too much. (We’re in our late 30s.) My friend’s ONE full-time job in her entire life was in the call center where her father also worked, because that way her mother was OK with it.

            I really hoped that when my friend held steadfast through law school (against her mother’s wishes) that she’d found the strength to get out, but no dice.

            If I go visit my friend, her mother treats us exactly the way she treated us when we became friends a quarter-century ago (like children in a household with very poor boundaries). My friend will cycle between cowed/cringing/deferring/staring at the floor and screaming tantrums with throwing stuff to get her mom out of her room. It’s FUCKING CREEPY and SUPER UPSETTING and I don’t visit often.

            As near as I can tell, her mother is EXTREMELY pleased with the living situation, and with essentially keeping her own child as a emotional prisoner.

            Testament to the power of emotional abuse/brainwashing, I guess.

          • Anisoptera said:

            “if your child never learns to be independent, it will forever be in your clutches.”

            ^this. I have a brother who is 35 and doesn’t work and lives with my parents. This is how my mother wants it. I escaped, because my response to the lesson “you have no boundaries” was to get wildly angry and rebellious. His was to develop advanced abilities in slipping quietly by in order to survive. Turns out that tactic, while good for avoiding drama, is terrible for creating change. 😦

            Also, learning to have boundaries as an adult sucks (I may have railed against it but I wasn’t successful at enforcing limits).

        • Pear said:

          OH GOD THIS. I am so sorry that happened to you.

          I babysit an 11 year old and I’m all YOUR MUM ALLOWS YOU TO GO OUTSIDE TO THE SWEET SHOP ON YOUR OWN???/ WHAt. And she is confident and smart and can do lots of things on her own, way more than I was able to at her age.

          My parents were pretty much as overprotective of me at 21 years old as at 11 years old. It really doesn’t change. From 11, my internet use was monitored for a few years, like, my mum would make me use the one in their bedroom and observe my usage over my shoulder. I had to share an email address with my dad. When said I wanted to go to university in a town a few hours away from home, the idea of such a distance made my mother have a tantrum. She’d also check my underwear and once took me to the doctor despite my protestations (I was fine!). Even though we didn’t have much money, as in, had a dodgy housework-in-return-for-accommodation arrangement with the live-in landlord in order to keep a roof over our heads, I wasn’t allowed to get a casual job outside of the home.

          I was told, bluntly and directly, that I was not allowed to have any boundaries or keep any secrets from my parents. The consequences would be the Silent Treatment OR noisy tantrums, what fun games!

          So I learned to lie in the EXACT ways CA illustrates in the letter very early on, save for the whole ‘just going and then GOING’ thing, because that would have been a step too far for my parents–I was always escorted in and out of the front door and had no key of my own. That continued until I was past 21.

          When I moved out to be with my partner, I didn’t say a word, just packed some stuff and went. My parents were all, ‘oh. oh ok.’ They suddenly had a lot of time on their own to think about what they’d done. AND OUR RELATIONSHIP IS AMAZING NOW. I legit love them and enjoy voluntarily spending time with them but ugh goodness, they had to do a lot of changing, and even now I can’t fully relax. Got to reinforce them boundaries.

          • Chamomile Geode said:

            My overprotective mother checked my underwear too. Damn, there are a lot of us on this website.

          • JenniferP said:

            Mine insisted on doing the laundry even when I was in college, and bras/underwear that might be considered “too sexy” (i.e. a color other than white or beige) would simply…disappear. It’s so fucking weird.

          • Lieutenant Intuition said:

            My parents, for all their idiosyncrasies, never checked my underwear, but I did once live with a host family who used to hang up towels in front of my underwear when I hung it out to dry, because some of it was red and they didn’t want anybody to know that somebody in their house possessed red underwear.

          • jess said:

            checked the underwear for what? sperms? period? I don’t even see what they would be hoping to find.

        • Nanani said:

          This so much.
          My mom was constantly suspicious and questioning of everything I did, even though I wasn’t doing anything remotely questionable. She’d say things implying I must have been doing drugs, and at one point seemed convinced I had a secret boyfriend. None of this was ever true, mind you.

          The result was that I learned to never share anything at all because no matter what I said, the response was always disbelief and increased suspicion.

          Parents: Don’t do this to your kids.

        • Bearpelt said:

          This is so, so true! I’m autistic (but pass as neurotypical most of the time) and it wasn’t actually until my first year of high school that I realized I didn’t have to ask permission to hang out with a friend extensively ahead of time. My friend was like, “Wanna hang out after school?” I had no idea if I could, so I called my parents and they were like, “Um, yeah? Just let us know where your friend lives if you need a ride.”

          And my family also left me home alone with my sister when I was in about 5th grade. (She’s 2 years my junior.) We couldn’t afford daycare anymore and my parents showed they trusted us. Occasionally, we abused this by, say, eating an extra cookie too many that day. Wow.

          It is fully reasonable to allow children of even somewhat younger years some privacy and space and freedom. It teaches them responsibility and agency.

          And I’m sorry that you had to go through that, that sucks. D8

      • I can see a scenario where being totally honest with the mother could result in horribleness- if the LW is underage, and their mom ends up disapproving of their relationship arrangement (which sounds awesome, btw, and I’m glad it’s working for them!), she could end up bringing statutory rape charges against New Friend/Boyfriend. Of course, then disregard Plan A (Honesty) and move straight along to Plan B (Strategic Lying). I don’t get the impression that’s the case, but it’s possible.

      • FTC LTL said:

        If she’s a minor, parents are going to ask where she’s going and who her friends are. That’s just good parenting. It’s not listening in on phone calls or even forbidding her from going somewhere – just asking. C’mon people!

        Even if she’s an adult, I don’t see this as malicious, given the information we have. When I go back home for the holidays, my parents ask me where I’m going, just out of curiosity. I’m young(er) and exciting, they’re homebody senior citizens – it’s conversation! There is absolutely no evidence here that the parents are doing anything but taking an interest in their kid’s life. Once again, mom isn’t forbidding a thing.

        • SaltPickles said:

          I don’t think going through someone’s trash is appropriate at any age, but the letter writer indicates she is old enough to be living on her own and would be if her wages were higher.

        • wondering said:

          Sure, until you’re talking about parents who will only allow you to have friends from a particular small religious group, for example. They may think they are being good, protective parents, but really, they could be super stifling and controlling.

          • FTC LTL said:

            Assuming facts not in evidence. I think what we have here is someone with a not-so-horrible secret (new friend) who thinks that to be honest about it at all, she needs to spill the beans on every last little embarrassing detail.

          • JenniferP said:

            Facts IN evidence:

            The mom goes through their trash
            The mom throws TANTRUMS

          • FTC LTL said:

            “Goes through her trash” = taking out the trash in a lot of cases. I know we have a lot of commenters projecting their own (horrible) experiences on this LW, but we’re filling in the blanks with the worst possible inferences because we want to be on the side of the LW.

            It is possible – perhaps likely – that she feels the d/s thing needs to be kept secret at all costs and every time the mom does anything, it’s seen as trying to get to this secret (which mom doesn’t even know she has). I’ve had big secrets before and I was similarly convinced that everyone was prying and just one step away from finding out the horrible truth. I probably sounded a lot like the LW.

          • JenniferP said:

            FTC LTL:

            Respectfully, if you don’t come from this kind of house, you don’t understand at all, so maybe, listen? I’m glad you have a normal, respectful relationship with your parents, but that’s not the case for everyone.
            Respectfully, my dad takes out the trash, and goes through it, and if he didn’t agree with what I threw away, it would show up back in my room. “You can still use this!” “What’s this note (taped back together) from a boy?”
            And yes, we ARE on the side of the letter writer. The person who asked for help.

          • Baytree said:

            “Goes through trash” /= “Takes out trash.” Ever.

            Taking out the trash means picking up the bag (or putting it in the bag), and then putting it in the bin. If you have to separate different types of trash, you do so without scrutinizing each item.

            Going through someone’s trash may happen on the way to taking it out, but is a separate process. It is where you carefully examine each item, read what is written on any papers, etc. It’s an evidence-gathering technique. Think “detective,” not “garbage truck driver.” This evidence will then be used against the trash-generator to prove why they are a horrible horrible failure.

        • I think going through your kid’s trash is a bit more than “taking an interest in your kid’s life.”

          • mahoushoujo said:

            My mom would also go through my trash in the same way as CaptainAwkward’s dad. Things would get ‘rescued’ – too good to throw away, old diary pages (that she made into a scrapbook), bits of tags from clothing she thought were pretty. It ended abruptly if very awkwardly when she founds condom wrappers and condoms my current bf and I had used. Gross, but hey, they’re in the trash for a reason. She will still pull things out that she thinks I should keep – the leaky boots, sneakers with no soles, etc, but at least the main body of the trash can is left alone.

        • “It’s impossible for me to just say that I’ll be home late from work, or going out in the evening on my day off without her wanting to know exactly why and where I’m going.”

          That’s reasonable when your child is 12, and maybe even 16, but not when they’re an adult. Going through you child’s trash is never reasonable. Refusing to knock on your child’s closed bedroom door is reasonable when your child is 3. Throwing tantrums when your child tries to have a little privacy is ridiculous.

        • dragonlady said:

          Um, I’d like to point out, in the spirit of not assuming things, that you’re assuming the letterwriter is a female. We don’t have any evidence of male/female, and I think it might be best to leave that out.

        • spiltcoffee said:

          In a normal situation, yes, asking your child what they’re up to is fine.

          The issue is, these are conversations the LW can’t choose not to engage in, according to the behaviour of the LW’s mum. Interrogating your child and throwing tantrums when you think information is withheld is not a good way of taking an interest in your kid’s life. If anything, it’s setting your kids up to make them want to keep things from you.

        • Laughing Giraffe said:

          Trust me, there is a big, BIG difference between “I love hearing about your life” and “you have absolutely no right to privacy”. Yes, if you’re a minor, the situation is a little different, but here’s an example from my own life:
          “I’m going to a concert tonight.”
          Reasonable parent response: “You look very excited. Who’s playing? Are you meeting anyone there? Are you okay to get home? What time will you be back?”
          Actual parent response: “Hm. I was hoping you would stay in tonight. Do you have to go? You’re going ALONE? I don’t think that’s safe. You should take someone along. Or stay home. You can’t take the bus that late/walk/ride your bicycle. No, don’t waste your money on a cab. I’ll come pick you up at nine. I don’t care when the concert’s over, I’m coming to get you at nine. I’m not going to stay up until all hours waiting for you. Well, if that’s too big a hassle you could stay home. Are you going to be drinking? Are you SURE you won’t stay home?” etc.
          When that kind of routine happens when you say anything other than “I’m going to visit [old friend from junior high],” (and you’re 25, not 16), you quickly learn to say “visiting [friend]” every time you want to get out of the house.

          • Muse142 said:

            Wow. It wasn’t until I saw it spelled out like that… just realized some pretty unfortunate things about my grandfather. I am 28 years old and he still does this.

          • Oh man. With my parents, the response would be “Go to a concert? Why? When did you start listening to this band, obviously in secret from me? Who introduced you to (AKA whose fault is it you like) this band? Who are you going with? Alone? That’s stupid, only weirdoes go to concerts alone, so obvious you shouldn’t want to and something weird is going on.” Or “you’re going with a friend? Is this friend a boy? Do you think it’s normal for a girl to have a friend who’s a boy? Why would he want to be your friend?” And then they totally WOULD come pick me up at the proper end of the concert, because they’re night owls and because then they can ogle all the people who went to the concert, who are obvious weirdoes, and police if I was actually alone/with a friend/with the right friend.

        • Thom said:

          “‘Goes through her trash’ = taking out the trash in a lot of cases. I know we have a lot of commenters projecting their own (horrible) experiences on this LW, but we’re filling in the blanks with the worst possible inferences because we want to be on the side of the LW.”

          That’s not so much an “alternate interpretation” as it is “calling the LW a liar.” I think that’s really out of line.

          And I speak for no one but myself, but I don’t think it’s projecting so much as recognizing important red flags. Maybe this particular mom won’t toss out the LW (but not for nothing, I’ve housed MULTIPLE queer/trans kids in my home after THEIR parents have kicked them out–it DOES happen and more often than a lot of people realize, I think), but there’s nothing on this continuum of boundary-violating and controlling that is good.

        • A. Y. Mouse said:

          LW fears their mom’s tantrums. That’s enough for me to tell that the LW does NOT have the relationship with their mom that you’re describing here.

        • LW said:

          When I say ‘going through trash’, I mean her coming to me and asking ‘why did you throw away the envelope from the bank statement (JUST the envelope) ARE YOU LYING TO ME ABOUT MONEY’ or ‘you’re drinking too much soda and YOUR GOING TO GET A KIDNEY STONE’ or ‘I saw a receipt/tag in the trash WHAT IS THIS NEW THING WHY DIDN’T YOU SHOW ME YOU ARE LYING ABOUT WASTING ALL YOUR MONEY’. Thus I generally take out my own trash now, but sometimes she still gets to it.

          Also in reply to below, it’s not so much that I feel the d/s needs to be secret – when I spent several months with boyfriend, it was a submissive period and I wore a obvious collar and so there weren’t many pictures to show my mom that didn’t have that in them. So I just explained it as something we liked to do sometimes and while I got some weird comments, it mostly passed. But this is more about straight up sex and bdsm, and idk, maybe more people feel totally comfortable talking to their parents about that than I do.

          • h said:

            Very few people feel comfortable talking to their parents about the details of their sex lives. It is totally normal* for you to want privacy in this area. That would be true even if you had no kinks and you had a completely positive relationship with your mother.

            *Not that anybody needs to be “normal” if they don’t want to be. But what’s going on here is that you want something normal, and your mom’s behavior is standing in the way.

            Dysfunctional dynamics can mimic healthy dynamics on the surface. Many healthy parent-daughter relationships go through some awkwardness when the daughter reaches dating age. It’s natural for parents to worry about a young woman’s safety, and it’s natural for young women to rebel against this, and both parties can sometimes handle this with less than perfect grace. So when you describe your Mom’s behavior, a lot of people immediately remember “that time I said something mean to my wonderful mother when she just wanted me to be safe.” Even healthy families can go through some adjustment pains, and not everyone will be able see the difference between their history and your situation. But to repeat, it is totally normal for you to want privacy in this area! Most people want privacy concerning their sex lives, especially from their parents!

          • Holy crap I am so sorry you need to deal with this.

            I really hope you manage to get to a less awful place, and offer Jedi hugs if appropriate.

            (My anecdata says relatively few people feel TOTALLY comfortable talking to their parents about that, and even if 99.9% of people in the whole world but you DID feel totally comfortable doing so it would still be okay for you to not want to discuss that with your parents. FTR.)

        • Evie said:

          “If she’s a minor, parents are going to ask where she’s going and who her friends are. That’s just good parenting… When I go back home for the holidays, my parents ask me where I’m going, just out of curiosity. ”

          I think Jennifer is right – if you don’t come from this kind of house, you don’t understand at all. Things can have the same topography (behaviour can look the same) but serve a different function and have a completely different tone, and while it can look utterly innocent if you’re not used to it – when you do, you know how bad it can be.

          Like my mother; I had a busy week where I was out of the house a lot – bf, work, study – and due to HER weird phone call rules couldn’t talk as much as she wanted. At the end of the week I got this phone call, which finally I could take, and got this weird smug tone from her. You see, she’d called up the airport and found when my plane had landed.

          A plane I’d never been on in reality, but she thought I must have been on cause not being available to jump through her hoops for a week =/= busy (you know, the thing I truthfully told her), it OBVIOUSLY meant supersecrethushhush trip out of state. 

          • Erin said:

            What the hell? She “found your plane”? Sorry you have to deal with this kind of mind games.

        • Haze said:

          Sure, a certain amount of guidance is required for minors. However (and maybe I’m getting a bit off topic here) I feel that people are prone to dismissing the natural desire and need for privacy and control just because it comes from a teenager, like “adult wants privacy and control = natural and expected” while “teenager wants privacy and control = bratty and immature”. Psychological studies on depression and pessimism often actually use the subjects’ estimates of how much control they have (over whether a light turns on in response to them flipping a switch, for instance) and induce emotional states by changing the amount of control the subject has.

          This is at a tangent to your original point and I’m not saying that you said anything of the sort. I just think that this thought is worth mentioning, because the attitude I described is a common subtle assumption.

          Asking in itself can be daunting. It depends on the undercurrents. Laughing Giraffe made a good example, but here’s another. “What are your plans for today?” could mean different things. If said with a history of straightforward communication, it means just that: ‘hey I want to know your plans out of curiosity/to plan dinner’. But then “What are your plans for today?” could have a “right” answer, as in “What are your plans for today? [they had better involve chores because we had agreed that you would do chores, and also your chem grades are lagging and you better shape them up]” In conversation, that would at first look like “What are your plans for today?” “Maybe relax/go out with friends.” “I guess I can clean the garage all by myself and kill my back for a few days. Easier than getting you to do your work.” Later on, the conversation becomes more like: “What are your plans for the day?” “Nothing, I guess. What are yours?” And the really f’d up part is that the parents could well become more straightforward and reasonable and the offspring becomes older and more mature, but the mental groove is well worn by then (as Cliff says, ask me how I know!) One learns that asking is not just asking and so where most people see just a question, one sees the question and all that crap in the square brackets.

          Basically, it’s awesome that your parents speak and always have spoken without the little square brackets. That is not the case with many of us. An icefisher gains a sharp sense for ice that looks or sounds a certain way…

          Also, looking through the contents of someone’s trash is mad creepy.

        • Going through the trash is not the same as taking out the trash. No. Seriously.

          Thank you for making it clear that you are predisposed to call the LW an unreliable narrator and find a ton of excuses for why it’s okay that they are in this situation, but I hope you understand that dismissing their concerns and excusing the problematic behaviours they are subjected to is not actually helpful.

        • @ FTC LTL, re “taking out the trash” vs. “going through the trash”: LW has already clarified downthread, but here’s another anecdote for you.

          When my sister was 17, my mom was taking out her trash and found a used condom wrapper. She wasn’t looking for it. It was right there in plain view. (Hide your condom wrappers, kids!)

          My mother wasn’t thrilled to learn that her kid was having sex, but she was also smart enough to know that that genie wasn’t going back in the bottle. So she sat my sister down, told her what she’d happened upon, and conveyed the most important information she could convey in that moment: she’d recently read that Consumer Reports had rated that particular condom as the least effective condom, and my sister really ought to switch to another brand.

          My sister was mortified. But she switched brands, kept having sex, and didn’t get pregnant until she was an adult and wanted to. Happiest ending ever.

          Here’s the thing. It’s a funny story now. My sister has the luxury of finding it amusing because she understands (and knew at the time) that our mother wasn’t spying on purpose. As far as I know, this was the only time Lil’ Sis was sat down for a talk due to anything my mom found in the trash, and it never once happened to me.

          So yeah, if somebody says their parents were “going through the trash,” I believe them. It’s quite easy to make the distinction regardless of how well or poorly the family dealt with boundaries.

        • neverjaunty said:

          Hey, speaking as a parent with minor children here? I do ask where they’re going and who their friends are. They TELL ME, because I don’t do other creepy, boundary-destroying shit like digging through their trash, barging into their rooms without knocking when their doors are closed, or grilling them about relationship stuff if it’s clearly uncomfortable and there are no red flags (like abuse) flying.

          LW very clearly said that her mom has ‘no real sense of privacy’ and throws a TANTRUM if LW tries to set limits. I don’t know why you feel it necessary to ignore than in order to project your own relationship with your parents onto LW.

      • Courtney said:

        I can see it being relevant if, say, LW was in the first few months post-high school or “just returned after being away at college” vs. mid-20s or later. In the first case, it could be a much simpler transition issue. It feels to me like setting boundaries with a parent who is simply new to “my kid is an adult with adult boundaries” would be easier to deal with than a parent who clearly doesn’t want to accommodate adult boundaries for their kid ever.

    • SolitareLee said:

      They say “still” living at home and cite a poor job as the reason, so I think it goes without saying that the LW is, at the very least, not a minor. Minors can’t move out on their own, so you wouldn’t feel the need to explain why you were “still” living at home if you were a minor. And frankly, that they’re not a minor is all we really need to know here.

        • Baytree said:

          …if you are legally allowed to live on your own, and legally responsible for all your own actions, are you still a minor? That sounds like an adult to me.

          • Nanani said:

            Canada allows 16 year olds to drop out of school and rent housing without parental permission, the logic being that a lot of kids doing this are escaping abusive situations so why throw up extra barriers?
            In most (all?) provinces 16 is also the minimum age for driving.
            However such people still can’t vote, buy alcohol/cigarettes, gamble, and other such adult things that have a minimum age of 18 or 19 depending on location.

            So yeah, 16-17 is still minor in a lot of ways but you can definitely move out on your own, legally speaking.

          • Latining said:

            Nooo, that is not legal in Canada. At all.

            I tried to move out when I was sixteen and got hauled back to my rapey, physically and emotionally abusive household because we were a nice white family in the suburbs and I was lying. I got a long lecture from the police about worrying my parents and being a bad daughter, and how they were right to keep me in line. Once I was a “problem teen” police stopped listening to me and would CALL my parents if I tried to report their abuse.

            I moved out again when I was seventeen, taking only what I could carry and hiding from everyone I knew until I turned eighteen and my parents couldn’t drag me back.

            I am really, really sick of people treating Canada like this great, happy place where nothing bad happens.

          • Baytree said:

            Latining, I’m really sorry that happened to you. That sucks big time. I hope you are in a safer place now.

          • Federally, the age of majority in Canada is 18; this is the point at which you can vote in federal elections, and get tried as an adult under the Criminal Code.

            Provincially, the age of majority in Canada is 18 or 19, determined by province or territory; this is the point at which you can drink, smoke, vote in provincial/territorial elections, have legal responsibilities as an adult.

            Federally, parents are required to support children until age 16–provinces and territories may also require the parents to support the children until the provincial age of majority. I know that in some places (I think Alberta and BC, I have no idea about others) minors are allowed to enter into contracts to obtain necessities, and shelter is a necessity, so a minor can sign a lease. They’re still a minor, though.

            I think that to become a legal adult before the age of majority, you need to be emancipated; I think that’s not possible in Ontario, and that Quebec has a kind of weird two-tier emancipation system.

            Thus ends my knowledge on the subject, and now I go back to side-eyeing this generalization about Canada as a place where “minors can move out on their own – and do all the time”. A bit simplistic, eh?

          • Aphotic Link, I apologise for generalising based upon anecdata. Almost all of my teenage friends were living on their own at age 15/16. I assumed that if 4/5 of the kids I grew up with were able to do so with no legal repercussions, that meant it was both legal and common. My bad. 🙂

    • LW said:

      Just for the record, I’m 26.

      • I really hope you are able to move out soon because your mother is abusive and you do not deserve to be living under this kind of scrutiny. This is not normal behavior on her part and it stinks that you’re having to endure it.

  2. LA said:

    This was my mom. When I was at home, I had to lie about what I was doing half the time, because “reading an interesting book” didn’t qualify as useful enough the way “studying for a test” did, and if I wasn’t doing something she considered important, that meant I was free to do other stuff she wanted me to do. And it’s why once I moved out with a full-time job, I never moved back in. It’s also why/how I got really, really good at lying to get out of saying where I really was, not because I was doing anything “wrong” but because she was just too invasive and prone to pitching fits/worry fests if she thought I wasn’t using my time the way I should be. It didn’t really stop until I got married, either. My poor younger brother is still dealing with it even though he moved several states away; I’ve tried to tell him it would be easier on him to just tell her what she wants to hear, but that’s not how he wants to do things (which is his call to make, obviously).

    It’s sad that I’ve always felt like I have to keep a huge part of who I am from her as a direct result of her demanding to know everything.

    • Jen said:

      One of many, many reasons I have no contact with my mom. She’d also scream at me if I wasn’t up at 9 after flying in from the west coast and being jetlagged. She also thought I should give minute details of every trip outside of my city of residence, even though I was in my 30’s and living 2000+ miles away, completely supporting myself. God, the shit I got from her (as an adult) when I flew somewhere without telling her.

      Back on topic: if parents want a relationship with their adult children, they need to realize that they aren’t entitled to every spot of information. “My house, my rules” only goes so far.

      • Courtney said:

        I had a roommate several years ago who had an overprotective mom who was coming for a visit. I noticed roomie boxing up some framed pictures and asked her what she was doing. Her reply? “I’m hiding the pictures of me in countries that my mom doesn’t know I’ve been to.”

    • ” if I wasn’t doing something she considered important, that meant I was free to do other stuff she wanted me to do.”

      Oh my god this is my whole life. She doesn’t even ask what I’m doing, most of the time, she just tells me to do something and I am not ALLOWED to be busy unless it’s only a 5 minute delay or something.

      Not even three weeks after completing my degree with the highest recognition possible at my university, ending with an incredibly stressful performance in front of judges, friends and family that was a huge obstacle for me to overcome — she sat me down for a stern talk in which she told me she thought I was unmotivated and needed to set goals and focus on keeping on the work I’d done during my degree… because I decided to take those weeks to do only things I enjoyed doing, and to hang out with friends I hadn’t seen for months because of all the time and stress dedicated to completing my degree.

  3. Omg, yes, the ”maaaaaaaybe you can go, we’ll see how your week goes/grades are/my mood will be”. I didn’t know that happened to others!

    One time I got a party invitation 3 weeks in advance and promptly told my parents all about who were going to be there, why there even was a party to begin with, what time I expected to be home (an hour before curfew, because if I just became the Perfect Daugher everyhing would be okay)… and they still didn’t give me a yes or no until the day of the party. That actually destroyed my relation with that friend because she was so annoyed that I couldn’t plan things in advance. I wanted to! I just, argh, they wouldn’t let me!

    I feel like certain parents don’t want the real truth. Instead they want some sort of PG-proof version of it where their kid follows their values, only does things they approve of, have friends but only friends they like, read books but just by authors they approve of and nope, graphic novels aren’t real books, don’t cha know?

    If you have one or more of those, I’m so onboard the Lying-liars-who-lie-lifeboat.

    LW: so happy for you that you found a local play partner! And your BF sounds really supportive, so yay!

    • “I feel like certain parents don’t want the real truth. Instead they want some sort of PG-proof version of it where their kid follows their values, only does things they approve of…”

      I had a friend who told his parents he was living in his car because he couldn’t tell them he had moved in with his girlfriend (now-wife). And they accepted this, I guess? Apparently living in one’s car > living “in sin” with partner.

      • Argh, that’s is so awful on so many levels. I hope your friend is doing well.

    • “I feel like certain parents don’t want the real truth. Instead they want some sort of PG-proof version of it…”

      When I was 16, I started taking birth control, and made the mistake of telling my mom about it. She then pretty much straight up told me that I should lie to her about anything involving my boyfriend at the time and would have to sneak around if I ever wanted to be alone with him. Results: I had quite a few “sleepovers at Danielle’s house” that were not, in fact, at Danielle’s house, and I no longer feel comfortable telling my mom anything about my love life, even stuff that’s 100% non-TMI like “[current boyfriend] brought me flowers for Valentine’s Day!”

      Parents need to understand that children are individuals, not little automatons that will always conform precisely to their hopes and dreams. If they want anything resembling truth and trust from their children, they need to accept that it’s not going to make them happy 100% of the time, and not flip the fuck out when their kids have different priorities or experiences.

  4. Oh my god, thank you for putting into words the exact reason I always hated “we’ll seeeeee” with a passion.

    • I’m afraid I have to use “we’ll see” a lot with my teenager, because she’s terrible at planning things. When I say “yes” to a plan like “We’re going to Ted’s house after school and Sally’s mom will bring me home at 7”, the day of the event it becomes “We’re all going to the mall 15 miles away and I need you to pick me up at 9:30 and also drive home 4 other people. But you SAID I could!”

      I’m not trying to dissuade her from a social life, I just want to know what she’s actually going to be doing before I say yes to it. Otherwise she communicates very well with me.

      • Erin said:

        If you communicate your reasons to her, I don’t see any problems. “Last time, your plan changed from x to y and I don’t want to give you an answer to x, if we’re actually talking about y, so [consequences].” is pretty valid. It also gives her the option to shape up her planning game to get clearer answers.

      • I used to do that a lot, and my mom responded to “but you said I could!” with “No, I said you could go to Ted’s house and be brought home by Sally’s mom. I did not say you could go to the mall 15 miles away and that I would drive you and four of your friends home. This is a new plan, and I’m saying no to the new plan. Oh, you’re already at the mall and expecting me to come get you? Guess you’re taking the bus. Call a taxi if you feel unsafe.” And of course I had to pay for the taxi.

        I learned not to do that fast enough.

  5. Muffin said:

    This is a tangent, but… I have a question for the LW about the kink aspect of this situation.

    I concur that telling your mom is probably not useful, but does someone know where you’re going and who you’ll be with? I mean real name, real address, so that the cops could be called if necessary. I realize this sounds like stranger danger, but the concept of a silent alarm is just as useful for meeting kinky people from the internet as it was for meeting kinky people from analog places.

    (A silent alarm, described and discussed very well by Jay Wiseman in his book SM 101, is an arrangement for your protection when you are playing with a new or newish partner. The idea is that you give to a friend both the real name of the person you’re meeting and the real address where you’ll be, and you tell both the friend and your playpartner that you’ll call them by X time. If you don’t call them by X time, the friend’s job is to call the police. Because this is a very serious thing to do, it’s really important that you remember to call your friend!)

    There’s an app now that simulates a silent alarm–I think it’s called Kitestring?–which might be more useful to you if you don’t have local friends. But for your safety, LW, if you can’t tell your mom where you’re going, I would recommend that you tell someone else.

    /end tangent

    • retro said:

      I was under the impression that s/he told the long distance boyfriend about the ‘friend’ and he was aware of their time together.

      I admit I’m a bit confused as to why you prefaced this point with ‘the kink aspect of this situation’. Surely taking precautions is smart to do when meeting strangers in general, even in the most vanilla of vanilla arrangements.

      If this ‘friend’ is someone the LW knows and is comfortable with (which is the vibe I got from the letter) why assume there’s some sort of latent danger solely because of the kink factor?

      • Muffin said:

        Sorry, I realize now that came across as kink-shaming! Not at all what I meant to say. My intention was to say: “Hey, you’re meeting someone you may or may not know very well in order to do non-vanilla things (which may or may not involve sharp implements, being restrained, and other things which a malicious person could use to hurt you). Just in case, here’s some wisdom from an elder generation of kinksters that might be useful to you. Play safe!”

    • LW said:

      I understand your concern, Muffin! For our first meeting that was actually kink involved, I did have a safety call set up – and asked him to have one as well, as *I* was the one tying him up and hurting him. I don’t think it’s kink shaming at all for you to have said this – it’s a much more high risk area than most general meetings of strangers from the internet. (Also I didn’t know about the app, that’s good to have for the future.

  6. Solestria said:

    If it were me, I would probably go with the “friend” explanation regardless, at least until some of the expectations and boundaries were reset to a healthier default. I don’t think Mom should expect to be privy to all the details in LW’s life, and I think getting her used to more adult expectations might be generally helpful.

    I’m currently beginning the process of resetting interactions with my own family. When my parents are less critical/don’t feel the need to offer unasked-for and unwanted advice on everything I tell them, then I will tell them more. But I want those boundaries more firmly in place before I stop pulling back, because it will ultimately be healthier and less stressful for all of us.

    That may or may not be useful for LW, but I don’t think more honest is necessarily better in a case where boundaries are already too loose for their comfort.

    • Somuchthis said:

      Unasked for and unwanted advice on everything you tell them. I can so relate to that. My father, who I’m estranged from, did that all the time. It was so exhausting. I must say that estrangement has been peaceful in that regard. No longer having to listen to someone’s opinions on my life choices is awesome. I wish you good luck in resetting your boundaries with the people doing this to you! It’s great if you can do that.

  7. A. Y. Mouse said:

    When you grow up with over-protective or controlling parents, especially ones that wield the “Weeeeeeee’ll see” to delay giving permission but avoid not giving permission so that you’ll be set up to try to “earn” going to the party all week

    Oh god, that’s something my mom used to do, too.

    “Can I do the thing?”

    “We’ll see.”

    “Does that mean yes or no?”

    “It means WE’LL SEE.”

    “If you’re going to say no, who can’t you just say no and get it over with?”

    “I SAID WE’LL SEE.”

    This was usually related to going somewhere that was Not The House — which led to:

    “Can I at least learn how to ride the bus.”

    “You don’t need to ride the bus/I don’t want you riding the bus.”

    “Will you help me get my driver license?”

    “You (SUDDENLY!) need to make your own appointments/be an adult about this/etc etc/No I won’t help you get driver training despite your crippling social anxiety.”

    She also used to leave me stranded at doctor’s and dentist’s appointments with no way to contact her that I was finished, and no way to get home (she “didn’t like waiting”); I once walked a mile and a half after a root canal in 100*+ weather, although I’d judged the route she would eventually take to come get me accurately, and got a ride home the rest of the way.

    The threeish weeks before I moved 2,000 miles away from home for college were flat out hell on earth. The boundary-setting session over Yes I WILL drive my car back home for summer and you don’t get to veto it was less bad only because I had the option of hanging up on her.

    • My mother also suddenly started making me do my own appointments and managing money and such, despite social anxiety and autism as my reasons for needing to be coached through it. When I ask for help with cooking or something, she throws up her hands and complains about me.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one.

      • My much younger sister, whom my parents MUCH more effectively managed to keep a prisoner (I busted out at 17), decided to move far away when she was 22. She had always lived at home and had no experience in finding apartments, reading leases, etc. Instead of assisting her through this new process, my mother told her to “figure it out” and then suggested calling me and making me do it for her, while I was on vacation out of cell phone range. I was in many ways profoundly ill-equipped to live in the world when I left home, but my sister was much worse off than me. (The move did not take, as our mother called her when she’d been there about two months and demanded she promise to quit her job and move back home or our mother was going to divorce our father and bring shame on the family.)

    • Baytree said:

      I thought I was the only one who’s parents stranded them after appointments! My dad would always insist on giving me rides to things, then make me late for them. And afterwards show up god-knows-when to pick me up. The worst time I was literally waiting for him for six hours at night in a terrible rainstorm, and finally hitchhiked home.

      That ended when I insisted on bicycling everywhere and got mom on my side (because it’s HEALTHY). Side bonus is that years of biking 20+ miles a day up a mountain gave me the cardiovascular system of a racehorse.

      • Erin said:

        My father once let me wait for a long while after a doctor’s appointment that I went to because of high fever (!), then reprimanded me that I wasn’t waiting inside (because I thought, he’d, you know, come).

  8. SolitareLee said:

    Learning to “conveniently forget” to leave my ringer off has been the single most useful thing in getting my parents (who were exactly that kind of obsessive, over-controly types, especially my mom) to give me some space. My mom is used to me “forgetting” my phone for an entire day of work/school, so she doesn’t start panicking if she can’t immediately get a hold of me.

    • I did this in high school. I legit had to turn my ringer off at work, and then one time I went in and my shift was canceled so I went to meet an ummfriend. My parents called my work for whatever fucking reason, learned I wasn’t there, and I got a couple of phone calls that I didn’t answer followed by a text that I needed to call home within like 10 minutes or they were calling to cops to report the car stolen and haul me back home.

      • Kiwi said:

        I find leaving the ringer off backfires really awfully. They spam call/text until I finally ring them back and then its “why can’t you just pick up your phone”band a 20 minute argument about the lack of communication prefacing the actual argument they wanted to have.

        • Evie said:

          I ended up with a PTSD like reaction to some of my old ringtones back in the day – most of the phone calls were my mum demanding to know where i was and just generally having a stress in my general direction. Got to the stage where I had to keep changing the ring tone cause every time I heard it, I’d tense up and feel uber stressed.

          • Oh yeah. When I got to the point that I felt physically ill hearing the phone ring in case it was my mom, I decided it was time to block her number. Seeing her pop up on the phone screen would make me hyperventilate.

      • Atalanta said:

        Glad I’m not the only one with the ‘answer the phone or we’re gonna call the cops and report that you stole my (my mom’s) car” (that I’d offered to buy off of her and had been driving for years, control freaks man, they’ll stick your fingers in every aspect of your life). Good news is that I talked to a friend of mine who works for the sheriff’s office and he said if she pulled that kind of stunt an the cops showed up, I just calmly explain what’s going on and it is a domestic situation and as long as there is/was no violence there shouldn’t be any issues. So I’ve been told, not that that’s a firm rule, but it’s what I’ve been told.

  9. monologue said:

    The last summer I ever lived at home, I didn’t find relationship material and wasn’t really looking for it, but I did sleep with a bunch of my friends, sometimes in my parents house. I may have had some conversations like “there’s a skateboard in the front hall” “it’s not there now, lol.” /end of conversation Volunteering less info without outright lying can be a good way to go. I don’t even think it’s lying if you say you’re out with a friend. You are! And if they say “what friends, you don’t have any,” just say you met a new one, which is also true. If they ask where you met, you can probably even say that. “The gym.” “The internet.” You don’t need to tell them where on the internet. If they ask about internet safety, you can tell them your routine for that if you want to and then move the conversation on to something else.

    Though the most honest way, if it’s safe for you, might be the route that is more likely to end the annoying exchanges. I was never quite at tantrum level with my parents and then I moved out, so I haven’t tried anything like that.

  10. Cliff Pervocracy said:

    I like the Captain’s #9 a lot.

    I don’t think the LW should lie unless necessary for their safety/ever-getting-any-peaceity, not so much for absolute moral reasons but because that can be a difficult habit to get out of (ask me how I know!) and because if they get caught it gives their mom a LOT of fuel for “righteous” anger and justification for drawing her control even tighter (ask me how I know!).

    However, I think they should embrace the heck out of the technically true and the strategic omission. “I’m going out to see a friend” is an entirely true description of the situation. Heck, most parents with better boundaries would want to hear that rather than have you volunteer all the TMI about your kink arrangement.

    I also hope they get out of that house soon, even if it means a crappy apartment with a zillion roommates, because in the end, nothing about this is sustainable. “I’m going… out” is a Band-Aid for the time being, but when you’ve got a parent who goes through your trash (!!!), ultimately the only fix is living someplace that she does not have the keys to.

    • Solestria said:

      I think the “technically true with omission” vs lying is an important distinction, because it’s about healthy boundaries vs lying and dishonesty.

      When I tell family/coworkers about my weekends, sometimes that is “I hung it with friends/went to a party” instead of “I was at a kink convention”. It’s true, it just omits the parts that are inappropriate to share. My boyfriend and I did, in fact, meet through mutual friends; that this involved kinky pool parties isn’t actually relevant to the explanation in most cases. I don’t think maintaining those boundaries is dishonest or lying, it’s gauging what is appropriate to share, or how much I want to share with a given person, and deciding for yourself where you want those lines is absolutely okay.

      • theLaplaceDemon said:

        Technically true/strategic omission can be just has bad as lying, IMO. It’s all about the context.

        I had a toxic toxic relationship with someone who pretty much never uttered a word that was technically untrue, and was very high and mighty about his moral stance on lying-is-bad. But he would deceive with technical truths/omissions to trick me into doing things I didn’t want to do all the time. He even straight up admitted it one time – “I didn’t tell you we were going to (place) because I knew you’d say no!”

        So while I totally hear the distinction you are trying to make (and I think you are on to something, and agree with everything you say about boundaries) it’s less about whether it’s a lie vs. technical truth, and more about “does this person have a right to know this information” and “how can I effectively stop them from violating my boundaries,” not lie=always bad and tech.truth=morally in the clear, no matter what the context.

        • Solestria said:

          Yeah, what you describe is flat-out manipulation, which is definitely in a different category than maintaining healthy boundaries. Context indeed. It felt like a somewhat important distinction in the context of the letter, but it definitely doesn’t always carry over for all situations, for sure! (And I’m sorry your ex treated you that way. Ugh.)

  11. Mary said:

    I’m really confused by this. The obvious solution to me seems to be to say “I’m going out with my friend Andrew” (or whatever the ummfriend is called.) Am I missing something? Why would your parents need to know that sex might be involved?

    I am assuming there is something going on where the fact that the ummfriend is male and that’s your preferred gender means that your mom will go, “BUT WHAT ABOUT WONDERFUL BOYFRIEND?” But it seems pretty straight-forward to me to say, “Wonderful Boyfriend knows I’m hanging out with Friend, it’s cool.” The end. And it’s not even not-telling-the-truth, it’s just not telling your mom which of your friendships involve sex and which don’t, which seems like a pretty unremarkable line to draw?

    • Mary said:

      Sorry, I don’t mean this to sound really arsey. I get that LW’s mom is probably going to come back with, “What friend? Who’s this friend? Where did you meet them? Are you going to bring them home to meet us?” or whatever her flavour of Demanding Too Much Information is. I’m just confused by which part of “I’ve made a new friend” would trigger conversations about who you’re having sex with and what your boyfriend thinks about it with your parents.

      • stayce said:

        You’re right, it’s a totally unremarkable line to draw. There’s an interesting divide going on here, between people who had parents with reasonable boundaries and people who had the kind of parents who will ask you over and over again who that person was, why you had to stay out so late, are you really just friends? And who will use the justification that your answers just didn’t ‘sound right’ to say, go through your books and browser history and closet and perhaps find stuff that you’d prefer to keep private. And those kinds of parents will sometimes use this ‘proof’ to justify their ‘lack of trust’ and do stuff like throw screaming temper tantrums when you try to get your driver’s license, or move to another city (like Cliff, ask me how I know!) or worse, kick you out of the house or revoke your college tuition. For someone who didn’t grow up with that kind of abuse, it can be really hard to understand why the LW doesn’t just stand up for themselves, or tell their mom it’s none of her business where the LW goes. But if you’ve been raised to think you don’t have a right to boundaries, or privacy, it’s hard to undo years of that training. The LW didn’t say that there’s more going on than just a nosy mom, but ‘tantrums’ and ‘going through the trash’ and ‘refusing to knock’ are ringing a lot of bells. Fun fact: my mom used to regularly barge into my room when I was asleep and jump onto my bed with the dogs to wake me up as a ‘fun surprise’ when growing up. I was not allowed to have a lock on my door, and in fact it was a battle to be allowed to close it while I was sleeping in the first place, and when I complained, I was told to ‘lighten up.’ LW, does this sort of thing sound familiar?

        • Anisoptera said:

          Yes and we see how they’re pinned, because we know what that trap feels like, where you just don’t know how to set that reasonable and normal boundary, or how to deal with the fallout when you try. We also know how miserable and confusing it feels to have to deal with a parent like this. People who haven’t experienced it don’t get it. If you think an abusive partner can spin your head, they have nothing on what an abusive parent can do to you.

          • Evie said:

            Don’t forget – with your parents, they’re “doing it for your own good/because they love you/aren’t you grateful for all we’ve given you and we spent years bending over backwards for you and you throw it in our face….”

            It’s a lack of boundaries, pushing at, obliterating boundaries, which is all done in the name of “love” and “care”, so you can never really argue against it cause they’re your “parents who LOOOOOOOVE you” and why don’t you understand that craptastic behaviour you’d dump your SO/BFF/anyone else in your life for is something you have to not only accept but be grateful to them for.

          • Anisoptera said:

            Yes – exactly. And they get to set what is normal, because they teach you how the world works, and what things are reasonable.

            And that stays with you, such that you sometimes *wouldn’t* dump a lover who does similar stuff, because it’s normal and fine, right?

            I actually only realised a lot of the problems with my parents’ behaviour when I started trying to understand why a relationship with a guy was upsetting me so much. And I read and read about relationships and I learnt about emotional abuse and gaslighting and passive aggression and manipulation and I realised that not only was it why this relationship was making me so unhappy, it was a feature of my entire childhood.

    • Cliff Pervocracy said:

      It should be an unremarkable line, but having had a mom like that, I can tell you the conversation doesn’t end there.

      Tell me about this Andrew. Why haven’t I met him? Why don’t you ever hang out with him at your house? Are you sure he’s a Good Influence? I don’t know if you should be alone with a man. Does Andrew have a good job and is he the same religion as us and does he ever drink or smoke or watch R-Rated movies? I think this Andrew might be interested in you sexually even if you don’t think so. Why do you stay so late at his place? I worry the whole time.

      …It can go on for a while and get extremely distressing. Ending that kind of conversation is not easy.

      • Mary said:

        I think I get that – I mean, I understand that the problem here is “how do i get my mom to stop going on and on and on at me about where I am and what I’m doing, and what are some scripts for that,” and I hope I’m not coming across as dismissive of that as a real problem.

        I think what I mean is that the LW kind of seems to frame the problem as “my parents will go on and on and on, I have to tell them a) I’m sleeping with this guy but it’s ok because my boyfriend knows or b) nothing at all, which should I do and how do I do that?” For me, the answer to that is that it is OK to give incomplete information – I’m out with a friend but stop there – and here are some scripts to try and help you maintain that line in the face of your parents trying to push it.

        I don’t mean that once you’ve figured out that middle ground, it’s totally simple, problem solved, just that I’m wondering whether the LW is unable to see that middle ground as an option because of having been subject to this super-intrusive parenting style and it might be useful for zie to hear that that middle ground exists and is a functional and reasonable place to draw zir boundaries if it works for zie. (Equally, it might be because zie knows that zir mom would never accept “friend who is a boy” or whatever.) But “not able to see anywhere to draw the boundary except all or nothing” might be a separate but related problem from “how to defend the boundary once I’ve figured out where I want it to be”. I hope that makes sense!

        I will leave this now so as not to be too deraily!

        • Oh god, no. Based on my experience with parents like this there is either total, FUCKYOUUUUU!!!! variety honesty, or no information at all. There is no “rational middle ground”, because they quite simply are not rational and you cannot rational them into being rational. You are not the problem (you, LW, are NOT the problem!) and thus no action on your part will fix it.

    • retro said:

      Yeah, I was wondering that, too. I’m guessing this might be previously trodden ground, though, and we’re only seeing the latest in a long line of prying/needling/parental micromanaging. If LW’s mother’s gotten into the habit of badgering LW and then invading their privacy until she gets answers, I can understand the fear that saying ‘I’m going out with Andrew’ may generate a whole slew of questions (that LW doesn’t want to answer) and/or investigations. If LW’s mother is going through their trash, I doubt they’ll take a simple ‘I’m going out with Andrew’ will be enough to pacify her interest.

    • Some parents would NOT get the distinction. Male friends? What male friends??

      It was revelatory for my littler sister, who was I think 19 or so, when she was like “how do you get mom and dad to let you do [perfectly reasonable stuff].” and I replied “You don’t ask. You tell them you’re doing it.” It was revelatory for me, too, when I figured that out around 19 or 20. (the previous strategy having been mostly ‘tell them something they find acceptable and then sneak.’

      *re: sneaking: I snuck because my parents were hell of unreasonable and controlling, and I comforted myself nearly every day of the last two years (after I learned to sneak out) with the knowledge that if I needed to, I could physically walk down the road and go… somewhere else. Two different adults in my life (a teacher and a woman from church) offered me to live with them my sr year of high school in case my dad kicked me out, which seemed pretty likely to everyone and he did for one afternoon but relented when I was like “ok, fine, bye”. at the time I had straight A’s and was many external markers of a ‘good kid, etc.’ I left home at 18 and have never gone back for more than a week at a time since, (and these days it’s down to like 2-3 days max).

      ^^ Some parents really are just unreasonable for no reason.

    • spiltcoffee said:

      It does seem pretty straight-forward, doesn’t it? Not all is as it seems, however – if you’ve had a parent who’s been as intrusive into your life as the LW’s, it can be very difficult to just say “it’s cool” because they will press you for information and get angry at you when you withhold.

      From the letter, I suspect that the LW is weary of telling their Mum about this due to the historical responses she has given to less important or smaller things in the past.

      • Haze said:

        I have a similar situation potentially coming up, and yes, it’s not that simple to just stop a parent from asking questions. Hold back and it’s “what are you hiding from me?”

        For instance, I’ll be going to a political conference in a city several hours away. I am a tad scared of all the questions, before and after: “where will you be staying? Who are you going with? Will you call me every day to prove you’re ok? Why do you need to go now, [City] will be there later.” And after: “What did you do? Did you take photos?” which would be normal questions if saying that I went to a conference that goes against their beliefs (as opposed to just sightseeing) were not likely to get little nasty remarks thrown at me for the next few days (or screaming). So it’s a matter of how much I tell them and when I tell them (too early leaves ample time for bs, too late and flurry of questions “why didn’t you tell me before??”)

        Sorry for the ramblingness. I don’t feel like I have any advice to contribute. Sometimes, you can relate too much for that :p

    • Yeah, that was my first response. Just refer to him as a friend, no further explanation needed. My mom doesn’t need to know which of my friends I’ve had fun times with, even if she’s met some of those friends.
      And if she asked what you did – watched a movie, hung out, went for a walk, talked about Common Interest.

      Of course, if your mom’s going to freak out because it’s a boy (and only you know best), the other options are equally valid, but the simplest, most truthful (not that there’s necessarily more value in the truth; it’s just often easier to remember) way is to just refer to Friend as a Friend and leave out the “-with-benefits.”

      • J. Preposterice said:

        “Just refer to him as a friend, no further explanation needed.”

        I have a rule about the word “just” (or it’s semantic equivalents):

        Any time you find yourself saying “Just do [solution you think is obvious]” to someone, you have vastly misunderstood the problem space.

        • boutet said:

          Yessssssss

        • I would say, in my experience of being given advice, sometimes the solution is obvious to some and not to others (I have had “just” answers be completely non-obvious to me; I have also had ones where I already thought of it, too); the LW didn’t say they’d considered that option, which is why I agreed that it may be a possibility. But also that the other suggestions were just as good and may work out better.

          And I meant ‘just’ in the “it’s simple but not easy” kind of way, which was non-obvious and which I should have clarified with a better word choice. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest – like, keeping my apartment clean is just a matter of picking up after myself, which is an uncomplicated task, But finding the motivation, time, and discipline to do this every day is something I greatly struggle with – it’s hard to do, even though it’s actually a simple thing to do. (It’s not a bad thing to struggle with a ‘simple’ task – everybody has something and everyone has limitations.)

        • Yeppers. I have a similar rule: Any advice that begins “Why don’t you just …” is going to be worthless.

    • Yeah, this was my thought too. Perhaps mom doesn’t believe that girl people can have boy people friends who are just friends, or has trust issues with her kiddo Alone With A Boy? That would seem consistent with this sort of person and boundary issues; people who don’t ever extend trust never see why anyone should be trusted.

      If that’s the case then it may be there is just no approach to take with her where honesty isn’t going to require some digging in and dealing with the crap. I concur with the Captain that honesty is great but there’s a difference between lies of omission and stopping at the appropriate level of detail. Personally I think that might be the most productive tactic, as she’s going to someday have to learn that not all of the specifics of daughter’s relationships are her business anyway.

    • LW said:

      I guess my hang up with saying ‘I’m going out with a friend’ is a combination of … well, a) they’re not a friend, really? We don’t ‘hang out’ or chat about stuff or have mutual interests outside of play. So that feels like more of a lie to say. (and when she starts asking about friendship type stuff I feel like I’m going to get caught flat footed without answers) and b) a lack of practice. Since I have no local friends and do no local activities, and haven’t had any local friends since before I had my driver’s license, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually just said ‘I’m going to go out with a friend’ to my parents. It’s all been either me, young, having to have them drive me to meet friends (rural area), or … well, nothing. I’m not social in general and don’t go out much – work, errands, library.

      • JenniferP said:

        I get where you are coming from (for real) and I would encourage you to see this idea that you’d be lying as more of a function of your mom’s continued manipulation than anything else. He’s a sex friend, other people have Facebook friends that aren’t super-close friends, and it’s ok to call him that to your mom if you want to.

        • Yes! If you enjoy spending time with him, and he enjoys spending time with you, that meets a lot of people’s definition of friend, though it may not meet yours. Many people don’t consider lots of emotional closeness necessary for a friend – that’s why we have terms like “best friends” and “close friends” and “love them like a sibling.”

          I don’t think there’s any shame into seeing if you can broaden your definition of friend (or if you can’t. Some people use that word with extreme care, and that’s okay too.)

      • neverjaunty said:

        He is a friend, of the “with benefits” variety? You don’t need to add that last clause for your mom.

  12. Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

    LW, I’d definitely go with telling as much of the truth as you can get away with. It does depend a bit on your mother and how she takes things, but how would she react to the basic truth about where you’re going and who with, just minus the additional explanation of the details of your relationship status? Would “I’m going to hang out with [person]” or “I’m going to see a movie and grab a bite to eat with [person]” elicit a really problematic response? One you couldn’t respond to with a truthful (if incomplete) answer? (Like, “Who’s [person]?” “Oh, just someone I know from [wherever]” “Does [boyfriend] know you’re spending time with this ‘person’?” “Absolutely!”)

    Obviously, depending on the exact circumstances, there are versions of that conversation which wouldn’t work (like, I don’t know, “I’m going through the Tunnel O’Love and then to eat strands of spaghetti from the same plate until our faces meet up in the middle with [person]. Who’s that? Oh, just someone I met at speed dating”) but even those can be fudged a bit if necessary (“I’m going to hang out at the funfair and grab Italian food with [person] – yeah, that’s someone I know from [social venue] and it turns out we both enjoy [shared interest]”).

    I always find that the best route, when you’re trying to avoid telling the entire truth about something, is not to actively lie. Lying is hard to maintain, easy to get caught out in, and difficult to justify to the lie-ee (even when, in this case, it’s entirely justifiable and understandable to anyone outside the situation). Selectively telling the truth is usually more effective. In your situation, rather than say I was going/had been somewhere checkable like the library I would personally feel far safer in laying out a slightly vague plan in advance (I’m meeting up with a friend; we’ll get some food but I’m not sure where from, depends what the queues are like and what we fancy; maybe watch a movie or something; I’ll be home by [time], love you, bye) and then, on coming home, picking out some true things you can actually tell her (“We hung out and ate popcorn and talked about Harry Potter”). Maybe this is a highly edited version of your evening (rather along the lines of, say, Sam describing the plot of ‘Lord of the Rings’ as “We watched fireworks, sang songs in an inn, and planted some trees!”) but hey, it’s true, and even if she knew the rest of how you’d spent your time (which she won’t), maybe that’s just how you perceived it.

    I appreciate that this is absolutely horrible advice for interpersonal relationships generally – please don’t go forth and apply it to other situations! (Or to this one, if you don’t feel it’s the right way to go). But, I do think it’s worth thinking through where the line is, in your experience, on how much information she’ll expect and what her responses will be on receiving it. It may help you work out how to proceed.

  13. Courtney said:

    If the LW’s mom falls into the latter category of the full truth will NOT endanger her ability to keep staying at the parent’s house, zie still might want to be circumspect in how much information zie shares with mom.

    There are parents who have a hard time making the appropriate boundary switch with their kids when the kids grow up (or, more toxically, seem to think that their kids will never have the right to boundaries because YOU ARE MY CHILD!) And then there are people who just don’t seem to get the concept of boundaries…at all, for anyone. If LW’s mom is the latter, then she might think it’s appropriate to overshare with other people in LW’s life if given too many juicy details. If LW’s mom is a boundaryless wonder, don’t tell her anything that you don’t want shared with brother, grandma, hairdresser, postal worker, etc. even if telling mom won’t get you kicked out.

    • Fibi said:

      I agree with Courtney that a big missing piece of information (for me) is whether the Mom is boundary challenged generally, or whether this is something that only manifests with LW (and possibly siblings of the LW)*.

      If it’s the latter, I might even consider an option 0, which is to have the same kind of boundary resetting conversation that is a staple of the Captain’s advice when there is friction with roommates and romantic partners — i.e., at some point in time that is not directly tied to a particular plan tell the mom something like:

      “Mom, I am so glad that I have loving, supportive parents [if true] who have kept a place in their home for me. I know that not everyone has that and I really appreciate [if true] not having to worry that losing a few shifts at work is going to make me unable to pay rent. But I am feeling like I am stuck in high school because every time I try to make plans I have to let you know where I’m going to be and what I’m going to do. I need to have a little bit of space and a little bit of trust from you. Is that something we can work on?” Then proceed directly to the Captain’s Option 1.

      *While I would start at Option 0 if it felt safe, or Option1 if that felt safe, I would proceed directly to Option 2 if the other’s don’t feel safe. And while it’s okay to think about whether Mom is generally good at boundaries, you should still listen to your instincts. You don’t need to be able to articulate a good reason to take actions required for you to feel safe.

  14. Regarding this bit:
    “some people are just paranoid in an unreasonable way and use it to tromp all over the people in their lives. In my opinion, those people are asking to be a) told really uncomfortable truths, bluntly or b) lied to if that’s what protects your safety and sanity.”

    I have a third path that splits the difference between these two, but really only works with certain people:
    “I will answer that question if you really want me to. Understand that if I do, you can’t unhear what I said. I’m happy to share the information; will you be happy to have it? Are you SURE you want me to answer that question?”

    For LW’s mom, this might just be catnip, an overwhelming temptation. But if she gets answers she doesn’t want enough times in a row, not only will she have been told the uncomfortable truth, bluntly, LW can also point out that her mom made an explicit and informed choice to have that uncomfortable truth in her possession.

    • Courtney said:

      “I will answer that question if you really want me to. Understand that if I do, you can’t unhear what I said. I’m happy to share the information; will you be happy to have it? Are you SURE you want me to answer that question?”

      That reminds me of the scene in Mystery, Alaska where a gal and her teenaged daughter are trying to have a private conversation about the daughters emotions surrounding very new sexytimes activities with boyfriend. The dad walks in, and the mom says, “Go away, this is private.” He does the “it’s my house/my daughter/I have a right to know” bluster, and she says, “If you don’t leave, I swear I’ll tell you” and gives him a pointed look. He bolts.

      • Latining said:

        Shortly after my mother found out I was living with one of my male friends, I was treated to a half-hour screaming session about how I was living in sin and going to Hell and the worst person alive and no one would ever love me. Lecturing me for a perceived slight before she’d determined that there had been a slight was a favourite tactic of hers, so she concluded all this by finally asking me if I was sleeping with him.

        My response? “No, but I’d LOVE to.”

        And then she never asked me about sex again.

        • Radical Scientist said:

          I have an even-more-roundabout tactic: I went on a date a little while ago with a guy who turned out to be in the closet to his family. His brother showed up unannounced at his place a little before he was supposed to head out (at 9 pm on a Friday), and he was freaking out over text about how to politely extricate himself. My advice: tell him you’ve got to get to a dentist appointment, and give him a very pointed look. It’s a good follow-up after a couple rounds of ‘telling uncomfortable truths bluntly’ to re-set a boundary at ‘I am insinuating probably don’t want me to answer that.’ Might not be the best tactic for LW, but it is A tactic.

  15. emdashing said:

    My parents and I are super close, so mostly what sharing happens is voluntary and within boundaries we’re all comfortable with. That said, I live 500 miles away, so a lot of our “closeness” happens on the phone. When I visit, my parents–especially Dad–default back to when I was a teenager. They don’t demand to know where I am and they aren’t intrusive, exactly, since they mostly recognize that this is unreasonable on their parts. BUT, they wait up for me when I go out while I’m visiting. They claim they can’t help it and since they don’t interrogate me about where I’ve been and mostly just seem relieved that I’m home (since now they can sleep), I mostly accept this at face value. I’m not home that often so I try not to get too annoyed.

    But when I was in grad school, I would live with my parents during the summer and sublet my expensive-city apartment to make some extra dosh. At the beginning of that first summer we had a huge a fight because my parents “couldn’t” sleep when they weren’t sure when I was getting home and I refused, being in my twenties, to have a curfew. So, I started saying I would stay at other people’s places whenever I went out. I pretty much followed the rules the Captain laid out. Especially at the beginning, I actually would crash with other people 80-90% of the time when I went out. But the rest of the time, I’d just come home when I felt like it. Sure enough, the parents were always soundly asleep. Sometimes they’d even be surprised I was home in the morning. I still use this trick. Now, my parents aren’t dumb–I’m sure they’ve realized that a certain percentage of the time when I say “I’ll be crashing at X’s tonight” that I don’t really plan to do that. But for whatever reason, they are able to turn off that parenting switch a little more easily when I say “I’ll be crashing at X’s” than if I say “I’ll be home when I get home.” Technically, saying one when I mean the other is a “lie,” but…not one I feel bad about, ever. This process also introduced them to the notion that I was an adult who might change her mind on occasion.

    All of that is a long way of saying: I agree with the captain: My parents didn’t quite reach the tantrum stage, but sometimes as they learn to accept your transition from child to adult, lying is a useful, boundary supporting tool.

  16. VooDoo said:

    “some people are just paranoid in an unreasonable way and use it to tromp all over the people in their lives. In my opinion, those people are asking to be a) told really uncomfortable truths, bluntly or b) lied to if that’s what protects your safety and sanity.”
    So true.

    I SO wish I’d had this column while I was trying to renegotiate the protective-parent-child relationship into an adult-respectful relationship while I was still living at my mom’s house.

  17. trundlebear said:

    Oh my goodness, this feels like how my entire life was. I learned very quickly that “We love you and you can tell us anything” actually had the silent disclaimer “as long as we approve of it and if we don’t we’ll make you feel like a horrible person and isolate you from everyone and everything”, and yet they wondered why despite that offer I declined to tell them anything. Geez, I still do. I still have trouble with telling them the truth because if they feel it’s not a good enough reason, they will manufacture emergency after emergency and get my entire family blowing up my phone about what a horrible person I am for whatever thing it is this time.

    Moving 7 hours away did not solve this as my dad (legit) had a heart attack and I moved back to take care of the farm. I did not figure out for over a decade that they could have done what anyone else in that situation would have done and HIRED FARM HELP. Or let the farm go that year, they were not hurting for money. Or taught a sibling at home to drive the tractor. Or literally anything but have me drop my life, quit my job, sell my condo and move back to drive a tractor.

    Oh, and no boundaries? We weren’t allowed to close our doors. Ever. So I totally understand you LW, and the earlier you can have the boundary talk the better. “I love you, but I have set this boundary and you walking over it is hurting me and showing me that I can’t trust you. There is no reason good enough to cross this boundary, including love.”

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      I’m sorry, I’m having a lot of trouble processing that statement. You could *never* close doors? Like, even when changing your clothes or using the facilities?

      • JenniferP said:

        Until I left home for college, I was allowed to close doors ONLY when changing or using the bathroom, and my parents were the “knock and then open the door in one motion” sorts. I also had an intercom in my room.

        When I came home from college I started closing the door, and they pushed back on it – but what about air circulation? Air circulation. Then one time my mom knocked and I said “it’s not a good time” and she said “why what are you doing?” and I said “masturbating, actually” and then it never came up again. Which is what I mean when I say sometimes the blunt truth has power.

        • stayce said:

          HA! I wish I had been as brave as you when my mom would knock on the bathroom door when I was taking a bath and if I didn’t respond quickly enough, would come in ‘to check to make sure I was okay’ (no locks on the bathroom door, quelle surprise). She did the knock-and-open thing with my bedroom door, too. Her reason for not wanting me to close the bedroom door was that if there was a fire (… in my room?) in the middle of the night she could immediately get up and come into my room to save me. Our rooms were right next to each other, by the way.

          • I come from a similarly boundary-less household – my mother’s line is “well, of course you don’t *have* to tell me things, but I would hope that you *trust* me”, which actually means “if I get the slightest sense that you are choosing not to tell me things that means you don’t love me”. I’m a pretty straightforward person in general, but there are still some things I don’t want to discuss with my parents. I learned some boundary-lessons while I was away at uni, and now that I live at home again there has had to be some…retraining. One incident of this was a conversation with my mother that took place just after I’d spent a weekend at my girlfriend’s place:

            “So, how was your weekend?”
            “It was fine.”
            “And what did you two do?”
            “Oh, we just hung out. Talked.”
            “Oh? What else?”
            “Just…you know. Girlfriend stuff.”
            “Like what?”
            “…*sigh* We had sex, mum.”

          • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

            Slightly off-topic, but fire safety is an excellent reason for keeping doors closed – in the event of a fire, smoke will generally spread very quickly through open interior spaces, probably overcoming you straight away, and flames can quickly follow. Whereas a decent fire door can protect you for up to an hour. Given the choice between the off-chance of a parent miraculously not being overcome or too disoriented by smoke to ‘rescue’ me in the few minutes before I was beyond help on a room with an open door; and 20-60 minutes of safety behind a closed door during which I could be rescued safely and effectively by the fucking Fire Brigade, I would wholeheartedly choose the latter. (I appreciate you didn’t actually get that choice, which is sort of why it makes me angry – it’s a rubbish, totally illogical and actively dangerous excuse for enforcing a lack of boundaries.)

        • MrsMorley said:

          I’ve heard this from people (about the doors), and it’s always struck me as odd. Probably because my parents knocked when we were children and asked if they could come in, and didn’t when we said no.

          Of course we weren’t allowed to touch their stuff without asking, or go into their rooms either (without asking and receiving permission)

          • JenniferP said:

            You were raised with boundaries, which is the way to go. 🙂

        • Painted_lady said:

          My dad actually did the knock-and-open move (not because he has no boundaries but because other people aren’t really people to him) until my senior year of high school when he walked in on me waiting for some of that awful hair remover shit to take. On my bikini line. In the moment, I was mortified because parental shaming is such a strong force. Now, I think it’s the funniest example I have of how my dad started treating me decently.

          • J. Preposterice said:

            I almost never run into anyone who also has a father who doesn’t believe other people are really people! Mine, too. In a lot of ways the boundary-enforcing works but in some very weird situations it doesn’t.

          • Julie said:

            Oh, count me in on this one. My dad can’t — literally can’t — understand why anyone would ever make a choice that’s different from his, even if the different circumstances are explained to him. Still not a person.

        • trundlebear said:

          It is scaring me how many people were raised with “no closed doors ever” but at the same time I feel a whole lot less alone about it.

          • Stayce said:

            I also didn’t know that this was a thing until I started reading this thread.

          • As a child I developed a weird variety of “messy room” (anything visible from the door looked AWFUL, everything else was tidy) because “messy room” made my nasty-neat mom slam the door immediately to hide it. It was the only way I could manufacture any privacy. I was not allowed to shut the bathroom door at all, even whilst using the toilet, until I was in my teens.

        • Jane said:

          This is a very interesting thread for me. . . my parents are overall pretty respectful, but it’s nice to find out that the pushback I have gotten from certain boundaries (like MOM YOU HAVE TO KNOCK ON MY DOOR BEFORE YOU COME IN and I DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE TO DETAIL MY COMPUTER ACTIVITIES TO YOU WHEN YOU ASK) is. . . not actually my fault for being unreasonable.

        • Kim said:

          When my mother and her siblings were teenagers, my Nan had all the bedroom doors removed. The only internal door in the house was on the bathroom.

          • Erin said:

            Ugh, I think about changing pads and tampons in this environment. So obviously never in your own room.

          • R. said:

            My parents did threaten me with doing that because I kept closing my bedroom door. I never managed to set a boundary around not barging into my room, even though both of them had walked in on me changing.
            The rationale was always “this is my house and I can go wherever I want, YOU OWN NOTHING”. Ultimately it’s all about keeping you on your toes, making you feel helpless and asserting their power over you. As an adult I tried to have talks with them about this, and they will occasionally yell for me from outside, but it’s still not a real boundary, because all their respect for it goes out the window with the slightest emotional agitation.
            Knocking is never done in my family for cultural reasons I guess, though honestly I find it hard to believe that no Eastern-European parents ever respect their children’s privacy. When I was a kid my grandmother came to stay with us for a few weeks and actually threw a tantrum with tears and yelling because I’d close my bedroom door at the age of 15. Apparently it was an insult and proved that I don’t love my family, because I didn’t want them in my face 24/7. And the usually more balanced family members agreed, and told me I had it coming for being distant and anti-social. By closing my bedroom door.
            Seeing that other people had similar experiences is really a relief, it helps to think of my family’s actions as a common pattern of controlling bahavior and shitty boundaries, rather than just scary, bewildering and unpredictable

          • Erin said:

            R: Yeah I don’t really believe either that this is (solely) cultural. If your family wants to and you don’t know better, they can throw whatever reasons they like at you for their behavior. But ultimately, it may just be them being dysfunctional. Because also: Even if closing the doors was not a “thing”? You feeling uncomfortable with an open door could be enough reason for a good parent to respect it, even if it was unusual, culturally.

        • neverjaunty said:

          You know, I’m never going to be a candidate for Parent of the Year, but y’all are making me feel like the BEST MOM EVER reading this stuff. :/

      • trundlebear said:

        The only time a door could be closed was the bathroom door, and it did not have a lock on it. “Closed doors are a fire hazard” was the excuse but it was just a highly abusive situation all about total control of one’s children. I spent most of my time as a teen terrified of getting changed and would usually throw clothes on OVER my pajamas, then get to school and change them out in the bathroom. Well I spent most of my time terrified because there was literally nowhere I could go where he did not have access to me, as we lived in the middle of nowhere and the nearest neighbour was 2 miles away.

        As soon as I moved back in I installed a locking doorknob and deadbolt and it absolutely blew their minds, but I was 27 at this point and had started figuring out how boundaries worked and how to enforce them. Hell, I still am.

        • I’ve seen that ‘fire hazard’ line at least three times in this thread, and you know what’s kind of funny? (in a not very funny at all way)

          Open doors are the real fire hazard.

          (inner voice: explain it! Explain it! conscience: Come on, self. That’s boring fire science stuff and nobody else cares about the physics of fire and closed doors protecting you and stuff like that. inner voice: But you WANNNNNNAAA!!!)

          Check out all the doors in your workplace, which have those magnetic clips to hold them open. Those clips are wired to the fire alarms so that they’ll all close in the event of a fire. Closed doors are your friend.

          Oh, look, a New Your Times column on it!

      • Anisoptera said:

        Yes. In the bath. On the toilet. Whatever, she would just walk in. My mother believed in not having hangups about bodies and nudity and stuff (heh, and incidentally she also doesn’t believe in privacy or boundaries). My parents built their own house and when I was young they didn’t have doors at all because they hadn’t put them in yet. There seemed to be no great urgency. When I was older she would just open them. One time, when I was 13 or so, I was in the bath and she came in and saw that I had stretch marks on my stomach due to rapid growth, and she decided they were actually because someone had scratched me there in some kind of assault. That was a “fun” conversation. Had while lying naked in the bath. She would also comment on sprouting body hair and such. My brother and I did manage to start enforcing closed doors in our late teens, but it was a hell of a fight and she’s never accepted it was reasonable.

    • LW said:

      OMG yes this. What is with it with the never being allowed to close the door? And if it’s ever closed it’s like an instant siren to her that she has to come RIGHT NOW and check on what I might be doing. And that ‘knock and open in one motion’ thing, I can’t even say how many times I’ve tried pointing that out to her, especially as she does it with all doors. But since I can’t close my door, she sees an open door as an invitation that she can just come in any time, so privacy? Zilch.

      • duck-billed placelot said:

        Only you can know if this will work, LW, but have you considered becoming a Difficult Person in your own right, as a tactical move? Like, decide to spend a month naked in your room. Come home, close door, get naked. When your mom barges in, start shrieking/crying/generally kicking up a fuss and physically push her back behind the door, which you then close. Any time she tries to talk to you about it, get very out loud upset, “What’s WRONG with you, stop barging in on my private space, jesus.” The nakedness will provide enough shock/cover that she will probably feel like it’s ‘ok’ that you are upset about it. After a while you can try it with clothing. I bet a month of your own tantrums would reset the line about door closing pretty firmly.

        • LW said:

          LOL! This is a pretty funny suggestion and if I thought it might actually work, I might give it a try. Unfortunately, one of the doors she does this too is the bathroom one, and if fifty times of me throwing a huge fit because ‘I’m on the toilet/in the shower/getting dressed and it is NOT ok for you to just barge in and you need to STOP’ hasn’t changed this habit, I don’t think anything will. She always apologizes profusely and is better about it for like …. three days, and then bam, it always reappears.

          • duck-billed placelot said:

            OUCH. That sounds awful, I’m sorry. Although: the fact that she apologizes allows a sliver of an opening. Could you install some locks on your doors (bathroom, bedroom)? Even just the hook and eye kind, that are very easy to put in/undo, and thus less of a ‘changes to my house’ thing. I’d install them just in the wake of throwing a huge fit, when she’s in apology mode, and then when she gets stroppy about it, you can remind her of the apologizing, and how you just want to ‘help’ her remember, and when you move out you’ll take them down, but until then, you’re going to ‘help’ her remember to treat you with a modicum of respect – ok, maybe not those words, but…

            Also, moving out! I know you have Reasons to be there, but oh, man. Any rent is too much rent for a place where someone repeatedly interrupts my poos.

          • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

            You know what works just as well as fitting a bolt/hook-and-eye to doors (but doesn’t require any fitting, and therefore no ‘you can’t do that to my house!’)? You can jam a door wedge under a closed door, and it makes opening it from the outside at worst a bit slower, and at best completely impossible. (Obviously this only works for inward-opening doors, but certainly where I live it’s rare to find doors that don’t). Any outrage on your mum’s part on discovering she can’t immediately sail into the room can be quite easily answered: “Why have you wedged the door shut!?” “Why were YOU coming straight into the room without knocking, WHILE I’M ON THE TOILET?!?”

          • JenniferP said:

            There’s also stuff like this, if you’re feeling fancy.

          • Indira said:

            OMG! My mom did this to me all the time when I lived at home! She did this all through high school, college, and grad school. Except she never apologized. She would just double down and say that when I’m in the bathroom it’s the only time she can ever talk to me (Not entirely true. She just had phenomenal timing with interrupting me when I was running dungeons in World of Warcraft… which is a part of the game that cannot be paused and will screw over at least 4 other real people if you just suddenly walk away from your computer). I also think she knew I was better at shutting her down when I was fully clothed and had my wits about me, because I swear I could wander back and forth from my bedroom to the kitchen all afternoon without interruption, but as soon as she heard that shower water she would come running. She’d stand at the door and lecture me about everything I needed to do from mundane chores to my future retirement and major life goals. She was relentless.

          • JenniferP said:

            Bathroom time is ALONE TIME.

        • trundlebear said:

          Honestly, if I had gotten and taken this advice at 16 or so, I would have been able to skip about 5 years of therapy.

        • Anisoptera said:

          That’s a pretty humorous suggestion, but I don’t reccomend doing it for real. For one thing my mother wouldn’t have cared that I was naked, and would has argued it was weird body shaming culture to be upset about it. But more importantly, throwing a fit back is actually something that plays into the broken dynamic. You get to feel unreasonable and emotional and they have evidence to throw at you that you are. You feel guilty for being so mean and aggressive. Even if they do it too, it’s hard to untangle. I used to do this as a teenager, and while I could sometimes get my way with persistent yelling and anger my mother would escalate right on with me, and would eventually freak out so much she would start with vague suicide threats (you’ll miss me when I’m dead! I’ve thought about killing myself you know!). And then I would feel like an awful person and there was also a chance my father would finally get involved to get pissed at me for hurting her so much and possibly threaten me with violence (to which I also reacted with defiant rage). Erm. Sorry if this is rambling, but it brings up memories.

          Anyway. The solution I have found is calm persistence. You remain polite, you are just firm. As the Captain has often suggested you repeat your calm firm response like a broken record. You refuse to be derailed. And yeah it still takes time, but it doesn’t escalate as badly and also you know you have nothing to feel guilty for. And you are much much harder to paint as an unreasonable defiant child. I have found throwing a tantrum just leads to more incidents that pan out exactly the same way. Calm insistence and broken record statements have bought me actual changes in behaviour (albeit resentfully on her part and only with a willingness to walk away if I’m getting nowhere).

          • JenniferP said:

            I would say that I use a mix of calmly repeating stuff/changing subjects, and leaving rooms, etc. but every once in a while I will yell back and when I do, I tend to scorch the earth. It’s not optimal, it doesn’t make me feel good, it probably sets a bad example and gives the other person ammunition, but now and again it isn’t the worst thing in the world to remind the really unreasonable people in my life is that I can get very unreasonable/loud/scary in return, I just choose not to most of the time, and they probably should just go with that. It works when it works because I live on my own, away from them, and because I use it sparingly.

          • Anisoptera said:

            Yeah there’s definitely a place for focused anger. I don’t think it’s always wrong.

            I think I’m mainly worried that one possible dynamic in these situations is constant screaming matches that never achieve anything and just make everything worse – that was certainly the dynamic of my teenage years. It can feel like you’re defending yourself but actually sometimes you’re just playing into a different, really dramatic kind of manipulation. I essentially believed I was a really difficult, argumentative person who was really mean when I was angry (mean = insisting on stuff loudly which was obviously mean because mum reacted so badly to it). There was this whole gasslighting dynamic. Anyway.

            So I agree it might be a reasonable shock tactic from time to time. Or hell just a really understandable failure of self control. I think as an ongoing way of interacting it can be very broken and not helpful.

          • Anisoptera said:

            Actually thinking about it perhaps the key is changing the dynamic? If you never ever yell, yelling back might be a good reminder to the tantrum-haver that it’s not cool. If you always yell it’s just more of the same, and part of a cycle that needs to be broken.

            Possibly what you’re yelling also matters – anything that smacks of a childhood yelling pattern that starts with “MUUUUUUUUM” is a terrible choice because it just plays into an adult/child dynamic where you are the child.

            Eh. I’ve had a lot of people in my life ignore me while I was yelling at them about wanting them to do or not do a thing. It was a major revelation to me to realise that I could be as loud as I wanted and it would matter not at all if I didn’t apply consequences to back up what I was saying.

          • Fibi said:

            My old gunnery sergeant once told me that you should never lose your temper, but sometimes you have to show it. While the context of that advice was a little bit different from the kinds of interpersonal conflict this site deals with, I apply it to all kinds of boundary setting situations (except for work situations in which I am not the manager).

            I’m not sure this will be that helpful for the LW, though: the tactical display of temper seems to be most effective at enforcing an already established boundary not at trying to establish long overdue boundaries.

          • Stayce said:

            Yes, exactly. Also, because in my house feelings didn’t count, a tantrum would have meant that I was overemotional and unrational- calm responses at least didn’t escalate the situation, although I am now at age 30 trying to figure out when it is ‘ok’ to be angry. LW, I respect whatever reasons make living at home a reasonable solution right now, but honestly, the only way I was able to really get out of that dynamic was to literally get out.

          • Erin said:

            … although I am now at age 30 trying to figure out when it is ‘ok’ to be angry

            Stayce: Please do tell me when you’ve found out.

        • I cannot even imagine trying to push back on my parents on anything ever while I was in high school. It did not in ANY way occur to me until I didn’t live there. Leaving was the only thing I could contemplate. It still stresses me out big time to see kids talking back to their parents in public and it took me a while to figure out why. My body is very scared for them, picturing doing the same.

          • Same for me. I was very anxious about family dynamics, and to some extent still am. I spent xmas with my bff and her family, who are the nicest, most normal, wonderful, supportive, loving people you can imagine–her extended family all got me xmas presents, for god’s sake–and I spent the last week of our trip starting to develop a twitch because I couldn’t believe all this awesome normal all-American family life could be *real*.

      • trundlebear said:

        I am sorta terrified that I am clearly not the only person raised with the door thing going on, ugh. Knock and open in one motion too — that was the bathroom. I AM POOPING GO AWAY.

        I really hope this doesn’t come across as too pushy LW, but having grown up with similar folks, you might want to consider a support group or therapy or finding a doc you really trust and can see regularly… I know you can barely get away as it is, but I’m still going through stuff today to undo a lot of the things that were a result of growing up in that kind of a situation. It just sounds like such a chillingly familiar situation. If you need folks we’re always here for you, too.

      • Kiwi said:

        Omg with the siren call thing. My mum sees my door closed and she will suddenly, and kinda aggressively, open it without even prefacing it with the knock-of-plausible-deniabilty. I find it hilarious because she then just suddenly stops right in my doorway, the doorknob still in her hand with this startled look on her face like “you room is perfectly clean and you’re not doing anything wrong?!”

        Me: “what?” + raised eyebrows of why did you suddenly just burst into my room?
        Her: awkward pause “oh nothing, just seeing what you were doing” and leaves again

        Except my door is now wide open.

  18. mamacitaconpistoles said:

    When all us Pistoles Personages where kids, Parents Con Pistoles were both pretty strict and (thankfully) fair and predictable about how they were strict. They were really good about letting us know what we needed to provide in terms of information for them to make decisions about if we were allowed as kids to go/do/see X-thing.

    Transitioning out that? Was a little rocky. Especially with me, a lass, and my dad. I don’t think he even realized he was giving me more of a grilling at 20 than my brothers at 17. I know it was because when I was at home for breaks or whatever, he’d lie awake worrying until I got home, and needed to, you know, sleep, so he could work. Guess what though? He had to learn to be responsible for that anxiety. And he did.

    Eventually, I just started responding to his “you should be home at a reasonable time” with “Thanks, dad. I will let you know if I am going to be later than 11*, which I doubt since it’s just coffee.”

    My point is, if that can be a bit of stress when your parents are largely on Team You, handling a Difficult Parent is going to have a shitload of stops and starts. I saw friends with much less reasonable adult personages in their lives struggle to get those ground rules reset. But it did work for most of them eventually. It will feel really good, when you get this under control. I am really sorry your mom isn’t making this as easy for all of you as she can, LW. Sharing domestic space with parents after college/ age 18 is rough for everyone! Doesn’t mean she gets to project all that stress on you, though.

    *I chose 11 because that was usually when he was shutting down for the night, and I could let him know to go to sleep peacefully in the knowledge I meant to be out. If he wanted.

    • Painted_lady said:

      I had similar issues with my parents as a young adult, the whole, “It’s not that I’m *waiting up* for you! I simply cannot possibly sleep ever when I know you could be In Trouble.” With my dad, especially since the man literally goes to bed at 7:30, I shrugged and said, “Okay. That ought to last,” and headed out. With my mom, we played a game of Worst Case Scenario, where we went through all the things she was scared of happening to me and what she was in control of, which concluded with a bonus round of how her waiting up was not actually preventing them, keeping me safe, or stopping her acting in a crisis since a poorly-timed exhale can wake her from a dead sleep. With people who make their anxieties others’ problems, explaining how their anxiety isn’t actually controlling anything can sometimes work. Now when she expresses concern, I jokingly tell her, “Oh good. You’re worried, and the force of your worry will clearly prevent all of this.” And she has managed to see how silly it really is, so she laughs as well.

      • FlyBy said:

        My mom can also be an involuntary worrier, especially if I’m doing (apparently) physically risky things. Now that I’m an adult, we have an implicit agreement that I don’t tell her if I’m going to be doing something that she would stress about. She’d much rather hear about my skydiving after it’s over and I’ve survived it, even if I have to shade the truth or lie to her ahead of time. It’s refreshingly respectful and healthy for both of us.

  19. BiancaSnoozes said:

    This sounds a whole lot like something that could have happened in my house. One thing I want to say is that likely, your mom has put a lot of time and energy into convincing you that she is entitled to every detail of your life, and that she gets to have an opinion of it. I think this may be contributing to your feeling that you a) have a part of your life that you have to somehow reconcile with her opinion of it and b) that not doing so is akin to HUGE SECRET KEEPING. But neither of these things is true.

    The fact is that you are a grown person with your own relationships, and these relationships are no one else’s business, unless you choose them to be. If your mom has shown you that she can’t appropriately handle the grown-up details of your life in a way that feels good to you, then she simply has not earned the right to know about them. You don’t need to feel bad about that.

    For now, “I have a new friend, and we’re hanging out tonight. Bye!” is all she needs to know.

    • LW said:

      “I think this may be contributing to your feeling that you a) have a part of your life that you have to somehow reconcile with her opinion of it and b) that not doing so is akin to HUGE SECRET KEEPING. But neither of these things is true.”

      Wow just, yes. That is so exactly how I have felt for so long and having someone else actually say ‘not true’ makes those sort of ‘I don’t think I’m totally in the wrong here’ uneasy feelings stop feeling like I’m being awful. Thank you.

      • You’re not awful, though you are in a tight spot. (Imagine me saying this as George Clooney, if you are a Coen Brothers fan…) I totally understand, as I am 22 years out of a living situation with parents like that and I still have some pretty serious kneejerk reactions to invasions of my privacy/people telling me what to do.

        I did want to say, directly to you, that the biggest thing for me was teaching my mother that her go-to tactic (sobbing at me about how miserable her childhood had been and how she just wanted better for me, while actively perpetuating the cycle of abuse) did nothing. It’s hard to look your crying or tantrum-throwing mother in the face and remain impassive, but it’s what has to happen. The frantic appeasement works in the moment but as you know, only leads to her marching on your borders with renewed force. And it is so, SO gratifying to see the look on her face the first time her go-to tactic doesn’t work on you.

        You can hold that memory to your chest like a teddy bear for years afterward. 🙂

        • Myrin said:

          Very rarely do I get a pop culture reference but man did I just have a good laugh at remembering “Damn, we’re in a tight spot!”.

  20. McArthur Parka said:

    GAAAAAAAAAH!
    Now that I can write using my indoor voice again…This reminds me of my grandmother. A woman who once called me “under-handed” and “devious” because I left a photograph that was taken of me and a friend on a table in the hallway – where anyone could see it. My crime? I had not told her a photograph had been taken of me. A photograph of me in an everyday situation, fully clothed, saying cheese, same as my friend beside me in the pic. I’m not sure my grandmother entirely understood what devious meant – bright wasn’t her thing. Shame and control were the fields where she excelled.
    She never knocked before she opened the door of any room I was in; the logic behind this being “if you’re not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t have a problem with my just barging in on you”. No amount of telling her it was just plain bad manners made any difference. I think it only convinced her further that you had been up to no good and made her even more determined to catch you out in the act.
    This was a person who would stand beside you while you answered the ‘phone and repeatedly ask you who was on the other end until you gave in or lost your temper. Either way it was a good method of ensuring you didn’t get too many calls at home. This was in the days pre-common cell phone use.
    She once told me, when I expressed shock-horror at my friend’s discovery that her mother had been reading her diary, that it was her mother’s right to do so, after all she’d be the one stuck minding any child my friend might have should she get pregnant.
    My grandmother ruined my mother’s life, my mother took out her anger and frustration on me. My mother died when I was in my teens before I was able to face her and make her apologise to me for treating me as her verbal/emotional punchbag, or if not apologise then at least cut her out of my life. No force on earth would ever have made my grandmother apologise for all the hurt and damage she inflicted simply to serve her own ends.
    In short, I feel for the LW. Do whatever you have to do to make life bearable until you are able to get very far away and then pick and choose when and if and how you will spend time with your family in the future.

  21. TK said:

    Can I just say that this is really great advice, even if LW’s parents are NOT totally unreasonable/controlling/abusive? A lot of the comments seem to be coming from people who grew up in households on one or the other end of the parental-decency spectrum, and… yeah, despite the LW’s situation throwing up some red flags for me too, their parents don’t have to be totally awful for these strategies to be worthwhile.

    For a different perspective– my parents are actually great people and I have a wonderful adult relationship with them, but growing up, we did have big issues with them respecting my [boundaries, privacy, maturity] and me trusting that they would still love and accept me even if I [disappointed them with my schoolwork, came out as queer, let X bad thing happen to me]. Years later I realize that they were just scared and sheltering because I was their firstborn and they were still figuring this all out, and they simply failed to have Conversations with me re: We Will Always Accept You. (For example, I later found out that I have at LEAST 4 openly queer people on my dad’s side of the family alone, and everything is okay; my mom also got way better about treating me like a grownup after I moved away for college. To be fair, they thought their goodness would be understood because they were already way better than their own parents, who were massively controlling and sometimes outright mean.)

    LW, your story may or may not play out the same way mine did, but that doesn’t change the fact that you don’t seem to feel safe telling your mother certain facts about yourself and your life. The “you need to respect my choices for us to have a relationship” conversation and the “this is one of my choices!” conversation do not have to happen at the same time. Like the Captain advised, reducing the amount of time you spend in your parents’ house and presence is a great step in taking control of how the relationship works.

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this, LW. Lying sucks, and getting into a habit of constantly editing the truth really sucks, but sometimes people have to prove they can be trusted with the truth before they’re allowed to hear it. Best of luck to you.

  22. MrsMorley said:

    Dear LW:

    I’m with the Captain: if you can tell your mother that you’re out with a male friend, and yes, your boyfriend is fine with the situation, that’s great. If you can’t, then telling her the minimal truth is good, and if even limited truth is impossible, I won’t blame you for lying. But truth is more possible than you might realize! I’m rooting for telling her the truth (as much as feels right)

    Here’s a thing that I don’t know if anyone has addressed yet: how do you live in the family home?
    Do they cook for you or clean for you?
    Do you pay (minimal) rent?
    Are you still acting as a child?

    I ask because if you’re acting as an adult — e.g. cleaning your own stuff, and maybe more, cooking meals for yourself, doing your own laundry, buying your own supplies — then it’s easier to set boundaries on the parental tendency to treat you as a child.

    But if your mother cleans your room, and your father makes all your meals, and you don’t have clothes on Tuesday because ma hasn’t done laundry yet – well if that’s the case, you’re still acting as their dependent, and it’s more difficult for them to perceive you as the adult you are.

    So, along with the brilliant scripts the Captain has given you, try making your adulthood really obvious to them.

    good luck LW. You and your boy friend, and play partner sound great.

    • LW said:

      Yes, it’s the family house, in the room that has always been my room (strike one against them seeing me as adult).
      They do not clean for me (I clean for them sometimes!) but do occasionally cook … not for me but for everyone? But I’m only home for dinners maybe once a week due to night shifts. The rest of the time I feed myself.
      I pay a small rent.

      It is a huge struggle to get them to see me as an adult instead of still ‘their little girl’ – which I understand, but it’s incredibly frustrating. Ha, just the laundry thing – generally one person does the all the laundry because it’s easier, but when my mom does it she was always coming in while I was still sleeping early in the morning and wanting to know if I had everything I needed in the laundry. Which should be just, nice consideration, right? But it wasn’t. I probably told her a dozen times that ‘I am a grow up and if I can’t manage to get my clothes in the laundry basket by the time you do laundry, it’s my own damn fault and I’ll just have to do them myself, ok? I’ll live, stop coddling me.’ before she finally (mostly) stopped asking and let me sleep.

      Sort of a thing with the food too – she’ll buy things ‘for me’ that I don’t want or like and despite having asked her many times to just stop, she continues to do so and then gets upset with me when i don’t eat them. Sigh.

      • MrsMorley said:

        Yeah, I can see how some of that works against their understanding of your adulthood.
        From what my acquaintances have said, the rent paying made the biggest difference, followed by separating all chores and most food.
        (My experience and yours differ, as my parents had different sticking points — they just wanted to know if I’d be home, and when, but were very picky when I was a kid about early bed times.)

        In the mean time, will it be possible to tell her/them that you’re taking responsibility for your own upkeep? Maybe something like this:

        “Mom, Dad, I’m immensely happy that we’re a close enough family that I can live with you as an adult. I’m also really grateful that you’re charging me very little rent. I want to stretch my adult wings a little however. I want to be the person who feeds me, clothes me, maintains me. Do you think we could do this? If so, could we talk about how we can set that up? Maybe scheduling?”

        Then you’d talk a little.

        And then say something like “Cool, we’ll have dinners together on Wednesday and Thursdays unless something comes up for you, and until my work schedule changes. And I’m glad it’s ok that I do my laundry on Mondays”

        And then you’d make sure your laundry was in your hamper in your room. And your breakfasts came from your cereal that you bought. And maybe you’d make family dinner on Wednesday, and Dad would make it on Thursday.

        Because buying you food you don’t like – ugh! It will be easier to say “Please don’t buy [food LW has no intention of eating], because, as we agreed, I will be taking care of my own meals except for [days LW plans to eat with parents].” when you are taking care of your own meals.

        I suggest this sort of general adulting because once they see you doing Grown Up LW Stuff, it might be easier for you to set other boundaries with them.

        Again, good luck with all this.

        • LW said:

          I get the concept of this, but at this point I don’t really think my mom is ever going to see me as adult until i move out. (My dad, on the other hand, is fantastic and completely chill about everything.) Because most of what you’re suggesting here, I already do or have tried, with no change. I’m only home two meals a week, and feed myself from food I buy for every other meal. I do most of my own laundry, from my own in my room basket because most of it’s handwash anyway. *shrug* At this point I just don’t think there’s any winning.

          • MrsMorley said:

            Argh yes. It’s true that they really don’t until you’re out of the house.

            The sooner you can be out of there the better.

            One side note, once you are out of the house though, you may find that your mother is less awful, and your father less chill than when you were at home.

            I say this sort of from my mother’s experience. As she grew older she realized what a brave and good person her mother was, and how her father, while a delight, was in some ways a less admirable character. She’d adored her father, and fought with her mother, and thought her a very conventional person. Distance allowed her a different take on them both.

  23. TO_Ont said:

    If the parties actually involved (LW, boyfriend, new special friend) are all adults and all agree, then I don’t understand why there would be any reason to feel obligated to share with anyone else other than a sexual partner or doctor (i.e., someone directly involved) what friend you’re having sex with and what friend you’re watching a movie with, or why there should be any guilt about not sharing that info, or why keeping it to yourself would be something only necessary if there’s something unhealthy in the relationship. (I get that the mom may try to make LW feel like that, but mom is wrong).

    I would certainly just tell the parents that you’re going to hang out with a friend, or for a bike ride or whatever, and I wouldn’t see this as lying at all, or dishonest in the slightest, or sad that it’s ‘necessary’. They are a friend. You are going for a bike ride. If you happen to feel like sharing with others more information about your private relationships, that’s certainly perfectly fine, but there’s nothing dishonest or secretive about keeping you sex life between you and the person(s) you’re having sex with.

  24. LW said:

    Thank you, Captain! You gave me some really great and useful scripts here – a lot of my fear about this is that she’ll ask something and I’ll draw a blank on what to say and blurt out the worst possible thing (we have a history of me saying one thing and her hearing something totally different, or a ‘tone’.) At least with these I can personally feel like yes, she really is just misinterpreting, I’m not just 100% horrible at communicating.

    As for effecting ability to live at home – it’s not as serious as getting kicked out or anything, but it’s still exhausting to have the ramp up of constant suspicion and her acting offended by every thing I do and feeling like I’m walking on eggshells every single second I’m home. Things have been mellow for the past few months and I just haven’t wanted to set it off again.

    Some of your suggestions don’t really apply partly because of where I live (very, very rural area) and at least I don’t have to deal with calls/texts (she can’t even turn on a cell phone), but a bunch are ones I can put into practice. Scheduling family time would probably help a lot, but it’s super hard not to feel … resentful and like NOT spending specific time with them, when she’s butting her head in every five minutes to say something. She’s probably doing it because she feels neglected, which she is on my end because I want to be left alone and have some privacy – it might stop is she had some dedicated time, but since I feel like she already takes all my time, I don’t want to give it to her. >.< Stupid cycle!

    The other problem is that I *want* to be home most of the time. I have some social anxiety and don't like being out in public. I'd rather be at home in my room on the computer, talking to my online friends. The thought of going to the library or starbucks to be able to at least use my computer without being home feels like a nightmare to me, and everything else activity wise outside of the house feels like it's just cutting into my enjoyable time (and everyone's staring at me ohgodohgodohgod some days). (And yeah, I'm working on that with meds.)

    That's a really good point about the 'what are you really concerned about here', too. Thanks!

    • TreeByLeaf said:

      On the whole ‘she wants to be closer/more time, overcompensates, I resent her and withhold closeness/ more time’ stupid cycle thing: at the risk of pointing out the obvious, and while understanding that anxious people often can’t control this well: yup, that’s how clinginess works. I’m in the process of trying to reset these boundaries with a few friends at the moment, and the resulting resentment has made be almost want to wash my hands of it. Dear people: if you act like you are entitled to my time or like I’m the only one who can magically soothe your anxiety and sort your emotional problems I will withhold my time. If whenever we talk you complain about how I never invite you over (while giving me tons of excuses why you can never invite me over because it’s just better for ME if I do it?!) you’ve talked yourself out of the dinner party I’m throwing this weekend. Acting entitled to all my personal information tells me you’re not a safe person to give this information to. Add clingy-ness and prying to the long list of overcompensating behaviours that almost guarantee the thing they’re frantically trying to prevent.

        • TreeByLeaf said:

          Very, very useful and I’m not all the way through. Thanks and apologies for the vent- y and project-y side rant.

          • *hijack*
            What’s this, a poem-name-twin? Hello! 😀
            /hijack

    • TreeByLeaf said:

      On the social anxiety/feeling like people are watching you bit – does your library have cubby holes or individual reading rooms you could use? A lot of libraries have them and that might help. Since you live in a rural area, would hiking be good? Not that you should feel chased out of your home, but doing that occaisionally might help reset the idea that being ‘out’ is a thing you do. And well, you’re being ‘chased’ one way or the other.

      Also: weird idea that may or may not work: leveraging your anxiety when put on the spot for more details. Getting really anxious and saying ‘I just don’t remember, I don’t know we talked about stuff! GAAWWDD, I just, do you expect me to take meeting notes?!? I met him around like a normal person! When you grill me about things like this my mind goes blank and I just end up talking to my therapist about mom-induced stress! It’s not normal to be given the 20th degree on what we talked about 2 hours ago!’ when what you talked about 2 hours ago was yes-more?-yespleaseohgodyes. This is one of those things that might turn into an unhealthy handling method in healthy relationships, but this isn’t one of those and I don’t think it’s out of line. Because it sounds like she is making you anxious and you are trying to deal with that in a way that she doesn’t have to handle, so maybe just let her have to deal with.

      Or levarage the homebody computer stuff with ‘I don’t know, I met him online. We talk about online stuff at his home instead of talking about it over the computer’. Hell, tell your friend you need a 2-second, ‘hey howabout that youtube video’ talk before things get going if it helps with the truthiness. Aaaannnd make sure every computer thing you do ever is password protected. But especially with less internet and gaming savy older people, ‘computer things, over the computer and from the computer’ can be a great shutdown.

      • LW said:

        Sadly, the library does not have any cubbies or rooms, it’s all one giant open room. Plus my computer will suddenly no longer connect to the their wireless, ugh. Yeah, honestly, there is no way I am taking up any sort of outdoor activity – not only do I really dislike being outside, the second I step outside I am covered in bug bites. Also, my mother loves the outdoors, so anything I could do outside would be an instant ‘oh I could do that with you’ thing. Nope.

        Well, that’s not the way anxiety works for me at all; I want to hide everything and not let anyone see that I’m panicking, so just the thought of making a fuss like that or specifically bringing up my anxiety makes me feel sick. And as for computers, well. She is extremely suspicious of computers and ‘the internet’, so telling her I met someone online results in ‘concern rant’. It’s not a shutdown at all. No worries about the password type stuff, at least – the one area I do have privacy is on my computer, because she couldn’t even figure out how to turn it on. Possibly also why i want to be on it all the time.

  25. Rachel B said:

    I mostly agree with FTC LTL because I had similar experiences with my mother and it was becasue she genuinely had a pretty boring and isolated life: SAHM, no friends outside of church friends that she only saw in large groups. So the only things of interest in her life were her children’s activities. It was never tantrums — it was more like the slow torture of the 20 questions each time we left or returned from a date or any other social event.

  26. knittykitty117 said:

    Wow. Just… Wow.

    I have never properly realised how lucky I am to have a mother who respects my autonomy and doesn’t demand to know every detail. I’m pretty sure my Mum respects boundaries that I haven’t even thought of, let alone asked for!

    But even coming from a respectful background I would still ‘selectively tell the truth’ if I were to have a new playpartner or ummfriend and my Mum happened to enquire who I was hanging out with. Maybe the privileged position of having privacy growing up has given me more space to make up my own mind about what she needs to know/will find interesting?

    LW it sucks that you are having to agonise about how to avoid invasions of privacy like this and ensuing awfulness. Whatever you decide will work best for you I hope it works out great.

  27. I have a personal rule that ANY TIME someone asks me a question they don’t have the right to know the answer to, I lie. I feel no guilt or compunction about it, it is my way of coping with intrusiveness.

  28. boutet said:

    There’s good to be said about being truthful, but holy hell is lying ever useful in a survival way. If your options are be truthful and suffer, or lie and everything is fine then lying is soooo much the way to go (unless no contact is a workable option). I still can’t be honest with my mom. She has vapors over the least thing, after the thing has happened with no consequences and when the thing has no impact on her at all. “Everything is fine, we haven’t been up to much,” is my constant companion lie.

  29. Eevee said:

    A couple weeks ago I heard my mom scream. I went running to her to help. Turns out she was digging through my trash can again, and had accidentally grabbed a used pad and got it stuck to her hand and was trying to fling it off. Cue screaming at each other for a while. What exactly do mothers expect to find in their daughters’ trash cans?

    My life is almost exactly like the LW’s, except I deal with it by just not dating or doing anything she disapprove of. She would check to see if I really went to the library, etc. The solution for me is to make enough money to move out, which I’m working on.

    • JenniferP said:

      Good luck moving out! Even if you live with annoying roommates in a sketchy house that smells like feet from all the cumin people put in their food it’s better than living with people who go through your trash, and it will teach you a whole set of boundary-setting life skills.

      • Cliff Pervocracy said:

        Seriously. In my first apartment away from home, my only private space was so small I sat on the bed to use my desk because there wasn’t room for a chair, and we had a guy living quasi-legally in a cubicle (literally, the landlord put up cubicle divider walls to make a “bedroom” for him) in the living room, and I’m not gonna say “it was great”, but… it was better. It was a definite step up from suburban comfort but zero autonomy. My bedroom might have been the size of a bathtub but it was mine with a lock on the door, and that was so good.

        I hope you can get to a situation like that (maybe without cubicle guy) soon, because it’s a wonderful feeling.

        • JenniferP said:

          I’ve lived lots of places where I could touch both walls from my bed. WORTH IT.

  30. Lindsay said:

    Oh man, I feel this pain. I’m 21, recently graduated college, and still live with my mom. I love her but she and I have always had a difficult relationship and since I lived at home all through college as well there has been no shift in our relationship from my mom’s point of view (aka I am still a child). She doesn’t go through my trash or anything but she freaks the fuck OUT if I don’t tell her where I am. Example: last week I was sick and I had to run to Walmart for medicine. I didn’t see her anywhere in the house so I just left. No big deal. Except, while I was in the medicine aisle I got a phone call from her screaming at me and demanding to know where I was and why I had left without telling her and how disrespectful I was. I just… ugh. She’s planning to buy a house with her boyfriend sometime in the next year and we’ve talked about me staying in our house and paying rent to her. On the one hand this would save me having to move (and my best friend would probably move in) but on the other hand I would still live in a house owned by her even if she is going to be an hour away.

    And I too eventually discovered the joys of “I am doing thing” instead of “can I do thing?” around the age of 18-19. I am an adult and I refuse to ask for permission to do perfectly reasonable things that adults do, so I’m seconding the Captain’s advice there. But it’s still hard for me to feel that I don’t have to justify things to my mom because I’ve been so conditioned to think that anything she would disagree/disapprove of is wrong. Good luck, LW. We of the Overbearing Parents Club are rooting for you.

  31. I just wanted to reinforce that there is absolutely nothing wrong with lying to manipulative, intrusive, emotionally dangerous people in order to keep oneself safe and healthy.

    • Somuchthis said:

      I agree. Not engaging with them to begin with is usually my first line of defense, but if I have to, then I see nothing wrong with being incredibly vague and/or lying if necessary. You do what you need to do for YOUR sanity.

  32. Anisoptera said:

    “I guess basically I need some help putting together scripts to either try and explain this or politely tell her it’s none of her beeswax without provoking a tantrum.”

    I just want to narrow in on this one particular thing. The solution is not to avoid provoking tantrums. You can’t avoid it and also have healthy boundaries and appropriate control over your own life, because she is having tantrums to control you (be it deliberate or subconscious). You can’t stop the tantrums – only she has control over that.

    We grow up learning that a parental tantrum is The Worst Thing Ever, and that it must be avoided at all costs. But actually it’s just someone carrying on, and you can actually remain calm in the face of it and insist on what you need. Obviously if you think this will lead to an unsafe situation or being kicked out use circumspection. But if not – set boundaries and let her do what she does.

    From that point it’s actually possible to make positive changes, and reduce the amount and duration of tantrums. Tantrums feed on you getting upset and fighting back – calm persistence isn’t magic, but it’s harder for someone to keep up energetic carrying on in the face of it. It’s less rewarding, and you’re not giving them something to react off.

    This is hard to do, because you’ll have automatic reactions that are hard to break out of. My mother can spark me to rage really really easily. Take a deep breath. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Believe that you have a right to keep some information to yourself and a right to a certain amount of privacy and that it’s OK to insist on it even if she’s screaming and crying and saying you don’t love her enough. Reading sites like this one can be a great reality check for what’s reasonable behaviour because it’s hard to know what’s normal and appropriate when you grow up with an unreasonable parent.

    Also know that your boundaries are not up for debate, and don’t get sucked into a discussion of the pros and cons of what you want. Spend less time justifying and more time baldly insisting. You don’t need her to agree with you, you need her to respect the specific thing you’re asking for. Keep in mind that unreasonable people are not arguing in good faith and that you usually can’t convince them of your logic. It’s specific behaviour you’re after, not agreement.

    She can’t make you tell her details of your new ummfriend. Even if she throws a fit. Tell her whatever you think is appropriate and then walk away. Refuse to answer inappropriate questions. Total silence followed by walking away is an option. Come back and be nice and normal when she stops ranting.

    Also, have all the Jedi hugs. This stuff is easy to write but so, so hard to do.

  33. TreeByLeaf said:

    Like a few people here, I’m of the opinion that lying isn’t morally wrong or right. It certainly can be, but in my mind there’s no default. I’m a very honest person as a rule but that’s as a choice – there are a lot of times where the person I’m speaking with gets honesty, but that doesn’t mean it’s because they’re entitled to it. In general, I don’t think someone has a right to an honest answer to a question they had no right asking. In this case, your mom has no right to the information, and no one is harmed by a lie. So while you have every right to decide that you are (according to your own morals) obliged to give her an honest answer, maybe just reconsider whether that’s your actual opinion or the opinion she thinks you should have. Most people wouldn’t consider telling a child that Santa Claus exists or someone that the food they made you is good when you really didn’t like it is ‘lying’ or wrong (I’d disagree on the Santa Claus thing, but that’s saved for my own future kids). If it would help you to mentally reclassify withholding things or lying as ‘adhering to social conventions’ that would be entirely true in my mind.

    Also, that’s not to say that lying might not just be more hassle than it’s worth, or have consequences. Your mother might feel she’s been harmed by it, and might (ok, will) make a lot of trouble for you. It’s a lot easier to tell someone they’re in the right and they should stand up for that right outside of any context. But anything you do here will have consequences in either continued patterns or consequences, so you’ve got to decide your priorities on that one way or another. Any time boundaries are reset or people live together with different ideas of how that should work there’s a risk of negative consequences. You’re the only one who gets to decide how to balance risks vs. reward vs. continued patterns. Hell, it took a move out of the country to reset boundaries with my own parents (they wouldn’t concede that they didn’t have a veto right over me getting a job and buying my own plane ticket until I was almost on the plane, but it sure was an effective reset over what they could control) and my attempts prior to that made life really not so pleasant for a bit.

  34. Anyanka said:

    As someone else who struggles with both valuing/wanting to be fully honest AND with having controlling (grand)parents, the way I choose to see it is that if they want me to act like they’re a reasonable adult whom I can trust with my problems and my life then they have to start BEING one.

    My dad’s mom (and my mom’s, to a lesser extent) is a huge control freak and passive-aggressive as shit. She also over-worries and overreacts and takes it out by having elaborate guilt-tripping temper tantrums whenever she finds out that someone got sick or hurt or felt bad. There’s a family-wide policy, on his side, to not ever tell her bad things that happened in your or someone else’s life, because she reacts with concern-trolling at best and victim-blaming at worst.

    If I mentioned, for example, to this grandma that I had briefly had a UTI recently, she would freak out, ignore that UTIs are a) common b) not exactly fatal and c) something I am capable of handling myself, thank you very much, and proceed to either tell me I must be getting bladder cancer, scold me for having sex (which I wouldn’t be having but her mind would jump to ‘grandchild is a slut and is being punished by God for it’), think I was developing a more serious illness or living in squalor or obviously not taking care of myself and then possibly try to call my GP or yell at my parents for clearly ‘letting me get’ a UTI and then send me purity ball panties for christmas that year in several sizes too small (because she likes to passively-aggressively remind me that I’m too fat).

    But when I told my (reasonable) mother this recently, she just got the cranberry pills out of the cabinet and reassured me that they’re small fry and not something to freak out about (because she knows I have anxiety problems).

    A similar, but not really analogous, struggle is my desire to come out to people as transgender & gay (and be honest/be myself/etc etc) but knowing that some people will be massive trans/homophobes to me specifically because of that (if they haven’t guessed already, that it). Well, I say that if they want you to Be Yourself around them then they shouldn’t be assholes about Who/What You Are.

    What I’m trying to say is–you don’t owe honesty to people who would reward you for trusting them with hurting you. And you don’t owe it to a bad mom to be a good child. She’s the one who’s created this atmosphere of terror and control and lying because it’s better than her reactions to the truth. So take care of yourself, yeah?

    • “…you don’t owe honesty to people who would reward you for trusting them with hurting you.”

      – Best comment of the thread. Thank you for that.

  35. Radical Scientist said:

    One thing I’d like to point out–a lot of folks are suggesting that LW frame her playpartner as a friend, and also suggesting that she either pre-emptively assuage her mom’s concerns by telling her that her BF knows & is ok with her hanging out with a male friend (or at least suggesting that if her mom tries to use BF’s feelings about a male friend as an excuse to guilt her and dig for information, that she nix that by telling mom that BF is ok with it.)

    And I get that that might be the shortest path back out of that shaft of the Mom Tunnel of Endless Interrogation (and let’s her hold up her BF as a model of non-controllingness), but I think it might bear mentioning that platonic male friends are not actually her BF’s business? Like if she were to say she’s going out on dates, it would make some sense to jump in with a ‘Yes, BF knows, all is well.’ But if she’s presenting her ummfriend as a just-friend, it’d actually be pretty creepy to imply that she’d need her BF’s permission or approval to hang out with him.

    • wondering said:

      Like +1000

    • That may depend on the cultural norms, actually. Some fairly fundie Christian friends told me they’d “miss me” when I got married – because of course a Christian man could not spend time with a married woman. They’d “avoided” mention to people in their church that I was a woman, or that I was engaged — but actually seeing a married woman privately was Just Not Done.

  36. DameB said:

    Actual thing that happened with my mom. I went on a summer vacation with my college bf. I’d left it vague about who was going to be there and my mom assumed his family would be at the lake house with us. (Deliberate misdirection on my part but not actual outright falsehood.) It was just him and me. When I got back, I was talking about the visit and must have said something that made my mom realize… “Wait! Who was there besides you?”

    “No one,” I shrugged.

    My mother snapped her jaw closed and glared at me. And then didn’t speak to me (other that “pass the butter” type stuff) for two days.

    Finally, she confronted me about the whole thing, snarling about how she’d only ever slept with my dad, and what did that make me? And she is very uncomfortable knowing about that! And dear god in heaven, why did I tell her?

    “Because you asked and I don’t lie.”

    “Next time, *lie to me*.”

    “Ok.”

    This adds little to the larger discussion other than reinforcing the idea that sometimes controlling parents actually want to be lied to. When i was under her roof, I found it easier to lie to her. Once I left, I find it easier to just not share anything personal or meaningful with her. She knows this and is deeply hurt that she isn’t a bigger part of my life, but in the end, it’s the dynamic she wants and I’m happier this way.

    LW, I hope things improve somehow, soon.

  37. Pear said:

    Forgot to explicitly say: this advice is solid! oh god, I am kind of oddly… relieved? that someone else had to unlearn the whole ‘MASSIVE LIST OF OVERJUSTIFICATIONS PLEASE CAN I DO THE THING’-style request. I didn’t even know that wasn’t actually normal until well into adulthood.

    And that’s the thing: living in a situation like this messes with your idea of normality. When I read the letter, I was all, red flag, RED FLAGS, AROOOOOGA

    So I’m sort of clutching my head like Psyduck over a few of the comments which are, of course, well-meaning, but ultimately don’t get it and are coming off as a bit derailing with the ‘Why don’t you just’ and ‘You’re just projecting your own awful experiences but there’s no evidence’.

    People don’t see it because onlookers are not meant to see it. That’s how this sort of harmful behaviour thrives. While there’s obviously bad stuff, like tantrums and frequent, extreme physical violence, that tends to happen behind closed doors. There can be a lot of traumatising stuff which remains plausibly deniable if you’re not closely looking at the situation, or haven’t taken the time to really listen and learn about it.

    They don’t get the overt and covert ways parents can control children, the way an innocent-seeming question really means This Question, or how parents will accuse children of Having A Certain Tone To Our Voice and punish us for it, how an exchange which never goes above conversational volume makes the temperature of the household drop. They can’t conceive of the realities in which parents may straight-up intend to harm children, or how mean, abusive patterns of behaviour started out with loving intentions but got tangled up in fear and control.

    It is so hugely different from how they’ve experienced the world that they view people who apply their actually relevant experiences as oversensitive, paranoid even.

    This made me think of certain similarities between pointing out manipulative badness and calling out instances of oppression. (And I mean just this particular point–manipulative behaviour/abuse is linked intimately to oppressive structures, but are also obviously not one and the same as you can suffer from structural violence and be a person who does not okay things, but anyway…)

    I’ve heard, ‘But I don’t see how that’s racism? That’s just how things are. You’re seeing racism where there is none, obviously you don’t know what REAL racism is,’ from white people, or, ‘I don’t get it, why didn’t you just tell him to leave you alone?’ from men, and ‘Um, why do you think your opinion counts more than mine, you are wrong because FREEDOM OF SPEEEECH,’ from both. And so many people internalise structural violence and use it to harm others (master’s tools), so even if you experience it directly it’s very hard to learn and name it.

    But once you learn to see and really understand the symbols, you can’t un-see them. You reconsider your sense of normality. Sometimes empathy isn’t, ‘I understand how you feel because my experiences mirror yours,’ but ‘Your experiences are so different to mine, I don’t understand them but can see how this is affecting you. Tell me about them. I’m listening.’

    • stayce said:

      1) yes to all of this. 2) Audre Lorde reference ftw.

    • Anisoptera said:

      Yes to all of this.

      Once you know what this stuff looks like it’s obvious. It’s not projection, it’s applying knowledge and experience that not everyone has. And all of this stuff (be it abusive home environments or society wide oppression) operate under this cloud of people saying “it’s probably not really that, it’s probably just [harmless understandable thing] you’re just too sensitive and seeing what you want to see, they mean well”. And that plants little seeds of doubt in your mind like some kind of society wide gaslighting. And it makes it harder to complain about a thing and get help with it because suddenly you have to go back to first principles and explain why it’s a problem at all.

    • Myrin said:

      Pear, I’m in love with this comment and want to frame it and hang it on my wall. You worded this really beautifully and I think I’ll come back to it in the future because it really struck a cord with me.

      (Also but unrelated, I see you have a food blog, YAY! I love eating and trying new stuff so finding new food blogs by cool people is always a delight! :D)

      Captain, is there a way with the new layout to still link/get to one specific comment? Like before where you could click on the date but that doesn’t seem to work here. Or did I just not see something?

    • Somuchthis said:

      Excuse me while I do a huge standing ovation, clap until my hands are raw thing for all of this post. EXCELLENT every last word of it.

  38. No Longer In Academia said:

    I was lucky enough to grow up with awesome parents who were no more controlling and interfering than anyone might be with their oldest child. I was still selective with what I told them. I wasn’t doing anything especially wrong, it was just that it made things easier all round. (My younger sister never really learned this, so there were a LOT more arguments when she was growing up.)

    LW, I think being selective with what you tell your parents is pretty normal, and absolutely nothing to feel guilty about — especially when you’re now an adult! No one in your life (parents, partners, friends) has the right to know every about you on demand, or to make you feel bad for not telling them. What you choose to reveal about your life to others is your choice to make. Good luck!

  39. Sarah said:

    My door had a lock, but punishment included taking the door of the hinges. It took a lot of time, space, and therapy to renegotiate boundaries.

  40. Whippet said:

    In defense of the whole “not being 100% honest” thing, I think there are situations where honesty is a privilege that can be lost. If you want someone to be truthful with you you need to earn it to some extent by being respectful – even if you don’t like what you’re hearing. My mom would always get furious when she found out something I was going through and didn’t tell her, but why would I? She had a pattern of not listening, getting distracted by some little thing that caught her attention and walking away in the middle of me opening up, reacting negatively, giving off the cuff advice without understanding any context, and verbally and emotionally abusing me at times in response to my sharing. All that = keeping things to myself and avoiding the truth when I know the truth will result her causing me extreme distress and anxiety. Not saying dishonesty always gets a pass, but I think it can be taken for granted that honesty is always the best policy, when that’s not always the case.

  41. gmg said:

    This has been a fascinating thread to read because it clarified a few of the boundary issues I know my mom has. They’re thankfully not go-through-the-garbage severe, but she comes from a very overprotective family (a standard feature of my childhood whenever we had even a smidge of bad winter weather, and I grew up in Vermont so that was basically all the time, was the round of phone calls from my grandmother making sure that everyone was home and off the roads). So things like “I MUST HAVE your flight info before you get on the plane in case you crash” are a big deal to her. The “knock once and then enter” stuff also rang somewhat true.

    Sadly, the event that it took to really allow me to renavigate better boundaries with her, in a way that feels more like we’re two adults on the same team, was the death of my dad. (The overprotectiveness temporarily got WORSE after that, which helped clarify to me that it was coming from a place of fear and emotion, not logic.) Wish I’d had some of this good advice 15 years ago.

  42. TO_Ont said:

    I think it’s worth pointing out that there are kind of two separate questions here:

    1) What are reasonable boundaries to have when it comes to sharing information?
    and
    2) What are effective ways to enforce those boundaries?

    Some of the comments make more sense when you realize that too, because some are addressing 1 more, and some are focusing on 2 more.

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