#696: “My mom went snooping through my stuff and found my sex toys.”

Oh Captain,

I left my mom alone in my apartment for five minutes during a visit so I could carry some heavy stuff for her and she managed to find both my vibrator and my copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves while “testing the smoothness of the drawers” of my new nightstand. While I am willing to accept she might not have initially meant to snoop, as a rule of thumb opening the drawers of another adult’s furniture without permission is icky and the outcome is the same.

What do I do? I feel so violated and angry and she just laughed it off and thinks if I I don’t want her to know I have something, I shouldn’t own it. I’m not ashamed to own those things, I’m 21 for pity’s sake, but I also never want her to come to my home again.


Masturbation Helps Menstrual Cramps

Dear Masturbation Helps,

“I was testing the smoothness of drawers” = “I was totally snooping in your stuff.” Your mom is full of shit and she knows it.

One option you have here is to give it some time where you give yourself permission to not invite her into your space for a while but you don’t otherwise comment on or escalate the situation. This is the path of least resistance, where your mom might realize she overstepped and that her baby is all grown up (or whatever), and you might decide to let her save face by not bringing it up, and over time things will normalize. To this end, don’t use the silent treatment, but do use quiet. Don’t initiate contact for a few days. Next time you see her, don’t invite her up, maybe.”No, don’t come up, I’ll come down!” It’s not even about her, what she realizes, what she learns, how she feels, whether she agrees, whether she changes her mind or apologizes, it’s about giving yourself permission to protect your private space and to flex your “Nope” muscle.

If further discussion is needed to clear the air, with a parent who is normally not an asshole, a heartfelt appeal can work: “I realize that you think this is funny and not a big deal, but I am actually really angry at you. It’s incredibly weird to go snooping through my things. Not everything is your business, and I’d like you to apologize and agree not to do that anymore.” Even if your mom basically disagrees with you about her ‘right’ to know private things, or thinks you’re making too big a big deal about it, she should relent if she sees that it genuinely upsets you, right? Use the tactic of agreeing with her if she tries to deflect by characterizing you as “touchy” or “too sensitive.” “Yes, I am very sensitive, also, it’s gross to go through my private things and then comment on what you find there.

If she’s routinely a boundary-pushing asshole, or if she won’t relent and seems to take pleasure in your discomfort, then you need an asshole-parent kryptonite script. One that I’ve seen work is, “You and I aren’t that close.”

  • “I’m not embarrassed by having sex toys, just, you and I aren’t that close. I don’t want to see your sex toys, either.”
  • “It’s weird that you think that my private stuff should be available to you; you and I aren’t that close.” 
  • Mom: “You never let me come over anymore.” You: “After last time I know you’re dying to try out my new dildo collection, Mom, but we’re not that close.

To a reasonable, not-asshole parent this would be a really mean, horrible thing to say and you would never say it. With an asshole parent who is trying to manufacture the illusion of closeness by hugely violating your boundaries, think of it more as an attention-getter/boundary-defender. If you threaten the narcissistic illusion that you are a close, fun-loving mother and daughter who tell each other everything, she may just behave herself to get the illusion back.

465 thoughts on “#696: “My mom went snooping through my stuff and found my sex toys.”

  1. “Testing the smoothness of your drawers” ?!?!!

    OP, I am so sorry that this happened. I think the Captain’s advice is lovely. It might seem weird and uncomfortable to draw these lines with your parent, but better to do it now than to have her cross the line in the future, leaving your ears ringing with an even more bizarre excuse.

    My imagination quails. In that it is skulking about in the undergrowth, occasionally squawking things like “I was just testing the suppleness of these condoms!” And “Bob and I were just testing the springiness of your mattress!”

    1. To be perfectly fair, my family is *THAT* family, that stands in IKEA or James Reid or Home Sense repetitively opening and closing drawers to make sure the smoothness is adequate before purchase. Once it’s in one of our homes, though, I was under the impression it wasn’t really necessary to test anymore. Thanks for your kind words. Boundary setting is hard but I’m really hoping to be able to stick with it!

      1. The other thing is, if a person of good will were really testing drawer function (perhaps she wanted a similar nightstand!) and found something personal, they would not mention it. I have occasionally accidentally stumbled upon personal items (always in public space, though) and….I didn’t mention it, or in one case gently draped the [thing intended to hide the other thing] so that it actually hid the other thing. I mean, what is even the point of saying “I found your personal stuff” except to be kind of creepy and boundary-violating? I think family sometimes does this to assert control – “you think you’re an adult, but I’ll take you down a peg to show that you’re really not”.

        1. Yes, this. People who are not snooping and do respect people’s boundaries do sometimes foolishly or inadvertently see things that are none of their business. The difference is, they know it’s none of their business, so they keep their mouths shut.

        2. yep, that’s what I thought, too. If you accidently find something private, you don’t comment on it.

        3. This. Or you apologize. It depends on how the accidental snooping happened. I once was using a friend’s computer and went to check my email, and was too tired to realize that not needing to log in meant I was accidentally checking his email. Saw an unread email from a friend I wasn’t that close to, so it was weird, but not out of the question she might be emailing me… opened it… then realized, wait, oops. So, I had to tell him, especially since the email was now marked as read. But I was very, very apologetic and made a mental note to be extra careful to never do anything like that again. Sometimes you mess up and snoop. Then you either keep your mouth shut or apologize, circumstances depending. But to snoop and not be apologetic makes it very clear that you aren’t sorry about snooping. And since the response was that the letter writer shouldn’t have stuff she wants to keep private, I think that makes it very clear that the letter writer’s mother feels entitled to snoop. So, it doesn’t really matter how accidental it might have been, because the mother has made a clear statement that she feels she has a right to snoop whenever she wants to as much as she wants to. So, that requires some strong boundary enforcing, not giving the benefit of the doubt about how accidental it may or may not have been.

          Given the letter writer’s age, I think it’s important to point out that many people (myself included) needed to do some serious boundary setting when we were young adults. Not all family members really accept the you’re an adult now thing gracefully. But often, once those boundaries get set up, things start going a lot more smoothly. It depends a lot on what other issues the boundary violator may have. So, I think it’s important to enforce these boundaries clearly to set a precedent of being an adult now and expecting to be treated that way. If you don’t, I worry that this may progress badly as the mother continues to refuse to accept the basic adulthood of the letter writer. And while boundary setting can be done later, it may end up with even more annoying issues that need to be dealt with if it is let to build up.

          On a side note, I don’t think young adults should have to do this. I just think it is common that they do have to do this.

          1. Yep. My mother was, for the most part, not a snoop, and not a boundary pusher, etc. We had a very nice relationship. A few years ago, she was visiting my apartment and commented, “You know you’d have so much more room under the bathroom sink if you’d just organize!”

            I answered, semi-jokingly, “Mom, why were you snooping under my sink?”

            She answered, “I wasn’t! I was just curious…so I looked and…okay YES I was snooping, sorry! I didn’t think about it like that.”

            And that was that. I could laugh it off because it wasn’t something that was a problem overall and because she didn’t do it again.

        4. Yeah, I mean — so, once, my mom found my sex toys. She was violating a boundary, but it was kind of understandable: she was helping me pack up my apartment, and I said “don’t pack the wardrobe, I’ll get it” but when she ran out of other things to pack up she figured “well clearly, J is busy, I’ll just pack that up”.

          I mean. I wish she’d instead poked her head out of the window and asked if I wanted to come pack it while she helped load the truck for a while, but I don’t know that I’d call it snooping, just…disobedient helping, I guess? But while I know for sure that she found them (because she packed them), she has never said a single thing about it to me. Which I appreciate! Because we have now successfully pretended that did not ever happen for 12 years! Go us.

          My mom is not great at boundaries but she’s pretty good about privacy. Yes, sometimes these conflict, and she ends up violating privacy because she was ignoring a boundary, and she always notices that and feels bad, which she doesn’t notice with other kinds of boundary violations. So I could totally see my mom testing drawer function to see if she liked a nightstand, but if I had a vibe or whatever in there she would just not say a damn thing about even having touched the nightstand.

          1. My mental image of your mom finding your sex toys and diligently packing them fills me with feelings of laugh/cry. I am filled with respect but also cringing and I feel like we should never speak of this again.

          2. Maybe your mom didn’t pack your collection; maybe it was the sex toy elves. I helped a friend move once, along with her sister and mom. I stumbled upon the collection somehow and just made sure to pack ’em away in a safe spot. Of course, it never even occurred to me to say something-better to just pretend the sex toy elves swooped in and did you a solid.

          3. I first found my mom’s sex toys when I was younger when I went looking for a pair of socks to wear to school. My mom found my sex toys a year when she was cleaning up my horribly messy room when I was gone for two weeks, and I came back to find all my laundry picked up off the floor and my vibrators put away neatly in the drawer. Neither of us have ever mentioned our mutual finds to each other, because why on earth would you bring that up? The only reason I can think of every starting a conversation with “So I looked in your drawer and found your vibrators,” would be if I was very close and very open with someone I already talk about sex with, and am following up with recommendations for better models. I had assumed that the polite silence and pretend-you-don’t-know reaction to finding a family member’s sex toys was, you know, the default.

          4. “Because we have now successfully pretended that did not ever happen for 12 years! Go us.”
            I am having a crappy day and this made it better. Thank you 🙂

          5. My mom helped me pack up a dorm room once. She opened the box next to my bed that contained my condoms, closed it without comment, and packed it away.

            My family doesn’t do all the boundaries well, but those types of privacy issues, they’re good at. I feel like that’s the proper way to handle that sort of thing.

          6. I live in housing arranged by my job, and six months ago my boss (a man my parents’ age) helped me move to a new apartment. He packed up my books into boxes… including some pornographic comics. I hope that he just packed things by the stack and didn’t look… but if he did see them, I know he’ll never say anything. So let’s just hope he didn’t!

        5. I used to work in a small retail shop where part of my job was receiving stock. One day while the boss/owner was away on vacation, a shoe box-sized package arrived. I opened it, not really thinking about the fact that it was addressed to Boss personally and not the business. Inside was a very large vibrator. I blinked a couple of times, got the packing tape, sealed it up again and put it on Boss’s desk.

          1. …I wonder what on earth possessed them to have that shipped to work.

            I mean, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt here, but still just. Why would you do this. 😦

          2. In reply to Marvel:
            The thing that normally causes me to have things delivered to work is that I am *never in* when the post arrives at home and the depot to pick-up-parcels from is a long way from anywhere I usually go (and I don’t have a car). This thing doesn’t suddenly stop being true if the item in question is a sex toy, and sex toy selling companies usually use discreet packaging so no-one handling the package is going to know what it is. I guess I don’t generally expect anyone else to be opening any of my post (work related or personal) though.

          3. People have things delivered to work when they don’t want the folks at home to know about the delivery. There could be any number of reasons for that. Perhaps Boss lives with a mother who opens all packages. Perhaps Boss lives with a partner who would know that the vibrator was not for use with her.

          4. On an only vaguely-related note, can I just take this opportunity to say: you know what’s the least discreet delivery in the world? Donor sperm, that’s what. It comes in a massive tank thing that they paint BRIGHT YELLOW, just in case your delivery didn’t look noteworthy enough already. Needles to say I am not having those deliveries sent to my workplace!

          5. Ditto what naath said in response to Marvel – ever more internet retailers are requiring signatures on delivery to limit their own liability for undelivered/lost/stolen packages (and to block scams from people who claim to have never received an item), and if you work all day, you’re not likely to be home when the delivery arrives. Having things shipped to work where one knows there is always someone there to sign is standard practice in my area of the USA (upper Midwest), and I would imagine elsewhere.

          6. That’s fair. In that situation I would be inclined to have it sent to a friend’s house instead, but I suppose if your friends work all day too sometimes there’s no other option.

        6. Or even if they were actually snooping! It’s not ideal, but basically-decent people can have a lapse and give in to a moment of curiosity.

          But when you find someone’s vibrator, that should be the moment when you shut the drawer silently and learn a Valuable Lesson about privacy and why you shouldn’t rummage through other people’s things. And never, ever mention it.

          It’s the fact that the LW’s mother evidently mentioned it (unless the LW caught her standing over the open drawer) and then dismissed the LW’s feelings, plus the whole “you shouldn’t own anything if you don’t want me to know you have it” thing, that bothers me the most.

          Hershele Ostropoler had an interesting suggestion (further down in the comments) that maybe the LW’s mother [i]was[/i] embarrassed on some level, and her behaviour was a way of displacing that onto the LW, making them do the work of carrying the feelings (sort of “No, I’m not ashamed, you should be ashamed!”).

        7. Exactly! If mom wasn’t (even unconsciously) taking glee in snooping and discovering, she would have been properly horrified by her accidental discovery, and preserved her dignity by saying nothing.

          Once upon a time, I was moving. A work friend came over to help me. A very churchy, southern work friend, but someone who had seen life and wasn’t easily shocked. I was completely frazzled when she showed up. When she asked what she could do to help, I handed her a box, pointed to my dresser, and said to just empty the drawers into the box, don’t even fold anything, just dump stuff in the box.

          Well 15 mins later she was taping up the box and smiling a funny smile and then it hit me, the vibrator my ex-bf had bought me was in my sock drawer and I’d completely forgotten about it. I was horrified!

          I tried to say something about it, make a joke, apologize, anything. But she was all “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” In the best possible way. No wink wink, nothing. She was hilarious and gracious at the same time.

          She was a lovely person, and I had to see her at work for the next few weeks, and she handled it perfectly.

          THAT is how you handle accidentally finding an inadvertent vibrator. Not “oh we’re so close, you shouldn’t have it if you don’t want me to see it.” Yuck.

      2. Oh in that case, an excuse backed up with a tiny wee bit of plausible deniability and family culture! Arguing with that would definitely make you sound weird, LW!

        (I’m being a wee bit sarcastic. You’re right, your mother’s control over optimized furniture operation definitely ends after the furniture has entered another person’s home. And it rather reminds me of the convoluted-but-vaguely possible explanation my mother recently gave me when justifying why she had to find and read the entirety of one of my teenage journals, a story beginning with a Rube Goldberg set of problems that only she could solve (“a raccoon came in the window and attacked your father so I had to get a book to beat it with and it set the fire alarm off and the sprinklers came on and soaked a box of your old things, so in order to SAVE them I extracted the journal and began hitting the raccoon and it just happened to fall open to a page with some VERY WORRYING content, so naturally I had to read the whole thing, because I am a CONCERNED MOTHER WHO LOVES YOU VERY MUCH.”

        Because harping on any one part of that would make YOU the unreasonable one, you see? If you say anything like “Mom, I wish you hadn’t done that” then she can respond distractingly with “what, you WANT your father to be attacked by wild animals? What, I should have just let the house burn down?” Boom, guilt reassigned: now YOU are weird and overwrought, putting your silly concerns about privacy over REAL issues, like your parents’ house burning down, or your willful and obdurate insistence on buying cheap sticky nightstands.

        LW, I suspect you already know this, but anyone who starts justifying and pre-excusing their behavior with an entire narrative arc KNOWS THAT THEY DID WRONG and are hoping to distract you with the framing. Snooping is wrong! Your mother would never do anything wrong! She’s just very concerned! You’re making a huge deal of this LW! Why are you making such a big deal if you have nothing to hide? Etc.)

        1. FWIW, the drawers thing struck me as a highly plausible “I don’t trust you to buy your own furniture” parenting moment (my mother is also a check-the-quality-of-the-drawers person)

          1. Yeah, considering I got it off Kijiji and family opinion is that secondhand is automatically crap, I was inclined to that way of thinking. Elodie has made some very good points on how it doesn’t really matter why she checked the drawers, she shouldn’t have checked the drawers.

          2. That potentially changes the problem from someone with a tendency to snoop on you to someone with a tendency to want proof of your competence and to assume you incompetent until proven otherwise. While it’s a slightly different form of disrespect, it’s still massively disrespectful and inappropriate. So, it should still be met with firm boundary setting.

            “I don’t trust you to buy your own furniture” is not a sentiment that adults get to express toward other adults except in very exceptional cases. And it does boil down to a variant of, “I don’t trust you to run your own life.” The thing is adults have a right to buy inferior furniture. They have a right to even mess up and learn about furniture quality on their own while suffering with sticky drawers. Or to have a preference for furniture with sticky drawers. All of that is within the realm of what adults get to decide for themselves.If the furniture is going into a shared space in a shared dwelling, then some discussion may be in order, but that clearly was not the case here.

          3. Not only shouldn’t have checked the drawers but shouldn’t have commented on what she found there, especially not in the way she did. Good luck on setting some good boundaries, LW, you sound like you’ve got your head screwed on straight 🙂

        2. But what if it was a furniture-sticking emergency?! You know what I mean, the kind of situation where it’s a matter of life and death to get that nightstand drawer open RIGHT NOW and you can’t risk having it stick on you just when you need it to work the most and so you HAVE to check it, it’s like smoke detectors, and…

          That was exhausting just to type. Yeah, there’s no justification for it whatsoever. LW would have been totally justified in laughing right in their mom’s face, if the totally justifiable outrage hadn’t gotten there first.

          1. My house accidentally had a smoke detector in a drawer! (Which made it incredibly hard to find when it started doing the beep-every-three-minutes due to low battery). Okay, I know that’s not actually what you meant when you compared the nightstand drawer to the smoke detector, but…

  2. “and thinks if I I don’t want her to know I have something, I shouldn’t own it” This is such a fucking bullshit thing that you have to deal with. I have heard this argument before–like, “If the language you use would upset your Grandma if she heard, perhaps you need to change your language habits.” WTF??? Times have changed since the proverbial Grandma. And I am my own person anyway (and YOU are YOUR own person). And self-expression (still on the language/cussing analogy here) in the presence of certain people besides my once-again-proverbial Grandma is extremely important and necessary to my freedom as an individual. There is a reason I don’t spend all of my waking moments with Grandma, and there is a reason why you don’t spend all of your waking moments with your mother. You are your own damn person.

    There are a lot of things that we all should be allowed to own or experience without the knowledge of our parents. The idea that if you wouldn’t want to share something with your mother, then you probably shouldn’t have it in the first place, is making me so fucking vicariously claustrophobic.

    What, are you supposed to take a shit with the door open so your mom can see? And is taking a shit a moral issue that, if you don’t feel comfortable sharing it with mom, perhaps you shouldn’t shit? I know I’m going a bit overboard, but I used to have to deal with this fuckery CHRONICALLY and it really fucking sucks (mine was more about money than about the moral “should-i-ness”–namely, “I bought you these dressers so they are mine and it is my right as property owner to snoop”). I hope this is just a one-off deal for you. As you can see by my anger I’m still a bit traumatized.

    1. See also: I don’t care about Google/the government/my employer snooping in my email because I don’t have anything to hide.

      (In the spirit of your comment) Fuck those people so fucking much

      1. Omg I had a tiff with a coworker bc she was taught “never to post or search for anything online if you wouldn’t want people to know it was you doing it.” Um, wtf about consent basics? So thank you for bringing that bogus email snooping crap to light, Muddie Mae.

      2. I had this argument with a friend awhile back. She said she didn’t have anything to hide, so it didn’t matter. I said, ok, great, you don’t have anything to hide in your kitchen, right? So you’d be ok with the government or a corporation putting a video camera there?

        The fuck, people, come on.

        1. I always ask people if that means they don’t have curtains at home.

          1. I know, right? I think my private life would be pretty boring to most people. I also reserve the right to share that private life as I please, not as Facebook / the NSA / my parents / my employer would choose, because it is mine and not theirs.

      3. There’s plenty of stuff a person can do or be that’s perfectly legal and harmless and can still land you in humongous trouble if anyone knew. To use an example from my own life, being genderqueer and gay comes to mind. You bet your ass I’ve got things to hide. But it’s not my fault that I feel the need to hide it. I haven’t done anything morally wrong or illegal.

        People who use the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” argument tend to be entitled and privileged to an unbearable degree. Arrogant too. It’s one of those red-flag phrases for me that puts people on probation pending further signs of head-up-assery.

    2. Yeah that line really bugged me, too. The mother isn’t entitled to knowledge of all her adult daughter’s things. Hell, I’m not sure I’d even agree that parents are entitled to knowledge of all their children’s things at any stage of life. I’m totally with the LW here, her mom was snooping and that’s out of line. LW is entitled to handle this in the way that makes most sense for her (the Captain’s situations and scripts above are very good, imo).

      1. “Hell, I’m not sure I’d even agree that parents are entitled to knowledge of all their children’s things at any stage of life.”

        This, so much.

        When I was 8 or 9 my mom bought me and my two, older, brothers diaries out of the blue. She also informed me that she’d be reading mine to check my spelling. I felt violated and I hadn’t even written anything yet. Needless to say, it barely got used.

          1. I like that idea. Or if there is something your mother is particularly unfond of, then you can put lots of information about it in your diary. For example, I really dislike worms, and prefer to never think about them. If you’re okay with them and she’s not… it’s a great place to catalogue tons of fun facts about them.

            As someone who did grow up without privacy from my siblings, I mostly didn’t write things down. I didn’t do a lot of things I wanted to do, because of fear of privacy invasion. This is part of why the threat of privacy invasion is really harmful. When I did start keeping a diary, I deliberately wrote in script with terrible penmanship on both sides of each page using a pen that bled through. You would have to be really determined to read it. But I didn’t even do that until I had moved out. Now I refuse to live with anyone I don’t trust not to violate my privacy. Feeling safe in my own home is too important to me. Fortunately, nobody I’d invite over would snoop like that (I think… certainly nobody I’d invite over would have a chance to do so twice).

            Anyhow, it’s fun to think about ways to turn snooping around on people for me, even if I never would have thought of them at the time.

          2. I did come to regret the loss of serious potential parental freakouts, but I was too busy trying to wrap my brain around the whole “why did you bother buying me a book with a lock then?” concept.

            Weirdly, I think she just wanted to improve my spelling, which still sucks, because she normally doesn’t go that far when it comes to being noesy. But she really didn’t think it through.

          3. @wordiest I once thought that if I had a diary-snooping parent, I’d turn their snoopiness against them by passive-aggressively making my diary a logbook chronicling my parents’ privacy invasions, disrespect for my property, broken promises, et cetera. Nothing rewarding about my thoughts or feelings or hopes or dreams, just a list of dates and times and their misdeeds.

      2. “Hell, I’m not sure I’d even agree that parents are entitled to knowledge of all their children’s things at any stage of life.”

        Definitely. I wouldn’t have put up with the behavior outlined in the letter at age 12, let alone 21. Sadly, far, far too many parents fail to recognize that their offspring are autonomous individuals from birth (though when younger, they need more direct assistance to survive and thrive). I’ve never, ever understood parents “disallowing” (as though that’s ever really possible when it comes to something someone is doing with their own body) piercings or tattoos, for example. So much of it boils down to authoritarianism for its own sake.

        1. My (narcissistic, authoritarian, controlling, manipulative) mother pitched an ABSOLUTE SHIT FIT when she found out I had tattoos . . . and I was 30 at the time!! She thinks I look “like a circus freak.” I think that she is small-minded, petty, and horrible.

          (The funny part is that I’d successfully kept them hidden from her for years — I worked in a super-conservative field with a dress code, and while I have a full backpiece, it’s designed so that if I’m wearing a cap-sleeved shirt, they aren’t visible. The only reason she EVER found out was that I decided to go on a vacation with them while my Dad could still travel — he had cancer — and I knew that putting on a swimsuit was going to give the game away . . . and I said “fuckit!” and went ahead with the trip, and aside from her tantrum, had a lovely time.)

          She attempts regularly to enlist my daughter in trying to make sure I don’t get any further body modifications (my daughter laughs it off), and she’s convinced that I’m going to try to MAKE my child get tattoos. My mother already hates that my daughter has four earlobe piercings and purple hair, but I have firmly supported her right to self-expression through appearance.

          Amusingly, “You’ll never get into college looking like that!” = K getting into her first-choice college.

          But, yes — she does think that she can *forbid* us to do various things with our bodies (including having sex), and I admit, K and I both take some amount of schadenfreude-flavored pleasure in watching her foam at the mouth in outrage over an imagined issue.

          My mother is abusive and can be very hurtful, I have no choice but to interact with her (due to financial problems brought on by high medical bills), but at least we can laugh about it, some of the time.

          1. My mum’s first comment when she saw my (first of 6 so far) tattoo: “Oh! You’ll never be able to wear a beautiful sleeveless wedding dress!” Right, because that was my no.1 priority. When I had a nose piercing, she went into hysterical sobs and told me I may as well just brand “I hate my parents” across my face.

          2. For some reason, my (feminist, non-wedding-obsessed, tattoo-hating) mom’s first comment to seeing my first tattoo was “but what will you do about a wedding dress!!?!?”

            To which I responded, in the most deadpan tone I could muster: “… I’ll… Wear…. It.”

            Note that I was 21 and had 0 plans for marriage and had never been even remotely interested in weddings, so I still fail to see why that was her first thought. (And I got married at 21, and rocked the shit out of both the tattoo and the dress. No regrets.)

    3. Uuuuughhh…LW, you have all my sympathies. That comment bugged the shit out of me too. My mom is a big fan of the surprise visit for this very same reason — including the surprise visit with elderly relative — whom she then uses as a scapegoat to try and control how I decorate my living space, i.e “your grandmother was scandalized by those pictures on your walls!”

      You are 100% allowed to have a personal life with things that you want to keep private from her.

      1. I had a very mildly risque calendar a couple years ago and a friend of mine (same friend I mentioned above, actually) tried to use “a teenage girl is going to see it!” to cover the fact that she was offended by it.

        Said teenage girl had no problem with the calendar. Her father thought the idea that it would be an issue was pretty hilarious, actually.

    4. I very vaguely remember reading a story once about a kid who, as he was approaching puberty, had his parents tell him that his dead grandma could look in on him any time she wanted, as a way to prevent him from masturbating. And ended up causing some pretty bad medical issues because he was holding in going to the bathroom as long as he humanly could because he was so terrified of her looking in on him in the toilet.
      So yeah, give people privacy, please.

      1. My MIL used to use ‘Jesus is watching!!!!’ as a way to get the truth out of DH when he was a kid. We joke about it now. but honestly, it was a cruel thing to do to a kid. I am constantly amazed that he managed to grow up normal.

        That story is worse 😦

      2. Wow, that is sick. I remember getting a “congrats on finishing high school” from some distant, very Catholic relatives. Card reads: “We’re proud of you, and we know your grandmother is watching you from Heaven!” Me, to myself: “Holy shit, do they think Grandma is watching me take showers? EEEEEEEEEEWWWW.” I will never understand why the idea of someone watching you *all the time* is perceived as supportive rather than creepy as hell.

        1. My nephew, at maybe 7 years old, asked my sister if she’d be watching over him after she died. He obviously wanted the answer to be yes. My sister said, “Yes, honey, I will … but only when you want me to.”

          Because my sister is awesome and thinks ahead.

    5. Sorry to say, some parents really do have boundaries that bad, right down to insisting on coming into the bathroom while you’re having a shit. Or having a shit themselves while you’re in the shower. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t bother me!” So it shouldn’t bother you, because it doesn’t bother them, and they’re bringing you up not to be inhibited and have hangups or want your parents not to walk around naked in front of you.

      1. I once had a screaming fight with my *sister’s mother-in-law*, when we were on an extended family holiday and sharing a room, because she walked in while I was changing and wouldn’t leave because “She’d seen it all before.” Somehow, I was the one in trouble.

        1. My mother used to try and burst in on me when I was in the bathroom all the time because “it’s my house and I’m your mother and I can do what I like.” I was a painfully shy and private kid and we NEVER discussed anything to do with bodies/bodily functions because she didn’t think it right for young ladies to discuss these things. So yeah, “not that close” would cover it neatly. Yet when I raised an objection to her barging into my private space, she would snap “What have you got that I haven’t got?”

          I got one *hell* of a smack for responding “dignity and respect for other people.”

          So as you can imagine, LW’s mom’s comment about how they shouldn’t have things they don’t want her to see really pissed me off. Because it reminded me of my own mother, who still thinks everything I do and own is her business even though I’m in my thirties and live 200 miles away with no financial ties to her.

          1. My mom was not a huge boundary violator but definitely did not believe in closed or locked doors, and would routinely barge in on us changing with many of the same explanations, and would then leave and leave the door open, which bothers me more than I can put into words. I have no idea why she had this particular set of boundary violating behaviors — she never snooped, doesn’t play the “you don’t love me” game, never pried into my personal life, etc. But it fucked me up forever nonetheless.

          2. High-five for that response, though. Please accept this lovely, if somewhat ill-used, Internet as your reward.

        2. My sympathy. “I’ve seen it all before” is a reasonable thing to say while leaving the room, to indicate “it’s okay, I’m not shocked” or “I’m not going to judge you for not looking like an air-brushed magazine ad.” It might also be plausible to hear from a nurse or other medical professional if there are reasons why s/he has to look at parts of the body normally kept covered.

          It’s not a plausible reason for a relative, or random sort-of-relative by marriage, to insist on staying in the room: after all, if she’s “seen it all before” and it’s no big deal to her, she’s losing nothing by waiting on the other side of the door.

        3. I just want to point out that leaving and waiting outside the door while you dress may not be an option for a person of limited mobility. Likewise, if I have to walk down a long hall and take an elevator to find a place to sit while you dress, I can’t do that, either.

          I’ve actually had to say to someone who wanted to share a hotel room, “Okay, but I won’t be able to leave the room while you dress, so either be okay with changing in front of me or be prepared to use the bathroom as a dressing room. I won’t stare at you while you change, but I can’t afford the spoons to go walking around while you take twenty minutes to change your clothes. If that’s not okay, get your own room.”

          I am not excusing her blowing off your desire for privacy with a flip remark or blaming you for a normal deaire for privacy, but the assumption that I can easily leave the room and hang out elsewhere is an ableist assumption. Admittedly in some cases, like if there is a living room with chairs on the other side of the door, sure, no problem. But assuming that in all cases your desire to be alone while dressing trumps all other considerations? No.

          ((I am assuming that what I’m saying probably didn’t apply to your sister’s MIL, because if that was the case, she would presumably know how to use her words to say so, and work out some alternative solution. But I do know people tend to assume that there is no cost to the mobility impaired to just going somewhere else for a little while, and that’s an assumption I would like to see disappear from this world.))

        4. “She’d seen it all before.”
          So she’s been looking in your windows? That’s creepy.

      2. Not just parents – recently a friend was having a serious medical emergency – before I could convince him the ER was needed I had opportunity to help him use a bedside urinal and change clothing – I saw more of him than I ever intended to, but it wasn’t an issue because it was necessary. Even in the ER, I got a few views that I didn’t expect, but whatever. I went to visit (after a long sleep given the 48 hours straight I was with him!) and he was using a bed pan … I said I would just pop down to the cafeteria for a coffee but he insisted I stay and take a seat and chat with him while he used the bed pan. Um, no? FFS, I don’t like talking on the phone if one party is in the bathroom and if someone speaks to me through the bathroom door they are ignored unless they are telling me they are on fire and I am the only one who could possibly put them out. But face to face conversation accompanied by the sounds and smells associated with using a bedpan was too much. He thought I was ridiculous because I had already seen everything there was to see … I guess that not everyone understands that circumstances can dictate what’s acceptable … and the fact that there was a Starbucks in the lobby I could visit while he took care of business made it unnecessary to see any more than I had!

    6. “The idea that if you wouldn’t want to share something with your mother, then you probably shouldn’t have it in the first place, is making me so fucking vicariously claustrophobic.”

      ^^^THIS, so hard.

      My mother is narcissistic and abusive (and snoopy as hell!), and this has been a pattern since childhood — she snoops, she finds something that she doesn’t like, and then she shames/punishes me for it.

      I spent 15 years setting appropriate adult boundaries, and then I became disabled. got divorced, found out that my daughter will have lifetime serious health issues (with accompanying medical bills), and wound up in a situation where I had no choice but to accept her “help” — at which point I stopped being able to leave the room/hang up the phone/say “Wow, that’s a personal question” and let the silence hang.

      Hoping that my *situation* changes at some point, but I’ve given up on changing *her* — which, oddly enough, brings its own peace.

      I’m never going to please her or get her approval, so that means that I am no longer obligated to be stressed about her feelings, and can instead focus on getting through this difficult period, including surrounding myself with people who are awesome.

      This is a boundary that I recommend you set hard and fast — your mother pulling the “well, you shouldn’t do anything you don’t want me to know about” card should be faced down with some variant of “We’re not that close,” and should result in her deprivation from your delicious attention cookies for a set amount of time.

      Wishing you the best in this effort — I hope that your mother will be trainable. Mine is actively malicious — but I *still* have been able to keep her at arm’s length from any juicy personal tidbits from our lives, and that amount of breathing room is crucial.

      If you’re in school, or financially beholden to her in some other way, I know that it’s really hard to get traction to set boundaries — but you will find that it’s very much worth the effort.

      LW, you deserve to have your bedside drawers unmolested, your browser habits and choice of reading material un-critiqued, and the thoughts in your head and choices of what to do with your body controlled *only* by you.

      Best of luck!!

    7. A direct corollary to that phrase is “if your mother doesn’t want to see these, don’t look where they are likely to be.”

      I’m sorry LW, I think your mother is just being manipulative.

    8. “(mine was more about money than about the moral “should-i-ness”–namely, “I bought you these dressers so they are mine and it is my right as property owner to snoop”).”

      Oh ew ew EW!!! I would never want to accept a gift from that person ever again. It’s like the emphases in that sentence are all wrong. “I bought you those dressers, so they are YOURS, and it is NOT my right, as I am NO LONGER property owner, to snoop.”

      I’m sorry – I’d be angry about something like that for a long time, too. I’m glad you’re channeling your anger into bolstering LW’s confidence.

      1. Oh Christ, this is my mother again. Everything she’s ever invested money into is hers. My childhood home? Her property, so I could only enter the kitchen with her permission (and eating food she’d bought without asking first, even a biscuit or slice of cheese, was a punishable offence). If i referred to my bedroom or my space, she’d go “it’s MY room – I just let you use it.” Even gifts she had given me were in her eyes technically still hers so she could withdraw them any time she liked if she didn’t approve of what I did. So not manipulative at all…

        1. Oh, yeah. My Dad used to do this – mainly when he was worried about me, and felt that it was imperative that he find out what was wrong. So it became “Actually, it’s not YOUR computer, I paid for it, which means I have every right to look through it”, “Actually, it’s MY house, so I have every right to go into your bedroom whenever I like.” I recognise that he meant well but god damn, it was not a good decision on his part; all it did was teach me that my home wasn’t actually mine and wasn’t safe or secure, and that I’d better never ever tell him anything, because I wouldn’t be allowed to set the limits on what I told him – if he wanted to know more he’d just massively invade my privacy and fuck up the only place I ever felt even almost-safe, so I’d better not let him get a whiff of anything just in case.

          This is a big contributing factor in why I desperately hope that I will never have to live with my parents again.

          1. Yyyyep. It’s all VERY familiar to me.

            (Ask me how thrilled I am at now living on a property that my mother owns. *shudder* No choice but to do it, because my affordable, accessible apartment got new management and they booted out all the old tenants, and I couldn’t find something in my price range, especially since I’d moved halfway across the country 7 months before, and was dealing with my daughter’s mega-medical-bills crisis . . . but, yes, my mother has a key to MY HOUSE, and it gives me nightmares.)

        2. Jesus, I’m a TWIN?

          Just hugs, and love, and all of the cuddles to you, my sibling in spirit.

          True story – my very first girlfriend (now wife) was the first person I cohabited with. It used to, and still does ten years later, freak her out when I used to ask her permission to go and make a cuppa, or have a snack. She grew up with normal parents that loved her, I grew up with a narcissistic manipulator for a mother, and a mostly quiet father who was prone to sudden inexplicable rages.

          37 and I can’t quite totally break the habit of asking “May I eat/drink/put the heating on/whatevs”. I am SO FUCKING LUCKY that I ended up with the woman I did, because I had been raised as the perfect victim. Food intake and weight monitored, illness/pain minimised or denied, room tossed like a cell until I was twentyfuckingfive, and a list kept of every penny I “owed”* her, and every other possible kind of manipulation and control-freakery. Add to that the physical and emotional abuse, withholding of medical care, and gaslighting me till I barely knew what was going on, then I would have been an absolute gift for an(other) abuser.

          Big Pink Wife is my literal saviour. She rescued me from a pseudo-abusive house share with a girl who owned the house, and as such felt I had no right to erect boundaries, and who acted in a way that was scarily similar to my mother. That situation had led to my plan to quit while I was behind, and end it all. She taught me that no, it’s not normal to disallow people to eat food or put an extra blanket on their bed if they’re cold, or to open their mail. She got me immediate medical advice for my debilitating periods, and persuaded me that even the most committed hypochondriac cannot induce pneumonia, or cause the lining of their gut to bleed. I’m mostly deprogrammed now, but when I think of what could’ve happened to me.

          I’m heartbroken to see so many depressingly similar stories.

          *food, textbooks, lifts to/from the doctors, or work, or wherever, clothes, “gifts” (in hospital too, lol!) etc. She bought stuff, said “I bought you this, you owe me X”. The catch? We had no pocket money or allowance, and it also happened when I was out of work for four years due to almost like… dying, something trivial like that. Did I mention she charged interest? Good Christian mother that she was.

          When my beloved was hospitalised once my drachenmütter brought “gifts” then said “You owe me six pounds for that lot”. My entire vile upbringing was then made worthwhile when my wife said ” Umm..what?”. Mother repeated herself and the woman who’d had normal parents laughed out loud and said “Shove your ‘gifts’ up your ARSE, you bloody horror”. The look on my mother’s face was priceless, my dad could barely repress his glee, so she dragged him out and off the ward. At least four weeks of parent-free bliss ensued!


            Big hugs back to BOTH of you 🙂

            The permission thing really resonates with me because I have that too, although not as bad these days. I remember the first time I went to a friend’s house after school. She went “I’m hungry, I’m gonna make a sandwich. Want one?” And I freaked out, because I was like “oh my god what if your mum catches us? When’s dinner?” I was terrified. My friend gave me the weirdest look and was like “what are you talking about? It’s only a sandwich.” She had a toy that said phrases when you pulled a string and one of them was “Let’s go check out the fridge.” I used to pull the string again and again in the hope of hearing that, and would dissolve into uncontrollable giggles when it happened. I think because it seemed as naughty to me as swearing or something. Or maybe I just wanted to hear it, because I wished I could live that way.

            I remember another time when my mum counted the packets of crisps left in a multipack (which she always did) and found one MISSING. She hit me repeatedly with a belt and didn’t bother apologising when she realised it had just fallen out of the bag.

            I’m 33 now and still have huge issues around food. I can only buy what I need to cook my planned menu, otherwise I can’t control my binging. As a kid I would sneak into the kitchen and take out all the food I could carry that wouldn’t be missed (a slice of bread here, a lump of cheese there, etc etc) every single time my mother was in the bath or otherwise occupied elsewhere. And I would take it to ny room, hide it under my pillow, eat and repeat until the coast was clear.

          2. Amber-Xebi – Wow, you really are my twin, right down to the freaking out at friends’ houses, and being smacked because my mother had counted crisps and come up short. Even the bread thing, because even my mother didn’t count slices of bread. I used to grab a slice while she was occupied somewhere, then carefully place it in the waist band of my skirt or knickers, then try to calmly walk upstairs so I could secrete it in my room.

            Until I left home I couldn’t go into the kitchen without getting the sudden urge to go to the toilet, such was the anxiety involved with the place. I feel you on the binging too. I used to do it at my babysitting job, because the mum always told me to help myself, and the three kids were allowed whatever they wanted, something which stunned me!

            I wish I could hug you in person. Wife sends hugs too.

        3. I feel you. The social security benefits I got because a parent was on disability? Their money, especially if I acted/did something I shouldn’t. When you’re supporting yourself, the threat of that safety net yanked away (especially before you’re able to support yourself legally) is a terrifying thing.

          teel deer: I feel you.

      2. Finally catching up to these comments–and thanks, Fishmongers’ daughters, for your response to me! 🙂

      3. The first time someone pulled that on me, I took the item in question, smashed it, and dumped it in the trash in front of them. It never happened again with that particular person. At the point someone pulls that, the “gift” is no longer a gift, it’s a pretext for control, and all rules governing normative handling of gifts no longer apply.

    9. My mother would tell me I was being “rude/disrespectful” (there’s not a proper translation) when I’d CLOSE THE DOOR TO MY OWN BEDROOM. Numerous “Don’t be rude, I’m not gonna be watching you.” “If you’re not gonna watch me, why do you need the door open?” arguments followed.

      She’d also rutinely go through my things and throw away anything she thought was old/useless, including clothes. Going through the trash to recover anything she may have thrown out became a habit. And, of course, when she’d notice I’d done it, *I*’d be the CRAZY one. (BTW, I don’t smoke/do drugs/ever did anything illegal or dangerous to myself or others, so it was not a safety concern.)

      Then I moved out, and on her FIRST visit, she fucking stole a tablecloth I was planning on using and threw it away, because she thought it was ugly!

      Some people just can’t fathom that their children don’t *belong* to them, or that they’re not an extension of their being.

      1. AUGH WHAT – that’s awful on SO MANY LEVELS! After the Sketchbook Incident of 2008, I get a bit of a tension twinge whenever I empty the trash *just in case* something important crept in there. If someone was deliberately nicking my stuff and throwing it away… Ugh ugh ugh. I’m so sorry that happened.

        1. The only picture I ever drew that I was proud of was a pencil sketch of Christian Slater (…. I know). I still hope that one day it turns up, but it’s been, what, 15-20-25 years. I would never have thrown it away. I’m kinda glad I don’t know who did it as I would probably still blame them.

          Basically, I feel your pain.

      2. Hmm, the bedroom door thing brings to mind an interesting contrast. My parents are, the overwhelming majority of the time, cool and respectful and lovely. My grandmother (mum’s side of the family, only surviving grandparent) has boundary issues, very little self-awareness, possible signs of narcissism etc.

        The door-related examples:
        I spent several years in my childhood with a bedroom door that wouldn’t close properly. Not deliberate, but because at one point the lock/handle mechanism seized and had to be ripped out – and my parents didn’t get round to replacing the door for quite a while. That wasn’t deliberate either, I’m sure, it’s just that they’d been thinking about replacing all the doors on that floor for a while, and took a while to actually get round to it.
        So eventually – and coincidentally (right..?) at just about the sort of age that you would expect a pubescent boy to take up masturbating – I got a new bedroom door, one that not only closed tightly, but even had a lock, the key for which I was allowed to have. Then as now, my parents knock as a matter of course when the door is closed, and no issue was ever made of my locking the door while I was in there. (Whether or not I actually ever did masturbate in there is of course entirely beside the point.)

        My grandmother, on the other hand. In recent years, when I’m at her house, I’ve generally been staying in a particular spare room (there are several spare rooms, it’s a big house). Which does have a door that closes, but they key went missing years ago so I can’t lock it. My grandmother routinely walks in unannounced, without knocking, for any random reason. Not that I’ll be in there doing anything particularly private, but it has happened when I was mostly naked while changing into my pyjamas, say. So I tell her to please knock before coming in. Next time along, she knocks – once – pauses for half a second and then walks in. I don’t think it’s malicious, or even deliberate but ‘loving’ snooping. She’s just incapable of getting the point that I don’t want her doing that.

        I’ve taken to literally barricading the door by wedging a chair under the handle when I’m in there…

        1. Are you particularly handy? If she won’t respect privacy, you could be “helpful” and replace the lock on the door for her.

          1. Haha, I’m really not. To be fair, she probably would appreciate it if I did that – as I said I don’t think her privacy violations are deliberate, just thoughtless.
            Anyway, I’m only there a few days a year, it’s not really a big deal for me. It just struck me that it’s a rather interesting contrast.

      3. Even if you had been doing something potentially harmful, that still wouldn’t make it okay (especially since poo boundaries and emotional invalidation are risk factors for young people engaging in those behaviours in the first place).

        My mother actually does the opposite, which is less problematic but still creepy: she disparaged me my whole life for ‘hoarding’/keeping things she didn’t see the use for, but she has “rescued” things that I’d thrown away (because they were *broken*!).

        1. *snerk* I’m pretty sure that you meant ‘poor boundaries,’ and I’m not picking at the typo — but after the bedpan story a few comments above, I *definitely* want to make sure that my ‘poo boundaries’ are respected!! 😉

      4. My mom used to do this too. She’d also give away my stuff to her friends/our cousins/etc without asking first.
        Like “Oh friends kid is into the same stuff as you so I gave him yours.”

        There has been a long period of low-contact between then and now, and she no longer has the ability to do it since I have my own space.
        I hope everyone else who faces this behaviour can fix it without moving across the ocean, but if that’s what it takes 😐

    10. As someone who’s mother thought that shame about nudity or shitting or whatever was weird and wrong (rather than a desire for privacy from her teenage children) uh yeah right there with you. She would literally walk in you taking a shit and make you feel morally wrong if you felt uncomfortable with it. 😦 Anyway – that’s the hard part about setting these boundaries – once someone has had your whole life to program you with what is and isn’t reasonable it’s hard to actually set totally reasonable boundaries because you’re left flailing around trying to justify stuff that everyone else takes for granted. Oh yeah – and the I gave you that gift so it is forever mine thing! AGH!

      Of course what’s really going on is that parents like this think they own *you* and don’t actually recognise that you are a separate person (in as much as such people recognise that anyone other than themselves is a real person) so any boundary setting is to them as weird as if their leg suddenly declared its independence.

      1. AAAAHHHH ANISOPTERA NOOOOO. I am so sorry that happened to you! Jedi hugs if you want them!

        My mom is also of the snoopy persuasion, even though I’m pushing 30. She was always of the We Don’t Have Locked Doors In This House mindset. My brother and I still do not like being woken up physically because of the number of times she has come into our room while we are sleeping to talk to us. Yes, it’s very creepy. With the added bonus of: my brother and I cannot actually remember the tasks that she assigns us while we are sleeping! Leading to angry texts or phone calls of “I told you to do the thing! Why didn’t you do the thing? I am so stressed/disappointed!” “Well mom, if you wake us up to tell us to do something, it’s very difficult to remember. Why not text me? Why not leave a note? Why not leave a voice mail?”

        I moved back after college for a little bit and I guess she figured that since I moved back in, the same rules still applied. It took her exactly One Time of walking in on me masturbating to knock. every single time. It was almost as if there are reasons that we have doors!


        Due to health reasons, my life is in a huge mess right now. Jobs/living situations are up in the air. My mother was one of the last people to learn of my situation and potential new plans. Why?

        1) Your shitty life situation means you should come back home and live with me! No, none of your other ideas are any good.
        2) I shall argue with your new life plan point by point because I’m your mother and I know better.
        3) I am so HURT that you didn’t tell me EARLIER you don’t TRUST me with things in your LIFE.

        So pretty much exactly why I thought I shouldn’t tell her until after I got things figured out.

        This is what happens if you push. The more you try to control someone’s life, the less they share their life with you.


        Postscript: During my medical issues, my Partner stepped up in a big way and took care of me wonderfully. Seeing us interact like that while I was in recovery must have flipped some sort of weird switch in her brain, where instead of Partner protecting me from her halping (actually unhelpful, non-doctor-advised halp), she was “letting him take care of me because he was so particular about it and didn’t want to insult him”. And then called me the next day to tell me that from now on she will treat me and Partner like a team. And if we come stay with her again she’ll treat us like adults in a relationship, just like any other adults that she knows. To which I had to very much bite my tongue as to not reply “Do you want a fucking medal?”

        It’s so big of you, to decide that your Adult Daughter and her Adult Partner are actually Adults.

        1. Haha sleep instructions! I know it’s not actually funny, but that’s pretty ridiculous. What was she thinking would happen? Does she not know how sleep works? I’m glad she decided to accept your partner and you were adults in a relationship – I’m guessing she noticed how she was shut out of the caregiver role completely, and that he was firmly in it, and realised she would have to make nice about him because he wasn’t going away any time soon and had become a gatekeeper of sorts to access to you. Heh.

      2. Oh yes, I remember that kind of thing. My mother decided the best time to have The Talk about puberty and body changes was while I was in the bath and she sat (fully clothed of course) in the room.

        Way to make me feel self conscious & vulnerable. I just wanted to escape but instead I sat in water that was getting cold, wondering how much longer this would go on.

        Just because *they* aren’t embarrassed or awkward doesn’t mean it’s ok.

    11. As the child of abusive parents who threatened to take the door off the hinges if I ever, EVER dared to lock it (and followed up on this threat more than once), I feel for your rant so hard here. I really, REALLY wish more parents would take the privacy of their child seriously.

      The worst part, from my personal experience, is that there was no rhyme or reason behind it; they just hated the idea of my having even an iota of privacy that much. There was no reason to suspect that I was doing something wrong, since I never did anything they said “no” to. I was THE golden child. I only ever locked my door when I was getting dressed or, god forbid, needed to masturbate like an average teenager, and unfortunately my mom and dad both worked from home so doing it when they were out of the house wasn’t an option. Very, very occasionally, I would try locking my door when I heard yelling start downstairs, but oftentimes I was too scared to risk it.

      But no, locking the door to get dressed meant I didn’t TRUST them and I didn’t want to be part of the FAAAAAMILY and I was obviously planning to run away home (gee, how could that environment ever be one I’d want to run away from?).

      …That was kind of a tangent, but yeah, this is an important issue to me.

    12. An excellent (fiction) book that answers this in a SHOUT (and is trigger-y as fuck for all sorts of reasons, but for this reason very much worth reading if you are not in a delicate place) is Dave Egger’s The Circle. Literally Google horror, and I think it should be banned so all the smart teenagers will figure out a way to read it.

      1. Do you mean it is literally Google horror? Or we should literally Google horror? I am confused on the meaning and verb/nouniness of Google horror.

        1. As I have read the book, I can tell you that The Circle is an all-encompassing pseudo-Google type company that slowly but surely takes away all personal freedom and privacy from the USA while making it seem like a fabulous idea.

          Example: What low voter turn out we have! What if we make voting compulsory by having a pop up that you must answer before we let you access your social media accounts? Or bank accounts, because, oh yeah, we’re in charge of that, too!

          Terrifying, but such a good book.

      2. Super late to the party, but I wanted to say thanks for recommending this book — I tore through it in a day and it was thoroughly unsettling! I really liked it.

  3. Hi LW!

    I also have a snoopy mum who lies about it. You seem pretty resigned and used to finding good excuses, so I suspect she’s always been a snoopy, lying mum. The Captain has excellent advice, and I would suggest employing it no matter how weird it may seem–and it may seem super weird if you had a terrible, enforced intimacy while living in her house due to intrusive behaviours meant to serve as parenting.

    “You and I aren’t that close” is a good one for a parent who knows perfectly well you aren’t that close and is taking advantage of social norms around mother/daughter relationships to behave poorly. And make no mistake–a parent who does things to their child that would be the height of impropriety if done to a random stranger who invited you over and then tells you about it as though you are the one who erred IS manipulating the social contract in order to keep you at a disadvantage. Maybe she’s feeling insecure because you escaped. Maybe she’s just one of those nosy people who looks in strangers’ medicine cabinets. Who knows? (Well, you do, but I don’t.) I am extremely suspicious of the “if you wouldn’t show it to me you shouldn’t own it” line of reasoning, as it is an infinitely petalled blossom of bad sequellae.

    Boundaries are awesome and you get to have and enforce them and if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to hang around watching it.

    1. “…it is an infinitely petalled blossom of bad sequellae”

      is amazingly-worded. I hope you don’t mind if I borrow that and add it to my verbal arsenal.

    2. Oh god that part! I swear, I am daydreaming about buying a four foot long dildo and leaving it out on the coffee table the next time that maternal unit visits.

  4. My mum refused to not unpack my things for me when I started at uni, even though I said I’d do it and asked her to leave everything alone. She went through my stuff, found my sex toys and then tried to pretend that she hadn’t by making a big deal about “oh! there’s that bag there that needs to be unpacked! I didn’t see it before now! I definitely have not looked in it and don’t know what’s in there!” She is the actual worst liar in the world.

    1. Ah, but then you have all the opportunity to make it just unbearable by going all Monty Pythonesque on her, and coming back with “oh! That bag? Oh! Goodness yes, that bag. Gosh, how fortuitous you have not looked!” etc etc….or I would. 🙂

      1. Followed by “Let’s see what’s in that bag” and watch her try to stop me. Pff.

    2. My mom helped me move some furniture in my bedroom once even though I told her over and over to stop and that I’d do it myself. She found my first vibrator – a vibrating toothbrush! – under the mattress. I’d forgotten it was there. I said something about “oh how’d that get there, that’s my old toothbrush from before the one I have now”*** and threw it away. No idea if she realized what it was, but after about a year of embarrassment I just got tired *of* being embarrassed and decided fuck it, if she’s going to push past me, she’s going to find out things she doesn’t want to find out. (And as a pretty conservative religious woman, BOY are there things she doesn’t want to find out…)

      Fast forward to a few years later, when I got my own place. I have refused to give my parents a key to my house. It took YEARS for her to get over this. She used EVERY EXCUSE IN THE BOOK when she found out that I had no intention of giving her that sort of power, from “everybody gives their mom the key to their house” to “what if you lock yourself out?” to “what if you hurt yourself and can’t get up?” to “what if I need somewhere to go when you’re at work?” I was unbelievably annoyed at how pushy she was about it, but I refused to let her see it was getting my back up. I just responded with logic. “Not everybody does, I’m not.” “I’ll call a locksmith.” “I have a cellphone, and the walls here are really thin so I’ll holler and bang on the walls until someone calls the cops on me for making too much noise.” “Then you can visit me at work and we’ll go to my place together.”

      Her AND my sister are *unbelievably* casual about my privacy. They both enter my bedroom without having asked. It bugs the shit out of me, and I try and herd them whenever I get here so they don’t have a chance. This last year, my mom snuck into my bedroom WHILE I WAS IN THE BATHROOM. I didn’t know until about a month later when she called and told me my Christmas presents were hidden in my room. Yes, they were away this last year and she wanted to give me presents to open for when they were gone. Kind of suspiciously convenient that she forgot that EVERY SINGLE PRESENT WAS WRAPPED so just HANDING THEM TO ME would have accomplished her goal. “Well I didn’t want you to open them early.” Well, I didn’t want you in my goddamn motherfucking bedroom either, but I guess now we both know where we stand. There was nothing hidden where she hid the presents, but if she tried a couple other places first, she basically found my entire stash. And y’know what? Not a tiny bit ashamed. Fuck it, I’m a big girl, and she’s a big girl, and if she doesn’t like what she finds, she can stop looking. So far, she hasn’t brought either the toothbrush or the Christmas incident up, so I’m left to assume that either she’s a) very gullible, or b) smart enough not to bring up a conversation where she’s going to lose, and lose big (I’m very sharp-tongued, and I get much sharper-tongued when someone tries to tell me what to do.)

      * Seriously, unexperienced girls, if you’re looking for a nice discreet ‘first vibrator’ that doesn’t cost the earth – HELL YES to one of those. Oral B was my own personal preference.

      ** Seriously, unexperienced girls, if you’re trying to hide your nice discreet ‘first vibrator’, remember where it’s hidden before you start moving furniture.

      *** TECHNICALLY TRUE because when I decided to try it as a vibrator, I just took off and threw away the head and cleaned it up before putting it to its new use. Once I discovered how well it worked, I felt like a true DIY wizard – AND I scored 3/3 on the reduce, reuse, recycle checklist!

      1. Some people respond to boundaries as a challenge. As in, “Clearly you set this boundary to determine how clever I am and how much I love you by how much effort I put into leaping over said boundary.” OR “Silly child, YOU don’t set boundaries for ME! I am all powerful!” It’s not about the boundary, it’s about perceived power. You sound like you are awesome at the whole “owning it” thing and not letting her shame Good for you. `

        1. OH. Because of how you phrased this, I just realized, I had a past friendship where the person thought this regarding themself. If they set a boundary, they would only think you loved them if you ignored their boundaries. Which uh AAAHHHHH nope nope nope. 😦 No wonder it was hard for me to deal with. I don’t want that to ever be easy for me to deal with.

          1. Ugh, I had a girlfriend who did this (we weren’t together for very long – this doesn’t exactly foster healthy, fulfilling relationships). The dynamic sucks, especially when you really care about the person, and I’m sorry for you and anyone else that has to deal with it.

      2. I laughed so much when I first saw a vibrator head for an electric toothbrush, glad to know that they work. (I’m just not a vibe person, so I was never tempted to try one myself)

  5. Euuuw. That she would (seemingly) want to find that stuff and then talk about it with you is super creepy. I totally get being angry.

    You can probably also feel free to call her out on that bullshit excuse. “Why does it matter to you if the drawers are smooth? You will never need to open them.”

    Throw the awkward and weird right back at her and make it clear that she isn’t being cute or funny, she’s being ridiculous and awful.

  6. My narcissistic parents pulled this shittio with my sisters for decades: since we help you financially, we have the right to judge your personal decisions; but I thought we were sooooo close???? Finally, after the narcissism and controlling behavior escalated to verbal and then physical abuse, my sister pulled the plug and severed herself and her children from my parents.

    If you nip this shittio in the bud sooner rather than later, there is the chance of having an ongoing tolerable relationship. But if not, people like this will just escalate and escalate and escalate, without limit.

    1. ^^^This. I wrote a longer comment above, but I have had a similar experience with my mother, which escalated the abuse cycle when I unwillingly became financially entangled with her.

      You do NOT want to encourage a parental attitude of “I bought you, and now I *own* you.”

    2. …I like this “shittio.” How are you pronouncing it? Is the emphasis on the second syllable? Is it like, shi-TEE-yo?

      Inquiring minds want to know.

  7. So this part, right here –> “she thinks if I I don’t want her to know I have something, I shouldn’t own it”? Is giving me the screaming skin-crawlies, because it’s exactly the type of logic my narcissistic, boundary-challenged mother applies when she snoops in my house (and before that, my apartment, and before that, my personal mail addressed to the house where I lived with her, etc., etc.), and, at least in my mom’s case, it’s indicative of a much worse problem than sheer nosiness – she actually thinks she’s entitled to know EVERY. SINGLE. THING. about me, because, as near as I can figure, she doesn’t actually perceive me as a separate human being at all, but more of an extension of her own ego, or something.

    IF any of this rings a bell, and IF you’re feeling like perhaps this might be a description that sorta-kinda fits your mother too, here’s my recommendation: Draw a boundary, draw it hard, and draw it now. The Captain’s scripts for parents-who-are-jerks are good, but I might even leave out the “not that close” explanation – with my mom, at least, that would give her something to argue with/cry/guilt me about. “What do you mean we’re not that close?! You’re my ONLY daughter WHAT HAVE I EVER DONE TO YOU?!!!? WAAAAAAHHH” For me, at least, setting boundaries goes a lot more smoothly when I state the boundary in the moment, without further explanation. Example:
    “Can I come up to your apartment?” – Nope, I’ll meet you downstairs today.
    “Why won’t you let me into your apartment anymore?” – Because I’m meeting you downstairs today.
    “But I want to see your apartment! What are you hiiiiiiiiding from me?!” – Nothing, I’m just meeting you downstairs today.
    “Well fine, then, I guess you don’t love me/trust me/whatever.” – Mom, all I’m doing is meeting you downstairs today.

    Basically, you’re a broken record of “this is how the particular event that is currently happening is going to go.” It’s admittedly not as emotionally satisfying, in the moment, as ripping into her for being nosy and boundary-challenged, but, at least with my particular breed of mom, it’s a lot more successful in managing mom relations.

    1. The Captain’s scripts for parents-who-are-jerks are good, but I might even leave out the “not that close” explanation – with my mom, at least, that would give her something to argue with/cry/guilt me about. “What do you mean we’re not that close?! You’re my ONLY daughter WHAT HAVE I EVER DONE TO YOU?!!!? WAAAAAAHHH”

      Seconded. I love the idea of dropping the Captain’s “not that close” comment, but in reality? It would release the Feelings Kraken and I’d have to deal with “What do you MEAN we’re not that close?!? How could you SAY such a thing? You never loved me, you’re so ungrateful, and after everything I’ve done for you, WAAAAAAAAAHHH!!” for the rest of the day/month/lifetime. If your mother’s anything like mine, I recommend going there only if you’re ready and willing to face down the Feelings Kraken. If not (and, really, who wants to deal with that?) Mellifluous Dissent’s scripts are great. See also, in response to the inevitable “But whyyyyyyyyyyyy”:
      – “Because I don’t feel like it”
      – “Because I said so” (bonus points if it’s something she said to you all the time as a child)
      – “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” (you have to be careful to pull this one off as a joke with a smile and laugh, but it’s worked well for me)

      1. Yeah. I think if I tried that line (oh how I want to use that line) it would lead to months and months of her pushing to become close. And it would become about my failures because we could be close if only I did whatever thing she wants me to do. And sulking. And calling in other people to pressure me. Possibly things like, “well I didn’t tell you about family event because WE’RE NOT THAT CLOSE after all. I told everyone you didn’t care enough to come.” Just… exhausting.

      2. God, the love test. I nuked it one day by stubbornly refusing to placate her by saying “No mom, I love you” again and again while she makes you feel like shit and at the same time, revel in the glory of your guilt.

        I was in my mid teens and I just kept quiet. She kept shouting and getting hysterical, going ” Look – she does not love us!!!” in a loud, triumphant voice. I replied back “Why do you keep asking if you already know the answer?” and that shut her up.

        Looking back, thats when I stopped loving her.

        1. The problem with repeatedly telling someone they don’t love you is that there is a good chance you’ll eventually convince them that you’re right.

          Good for you for sticking up for yourself.

        2. “If you love someone, set them free,” has the corollary, “If you pressure someone continually to love you back, you will crush their love for you into nothingness.”

        3. I had a similar experience with my dad trying to make me say both “I love you” and (in response to his periodic apologies for abusing me) “it’s okay,” also answered with silence and the occasional grunted “yeah.” I knew it upset him but it never upset him enough to break the good, penitent father act and skip straight to the active abuse part, so it was a small victory.

        4. The amount of times I had a meltdown as a teen because of the Love Test is just ridiculous. Every lecture circled back around to how I obviously didn’t love my family and I was a terrible daughter and my brothers think I don’t love them and did I know my mother sometimes cries over having such a horrid, loveless daughter who is so cruel?

          If I never have to live that again, I would be more than happy. Those lectures are amongst my most vivid memories of my teen years, and while I have a better relationship with my parent’s now, I still try to stay at arm’s length because nope. Not doing that shit ever again.

          And LW, please don’t follow the Captain’s scripts exactly if you think that’s what the response will be. You know better than the rest of us what your mom’s reaction would be. The Love Test is a nightmare and there are other ways to enforce the boundary without opening yourself up for that extreme nastiness. Maybe try something like “I don’t want to talk about this with you.” if she keeps trying to talk about what she found when you try to enforce boundaries. Just an endless loop of “Mom, I don’t want to talk about my sex toys/sex life with you.” It’s not a perfect solution, she’ll start asking why and probably act hurt but it’s still 100% better than having to run the gauntlet of “You don’t loovvee meee!!”

        5. Mine used to tell me how bad her childhood was and cry at me until I (who am rather soft-hearted, and who also cries when I’m embarrassed or angry) would start to cry too, at which point she would conclude she’d won and start trying to grind me down completely.

          I remember the very hour when I realized that she wasn’t crying, she was crying AT me. I stared at her, expressionless, while she boo-hoo-hoo-ed at me, and then said “Are you done? I’m tired and I have somewhere to be.” I got in my car and left.

          1. Internet high-fives for you! My mom also does the crying AT people thing – it is so freakin’ spooky once you realize it’s happening.

          2. Maybe medium fives, since I was 18 when I realized it and was able to just leave. I don’t get the crying at thing, as it’s so fake. It’s basically just forcing water out of your eyes and saying “boo hoo hoo” repeatedly while sneaking looks at the other person to see if they’re upset yet.

      3. I think the thing that might make it work with Captain’s script is that “you and I aren’t that close” isn’t a lonely phrase, it’s paired with such concepts as dildo-sharing, etc. If I needed to break out such a nuclear option, the only way of doing it, to my mind, would be when you put it with a suggested action that is really, REALLY hard for them to argue for. (“What do you mean you don’t want to see my sex toys? Of course we’re that close!”)

        But then, it’s playing a tricky game, and still might not be worth the satisfaction.

        1. I can’t stop daydreaming about having a plethora of gag-dildos on the coffee table set up nice and neat for the next time that Mom comes over. I’m talking four foot long dongs covered in glitter and hello kitty vibrators. “Here, this way you don’t have to snoop.”

          And letting it be awkward.

          1. I feel like this needs to be a scene in a book or a movie or something. I’d definitely pay to see it.

          2. @MellifluousDissent – it’s not the same thing, but there’s a great-and-creepy scene in the very cheesy LGBT rom com ‘Better Than Chocolate’ where a mother is visiting her daughter whilst the daughter is house-sitting for a sex ed instructor whose house uses dildoes as installation art and her mum is clueless and then buys a clue in the form of using someone else’s vibe D: / 😀

      4. I can imagine how that would go down with my mother.

        Her: You WILL do this thing!
        Me: Sorry, no I won’t because I’m not comfortable with that/because I don’t want to this time/because I said so.
        Her: How DARE you talk to me like that! I AM YOUR MOTHER!!! YOU DO WHAT I SAY!!!! RAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! [almighty explosion and possible attempt at physical violence]

        Funnily enough, I think “we’re not that close” might actually elicit nothing worse than a puzzled “what do you mean not that close – I’m your mother!” to which I’d respond “I just mean we don’t have that sort of relationship. If we want one like that then we can work on it if you want” knowing full well that she’ll never be prepared to do that but might be placated by the idea that I’ve apparently offered to give her something she wants.

        So yeah. Horses for courses, I guess.

    2. Yes, this. With an added side of “What the shit, Cyril?” from my inner Sterling Archer.

      See, I grew up with a narcissist mom who has no concept of boundary. For her, snooping in my private drawer would be fine and dandy because she sees me as an extension of her. So I have something called the “Would my SO’s family do X?” test. (Since they’re all normal and reasonable people, quirks be damned.)

      Would my SO’s family comment, if they found something private in a drawer of mine? Nope. They wouldn’t go snooping through my drawers. Reasonable people don’t. If, for some reason, they saw something they shouldn’t, I’d be the last one to ever hear of it, if it was mentioned at all.

      Back to people like my mom: They have the emotional maturity of a toddler. So the way to deal with them is like a toddler. Don’t justify, argue, defend, or escalate. They want to cause a scene. Don’t give it to them. The boundary isn’t a comment on them (even though it might be). It just is.

    3. Depending on the relationship, “We’re not THAT close” could be said in a joking manner to keep things light while still defining a boundary.

        1. I actually HAVE shared sex toy recs with both my mom and my sister, and NEITHER of them would ever, EVER go through my drawers.

          (With my sister/best friend, it’s more of a “this is great, you need one”. With my mom it was a “what do you MEAN you have never had a vibrator omg here is the address to Venus Envy and the Come As You Are website, this can be fixed”… Which is what happens when you drink too many margaritas and have very little shame.)

      1. I was definitely thinking about it terms of joking/sarcasm as well, I have used it in a lighthearted way to get my MIL to stop trying to bond with me over drinks and sex-talk like we’re some sort of low-rent Sex and the City.

        Added bonus of knowing that we really aren’t close at all and I get to say that out loud.

    4. “as near as I can figure, she doesn’t actually perceive me as a separate human being at all, but more of an extension of her own ego, or something.”

      This was exactly my mother’s delusion, except it manifested in a very different way: she assumed that since I was an extension of her, she already knew absolutely everything about me, so there was no need to listen to or pay attention to the person I actually AM. Yet she insisted we were super close and probably soul mates and her giving birth to me justified HER existence.

      It’s because of her that really saccharine mother-daughter sayings, knick-knacks, and Hallmark cards creep me out.

      1. Are you me? This sounds exactly like my mom.
        The CA comment space has helped me so much. Knowing I’m not the only one who thinks that kind of behavoir is weird/wrong is very validating!

      2. “It’s because of her that really saccharine mother-daughter sayings, knick-knacks, and Hallmark cards creep me out”
        Yes. This. throwing out the “My Daughter But Also My Friend” candle holder when I moved was CATHARTIC **shudder**

      3. Oh yes! Same behavior on my mother’s part, same reaction on my part. There was a time in my late 20s where she would send me birthday cards about how we were best friends….when I was telling her no more about my life than the weather and that I was still alive. Fortunately, she gave up on that after a few years, but she always switches to something new. The latest (besides not being able to stay in a hotel for visits…for snooping potential at my place, of course) is that she justifies her behavior as “just something moms do”. Since I am not a mother, that response sorta ends the talk. So far, I’ve bitten my tongue instead of saying “and that’s why I’m not a mom”.

      4. Are you me?

        My Mum did this and then was absolutely heart-broken and angry when age 18, I turned round and told everyone that actually I’m a son, not a daughter and I’m not atheist and I’m vegetarian. And therefore nothing like her at all.

    5. YES. This. I set my first hard boundary with my own mother just a couple days ago. She had left a comment on my facebook cheering for a state court decision that she knows upsets me (gay marriage ban) but feels shouldn’t upset me (because I’m not gay). I spent days raging to myself over this simple little “yay” and finally decided that she was never going to change, it wasn’t worth it. When she finally emailed me, it was to chide me for “cutting her out of my life” for voicing her opinion, and to tell me she would always love me but would always voice her opinion.

      I’ve been reading this site for a long time, so I was able to be pretty clear in the email I sent back. I told her that what she had done was bullying, not voicing an opinion, that it was the latest in a long line of boundary-crossing, and that I would need three things from her in the future for further communication: An apology, a promise to restrain herself, and never again trying to make me feel stupid for my reaction to HER bad behavior. I’m really super proud. It’s a bit more complex than the broken record you’re discussing, but not by much. I never have to talk to her again unless she apologizes, and I never have to fight with her for respect! It’s like magic, this whole “boundary” thing. I don’t know why it took me till age 35 to figure out that I CAN DO THIS! 😀

      1. I’m so very sorry that you had to set that boundary, but I’m very glad you found that you were able to do so when necessary!

      2. Hanging around the CA community, too, helped me when it came to boundary setting time with my mother. The result was actually that, no, my mother couldn’t respect boundaries and limits (the way she tried to maneuver around them was something to behold, but I made it clear I was having none of it) and I don’t have contact with her anymore. (I left her with a guideline of “what you need to do for us to ever speak again”; you can probably imagine how well she’s followed it.) But I went into it prepared to accept that outcome and it feels GREAT- because I feel confident that I tried to set parameters for a healthy relationship, but there really was no saving the Titanic. I hope that no matter how your mother decides to act, you get that same awesome sense of freedom. 🙂

  8. “You and I aren’t that close” is such an amazing ninja move. I love that so much of her advise involves pointing out the truths that crappy people (or people doing crappy things) are hoping the more polite person will ignore.

  9. My grandmother used to come to my parents house and blatantly open doors and drawers and cupboards, sift through mail and comment, usually negatively, on everything from my mother’s housekeeping to my manners to how hard my father worked, to the contents of bank statements she found.

    Till one Thanksgiving, my mother locked all the bedroom doors, and when grandma got nasty about it, my father told his mother to leave. After that, my grandfather was always welcome, and my grandmother was not ever welcome. If she “dropped in” whoever was home went out the back door. My grandfather didn’t come by much, but once in awhile. Grandma stopped trying but brought it up every time we saw her.

    After I bought my own house, my grandmother was surprised to find out the same policy was in effect. So she paid for replacing the kitchen floor, assuming that would force me to let her in. It didn’t. I met her at the door with a check.

    You may never be able to explain this to your mother so she doesn’t go through your things, but that doesn’t mean you have to allow her to ever be in a position where she can.

    1. Wow! What a great story! Good on your dad for standing by his wife, and good on you for keeping it up!

  10. Soooo, there’s a story that I feel like I have to tell here, the moral of which I will tell you up front: the Captain’s scripts here are so. much. better. than continuing to try and play stuff like this off, and I wish I had just ripped that band-aid off years ago.

    Ten years ago, to be precise, which is when this story takes place (and when I was precisely the age that you are now).

    So I had just graduated college, and just come out as queer to my mother, who at the time had the only roof I could live under before I decamped to grad school. She also had – and has – pretty much no idea what a boundary is, especially when the boundary in question is mine. Since medicinal orgasms were the only way I was going to survive the summer, I needed a vibrator that would be discreet enough that she wouldn’t think anything of it, since she would be guaranteed to go through my luggage in search of incriminating evidence of some sort.

    I found one called the “Devil Duck” – it was cute, it was sassy, it had a beak and tail and horns that provided all sorts of interesting varieties of sensation … and it looked like a rubber duckie. This was guaranteed to make bathtime lots of fun . . . and how could my mom object?

    Everything went well until the last day of break, when I was packing up to leave for school. My mom, going through my luggage “in case [I] packed wrong,” found the duck. Her immediate comment: “Oh, this is cute! What is it?”

    I gulped. “It’s a rubber duckie. I bought it before I left Boston.” She smiled and patted it on its little devil-head.

    And then she dropped it. And as it hit the corner of the bathroom counter, it started to buzz.

    My mom frowned. “What’s it doing?”

    I had to think fast, or my cover was blown and I could just as easily have bought something pink, sparkly, and phallic-rabbit-shaped and not worried about discretion at all.

    “Weeeelllll, the neat thing about the duckie is, it’s also a massager.” That is what the package says, you know: vibrating personal massager.

    My mom’s eyes lit up. We come from a very pro-massage family, and I learned from a very young age how to give good back and shoulder rubs using a variety of implements. (I also suspect, in hindsight, that she was not above using wildly implausible pretexts to call my bluffs.) In any case, I maybe should have known that when I told my mom I owned a vibrating personal massager, the very next thing out of her mouth would be:

    “Will you give me a shoulder rub?”

    I took a deep breath. Again, the key thing here was to keep my cool: this wasn’t a mind-blowingly naughty sex toy deceptively disguised to pass under my mom’s radar … it was just a massager. Just a … vibrating personal massager. I could hardly say no.

    Soooo, I said yes.

    And after I had finished rubbing my vibrator all up and down my mother’s back and shoulders, all she could say was:

    “Mmmm… that felt good!”

    Now, fast forward ten years and all kinds of other privacy invasions, and she and I barely speak and occupy the same space a grand maximum of once a year, unless I can avoid even that. I guess it’s never too late for the “we’re just not that close” line, but o! do I wish I had deployed it much much earlier.

    1. After that story… could you actually deploy the “we’re not that close” line? Maybe you should include “anymore” at the end.

      Thank you for that story. It makes me feel much better about the time as a teen that my mother plucked a pube off from where it had gotten stuck in my teeth.

    2. Oh my God. That story is making me clench my thighs in vicarious horror. That could not have been a good moment for you.

      1. Not my finest hour, no. Though, on the plus side… any time I need to explain what I mean by “my mom is not actually a normal person” and don’t want to trot out the just-horrifying-not-even-funny stuff, this does the trick.

  11. if I I don’t want her to know I have something, I shouldn’t own it

    Saddle up the nopetopus. What you own is not her business. I live with my parents. Things we need to know the others own: guns, knives, poisons, and other things that cause bodily harm especially if my seven year old who thinks the word “no” is a challenge finds it. If kid finds my vibrator and runs to one of my parents with it, it will be embarrassing but no one will be harmed for it. In your own home there is even less disclosure required. Anything not on display* isn’t her business at all. Personally if you do let her back in your home I would slap snarky sticky notes on things in closets and drawers calling her out on the snooping. I get the flavor she would find that a challenge, though. 😦

    *Even then the extent of it being her business is its existence, not necessarily its content or function. My tablet being out doesn’t entitle my mother to poke through my files, a desk in a living room doesn’t mean its contents are fair game for anyone who enters your home.

  12. Oh. Eww.

    As a parent whose minor children are still IN THE HOUSE…that’s just over the line. The only reason I ever go through my kids’ stuff is if there is a weird smell wafting from that direction. And I at least try to give them a chance to dig it out for themselves before I try it.

    I think the Captain’s scripts are awesome. You know better than we do how reasonable, or un-, your mother will be, so pick the one you think she’s most likely to respond to. I’m hoping, based on her reaction, that her violations are more thoughtless than deliberate, and if that’s the case then the softer scripts will probably suffice, and then she’ll know better next time. I hope.

    1. ^^^So much this. My oldest is 13 and I’ve tried to respect his privacy as much as is humanly possible. It actually makes certain conversations a bit comical, as I try to be delicate while also making sure that he has the information that is necessary for a 13 year old boy to have that he does not want to hear from his mother. But he has his privacy in his room and I never go in there without knocking first and I never ever go in there when he’s not home unless it’s just to open the window and air out the place because 13 year old boys stink.

  13. I’m angry and cringing vicariously. While my mom does respect boundaries, ‘if you’re embarrassed about it , you shouldn’t own it’ sounds like something she would say. (The expectation in our family is thou shalt get damn good at hiding anything you don’t want your mother to know). This whole thing sounds like a case of a mother who refuses to accept that her daughter is an adult person who is separate from her.

    1. I don’t think my mom ever snooped through my stuff, but I know she did with my sister (suspecting ~drugs~ and such). My sister got very good at hiding things – anything she did not want found, she would hide inside of other things, like this dancing singing rabbit (monster) with a velcro back in our basement. I know I never looked twice at the thing! My sister would often bring home dirty laundry on break so she did not have to go to a coin wash when she was in college, so my mom used that as an excuse to go through her bags, even if my sister said she would wash her clothes herself. (So double points for snooping and then complaining about having to do laundry for someone who asked you not to.)

  14. And now I wonder…where do all these nosy parents find the time to do their snooping? Do they not work outside the home? Do they have no hobbies? No friends? No other chores they could turn their attention to? I find myself baffled.

      1. As a verging-on-adolescent Drewling, I was still wearing tighty whities. Occasionally, they would become stained in that way that almost-teenage boys will stain their drawers in the course of discovering themselves.

        Picking me up from school one day, with my little sister already in the car, my mom turned left instead of right. When I asked where we were going, she said, “We’re going to buy you some new underwear — You Know Why.” My younger sibling did not Know Why, and asked a lot of questions; I sat in the front seat and glowed in the infrared.

        That night, I made her show me how to work the washer and dryer and give me tips on proper washing of clothes (not mixing colors and whites, etc.)…which may have been her plan all along, now that I think of it. Mom’s devious.

    1. My mom hasn’t worked in about 10 years now and no, she pretty much has zero hobbies. Or at least, she didn’t get any hobbies until both of her kids didn’t want to BE her hobby anymore. She reads (a little), she watches TV (a lot), occasionally she takes a drive with her car club.

    2. It’s amazing how they find the time. My mother works long hours and is very busy. But yet, it only takes 5 minutes to completely violate someone’s boundaries. It’s amazing how much snooping and weirdness and refusal to accept someone else’s preferences you can fit into a short visit. :-/

  15. The Captain’s scripts are excellent. I would perhaps tweak the advice to recommend that not having your mom in your space for awhile as something you should definitely do rather than an option. Use the scripts too if you want to as well, but I think you’ll benefit from at least a period of time where you don’t need to watch her like a hawk or worry about what other things you wouldn’t want her to see.

    Also, if you decide to give yourself permission to not invite her into your space for the foreseeable future and maybe permanently, that’s okay too.

  16. Good god, it’s not that big of a deal! Laugh it off, say something snarky about it, and move on. If anything, it’s a GOOD thing she’s still snooping through your drawers – it means she still cares about you and she still worries about you and your life. To moms, 21 is still a child, and a child that is still needed to be looked after. When you’re that age, big mistakes can really tumble into huge mistakes, but if there’s a caring adult around to help guide you through this phase, it can really change the outcome. What if she was snooping and found heroin? She’d probably get you help, take care of you the best she could, and you’d have such a better chance of a good outcome. But what if she was only peripherally involved in your life? That heroin could lead you down a very different path. So, please, let it go, and try to see it for what it is – a mom who cares and wants you to be ok. I promise that once she’s sure you’re going to make it through your early 20s ok, she’ll stop snooping 🙂 This is your mom, not a repairman or a stranger. The rules regarding snooping are very different if someone has given birth to you. Plus, maybe you’ve given her a reason that she feels the need to check up on you? Ask her – is she worried about you? Is she trying to find out if something’s wrong? But you won’t talk to her?

    1. “I promise that once she’s sure you’re going to make it through your early 20s ok, she’ll stop snooping.”

      If only this were actually true!

      My mom “cared enough” about me to read my diary and punish me for things that were in it, monitor how long my prayers were, police every morsel of food, listen in on my phone conversations, use an intercom to listen to me while I was alone in my room, forbade me to shut my bedroom door, regularly tossed my room like a prison cell looking for…what? I don’t know. She insisted on doing my laundry even when I came home from college, presumably so she could quietly disappear all underwear and bras that weren’t white cotton.

      I never did drugs or got pregnant.
      Her lack of respect for me did totally destroy our relationship for years, though, so, good luck with your awesome parenting.

      1. +1… as a 31-year-old whose mother tried to get my boss to tell her where I was staying on my honeymoon because I wasn’t answering my cell phone from overseas and she wanted to call the hotel so I’d have to talk to her.

        No heroin here, either, but a fair amount of self-destructive behavior in my 20’s that was *directly* related to the lack of control over my life that her… highly-hands-on parenting techniques… made me feel.

        1. Holy fuck, I hope your boss took the opportunity to point out to her that that was seriously weird and disturbing behaviour. (Although, to be fair, I think most people would be so stunned by that request they’d let the calling-person-out opportunity blow straight past them.)

          1. My boss, bless him, is pretty unflappable (and had also seen my mother in action at the wedding, so he understood a bit of the background). From what I understand, he just calmly repeated “She didn’t share that information with me; it’s none of my business where she goes when she’s not at work.”

      2. +1. The lack of boundaries and acknowledgement of me as an adult (and expecting me to report where I was at 30+ years old) are two very big reasons why I have no contact with my mom anymore.

        1. Ditto.
          Also, things my mom did not find when she snooped through my things: drugs, unlawfully obtained goods, proof of a child spiraling into a Reefer Madness-style hellscape.
          Things she did find: my anger and resentment over having my privacy violated and her telling me, repeatedly, that she thought I was lying when I wasn’t, and, years later, a child who is willing to have no relationship with her if the only other option is an abusive relationship.

          1. The insistence that you’re lying, when you’re telling the truth — oh, it’s so fucking awful. And a lot of the time, it’s trying to prove a negative, so you can’t even provide positive proof.

            I remember getting into a weeping, screaming fight with my parents (one of the few times that I completely lost it with them, because I wasn’t much of the “scream right back” type), because I had come home from school with reddened eyes, and my mother concluded that because of this, I was ON DRUGS.

            The moment my father walked into the door, she started in with the “OUR DAUGHTER IS ON DRUGS!”, so of course they were both coming down on me like a ton of bricks.

            I furiously offered to be taken to the ER and have any drug test they wanted run on me — my mother said that I probably just knew some clever way to get around them (!!!), so it made more sense to scream at me in tandem, rather than actually checking for any kind of evidence that they weren’t pulling the accusations out of their ass.

            For the record, (a) my eyes were red because I’d been crying, and I hadn’t wanted to tell them why (teenage heartbreak issues), and (b) I was straight-edge all through high school and college, still only drink in extremely occasional moderation, have never smoked, and have NEVER tried any form of recreational drugs in my life.

            But, you know. Reefer Madness, and all that. ;P

          2. (replying to ashbet): God, yeah – it’s gaslighting, for fuck’s sake. As in, recognised form of abuse. I am so fucking angry with your parents after reading that.

      3. Someday I’ll write a book called The Sisterhood of the Traveling Purity Ring.

        Inside it will be all the heartfelt cards and ‘I just had the best date!’ texts and transcripts of phone calls asking for advice on what to wear to a first interview that boundary-shredding parents never got.

        Because it turns out that breaking your child’s spirit to protect their immortal soul will simply have to be its own reward.

        1. Oh my gosh, I feel your comment so hard.

          It’s a lot more house trained, but my rage-a-saurus used to start making itself known when I saw other people’s parents being nice normal people.
          “My mum drove me to my job interview” “rrrrrraarrrrrgh”
          “My mum saw that I didn’t have much in the way of nice clothes due to being a student and went shopping with me” “RRRARRRRGH”
          “I had a tough recovery from wisdom teeth removal surgery and I don’t know what I would have done without my parent’s help.” “WHARRRBGLGHLLARRRBL”

      4. Yup. 37. She hasn’t stopped. The key difference here between quietly looking for evidence of something terrible that a mother might do because she’s not quite convinced her 21 year old “baby” is an adult and a sign of feral dodginess is that when she found sex toys she *raised it as a topic of conversation* and then said that she should by default know about everything her adult child owns, and that the aforementioned child shouldn’t own anything she doesn’t want to share with mum. Holy boundary swamping horror Batman!

        Like I can kind of buy a mum quietly opening her 21 year old’s drawer, then quietly closing it again after seeing *sex toys* and thinking – gah! My child is an adult now! I feel weird and hinky going through her things like she’s 4 years old and I’m worried there are dead lizards in there! And then never mentioning it again except maybe to other mums with adult children one day over wine in that “oh this happened to me and I feel so weird” kind of way. That is not what happened. Instead she shoved it in her daughter’s face and made it super clear that she didn’t think her daughter was allowed to feel discomfort. Just. Ew. My skin is crawling.

        1. YES THIS.

          My parents cleaned up my apartment for me when they were staying with me during a really difficult time. They quite likely found my sex toys and other things that parents would rather just not think about their children having and vice versa, since it’s not like they’re actually hidden. But if they did, they didn’t say a word about it; it was probably moderately embarrassing for them and I’m so glad they were able to be grownups about it.

          1. I once found my mom’s sex toys while cleaning up the house for mother’s day. I never brought it up, because it wasn’t even a thing. And they all lived happily ever after.

    2. NO. No no no.

      It’s one thing to worry about your kids. I’m going to worry about mine until the day I die.

      But it’s NOT OK to destroy their trust and respect for me by digging through their stuff and with no respect for their autonomy. That gives them no respect for their own choices.

      1. Yeah, that’s the big thing, isn’t it, and why statements like that just make me want to slap people. It’s one thing if you had a happy childhood and managed to grow to adulthood with nothing but trust for your parents. That’s great! Really, it’s wonderful!

        But the way people, in this modern freaking age, remain ignorant of the fact that NOT EVERYBODY HAS THAT just makes me sick. The way they always default to the “oh, your mother loves you and Moooooother knows best!” when somebody talks about a problem with a parent is just infuriating. Like, how can you have so little empathy? How can you have so little awareness. There was a whole freaking Disney movie about this, for pity’s sake, it’s not like it’s some big secret that some people, even if they have pushed a tiny human out of their vagina, and even if they believe that they’re doing what’s best for their sprog, are still legitimately awful parents, and that their kids have every right to feel upset and violated and not to want to be around their parents anymore.

        1. No movie has ever changed my life quite like Tangled has. A++ recommend for anyone who’s ever dealt with boundary pushing and constant infantilization from parents.

          1. I never in my life imagined I would be triggered by a Disney movie, but Tangled hit my controlling mother buttons SO HARD. That scene where Rapunzel is running around screaming “I’m free!” one minute and sobbing about how she’s a terrible daughter the next? That was exactly what I went through when I finally broke and ran at age 30. I know that scene was probably meant to be humorous, but it was also accurate.

    3. ‘To moms, 21 is still a child, and a child that is still needed to be looked after.’

      I can promise you, if you said that to my mum (three kids – two in their thirties and me in my mid-twenties) she would first laugh in your face and then tell you to grow up.

      It wouldn’t be a ‘good thing’ by any stretch of the imagination for a parent to be so ‘worried’ about their kid that they were still snooping through their drawers at 21. That is not a good situation, even if that worry was genuine rather than an excuse.

      What would be a good situation is if they were secure enough in their evaluation of their own parenting that they trusted their children to have their shit together. THAT’s what good looks like.

      Miraculously, none of the three of us turned to heroin, despite our parents never feeling the need to rifle through our stuff.

      1. My mother would also laugh herself sick at that comment.

        She raised us to be functional adults, and as it turns out, that was both good for us AND good for her relationships with us.

        It has nothing to do with whether or not we’re still her babies (we are), and everything to do with respect for us as human beings.

      2. My mom would do her very best disapproving face. She raised us to be adults that had parents who respected, trusted, and believed in us, and so if we had problems, we actually went to them before things snowballed into *doing heroin*.

      3. ‘To moms, 21 is still a child, and a child that is still needed to be looked after.’

        To this day, the thing that my still intermittently abusive father says that disturbs me the most is “You’ll always be my little girl.” As in, cold sweat and nausea disturbing.

        I am almost 40, for fuck’s sake. Coming from someone who belittled me, infantilized me, and undercut my sense of competence at every opportunity, that doesn’t sound like an expression of care. It sounds like “You will not be safe from me messing with your mind until I am dead, and I will haunt you after that, if I can figure out how.” It is a big part of why I am contemplating going no-contact with him. (If only doing so wouldn’t entail losing contact with people I *am* still invested in …)

    4. Um, FUCK NO. I am 34, and when I was 21, my mother repeatedly violated my privacy. Guess what? She still does! And feels entitled to confront me about anything that she doesn’t like (morally, politically, religiously, etc.). I have made mistakes. I have had mental illness episodes and hard times. My mom “found” things when I was in my early 20s that indicated these problems. Her suggestion? I quit school and live at home with her where she could take care of me. Trust me, this was not a good idea. Now, she pretends she never found those things/said those things and acts innocently confused when I won’t let her in my apartment alone. I won’t even leave the room she is in while she is there. Even if I have to pee.

      Her snooping, her “amnesia”, her attempts to isolate me with her, these are forms of abuse and gaslighting. Not every mother has good intentions and I wouldn’t give one fucking shit if she still saw me as a child at 21. She still sees me as a child now at 34! For her, her rights never end, and mine never begin.

      1. For her, her rights never end, and mine never begin.

        Yes, thank you. You put it into words perfectly.

      2. You too huh? But hey, apparently abuse and violation of boundaries is totes OK if said abuser contributed DNA.

        1. In my case I am adopted and that’s a whole other problem with boundaries for her. She’s ashamed of it, so I am never allowed to speak of it or tell anyone. If she finds out I have, then I have “shamed” the family. I once asked her why she thought I was something to be ashamed of and got a nice slap to the face.

          Also, because I am not really “hers” as she puts it, she constantly accuses me of not loving her enough. The snooping and the monitoring I think are directly related to her attempts to make me “hers.”

          1. Argh sorry if that felt like an erasure. I can only imagine the manipulation that can come from adoptive parents, because I only dealt with the whole “I carried you and birthed you, so I own you” crap. I am so sorry that you’ve been made to feel such shame and pain over choices she made. In common with my mother, she seems to like laying down inescapable traps, and hidden tests of ‘loyalty’ that are impossible to pass. I’m sorry you were treated like that.

            My 6am brain did actually tell me to add a disclaimer about non-genetic parents, but I was distracted by the prospect of breakfast.

          2. Ugh, @NOLAroll, that really sucks, in so many ways, not the least of which is being the unconsenting scapegoat of shame for your mother. *Jedi hugs.*

          3. Big Pink Box, no worries! I just consider her thing another version of what you are talking about, namely the “ownership” of your kids for one reason or another. “I gave birth to you/I gave you a home” seem very close in this case.

            Thanks moseyonby, I appreciate it.

          4. Thank you for this comment. I’m adopted too, and your last sentence is exactly how it feels, for me. Although, in my case, one positive thing she did was to always tell me that “real” parents are those who take care of the child, not the ones that procreated. But in the end, her actions were quite in contradion with that statement, seeing as how she mostly reserved the intrusive and sabotaging treatments to me and not my 3 siblings, her biological children.

            To the point of telling me that I was an “expensive child” because of lawyers fees and such that adoption created (even though she almost never bought new things for me, I got the old stuff from the others, and she got financial bonuses from the government, here they give money to foster homes), so I would get a smaller share on my parent’s will. And I should still be grateful, even though the others don’t have money problems because they don’t have a chronic illness, because she did all that for me, and who knows what would’ve happened to the poor, sick baby I was if it wasn’t for her! And also, she’s my *mother*, so I should love her inconditionally and whatever she decides is what is best for me, right?

            Oh, the joys of being an “illegetimate child”. I’m planning to adopt, and that child is going to be loved for real.

          5. Oops, by “last sentence”, I meant : The snooping and the monitoring I think are directly related to her attempts to make me “hers.”

      3. Are you me as well?

        My Mum violated my privacy – up to and including opening and reading *my* bank statements and phone bills, joining online forums I was in to see what I said, reading emails I sent to my siblings and quizzing them and others about whether I’d said anything to them – and found that I was very mentally ill. And then started suggesting I quit Uni and come home. “Quit [that thing you are doing with your life] and come home so I can look after you!!!” Not. Going. To. Happen.

        1. For real?! Mine did the exact same thing. All the time I was at uni she pressurised me to quit and come “home” (who was she kidding – her house was never a home to me). I’ve now had that degree for 12 years and I’ve yet to hear an acknowledgement or a well done for being the first person in the family to get one. Two now, in fact.

          I was actually thinking about this yesterday. I’d always thought this behaviour had been because she saw me as an extension of herself and/or wanted to turn me into a replica of herself, so hated (and still hates) me doing anything with my life that she didn’t do. But now I wonder if in fact she didn’t feel threatened by me gaining a bit of power through my education. She’s very focused on power and gets really angry when I assert myself.

          Oh yeah, and I just saw your other comment. That too, my goodness! When I was in my teens I told my mother I was an atheist. She said “Well you’ve made me very sad to know that MY daughter is going to hell.” And then just stared expectantly at me, as if thinking I’d say something like “Gosh, sorry, I failed to consider your feelings when figuring out my beliefs! Of course I can’t really be an atheist because that would be selfish. My religious identity is all about you after all, and I forgot that!” Note that my dad is an atheist, they’ve been together 40-something years and she has no issues with that at all. Because he isn’t an extension of her.

          Similarly, when I was 19 I told her I was bisexual. Her response was basically “no you’re not, don’t be so ridiculous” plus anger that I’d say something so DISGUSTING in a clear attempt at provoking her into feeling hurt. Obviously she knows more about my sexuality than I do, because I am an extension of her. I’m now 33 and haven’t bothered mentioning it to her since. She is perfectly happy thinking I’m totally straight.

    5. “The rules regarding snooping are very different if someone has given birth to you.”

      I don’t buy this. The rule about personal boundaries (and the crossing thereof) should very much not be dependent on parenthood–or anything else.

      My parents do not get to cross my boundaries.

      My partners do not get to cross my boundaries.

      My friends do not get to cross my boundaries.

      Not necessarily because I distrust, dislike, or despise those people. I don’t; I love them very much (though this stands just as much for people who do not have such loving relationships).

      But I love myself too, and one of the most important things I can do to love and care for myself is to set and enforce my boundaries.

      Someone who loves and cares for me will respect my boundaries, not barrel through them in the name of what they believe is “right”, nor attempt to persuade me that my boundaries are not worth having.

    6. Happy Opposite Day!

      …That is where you were going with this, right? Because no, you don’t get to treat people with *less* respect than total strangers just because you gave birth to them. When my mom was worried about me, even as a teenager, she asked me about it or told me what was worrying her. And guess what? I told her, because I trusted she’d listen instead of fishing for evidence to fit the conclusions she’d already come up with.

      1. ‘you don’t get to treat people with *less* respect than total strangers just because you gave birth to them.’

        This is the crux of the thing, beautifully expressed.

      2. “I told her, because I trusted she’d listen instead of fishing for evidence to fit the conclusions she’d already come up with.”

        Which is exactly why I /stopped/ trusting my mom. Any time I tried to confide something to her, she would warp it to fit whatever she thought was going on, then give me advice that was completely off the mark then get mad at me for “not listening.” Throw in the fact that she would later dredge up these old things to throw at me in completely unrelated fights, and you have a recipe for being as cut off as possible without actually doing it (yet). We talk regularly, but it is never about anything important because I will never trust her again and if she ever pulls another stunt, I will stop talking to her forever (which I have stated to her and my father).

        I laughed at the idea of the LW’s finally treating her like an adult in her late 20’s. I am in my late 20’s. I am not pregnant, I am not on drugs. I own my own business that I started from scratch. The only debt I have is student loans and business loans. I am not a child and have not been since I was 18 years old (or younger, honestly). But her continuously treating me like a child has been part of the reason she is not a major part of my life. I tried to explain to her back when it was at its worst that I loved her, and that I wanted her in my life, but I didn’t /need/ her anymore. She didn’t seem to understand that the love and want parts are far more important (and healthier) than the need (which I would argue is even true in childhood).

    7. The ‘different rules’ applying to friends and family are somewhat confusing because so many people don’t realize they’re about consent. The thought process is that with a close relationship you have time to get consent about things ahead of time, and that if you mess up and assume consent when it wasn’t actually given then you have a good chance to work it out.

      For example if my husband is out and I need to use his laptop for looking something up, I can assume since I have used his laptop before for similar things that I can go ahead and do it and there’s a very good chance I have his consent. This consent would NOT extend to stuff like tossing his laptop out the window just because he lets me use it! It also means if he came back and went “Hey, can you not use my laptop anymore?” Then I would apologize and not do it anymore because he’s withdrawn his consent.

      When you care about someone, you don’t knowingly violate their consent. If the mom truly and utterly believed she was being good to her daughter by snooping, when she realized she’d hurt her with her actions she should have apologized and made every effort not to hurt her again.

      1. Hah. I grew up with a boundary-free mother and I actually had to be told, as a nineteen-year-old, that it wasn’t appropriate to open someone’s desk drawer, read the letter you found in it, and then tell everybody about it. I HAD TO BE TOLD. It took me YEARS to fully get my head around privacy, thanks to my snoopy, snoopy mom. She is trying, god bless her, after years of us prompting her about how uncomfortable the line-crossing makes us, and a fair amount of natural-consequence not inviting her over – she apparently sits in the car outside and says I AM NOT GOING TO SNOOP, and then as soon as she’s inside she does something like start folding all our paper napkins into easy-to-use triangles to keep her hands busy so that she doesn’t compulsively rifle through stuff. I see her trying, and I appreciate it, and the fact that it’s happened and will probably happen again STILL makes me so uncomfortable that I don’t have her in my house very often.

        LW, it’s true that in some families there is a kind of culture of casual line-crossing surveillance from parents to children, and it’s true that different people have different opinions about how much is too much and when it should stop. But I think “adults do NOT GO THROUGH OTHER ADULTS’ BEDSIDE DRAWERS” is a clear, straightforward line. I think that now is when you draw that line. A lot of parents – and other adults – react to someone setting a boundary by laughing or blaming the other person for being sensitive or prudish (that was my mother’s favorite) or somehow in the wrong. I don’t think you necessarily need to go straight to Jennifer P’s nuclear option, just from the stuff in this letter, but I think that you are perfectly within your rights to make it awkward, and you can do this by talking like a therapy robot. “It made me very uncomfortable when you did that. I am not comfortable having you in my house if you’re going to go through my things. I need you to agree not to rifle through my stuff.” She will laugh it off or blame you. Try not to escalate or respond in kind or get sidetracked? Rearticulate “I need you to agree not to rifle through my stuff. I’m not comfortable having you in my home if you’re going to rifle through my stuff.” Give it a couple of goes and then disengage. She is protecting her dignity by laughing it off and blaming you. She is avoiding the feeling of having done wrong, or having found out things that made her uncomfortable. Addressing your request directly means having that uncomfortable feeling. Expect her to be slippery, like an eel, and expect to have to actually stick to your guns and not invite her over. This is parenting in reverse – if you set a boundary but then never enforce it, she’s just going to learn that she doesn’t have to take you seriously yet. Decide that this is when this gets done, or decide to let it go and pick another battle on this. You can do it! It can get better.

        1. I’m 39. My mother hasn’t been in a domicile, residence, or abode of mine since I was 18. I haven’t seen her in over five years. I talk on the phone with her three times or less per year, and that really only because I like my dad.

          The thing that makes me kind of laugh ruefully about “always my baby” above is…I wonder if that’s what she really wants her relationship with her kids to end up as? Because my extremely distant relationship with my mother is a direct consequence of my mother’s complete inability not to be an intrusive, boundary-crossing, verbally abusive shrew.

        2. “A lot of parents – and other adults – react to someone setting a boundary by laughing or blaming the other person for being sensitive or prudish (that was my mother’s favorite) or somehow in the wrong.”

          Thank you for articulating exactly why this comment gave me the screaming heebie-jeebies. Nothing is creepier than someone who reacts to another person’s expression of boundaries and distress at those boundaries being crossed with, “Haha, oh, my dear, you’re so silly to want those boundaries. You don’t get to have those boundaries. It’s okay, other people know better than you.”

          Ugh, that comment still has me actually shaking with rage.

        3. “Hah. I grew up with a boundary-free mother and I actually had to be told, as a nineteen-year-old, that it wasn’t appropriate to open someone’s desk drawer, read the letter you found in it, and then tell everybody about it. I HAD TO BE TOLD.”

          Glad I’m not the only one who didn’t understand why it wasn’t a huge cool joke when at 15 I was travelling with some other teens and read their diaries out of their suitcases and joked publicly about what I found therein. [crawls under a rock and dies of shame]

          Thanks mum for teaching me that useful life skill. [/sarcasm]

          1. Anisoptera, I am so glad that the person who I told about the letter had the life patience and good boundaries to say “it makes me really uncomfortable to know that you did this! I would be really hesitant to have you in my house, knowing that that’s a thing you might do!” in such a kind tone that even though I, too, was like “omg STOP BEING SO SENSITIVE” I heard her and was chagrined after a couple more calm, kind, firm repetitions of “no, absolutely not okay, don’t do that.” It took a while for such a foreign concept to sink in, though, which kind of gives me hope that people who are dismissive are, on some subterranean level, still able to change.

        4. “It took me YEARS to fully get my head around privacy, thanks to my snoopy, snoopy mom.”

          yes!!! i was never as bad as my mom was, but i cringe when i think about how blithely i skipped through boundaries for the first year i didn’t live with my parents.

    8. Er, no. The LW is 21 years old, that is, legally an adult. If you went through another adult’s things, you’d likely be turfed out of their house. The rules aren’t different, if the person gave birth to the person being snooped upon. The LW is a grown-ass woman and deserves some privacy, like any other adult.

    9. NOPE. Huge steaming piles of nope. Nope. There are no special rules for privacy if someone gave birth to you. “special rules for parents” gives me all kinds of heebie-jeebies as a great refrain for abusive parents to use.

    10. Wow–gross. Absolutely not. What you are saying is abusive–flat out. Ugh. I think I’m triggered. “The rules regarding snooping are very different if someone has given birth to you”–absolutely disgusting.

      ***TRIGGER WARNING*** Some people think that “the rules regarding consent are very different if someone is married to you.” We at CA know that such a belief is rape culturey bullshit. ALLLLLLL of this has to do with consent. END TRIGGER WARNING

      If people’s boundaries are violated, no matter the severity (or perceived severity by an outsider), this shit matters. And your saying that it is “not that big of a deal” is gaslighting–the form of gaslighting more commonly known as trivializing.

      I don’t give a fuck, btw, if to some moms 21 is still a child. To a 21-year-old (which I was just 2 years ago), 21 is just somebody’s age–Me! Notions of adulthood and youth may contribute to a sense of self (and therefore of boundaries), but a sense of self is important to people of all ages. I am still my mother’s daughter in relation to her at 23, but I’ll be damned if she treats me *like one.*

      *Which brings me to an important point: my favorite teachers in the past NEVER treated me “like a child.” I never EVER treat ANYBODY “like a child,” even if they are children. You know why? Because in our culture, for some reason, the notion of treating someone like a child generally implies that you are making decisions for them. It’s not related to caring for someone, or engaging in play and mischief, or giggling a lot. It usually means condescension, punishment, authoritarianism, and uppity-ness.

      Kids love me–little kids too, not just teens and pre-teens. And it’s because I treat them like playful, fun, sensitive, complex human beings who deserve to experience choice and consent. If someday treating kids that way becomes the norm for the phrase “treating someone like a child,” that will be great.

      TL:DR being born of someone does not diminish your rights to boundaries, privacy, and agency.

      1. I want to frame this. You are so right. As a culture, our relationship with children and adolescents is so, so, SO fucked up, and this is a perfect example thereof.

        “Treating someone like a child” = “She’s just a dumb slut” = “Ignore him, he’s being a sissy” = “They’re a teenager, they’re just doing it for attention” = a million other permutations of “This person is not really human and is not a valid object for having boundaries”.

        As a culture we apply this logic to children routinely. It’s gross.

    11. “What if she was snooping and found heroin?”

      Yup. Obviously, all parents *need* to search through their adult children’s private belongings, because WHAT IF HEROIN.

      “But what if she was only peripherally involved in your life? That heroin could lead you down a very different path.”

      Yes, that terrible heroin which the LW … is not actually taking, but never mind, let’s not let that get in the way here.

      “Plus, maybe you’ve given her a reason that she feels the need to check up on you?”

      It’s probably the heroin.

      1. What if the drawer sticks and she can’t get to her heroin? MOMMY’S HERE, DON’T WORRY.

          1. I would hope so too, but I have seen this kind of bullshit attitude in so many different places (parents who think they “own” their kids, parents who lie to their kids, and obviously yes parents who have zero problem snooping around everywhere), that I think they were totally sincere and also thought we would all totally come around to their way of thinking.

          2. I hope myself, but suffice to say I shuddered when I read the comment due to having a mother who made lightbulbs and bells go off when I first read about helicopter parenting as a college student.

          3. I doubt it. They sound just like my mom, to the point where I compulsively read and reread the comment just to reassure myself that it wasn’t her typing style and she hadn’t tracked me here.

          4. I’m pretty sure she’s actually my mother-in-law, who has said shudder-inducing stuff like this to me about my husband SO MANY TIMES, including interrupting the speech I was giving at my own wedding to do so. If they’re trolling, they’re blending well, because these people. They’re out there.

          5. My cynical paranoid fear is that “My Baby” is the LW’s mother (and she’s got spyware on the LW’s computer!). O.o

        1. I love you for this comment Captain (and for everything else you do. And for who you are).

      2. What a lovely straw dealer mom has constructed there. I see he’s cut the dope with barn dust again.

        (She says, having grown up with moderately heroin addicts for parents)

      3. Heh. When I moved away from home, I used to tell my father that I was doing crack when he got too nosy and judgey. (Father judges my minimum wage jobs – hey! It pays for the crack! Father grills me about my friends and partners – but dad! They have crack. My apartment was too small, too cheap, too shabby – but it’s the best neighbourhood to score crack! Etc, etc) I didn’t realize he actually believed it until he came to visit and was surprised to see I still had the guitar he gave me when I was 14 because of that time I told him I pawned it for crack ( while he was ‘subtly’ hinting that he wanted it back)

        1. I come from a wonderful family but when I was in my late teens through mid twenties, my dad went through a phase where nothing in my life was quite good enough for him. I was so happy when I moved into my first apartment that was all mine with no cosigner and no roommates and a yearly lease with my name on it. Everything about that place was perfect for my needs at the time, but my dad freaked out because it was only one room and also I didn’t have cable TV and I didn’t have to live like that… and now I kind of wish I’d blamed it on the crack.

          1. Lol – my relationship with my dad is non-existent at this point for exactly this type of behaviour – not the imaginary crack specifically, but rather his willingness to believe the worst about me at any opportunity. When I realized this was always going to be the case with him (and my stepmother) my life got a lot easier because I ran out of fucks for them and their opinions. Now it’s been six years since we’ve spoken and I no longer start dreading Christmas in September 🙂

      4. The “heroin” thing really bugs me. ‘Cause, you know, I’ve been in the position of searching someone’s living space for something I was pretty sure was there (not proud of it, but my housemate had borrowed my extremely expensive and sentimentally valuable headphones, and then when I asked for them back gave me a blank look and said “Oh. Those. I dunno what happened to those.”; I found them broken in half under his mattress??)

        …and my point was, if you’re worried your kid is taking heroin, you’re not just gonna open up the nightstand drawer, have a quick look and then get back on with your day. That is not how you find small important things; if you do this and don’t find heroin, you will not be even slightly reassured that your kid is not taking heroin.

        What Baby’s Always is describing is a nosy busybody opening up someone’s drawer for fun, or out of curiosity, or just because they have idle hands, and then coming up with a way to justify it which doesn’t actually mesh at all with what they did.

        1. And even if you did just look into the nightstand, because the drugs or whatever might be there… you’re not going to tell them afterwards. People who know they have nosy parents (or siblings, or roommates) try harder to hide their stuff.

    12. Nope. My kid is sixteen, and that’s already old enough to be permitted to be an individual separate from me.

      And the rules regarding snooping are precisely what the owner of the drawers wants them to be, no matter who you are.

    13. Ye gods and little fishes! Please let this be a troll!

      But I have a sinking feeling you’re not. 😦

      1. There was a website – can I find the link? No chance, browsing history is not cooperating – where someone collated things that narcissistic parents had said on parenting forums set up for parents who had been ‘abandoned’ by their children. This reads very, very much like that – the dismissive attitude, the ‘but I could be so much worse’, the ‘it just means I’m being a good parent!’, the ‘but you’re my child, so it doesn’t coooount’, the incredible condescending tone, the lot. All that’s missing is the ‘jokey’ comments about violence.

        I mean, they’d treat a stranger with more respect than their own child? This person you supposedly love and treasure and want to help grow into the world? And you’d honestly treat the privacy of a stranger better than you would a loved one? That speaks of someone who has zero ability to even grasp the concept of boundaries, never mind respect them.

        Alwaysmybaby: I hope you’re joking. I hope this was something you dashed off without thinking about it. But if you didn’t, please, please, please educate yourself before any of your children get into adolescence, and it is probably worth checking in with a therapist. Otherwise, you run the risk of making both you and your children very unhappy in the future: your children because they’ll cut themselves off from you or keep their distance simply because there’s no other way to protect themselves. You because you won’t be able to understand why.

        1. …I had no idea sites like that existed, but I can easily see my father on one. After 12 years of being out of my life he got my half sister to get my address so she could mail me a card… and then he mailed me one.. It’s surreal reading the list of typical behaviours and checking them off. But it also helps; it means my perceptions and memories were/are accurate instead of doubting them based on other peoples’ versions/opinions. Thank you for sharing this.

        2. Sent to a friend who has started saying their parents are dead because people don’t believe it could possibly be that bad.

        3. Read the whole section of site in one day, now I need to go play with some kittens and drink a lot of Ginger Ale to prevent face-palming into unconsciousness. Thank you for sharing, this was weirdly comforting because my mom isn’t quite this bad.

          1. +1 – this is massively eye opening. I have been reading it now on and off for a day… I should probably get some work done soon… :-O

        4. This is an interesting read, but does the way the author talks about children abusing their parents bother anyone else?

          I recognize, obviously, that children can treat their parents terribly and violate their boundaries. But abuse requires power, and in parent-child relationships, the power dynamic is almost always skewed toward the parents. I feel like they’re not really recognizing that.

          1. I know it’s common in DV situations for the abuser to claim the victim was actually the abuser, so this is not so surprising.

          2. I didn’t notice any specifics, so maybe I missed something. But as parents get older, the power balance can change. Elder abuse can be a real problem. So, sometimes children do abuse parents. And as far as I could tell, the web site was only ever talking about adult children. However, if I missed a context where children abusing parents was mentioned where there was definitely a power imbalance in favor of the parent then yeah, I see your point.

          3. As far as I can tell, she’s extremely careful to only talk about the possibility of *adult* children abusing parents, and is clear that the the child abusing the parent does not rule out the possibility that the parent also abuses the child. In fact, that page seems to me to be mostly there to forestall the argument that it’s impossible to tell which ‘side’ is really being abusive, and to argue that most of the parents on these sites are abusive towards their children whether or not they claim that their children abuse them.

            Also, adult children *do* sometimes abuse their parents. You’re right that generally the balance of power is on the parents’ side but that can shift, especially as people age; 90% of elder abuse is committed by a family member.

            I totally might have missed something, though. Was there a particular thing that made you uncomfortable?

          4. I’d say the website is accurately reflecting the way parents actually see it. This is the thing that’s so fucked it’s hard to believe, but parents with personality disorders (narcissism is only one possibility) really do see themselves as powerless and therefore the victims. One way this showed up in my upbringing is the way my mother never told me to do anything in terms of ordinary discipline. (Normal stuff like do the dishes.) She didn’t show me how and make clear requirements. It was more like she whined at me that she hoped things would get done. When I wanted to go out with a guy in highschool (again, normal, nice guy, nothing outrageous), she didn’t say no. She sort of whined and reasoned with me about why I’d want to date and how wouldn’t it be better if I could just have friends and not become a shallow boy crazy girl who only thought about dating. I believe she saw herself as powerless.

            In return, these are the ways I’ve punished my parents as an adult:
            I send lovely nice long letters once a week.
            I talk to them over the phone about books and movies. I answer their questions about what I’ve had for dinner (remarkably normal).
            I refuse to answer their questions about my health, my finances, my friends, my sex life, my emotional life.
            I visit and spend time with them (but do not stay over in their home as they would prefer).
            We travel to the same vacation destinations (but do not share a hotel room as they would prefer).
            They have not been invited to my home.
            I buy them presents in the form of books I know they’d like. I do not loan them anything.
            They know the names of some of my friends and have heard some charming stories about them. (That stopped when their ridicule started.)

            In other words, what most of us (except mybaby with heroin obsession) would call a healthy relationship with normal boundaries, my parents see as punishment and cutting them out. Whatever.

          5. I do understand all of this (and elder abuse is the main reason why I added an “almost” to that sentence; so many horror stories…), but… I don’t know. It still bothers me. I think just because she doesn’t mention that there is an intrinsic power imbalance along with all the other “how to tell who the real abuser is” stuff. Even adults, after all, are often dependent on their parents in various ways. And abusive parents are going to continue to have a hold on you even after you’re independent from them, simply by virtue of being abusive and creating patterns and responses in you that they can use for manipulation well into adulthood.

        5. Holy shit, that site is disturbing. Particularly this bit:

          A grandmother thinks her married daughter is having an affair. To make her stop, she lies to her daughter, telling her that she hired a private investigator to follow the daughter, and now she has photos of her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend together.

          My mom did that bullshit to me when I was seven. Not about affairs, obviously, but she did repeatedly tell me that my friends/classmates were going to report to her if I was reading books during recess instead of playing, like she wanted me to. She did not get that having a little half hour or 20 minutes or whatever it was of actual quiet during the school day was the only thing that kept me thriving. So I stopped trusting my friends, basically. I grew distant and irritable (and I’m sure my best friend was totally confused). Then the next year she conspired with my teacher to keep me from being allowed to bring books to recess (so I just grew craftier and started hiding them under my jacket/sweater/whatever). And now people wonder why I have trouble trusting….EVERYONE?
          God. Fuck these people.

        6. “My promise to my children as long as I live. I am your Parent first, your friend second. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare and hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I LOVE YOU. When you understand that I will know you are are a responsible adult. You will NEVER find someone who loves, prays, cares, and worries about you more that I do!! If you don’t hate me once in your life, I am not doing my job properly. ”
          A meme that’s popular on estranged parents’ forums

          Holy Hannah. I feel like taking a shower and then running the ten miles to my dad’s house barefoot to hug him for about five years.

          1. I’ve seen that meme posted SO MANY TIMES. In some areas I would definitely call this a cultural pathology rather than an individual sign of narcicissm. It’s so. . . peculiar. . . to understand that intrusive and boundary-violating parenting is, in many regions, considered a desirable, if difficult-to-reach, goal rather than a type of abuse. It’s linked, I think, to religious ideas about humans being inherently sinful and out-of-control — the idea that if you don’t aggressively force your child into the mold of a socially acceptable human being, they will, naturally, become Hitler.

            The thing I find weird is that I think my parents still feel kind of guilty for not being MORE invasive in my and my brother’s lives, because they definitely buy into some of the ideas about how disrespecting a child’s agency=love. But they were very very busy, and my brother and I are both smart and extremely strong-willed, and I think that trying to invade our privacy was, at the end of it, too exhausting for either parent to carry out (which is how my brother came to hide beer in my room unbeknownst to all of us, sigh.)

            The thing that I keep coming back to is: You don’t have either an obligation or a right to make sure your kid doesn’t fuck up once they are legal adults (and your obligation/right before that is up for debate.) YOUR KID IS A SEPARATE PERSON FROM YOU.

        7. OMG. I read that site & now I need days & days of looking at kitten pics & if my mother was buried in a grave, I’d dig her up right now & hug her for being a normal human being.

        8. Thank you so much for posting this.
          I read the whole thing in one night and it really helped my with some things I’ve spent years trying to wrap my head around.

      2. The BUT WHAT IF HEROIN did make me wonder. But I have known at least one person who would have produced that kind of justification in total seriousness.

        Thus proving that there’s some kind of parental Poe’s Law, perhaps.

        1. If a 21-year-old is doing heroin but the only sign of it is drugs neatly tucked away in their bedside drawer, they are not currently at a phase that parental confrontation can help.

          1. And heroin looks like what to a snooping parent? Small baggies of white or brown powder? Which could be homeopathic remedies, those silica packs that are meant to keep things dry, the stuff florists include with flower arrangements to make them last longer, art supplies, etc. Or would the baggie be conveniently labelled, “OMG, HEROIN!!!”? I might write that on a homeopathic remedy as a joke, especially if I thought someone else was going to snoop and come across it.

            I once read about a parent who snooped in their child’s room, found some suspicious items and rushed to the drug store, only to be told that they had found a tic-tac and some skittles or m&ms…

            So, no, not “Because Heroin!!!!”.

          2. Out of nesting, but Sparky, my dad was a microbiologist and it was pretty common for people to come in with stuff they or their friends had found in their kids’ rooms and do exhaustive testing to determine what it was. Usually it was NSAIDs or birth control. Sometimes it was candy.

    14. Oh, honey. No. I sense a pile-on coming, but I need to chime in.

      I’m a mom. Your baby may always be your baby in your heart.
      21 is an adult and an adult gets to make their own mistakes in the privacy of their own homes.

      I’ve spoken on this before: on the whole, parents want their children to be Happy and Safe, but that sometimes those goals seem at odds with each other. The older a child gets, the more the parent needs to let go about making them safe. Young people deserve privacy and the “rules regarding snooping” are the same no matter who you are: DON’T FRIKKING DO IT.

      Yeah, maybe you’ll find heroin. You know what? If you did, that was heroin in a grown-up person’s apartment that isn’t your own. “Maybe my baby could OVERDOSE!!!” Yes. And maybe your 21 year old baby will fall down the stairs. Or get hit by a meteor. Or choke on a steak. (IF ONLY SHE’D BOUGHT A GROUNDFLOOR/WORN A HELMET AT ALL TIMES/BEEN VEGAN LIKE I TOLD HER!) Adults get to live their own precious lives with a modicum of privacy. Even if they have a mom. Even if they’re young. Even if they’re acting in a way that makes their mom suspicious.

      1. Yeah, I know the heroin comment isn’t exactly rational, but if you have a son or daughter in those dangerous early 20s who does develop a substance abuse problem, there are many, many other things that might tip you off. Such as behavioral changes, mood swings, maybe cash or alcohol disappearing…plus lots of other stuff I’m not thinking of. It’s not likely that searching an adult’s belongings would illuminate a real problem, or still EVER be appropriate.

        Note: I’m talking about genuine substance abuse, not “I don’t like that my daughter drinks alcohol with her friends.”

        1. And then you still ASK. “You seem really pale/moody/withdrawn/shaky/sick/not okay. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

          1. Exactly! Even for people who *are* doing heroin, having their boundaries violated doesn’t help them!

          2. Yes, and also, this kind non intrusive, non judgemental asking from a parent who has a history of respecting boundaries is more likely to get an honest response.

            If I was actually struggling with a heroin addiction my mother is the *last* person I’d want involved, because then I would be dealing with both my mother and my heroin addiction and also the horrible combination of the two. I do not trust her, and she has taught me not to trust her by not respecting a single one of my boundaries over the entire course of my life. Plus she does this difficult to describe thing where she feeds off other people’s suffering and like…clings to all the horrible details…and ah…I can’t really describe it. And she also loves it when other people need her because then they can’t get away. AGGGGHHHHHHH yep, now I’m vividly imagining being in a horrible crisis and having my mother oozing all over it. :-O

            Dear parents – if you maintain a nice respectful relationship with your child, you will actually be able to be there for them in the heroin scenario. They may come to you for help and support. Like you would want. Or admit it when you ask and cry and hug you and you can help them through the thing. As opposed to doing the utmost to make sure you never, ever find out.

          3. Novel deVice that is exactly like her. She loves a horrible story. Horrible stories about people I don’t even know. Horrible stories about animals. She relishes discussing really upsetting stuff.

          4. Right?!? I posted about this below, but my mom once saw me at a very worrisome level of drunk, and the conversation the next day was entirely her asking questions. How I felt about drinking and about my life, whether I happy, if I liked my work, if I felt like I was drinking to fill a hole, if I knew about my family history of alcoholism, etc. No yelling, no berating, no snooping. And to this day I still trust her enough to talk to her about drinking and I listen if she tells me she’s worried about it.

        2. IF you know for a fact that your child has a substance abuse problem, snooping MIGHT be warranted if you have seen evidence that they’re using. IF they’ve asked for your help in getting/staying clean, or IF they’re clearly out of control and unable to responsibly care for themselves. MAYBE.

      2. Am I the only one who gets weirded out by people referring to other people who are definitely not babies as babies?

        1. No you are not! I think it’s very weird indeed, especially when combined with infantilizing behaviour.

          1. Thank you. My FMIL has a tendency to do this–and maybe it’s just a regionalism in her case–but her behavior when she visits my fiancé and I tends to be irritatingly infantilizing on top of all that. So it sticks in my craw.

    15. “Is she trying to find out if something’s wrong? But you won’t talk to her?”

      If your child has a history of not telling you when something’s wrong, maybe you should take a good hard look at your parenting skills.

      1. See also “I think I’m depressed” “The people in this family with mental illness got dicked over, you do not have depression.”
        and “The doctor said birth control can help my horrible periods” “People on birthcontrol have sex. No birthcontrol for you.”
        “WHY DO YOU NOT TELL ME WHEN YOU ARE SICK?!?!” “Ummmmmm…”

        1. Hi LW! This is sounding like a flashback from my college years (when I was paying out of pocket to see the doctors at Planned Parenthood instead of using my Cadillac, “all the medical things are free, no really” insurance plan because my mom would scrutinize the EOB statements to determine what doctors I’d seen and what prescriptions I’d been given). In addition to my advice earlier in the comments (draw boundaries! don’t explain yourself!) I’d also add that sometimes I have had luck managing my mom by turning the questions back on her. So when she’s all “Why don’t you tell me when you’re sick?”, instead of trying to explain myself (because no explanation I give is ever going to be sufficient anyway), I’ll ask her why she feels that way. Then usually there’s a big long monologue about all the times I didn’t tell her I was sick, and halfway through the monologue shifts to how my “no-good brother” never tells her when she’s sick either, and then she sees a shiny object and then the conversation goes somewhere that is else without conflict. Basically, she gets to make her case for why she has been wronged so grievously, I get to discreetly play Candy Crush on my phone while I tune her out, an at some point the conversation turns without me having to do much of anything other than make “uh-huh” noises at somewhat-appropriate intervals. If you’re worried about provoking a sh!tstorm by setting real boundaries, and you’re not ready to deal with said storm yet, letting mom monologue herself to death can be a good interim coping strategy.

          1. It’s the best part of dealing with narcissists – if you ever want to not have to talk for an hour or more, just ask them a question about themselves. (Bonus points if the question allows them to expound upon the many and varied wrongs that have been done to their fine, fine personage – then you might even get two hours without having to talk!) 🙂

        2. Aw, my mom and I had the same birth control conversation. I had trouble with acne in high school and after I found out (from my pastor’s wife!!) that hormonal birth control could help with that, I asked my mom about it. She shut me down SO FAST. There would be no talk of birth control. Which, considering her palpable fear of me getting pregnant, was actually kind of ironic.

          Also ironic: I wasn’t sexually active at the time, and had no intention of starting anytime soon. But she was so intent on her own fears and only hearing what lined up with her internal narrative, she never really heard my actual worries. I didn’t have the worst acne in the world, but it was bad enough that I found it very upsetting and nothing I tried worked to fix it. But she always blew me off and told me I’d grow out of it. Because having a daughter who hates her face and is crippled with self-doubt is, obviously, preferable to having a daughter who might have sex.

          So no, I don’t talk to her about stuff, because she isn’t interested in hearing what I’m actually saying.

          1. The year I was sixteen, I found a lump in my breast and was afraid I was dying of cancer. (It turns out that lumpy breasts run in my family; I had never been told because We Don’t Talk About Sex Or Even Those Parts.) It took a lot, partially because of my terror and partially because We Don’t Talk… for me to tell my mum that I’d found a lump. When I finally got it out, she laughed, and then said “Thank God, I thought you were pregnant! Hahahah! Oh, that’s great news!” Some minutes later, after she was done telling me how she would have thrown me out if I’d been pregnant, she told me about the family trait of lumpy breasts.

            I’m pretty sure if there’s a word for how I felt in that moment, it’s about sixteen syllables long and in German, because English can’t really form a compound of the requisite array of negative emotions.

          2. “I don’t talk to her about stuff, because she isn’t interested in hearing what I’m actually saying.”

            That’s sort of the basis of all of it, isn’t it? If they snoop and pry and jump to conclusions, they can make those their own conclusions. If they actually listen, they have to make do with your conclusions, which means they’ve lost control.

        3. In the past year, both my younger sister and myself have had weird random illnesses and injuries which my mother has never known about (and may never know about). Hers required a trip to the ER; mine has required lots of downtime and ice and bandages. Why isn’t our mother aware of these things? Because she has a chronic tendency to downplay every sickness or injury we have ever had, dismiss them as not being a big deal, wait for things to get much worse before taking us to the doctor (in childhood), etc. A few years ago she lectured me about how much I totally do not need one of the very necessary medications I am on. The only reason she could do that is because she didn’t see/willingly ignored the bad days, the down and depressed anxiety-filled days with the constant crying. I don’t want to need this medication, but I do. I resisted being on it or something like it for far longer than I should have, mostly because I knew what her reaction would be.
          So yes, I understand ALL of this.

          1. So do I. Every time I had any symptoms of illness, my mother would go “OH MY GOD YOU’RE NOT PREGNANT ARE YOU” and stare at me expectantly. Even if my brother(s) had THE SAME SYMPTOMS. It took until I was about 30 before she stopped because I said “If I were, would that be how you would want to find out rather than hearing a happy announcement I’d planned for you?” Only by making it about her did I get it to change.

            On a similar note, it took me 12 years to tell her I’d been raped, made pregnant and had an abortion at age 16, because I knew she would blame me. Turned out I was right, but at least the pain was less raw by then.

          2. My mom also refuses to believe my sister and I need medication. It’s my dad’s side with mental illness, see, and we are not to be anything like him. =/

        4. I loved my dad so much. He was a widower raising me by himself after mom died when I was 12, but, he got me treatment for depression, and he took me to a gynecologist for birth control pills when I was 14 or so because my irregular period, cramps, and bleeding were horrible. He cared. And he showed his care in his actions. I miss him so much, especially when this subject comes up here.

        5. Oh man, birth control.

          Growing up, my mum always told me that if I ever wanted birth control, just to tell her and she’d help me find it and find the right one and I could talk to her about anything. I didn’t entirely trust her, but when the time came (at 17 – I had been ready for some time before, but I waited until I was legal) and I asked… it still feels awful to remember. She gave me A LOOK, a beat passed, and then, “What? Don’t you think you’re a little young?” in a sharp, pointed tone.
          She then employed the silent treatment for several days. Two weeks later she ‘helpfully’ brought up the topic again, saying she’d spoken to a doctor about it and had all this advice – which I ignored, because I was a smart kid and I realised I wouldn’t be safe with her if I took it.

          As a result I took a lot of stupid risks, could have been pregnant loads of times. I got so, so lucky. I’m also extraordinarily lucky that now I have the agency to take proper care of my health.

          You’d think that would be when I stopped trusting/loving her, but it gets worse. Several months later I found a scrap piece of paper while cleaning a bookshelf she’d told me to clean. It said, “Can’t believe she’d want to have sex with THAT, his boobs are bigger than mine! Yuk!”. She’d obviously written it after my request.
          I threw away the note, never trusted her again, and especially never told my partner (now husband). I’m still angry and hurt, both that she thought that, wrote it down, and then didn’t even have the kindness/foresight to tuck it away privately or throw it away.

          (For the record, not that it matters, the boobs part isn’t true. The level of cognitive dissonance she displayed in that comment still astounds me.)

      2. I didn’t tell my mother right away about my first miscarriage last year because we’d recently lost my brother and I didn’t want to add to her stress. When I DID tell her, I got the “you’re always keeping things from me!” guilt trip. So for the second pregnancy, I told her when I found out I was pregnant and then had to break the news that I miscarried at 11 weeks. Her reaction: “well now you can concentrate on the child you have”. AND YOU WONDER WHY I DON’T TELL YOU STUFF??!!

        1. I’m sorry for your losses, and that your mother had such appalling and inappropriate reactions.

          1. She means well. Which is one of those phrases along with “no offence but…” which drives people up a tower with a shotgun! She just has no clue that the things she says can be deeply upsetting, then reacts really badly when I tell her that. Obviously it’s me being “so sensitive all the time” rather than her being totally INsenstive. *facepalm* Recently, neighbour had a baby and I mentioned to my mum that it made me sad because, had things gone ok, I’d have a mum friend right next door. Her response was “are you still brooding about that?” Uh yes, mother, yes I am.

          2. Out of nesting, but TheReadPirateRowan, my first boyfriend, when I was a teenager, was killed and I got the same thing from my mum about ten days afterward. “Are you *still* upset about that?”

            Parents, man. Parents.

    16. My mom is the sort to think that I’m a child, no matter how old I get. However, even when I was a teenager, she never snooped in my drawers, or tried to read any private correspondance or anything. Hell, as far as I know, beyond making sure that small-child me didn’t put something in the wrong place, she never went through my stuff for reasons other than cleaning. You know what would have happened if she had done so to find out about potential “mistakes”? I would have hidden everything, ever, from her, and never, ever, ever asked for advice. Instead, I felt sufficiently comfortable to ask for advice when I was having issues.

      You know what a reasonable parent does when they think their 28-year-old is still their baby? They send ridiculous “helpful” packages of cooking supplies or new sandals and offer to help with finding apartments or moving said apartments. They insist on visiting for 2 weeks and taking you out for a weekend vacation, and refuse to let you pay for anything. Basically, they try to help, but assume that you are an autonomous human being who may or may not make mistakes, but recognize that those are your mistakes to make, and they’ll do whatever they can to help if things do go wrong.

      1. Yes! My brother (who turns 30 next month) and I are still our parents “babies”, even though we have our own.

        In that – when I was sick and my husband was out of town for a week with work, they took me and toddler in for multiple nights so I could rest and recover. When we go away places with them, they often pay for things we could all otherwise cover, like meals out. We regularly stay in holiday houses, that they will pay the booking for (since they aren’t massively expensive) rather than splitting the bill. They come over for dinner and bring most of the food (even though we tell them not to!). When we moved house, they bought over a load of groceries. When our baby arrived, they came with nappies, wipes, and easy meals.

        We are treated as adults all of the time, only nagged when needed (like trying to get my brother to tell them when he was finishing work for the long weekend closest to his birthday so they could book his flights to come visit us – single dad who has no money and we want to see him and his daughter!). Assumed to be autonomous, and given space to do things ourselves.

        I appreciate the balance of our relationship SO much reading things like this.

      2. My mom bought me good wooden spoons and tea towels when I moved out so that I would never suffer with a rough spoon or streaky glassware. She also sent me greeting cards containing gift cards to the grocery store on non-gifting holidays (Halloween! Easter! Thanksgiving! Earth Day!) while I was in grad school (and then did not ask if I spent them on booze and chocolate). I am now in my 30s and for my last birthday she bought me a new set of good tea towels because the ones she bought me when I moved out all had stains and were gross.

    17. As a 21 year old daughter to a mother I’m lucky enough to be very close to, I find this a really odd sentiment. Yeah, I’m sure my mum worries about me sometimes, but she knows I’m okay. She knows that because we talk super regularly, and I’ve never hidden anything from her. I’ve never hidden anything from her, because she has *never* invaded my privacy, gone through my stuff without permission, tried to wheedle information out of me that I didn’t volunteer or in any other way treated me as a less autonomous person deserving of boundaries and privacy than she would any of her adult friends.

      Because I’ve always known that she won’t push or pry, I’ve always felt comfortable keeping her up to date with my life and asking her advice when I’ve needed it. Mutual trust and respect – turns out it works.

      If your way is working for you, all the best, but please don’t assume it’s the only way to parent, or that it’s somehow unreasonable for children to have the expectation of privacy.

    18. Well here’s the thing. I left my 20s behind more than 20 years ago.

      My mother still worries.

      My mother always wanted to pry and snoop, but mostly she hasn’t.

      That’s because she knows that it’s wrong pretty much all the time.

    19. you know, i’m 25 now. i’m the youngest of three, and i am still in many ways “the baby”. my mother tells me this, even. i’m her kid, and she gets to feel protective of me. we don’t have a perfect relationship, but i know she cares, and i know i can depend on her.

      how do i know? we spend time together. we help each other. she tries to give me advice when i ask, and accepts it when i don’t take it. when i call her in the middle of the night, terrified, she comes and gets me (actual thing that has happened). these are things that say “i care”.

      snooping does not say that. snooping says “i don’t respect you.” it says ” your feelings don’t matter to me.” it says “i want to control you.”

      if your kids want you to know something, they will tell you. if they don’t want you to know, you should respect that. if you are actually concerned your kid is doing drugs, you’re better off watching their behaviour and health than going through their things. but let’s be real here, that’s not the case.

      my life has never been perfect, but i felt safe in my home. my space wasn’t invaded, my mother was not my warden. she didn’t go through my stuff. the more i read here, the more grateful i am for that.

      remember, the more you trust your kid, the more your kid will trust you.

      also, if you push too hard, your kid may decide they don’t actually want to be around you. as is their right. they may always be your baby, but they don’t actually stay kids forever…. and adults get to choose for themselves.

    20. I am tremendously entertained by the idea that randomly searching your child’s nightstand because who knows, there might be heroin is a reasonable parenting choice. And again, if the mom in this situation were a person of good will who just wanted to make sure you weren’t storing your works in the bedside table*, she would never have mentioned the personal stuff that she did find. Owning a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves and a vibrator does not put you at risk of opiate addiction and does not require comment. Which is not to support snooping, but a test of well-intentioned-versus-dubious-snooping pretty much boils down to what you do with what you find.

      *Perhaps your experience with heroin addicts is different than mine….”I was poking around in your nightstand and I found heroin” is not how it has worked in my life.

    21. When I was in graduate school, I slept on a futon that was on the floor (no frame or platform). I had no bedside table, because it was that or a desk and I needed the desk for studying and eating at. So, my vibrator lived on the floor of the bedroom next to the bed. My mom went into the bedroom once. I’m sure she saw it. I’m sure she and her sisters discussed it, because they discussed everything about their 12 children with each other. But you know what? Neither my mom nor my aunts have ever mentioned it.

      This is how grown up, secure, loving parents behave when they run across private stuff: they shut the fuck up about it, because the fact that they stumbled on it does not make it their business. Furthermore, they trust that they did a good job of raising their kids, and they give them the privacy another adult human being deserves. (In short, they don’t snoop, and if they accidentally find out something that’s none of their business, they pretend they don’t know.)

      My mom and I had a great relationship until she died, which incidentally was about 35 years after she most likely saw my vibrator.

      You can read about the compromised relationships other daughters have with moms who have no boundaries, like you seem to have no boundaries, right here in this thread. They don’t trust their mothers, they go out of their way to protect themselves which means that they are hypervigilant, they distance themselves both emotionally and physically, and they treat their mothers as threats to their autonomy. They do these things because the mothers in quesrion have proven that they are threats. I’m aure it’s very painful for those mothers, but they made their choices and now they are reaping the consequences of those choices.

      So let me ask you: which do you want? A daughter who trusts you, loves you, confides in you, listens to (and sometimes takes!) your advice when she asks for it, welcomes you into her home, and misses you every day after you die? Or a daughter like the other ones in this thread, who view you as someone they have to “manage” in order to survive contact with you, who protect themselves from your intrusiveness, insecurity, and self-centeredness by holding you at arm’s length, and who breathe a secret sigh of relief when you die and they can finally relax? Because you get to choose. I urge you to choose to trust that you did a good job and your kids will be okay. Choose to have a great relationship with them by respecting their autonomy.

      1. Sorcharei – you have put this brilliantly. And, given that you had such a good relationship with your mother, I appreciate the empathy you show to those of us who haven’t been so lucky.

    22. You may always see your baby as your baby, but seeing someone a certain way – however natural or understandable that may be – doesn’t magically make their boundaries evaporate or give you special priviledge to override them. If you actually found heroin, or some other danger, please don’t kid yourself that you could make everything ok – supportive friends and relatives can do a lot for someone in need of help if they want it, but finding heroin (and let’s be honest, by heroin you mean boogey-man-demons/the worst thing you can thing of so that you have an excuse) doesn’t give you the power to make someone not addicted. Being an involved parent does not mean being controlling or intrusive, and when you act that way you are not doing anything to keep your child safe. The only thing you are keeping safe is your (probably very well meaning and unconscious) delusions of helping at the expense of a healthy relationship where your child might actually feel safe enough to come to you if they thought they needed help. Also, there’s no special age where big mistakes stop being able to tumble into huge mistakes. By the same token small but consistent disrespectful and boundary-lacking acts can tumble into huge rifts at any age – and regardless of how mature you view your ‘baby’ to be.

    23. I really want to say OH HAI LW’S MOM, let me guess, if LW didn’t want you to find this letter they shouldn’t have written it?

      But unfortunately, this attitude isn’t that rare. It’s probably someone else’s Mom. Someone else’s Mom who is about to find out that her “babies” have changed their locks and phone number “out of the blue”.

    24. On the other hand if parents never BUTT THE FUCK OUT of their kids lives they don’t have a chance to learn from their mistakes and make better choices. If you always do what Mommy says, you never learn what you like, what you don’t like, what your values are, and when your instincts are telling you NONOnonononONOnonno.

      Ideally, parents should begin this butting out process while kids are still in high school so they can learn from mistakes before they have long term legal repercussions.

      By the time your kid is 21, they are done, fully cooked, and your business butting in is over.

      And for the record my parents would not have violated my privacy like this when I was 10, unless they had a very good reason. (i.e. I was high on heroine, or continued to refuse to clean my room even after they threatened to do it for me.)

    25. Er. Nope.

      Fuck Nope.

      Mom was alone for a few minutes and managed to zero in on one of the most private areas of anyone’s home. and then she justified her actions by lying, minimizing and shaming. If she truly thought her actions were OK, she wouldn’t feel the need to gaslight her daughter. She wouldn’t expect her daughter to accept a bullshit explanation about “testing the smoothness of the drawers.”

      If you want to know something about someone’s life, you ask them a question. You don’t root through their stuff.

      1. +1
        LW, you mention above that your mom isn’t as bad as some other moms… but this behavior she just did IS terribly bad. Do whatever you’ve gotta do to carve yourself some space.

    26. Um, no. Just no.

      I can tell you right now, if my mother, at 21 OR now, thought that riffling through my drawers and insisting that if I didn’t want her to see things I shouldn’t own them would be a good way to get to know me… Well, she wouldn’t be allowed in my house, near my password-protected phone or computer, and definitely not near anyone I care about.

      And I say this AS a mom. I don’t have an eternal right to my kid’s every belonging or thought. She’s her own person. I have a responsibility to get her to adulthood safely, but I don’t have a right to every facet of her life, wtf. That’s creepy and icky.

    27. I think this comment is a really good example of how the mom’s mindset may be one of complete lack of respect for her child. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about rape culture and the other boundary violations that we take as normal in our society. I’ve been thinking it’s not enough to describe how our culture is wrong, but we need a model of what a healthy culture would look like. I think the two key components of a healthy culture are consent and respect. So, you could call a healthy culture respect culture or consent culture. And this comment is a great illustration of the lack.

      Take the example, “What if you were doing heroin?” That is a great way of saying, “What if you shouldn’t be trusted to make your own decisions? What if I really do know better than you do what is best for you? What if I really do have a right to override your decisions?” You can see the total lack of respect and the total lack of consideration for consent that is presented by justifying violating someone’s boundaries with an excuse based on the idea that they might legitimately not be a competent, capable adult. (If we assume that having heroin immediately implies that, which is not an issue I care to argue, but will cede for the purpose of illustration.)

      While the mother may care about her child, she doesn’t respect her child. It’s one of the things I was always pleased with my parents for. While my siblings often violated my privacy, my parents always treated me with respect. I have always felt annoyed at adults who expect their children to treat them with respect, while not modeling what treating someone with respect looks like to their children. Also, since I did lack privacy in my home, due to my siblings (who, alas, my parents did not reign in), it was significantly harmful. Children need privacy to feel safe. And the letter writer isn’t even a child. The letter writer is an adult. Assuming the letter writer is incompetent is not an acceptable assumption to make. If you really do need to override an adult’s rights, then there is a legal process for determining whether an adult is no longer capable of making their own decisions. It is often useful in deeply unfortunate situations such as dementia. But it is not something to be used lightly, because taking away a person’s autonomy is a horrible thing to do to a person. And it is not something the letter writer’s mother has a right to independently decide for herself.

      1. “That is a great way of saying, “What if you shouldn’t be trusted to make your own decisions? What if I really do know better than you do what is best for you? What if I really do have a right to override your decisions?””

        ” If you really do need to override an adult’s rights, then there is a legal process for determining whether an adult is no longer capable of making their own decisions. It is often useful in deeply unfortunate situations such as dementia. But it is not something to be used lightly, because taking away a person’s autonomy is a horrible thing to do to a person. And it is not something the letter writer’s mother has a right to independently decide for herself.”

        Yes to all of this!!

    28. WOW. No.

      The reason I have a close relationship with my 22-year-old daughter is that I don’t view her as an extension of my own ego — she is an amazing and fully-fledged human being, and I damn well treat her as such.

      My mother claimed to have an attitude like yours — “But I’m just trying to keep you out of trouble!”, “Why would you write/think/say something if you wouldn’t want it shared with me?”, “I’m just concerned!”, “You should have known better!”, while still doing her best to nose into every aspect of our personal business in order to critique it.

      This is why my daughter and I refer to her as “narcissistic,” “toxic,” “horrible,” and “an actual Skeksis.”

      Strangely enough, despite strenuously resisting her “concern,” neither of us has ever wound up “in the gutter” (one of my mother’s pet boogeymen), or strung-out on THE HEROIN, to mention yours.

    29. Oh, honey, bless your heart. NO.

      I’m 50; the offspring is 27. And the rules sure as Hell are not different for us, not if we respect them as people rather than possessions/extensions of ourselves. They have their own destinies: we either made sure they got the tools they needed to bring that destiny into being or we didn’t, but when they’re 21 it’s theirs to carry and ours to step back and let them get on with it.

      (And equating vibrators with hard drugs, for pity’s sake?)

    30. 21 year olds are adults and they should be handling their own problems. If they need you they’ll come to you for advice, but it is not okay to try to force trust. You’re not entitled to know everything about your kids, so just let it go. Also, if you did a good job parenting in the first place, your kids would already be making good choices on their own.

      1. While I agree with your main points, I would like to point out that some people make bad decisions regardless of the good parenting they got, just like many people here made good decisions despite the bad parenting they got.
        Good parenting helps but it doesn’t guarantee good decisions from the kids. Someone can be the world’s best parent and still end up with a drug addicted bad decision making child. It’s less likely than if they’re a good patent but it can still happen.

    31. Here’s the thing: the reason my mom is “only peripherally involved in my life” is BECAUSE she wouldn’t stop snooping.
      My senior year of high school, I got a part time job and moved out of the house as that was the only way to get the constant, judgmental, accusatory cross examination to stop. I am now 39. I have never disclosed anything remotely personal to her since.

      Never felt the slightest urge to try heroin, either.

    32. “What if she was snooping and found heroin?”

      I have a pretty big problem with this kind of logic because it’s used to justify a lot of shitty behavior. Because the fact is, LW didn’t have heroin in her draw, did she? She had her own personal effects, through which her mother does NOT have the right to look.

      Also just pointing out that you are not answering LW’s question. It doesn’t matter why her mom is snooping, what matters is that LW finds a way to set boundaries and handle the situation moving forward to prevent this from happening ever again. The dismissive town of your comment is really not cool.

    33. This is a satire, right? Some kind of creative writing exercise designed to help you think about an opposing perspective, I hope?!

      I had a mother who would’ve agreed with the philosophy in your username. I went to college 1700 miles away from home to escape.

      If I’m reading your comment correctly, your “baby” is a grown adult. It’s way past time to land the helicopter.

    34. Sorry, but NO. 21 is a legal adult, any mistakes they make are their mistakes, and they most definitely DO NOT need “caring adult around to help guide you this phase”, mostly because THEY are the adult, and forcing yourself where you’re not needed is NOT helpful, but annoying at best, manipulative at worst, and always demeaning.

    35. I sincerely hope you are joking.
      If not I am glad I am not your child and that I have a beautiful intelligent mother who respects my right to be my own person and have my own life. She raised me well and we are very close because she would Never dare to force her will upon my life in such a way.
      I am a mother too and I absolutely respect my son’s right to privacy and his own space and you know what? I have never once had to snoop into his personal belongings because he trusts me enough to come to me and not hide himself away.
      You don’t raise good people by strangling them to death with the umbilical cord. You have to let go and trust them and trust yourself. The babies in our family grow up to be competent confident adults who respect others and are respected by others in return.

    36. Wow. Sounds like you’re trying to justify some boundary violations of your own.

    37. You know, my mother never snooped through my things. Not once. Not when I was a child, not now that I am what you apparently consider to still be a child. The way you’re framing snooping, that means she was a bad mother or something, when in reality she didn’t snoop or touch my things because she was a mother who *respected me as a person*.

      Also, vibrators are not heroin! For goodness’ sake! That analogy is *terrible*. What if she had just found extra shampoo but still told her child that, essentially, they have no right to privacy IN THEIR OWN HOME? Because with snooping, that’s what the message is, not ‘I care about you’ but ‘I am willing to violate your boundaries/hurt you because I’m an Authority’.

    38. “She’s the type who lives for others. You can tell the others by their hunted expressions.”

      1. I love this quote. Where is it from? It explains why I dislike certain attitudes SO MUCH .

        1. It’s from Saki (H.H. Munro) – a great satirical writer who suffered from overwhelming aunts. Glad to know I’m not the only fan!

    39. Everything about this comment sets my teeth on edge, from your chosen username (presumable specifically for this?) to just the comment itself. Is your baby always your baby? Well, you’re always their mother, hopefully. But your child eventually grows into a young adult, and then a plain old adult. And adults, young or otherwise, do not appreciate being treated like a baby.

      But hey, way to gaslight the LW. She’s feeling incredibly violated by her mother snooping (and then to make it weirder, lying about what she was doing), and you tell her that it’s not a big deal. LW is 21–that is an adult. What her mother is doing is violating her trust (and then LYING).

      It is so deeply unsettling when parents look at this sort of thing and see it as “completely justified” because “I’m your mother.”

      “This is your mom, not a repairman or a stranger.”

      Take your smileyface elsewhere and stop assuming:
      A) That everyone’s mom is a trustworthy, good person or good mother.
      B) That being someone’s mom gives you the right to do something like this.

      “This is your mom” has covered an awful lot of sins in this world. Many mothers may often feel like they’re doing something for the best (I know my mom sure felt that way when she tried to get my siblings sneak-baptised into the pentecostal church, and when she forced them into her religion for years–to this day, she still feels that she did what was best, and that she knew best because “she’s the mother.” She did it with nothing but love), and they are still doing something awful. Invasion of privacy doesn’t magically become better because the person in question is your family. If anything, that can make it worse. I mean, so WHAT if a repairman knows you have sex toys?

      Everything about that comment was just so smug and infuriating and gross.

    40. Ugh, ALSO

      ” The rules regarding snooping are very different if someone has given birth to you.”

      NO THEY ARE NOT. SHOVING SOMEONE OUT OF YOUR VAGINA DOES NOT GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO GO SNOOPING THROUGH THEIR LIFE. That whole “I gave birth to you” is some HELLA manipulative crap used by TERRIBLE mothers to justify what they do to their kids, and just a passing freaking familiarity with abusive childhoods could have told you that.

      “Plus, maybe you’ve given her a reason that she feels the need to check up on you?”

      I really just want to swear at you right now. How gross is it, to tell an adult that, hey, maybe you were asking for it? Maybe you brought this invasion of privacy on yourself? Gross. Please, please don’t do this to your “babies.”

      1. Yes. Your two comments here are absolutely perfect, and totally sum up exactly how annoyed and sickened I felt reading “that fully grown adult is still somehow a baby” (or whatever’s) comment.

    41. “The rules regarding snooping are very different if someone has given birth to you” – I just want to highlight this, because I know that my parents would agree with this sentence. Not only did they feel like it was their responsibility to teach me that snooping is rude in general, they also felt a special responsibility, as my parents, to teach me that I am an autonomous person, and that I deserve privacy and respect in all my relationships, starting with my relationship with them.

      As well as telling me this explicitly, they have made it clear by their actions – paying attention to and respecting my boundaries, my privacy, and my ability to make my own decisions both as a child (not ALL the decisions, of course) and an adult (yes, ALL the decisions). I am sure that this respect has made it easier for me to ask for their advice and help when I needed it. They have tried very hard to make it clear that anything they give me comes from love, and with no strings attached. I can only hope that I’ve managed to convey the same message to my own child.

    42. …No.

      My mom still sees me as her kid, deep down. The difference is she doesn’t treat me like I’m still a kid. And she never treated me the way you’re trying to justify. I still live under her roof at 21 and our relationship is great partly because I have always had my own space that no one is allowed to invade. She showed she cared by trying to guide me to be a good person who respects other people, and by being a good example of that.

    43. I don’t want to overwhelm you with piles of disagreement, dude, but here is a lovely personal case study.

      My mother’s identity is very much bound up with being a Caring Mother Who Does Her Best And Is Only Disassembling Your Bedframe To Look For Private Sexy Stuff Because She Cares About You So Much. (You would probably get along terribly well.) When I moved to another country, I asked if she could store some of our large items, which were boxed, in her attic: these were mostly books, my wedding dress, various bulky or heavy things that we weren’t quite ready to get rid of, but which we couldn’t afford to ship at the time. As soon as we had left the country, my mother tore open the boxes and went through the books, throwing a great deal of them away. (What if there had been Schrodinger’s Heroin? She just didn’t know!)

      She then made a point of calling me and telling me that she had thrown away my “lesbian porn” (a sapphic collection of nudes in art, BUT QUITE TASTEFUL THANK YOU MOM) and my husband’s old handwritten recipe book, which she had read so closely that she had discerned that some recipes were handwritten by an ex-girlfriend; she explained that she was saving my marriage by discarding it and that I should be grateful. As my wedding dress had gotten dirty and would never come clean, she had cut it up for sewing projects. She did this in a tone that implied she had done us a huge favor. She expected our thanks and apologies for making her do all of this extra work. (If anything, it’s a GOOD thing! Laugh it off and move on.)

      My mother-in-law has two sons. The boys grew up expecting that adults would be thoughtful, rational allies who could be trusted and relied upon, but who – above all – wanted them to be happy and independent. When we asked my in-laws to store another batch of our bulky items, they chirped “sure!” and removed a bit of wall paneling in the attic, where we put our stuff. My in-laws screwed the wall panel back in, hung a picture over it, put some bookcases and the spare bed in front of it, and put a note in their household documents that the secret attic crawlspace was full of possessions that actually belonged to Elodie Glass, in case we all died before recovering them, and my heirs wished to reclaim my personal possessions without strangers going through it. That is how serious they were about respecting the boundaries between Their Shit and My Shit. They literally rebuilt an actual wall and put in their will that only my heirs ought to rifle through those boxes AFTER MY ACTUAL DEATH.


      One set of parents knows practically nothing about our life and has not been seen in the past three years.

      We’re off to see the other set tonight just because they bought an unexpectedly big roast for their dinner and thought we might like to share.

      They sound like small things, don’t they? I would never cut out a person for cutting up my wedding dress. That would be silly. It’s only a dress. But trust and respect are built out of a lot of infinitely small things, over an immense period of time, like a coral reef. You can’t just smash a coral reef, and then complain that you have no fish. You can’t insist that fish build their own coral reef. You just have to try to be kind, and slow, and work hard, and build your reef, and think that if it is safe for them and they want to, the fish will come.

        1. And threw away a keepsake book of recipes her husband had collected from people who are/were close to him. As a cook this makes me snarl. As an amateur historian this makes me cringe. As a person who believes in roots this almost makes me cry.

      1. Your wedding dress.


        I’m so sorry that happened to you. You have an amazingly zen attitude. I don’t think I would be able to restrain myself if my mom cut up my wedding dress- or hell, any of the things I’ve asked her to store.

      2. Schrodinger’s heroin ha!

        The whole “what if there was heroin?” is completely beside the point. It’s a question that’s completely separated from any actual sense of reality; it has nothing to do with the adult child’s behavior, or health, or anything else that a parent might say to themselves “it seems like my child might be in trouble or having a hard time”. It’s basically “there could be heroin at any time, regardless of my adult child’s current situation, so I have to violate their privacy!” It’s not some “but how will I know unless I directly look? Is the cat dead or alive (I’m really loving this Schrodinger’s heroin turn of phrase-maybe you can tell)?” scenario.

        It’s just an excuse for bad behavior wrapped in fake concern to turn everything around on the person who’s boundaries have been violated. “I behaved badly but it’s your fault.” If heroin is indeed something a parent should legitimately be concerned about, there will be actual signs, in which case it still wouldn’t be the appropriate action to immediately start rifling through their house.

    44. Are you my mother in law? You sound a lot like my mother in law. Or like she sounded a year ago, which was the last time I spoke to her.

      1. Yeah, I got the chills reading that, it makes me think of my mother in law’s favourite refrain ‘But I’m the mummy!’ which is an excuse for such wide ranging things as opening her daughter’s mail, to finishing a shared bottle of wine, to poking around our house to giving unsolicited advice.

    45. Nope. The rules regarding snooping are exactly the same regardless of blood.
      Your baby is an adult, and you have to deal with that.

      Also, it’s incredibly shitty to assume the worse of someone (“what if there’s heroin”? Seriously? Are you seriously so distrusting of your kid that you think they’re hooked on drugs and engaging in self-destructive behaviours? Your esteem for your kid is pretty questionable) as an excuse to snoop on them.

      You should probably read all the parent-child relationship letters on this site and improve your life.

    46. Oh, hell no.

      When I was 21, I was a married adult with a college degree and my own apartment–I was not a child, and my parents didn’t treat me like one. That’s one of the reasons, nearly 10 years later, that I still get along with them. I’m pretty close to my mom, and I can’t imagine her ever going through my dresser drawers unless she was, like, in desperate need of a tampon and thought they would be there–and if she found my sex toys in the process, I can guarantee you she’d never ever mention it. Even when I was a teenager, she wouldn’t have done that.

      It actually really freaks me out that you think treating an independent adult like a small child who has no right to their privacy is a sign of love.

    47. Your child is not your appendage. Even minor children have rights, but snooping on your adult children is really not on. If you are deliberately trying to poison your relationship with your adult child, you are stepping in the right direction. Trust is earned – in both directions.

      Most moms don’t find any heroin while snooping on their children – adult or otherwise. What they do find are things that are against parental rules, but do not necessarily break age-appropriate societal rules.

      What my mom found:
      – Music she considered inappropriate (heavy metal and punk)
      – Books she considered inappropriate (oh, so many topics – alt history, fantasy, sci-fi, atheist/questioning religion, material on comparative religions)
      – Junk food (because who wants to share with all the siblings?)
      – Clothing
      – Cosmetics

      So not even anything related to any of the “big” things: sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco

      What my mom got in the end:
      – A teenager who moved out at age 16 over irreconcilable differences. One who never moved back, moved a thousand miles away, rarely initiates telephone contact, and visits once every few years. It is now 28 yrs later.

      Is that the kind of relationship you want with your adult daughter?

    48. My first thought was that this post had to be a sarcastically humorous one and that I just wasn’t getting it. Then I realized that Mybaby may be serious so I’ll answer seriously: No. Being worried about a child is not a sign of love. It’s a sign of mistrust. Mistrust is an insult. It’s saying you’re too stupid to manage your own life. Worry is a form of manipulation. It’s shorthand for: “You have to tell me things that are none of my business to set my mind at ease because you’re responsible for my irrational worry.” (Then usually, instead of my mind being put at ease, I’ll worry more and manipulate you more because I now have more ammunition.) The signs that something is seriously wrong in a child’s life, the sort of things that actually do merit some sort of intervention, include sudden terrible grades, constant sleeping, never seeming happy, having no interest in the things that used to be considered fun, unexplained serious bruises or cuts, and several others I can’t think of off the top of my head but that are easily found online. They do not include a desire for privacy and a desire not to talk about every intimate private feeling including sexual ones. Nowhere in the lists of things to look out for in case of depression or self-harm or substance abuse or domestic abuse is there anything about keeping a private diary. All of these can be discovered in normal interaction with the child, not by snooping. If you are legitimately worried, the right action to take is to suggest a doctor or licensed mental health professional, not snooping. What if she was snooping and found heroin? Com’on, do you even know what heroin looks like, or do you just like to find stuff and speculate that your daughter is living a more exciting and fulfilled life than you could? What reason might that daughter give that Mother feels a need to check up on you? Being 21 years old and living in your own apartment (with sex toys!) is not a crime.

    49. I’m lucky enough to have parents who still care about me and are involved in my life. My mom understood when I moved out that she couldn’t control my actions and environment even if she wanted to. She showed she cared by keeping in touch, being interested in my life, and offering help and advice when it was needed and wanted. Because she made the difficult choice to let me find my own way as an adult, I’ve always trusted her enough to confide in her about the important things – even now, at age 32. My life is better because we respect and trust each other, and I hope hers is too. Throwing away that trust by digging for evidence of sex or drugs *which you can’t stop your grown-up offspring from doing anyway* is a bad deal for everyone involved.

      By the way, when I was 21 I had a full time job and my own apartment, and that was the year I started dating the man I would eventually marry. I wasn’t a child – and my parents wouldn’t have wanted me to be.

    50. Christ almighty.

      I actually had a talk with my own mom about this letter. My mom doesn’t snoop and respects my privacy. Always has, even when I was a troubled teen. Just enough parental oversight to keep me properly parented while respecting my privacy and growing sense of independence. Now that I’m nearing thirty, and after reading this letter, I asked her if it was hard for her to let go of the parenting instinct and make that gradual change to treating me like a (young) adult. She said it was one of the hardest things she has ever done for me and my siblings, that the urge to mother is overwhelming sometimes, that she really has thought about snooping and offering unsolicited advice but decided against it, and most of all, that she made a decision to trust the education she’d given me when I was dependent on her and my dad.

      She never went looking for “heroin” (gah, what a straw man) because she was reasonably sure there would be no “heroin” to find, because she trusted me and her own parenting. And she trusted that if there was heroin, I loved and trusted her enough to seek her help. I often did. Because I trusted her to treat me like an adult.

      I made sure to thank her very much.

    51. @mybaby’salwaysmybaby — I won’t be alone with my mother. I won’t answer the phone when she calls unless I’m in a good mood. I don’t tell her anything about my life that I wouldn’t tell a barista I just met. She barely sees my kid. her only granddaughter. If I’m having a bad day, most of my friends know it’s because I’ve just had a conversation with my mother. I clench my teeth during holidays. I. Don’t. Like. Her.

      You know why? Because she’s never respected my boundaries. She didn’t stop when I turned 18. or 25. Or 30. Now that I’m 41, she still fails to respect them, I just don’t let her anywhere near my boundaries anymore. And she’s sad because she’s only peripherally involved in my life.

    52. My mother never snooped on me, never read my diary, never checked in my drawers. Not even when I was a child and living in her house. Because she respects me and believes I am entitled to my privacy.

      Yet somehow I have never done heroin. Odd.

      Your arguments are specious and lacking in logic. My mother would compress her lips at you and ask you in a very tight voice if you *wanted* to drive your children away.

    53. Oh gods, someone who thinks boundary-violation is a sign of love. No. Never. It never, ever is. People set boundaries FOR REASONS – respecting that is a sign of love.

      You probably don’t realize it, but you’re engaging in rape culture apologetics right now: when you train people that their own boundaries about themselves and their possessions don’t matter, and that violating them is a sign of love, you’re teaching them to internalize rape apologetics. This isn’t just a little not okay, this is very seriously wrong. Stop, right now.

    54. No. Just no. I have a 21-year old child and I would not dream of pulling this shit with her! I am very involved in some aspects of her life and not at all in others – depending on what she needs in a given context, which is exactly as it should be; she is a young adult – which means she gets to ask for my input when she wants it, and I am happy to help where I can. Oddly enough, she treats me and my private life with the same respect – and as it happens, we discuss (not everything but many) things quite a lot. I wonder why.
      Neither of us is anywhere remotely like perfect, obviously, and we both get on each other’s nerves at times. In other words … ordinary people.
      If I thought one of my kids was doing something damaging like smoking tobacco or in danger of drinking excessively I would try talking to them. And if they didn’t want to talk to me, I would try to get them to talk to someone else.
      I wouldn’t snoop through their rooms or the equivalent unless I sincerely believed they were on the immediate brink of suicide – because apart from the fact that it’s wrong, that loss of trust would do the child infinitely more harm.

    55. @My baby’s always my baby:

      I mean, really, that’s ridiculous.

      “Hey, you should be totally thrilled to have a mom who doesn’t respect your privacy, just in case you decide to be a heroin addict one day!!”

      Look at what you are doing. If you treat your child like this and they haven’t cut ties with you, you still have time to back off. Please, please, please do.

      I have a special needs 4-year-old. She still gets as much privacy as I can reasonable give her (and as she gets older and able to care for herself more, she’ll have more). It’s possible to respect your child and still keep them safe. Really

    56. My parents tried to control me from another state when I was 25+. They spent my formative years abusing me and basically ensuring I had no privacy.

      They won’t stop, and your comment is pretty insulting, implying that the LW doesn’t know that it’s her mother, and oh, yeah… you don’t know her mother. You can’t say “oh, she’ll stop!” with any sense of accuracy. Like, really?

    57. I’m really bothered by the victim-blaming here. The LW’s mom was snooping in a way that was weird and gross, and has the attitude that the LW shouldn’t want to have *any* secrets AT ALL from her (“if I I don’t want her to know I have something, I shouldn’t own it”). And you’re not only saying it isn’t wrong or weird, but that it’s probably the LW’s fault. That is so unbelievably not okay.

      My relationship with my mom is complicated. There were years of abuse and treating me as an extension of herself. But when, in my early 20s, I underwent a major personal crisis, I asked my mom for help. She came and stayed with me in my dorm room and helped me put myself back together. There were a bunch of reasons I was willing to ask for her help. She’d changed (a LOT) for the better after leaving a field of work she hated for one she loved. I really wanted the kind of close and loving relationship our culture tells us daughters and mothers are supposed to have. But also, in all the awfulness, she had almost always respected my privacy. That meant a lot. I could go to class and know that my mom was in my dorm room and be okay with that, because I knew she wasn’t going to go snooping through my things or my computer files.

      If she’d had a history of going through my stuff, I wouldn’t have asked for her help. And I turned out to really need it.

    58. NOPE.

      You sound like you’d get on really well with my mother. My mother, who is the sole reason I’m choosing literal homelessness for (at least) three months after I graduate instead of moving back in. Because I cannot trust my mother to give me privacy. Because I do not feel safe in my parents’ house.

      If my mother found heroin (which, nope, none there), she would be the last person that would help me. I’m basing this on how well she reacted to me talking about my depression (she completely flipped out and was nowhere in the region of “helpful” or “supportive” and in fact made things so much worse to the point that I considered checking myself in to the local psych ward to ensure I did not hurt myself while visiting). I’m also basing this on how well she reacted to me coming out to her. I didn’t realize how fucked up it was that I ended up comforting her in this process because she “never really felt I loved her and that’s all she wanted” when I was concerned about large swathes of relatives pretending that I did not exist and that due to my parents’ association to me, extend to them.

  17. ‘if you don’t want me to know you have something, you shouldn’t own it’

    ‘…wow, mum, what an unbelievably creepy thing to say to another adult.’

    ‘but, but, [excuse!]’


    ‘hey, child o’ mine, remember that time I found your dildo? wasn’t that hilarious?’

    ‘…wow, mum, what an unbelievably creepy thing to say to another adult.’

    ‘but, but, [excuse!]’


    make it awkward. make it SO AWKWARD. Or rather, take the awkward she has already made you feel and turn it back on her with the force of a thousand personal boundaries.

    1. “take the awkward she has already made you feel and turn it back on her with the force of a thousand personal boundaries.”

      This. I am going to be keeping this beautiful tidbit for future use.

  18. My mother’s definition of not snooping is: You didn’t find out that I snooped.
    My mother’s definition of not violating a confidence is: You can’t prove that I’m the one who told everyone the details of your private life.
    My mother’s definition of not lying is: I forgot.
    My mother’s definition of taking my things and never returning them is: I needed it.
    My mother would write her phone messages in my private journal and need to use my room because my desk was the only neat clean place in the house.

    We used to get into big arguments about this in which I’d point out the evidence, explain what a violation it was, and she’d come back with some variation on her definitions above. It was much more subtle than that, more convoluted, and I had the worst time thinking my way clear through the obfuscations. Finally after years or arguing and making my position as clear as clear (and after lots of therapy), I stopped inviting her over, stopped confiding in her, stopped talking about much else besides the weather, stopped depending on her to keep her word. My arguments with her were relatively mild. Other family members screamed and threw things. It didn’t happen over night, but she eventually started complaining that we weren’t close, that I never told her anything, and that I never invited her over. During one of the times in which she was complaining about my reasonable boundaries, I said by way of explanation something along the lines of “You never show up on time.” She was honestly and genuinely flabbergasted. “You mean you never invite me over because I was late once?” I shrugged and nodded. (I believe she’d never given a thought as to what it was like for me to be waiting in front of an abandoned elementary school for hours while the sun went down. She honestly thought that doing that to me constantly was the same as being late once.)

    Question, LW, Can your mother hurt you financially or any other substantial way? If yes, first work on gaining enough independence so she no longer can.

    That said, I’d like to see the day when vibrators are considered roughly as private as toilet paper and tampons. I don’t go around talking about my bathroom habits, but I figure everybody poops, and for that reason, there’s toilet paper in the bathroom so people can wipe their ass. I don’t announce when I’m menstruating either, but there are tampons in the bathroom because I take it for granted that everyone knows women menstruate and use tampons (or equivalent product). Similarly, I don’t talk about my sex habits, but I assume that everyone has them, and therefore everyone uses a vibrator or some other sort of sex toy except for the people who don’t prefer them. For that reason, my vibrator, condoms and lube live in a drawer by my bed along with a flashlight, spare pair of glasses, and oddly enough some art supplies. (Don’t ask me why. I just checked, and they’re there.)

    I don’t know what your mother said when she found your private items, but whatever she said, I hope the response was along the lines of a nod and shrug. The idea is to convey that whatever you keep in your dresser drawers is private, not shameful.

    1. I prefer the way things are now. It is okay to see toilet paper and tampons in a bathroom, but I would prefer to not see sextoys. Not to say that people should be ashamed of owning them, it is just that I don’t want to know about it. The closer I am related to people, the less I want to know about their sex lives, and I think that’s perfectly healthy.

      1. I don’t think Clarry was saying we should all have our dildos in glass display cases in the bathroom… just that we all have them, so we should all expect that others will keep them in similar places to where you keep yours (tampons=bathroom; vibrators=bedside drawer/shoebox under bed/sock drawer) and therefore no one should be snooping in those places.

        1. Yes, that is what I meant. And if someone started teasing me about having found tampons in my bathroom, I’d look at them like they were crazy and say something along the lines of “what did you expect?” Similarly, if someone did comment about finding a vibrator in a drawer next to my bed, I’d look at them like they were the crazy one for being surprised or thinking that was something okay to comment on.

    2. My mother was a huuuuge boundary-violator around the idea that she was being more liberal and liberated than our prudish society, and by extension, her prudish kids. She is STILL very upset that I won’t discuss my sex life with her. It’s very. very. very uncomfortable. A boundary violation is a boundary violation, whether it’s “WHY would you have a DIRTY OBJECT that I CAN’T SEE?” or “WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT THAT STUFF WITH ME? WE’RE BOTH WOMEN! SISTERHOOD!”. Private does not equal shameful, and unshameful does not equal your mother’s business.

  19. My mom used to do this sort of stuff and then try to embarrass me. Like, she brought up that she found a receipt for handcuffs when we were at dinner with a friend of mine.
    What helped – and this is not for everyone – was to be impossible to embarrass or faze.Like, “yup, I bought some handcuffs. That’s right. Also, the pizza here is really good.” (This is not a direct quote, since it was over a decade ago.)
    She’s snooping to elicit a response in you – either to get you to modify your behavior, or to provoke some emotional response. If you don’t give her that, she may stop.

  20. Is it weird that I kinda want to go home and check out how smoothly (or not) my drawers open?

    1. The premise is making my laugh because the only think I keep in my nightstand drawer is my collection of vibrators, and, since I assembled it incorrectly, the drawer legitimately is very hard to open. I figure it will prevent any snoopers from investigating my vibrator collection, though if you open a closed drawer next to a bed that has a couple of charging cables leading into it, you deserve what you get.

      1. ” if you open a closed drawer next to a bed that has a couple of charging cables leading into it, you deserve what you get” this made me cackle a cat-scaring calibre cackle

      2. Well in my case, you’d find my kindle and my mobile phone, but whatever floats your boat. 😛

  21. I kind of hoped that discovering something like sextoys would be its own punishment. It is, I thought, something one really, really, really does not want to know about relatives. Apparently, I was wrong.

    I would second the suggestion to make it more awkward, but that only works on average human beings who actually experience such things as awkwardness. Not sure LW’s mother is that kind of person.

  22. Dear LW

    I don’t know you or your mother. But I do know she was out of line going through your stuff. It really sucks that she did.

    Another possible script is along the lines of “Ma, I don’t care that you know I masturbate. I’m surprised that you felt it necessary to comment on it though.”

  23. And yet, she felt the need to lie about snooping. It’s like sometimes she does things she doesn’t want YOU to know about.

    Not that the two things are remotely the same, but If you need ways to make this more awkward FOR HER, she kinda left that one hanging there…

  24. Just a friendly word for Jennifer’s email moderators: the link in the email is how I usually get here, but today the email link didn’t work. I was able to find the post here by going directly through the website, and searching. Here I include the email link, which you will notice has the wrong date, and so leads to a 404–NOT FOUND–page (note the “04/24” in the URL) :


    It may be too late to do anything about it at this point (unless you feel like sending an update email). Just thought I’d let you know.

    🙂 This is more just advice, doesn’t really need to be published on the site, but if it is, no biggie.

  25. Hah. I grew up with a boundary-free mother and I actually had to be told, as a nineteen-year-old, that it wasn’t appropriate to open someone’s desk drawer, read the letter you found in it, and then tell everybody about it. I HAD TO BE TOLD. It took me YEARS to fully get my head around privacy, thanks to my snoopy, snoopy mom. She is trying, god bless her, after years of us prompting her about how uncomfortable the line-crossing makes us, and a fair amount of natural-consequence not inviting her over – she apparently sits in the car outside and says I AM NOT GOING TO SNOOP, and then as soon as she’s inside she does something like start folding all our paper napkins into easy-to-use triangles to keep her hands busy so that she doesn’t compulsively rifle through stuff. I see her trying, and I appreciate it, and the fact that it’s happened and will probably happen again STILL makes me so uncomfortable that I don’t have her in my house very often.

    LW, it’s true that in some families there is a kind of culture of casual line-crossing surveillance from parents to children, and it’s true that different people have different opinions about how much is too much and when it should stop. But I think “adults do NOT GO THROUGH OTHER ADULTS’ BEDSIDE DRAWERS” is a clear, straightforward line. I think that now is when you draw that line. A lot of parents – and other adults – react to someone setting a boundary by laughing or blaming the other person for being sensitive or prudish (that was my mother’s favorite) or somehow in the wrong. I don’t think you necessarily need to go straight to Jennifer P’s nuclear option, just from the stuff in this letter, but I think that you are perfectly within your rights to make it awkward, and you can do this by talking like a therapy robot. “It made me very uncomfortable when you did that. I am not comfortable having you in my house if you’re going to go through my things. I need you to agree not to rifle through my stuff.” She will laugh it off or blame you. Try not to escalate or respond in kind or get sidetracked? Rearticulate “I need you to agree not to rifle through my stuff. I’m not comfortable having you in my home if you’re going to rifle through my stuff.” Give it a couple of goes and then disengage. She is protecting her dignity by laughing it off and blaming you. She is avoiding the feeling of having done wrong, or having found out things that made her uncomfortable. Addressing your request directly means having that uncomfortable feeling. Expect her to be slippery, like an eel, and expect to have to actually stick to your guns and not invite her over. This is parenting in reverse – if you set a boundary but then never enforce it, she’s just going to learn that she doesn’t have to take you seriously yet. Decide that this is when this gets done, or decide to let it go and pick another battle on this. You can do it! It can get better.

  26. LW, if your mother had been house-sitting for several days, and sleeping in your bedroom, and opening your nightstand drawers during that time, I might be willing to accept ‘she didn’t mean to snoop’. Someone who goes into your bedroom during five minutes you are not there to watch and opens a drawer means to snoop. And not only did she snoop, and found something that wasn’t left out for her to see, she felt the need to tell you that Big Brother is watching you. (See the previous letter for another example… your mother’s behaviour is no less creepy and inappropriate than the roommate there.)

    That was not ok. It especially was no way to treat an adult you wish to have a good relationship with.

  27. “I am willing to accept she might not have initially meant to snoop”

    Why, LW? From where I’m standing, the snooping could not have been more clear or purposeful. If it was truly an accident, she would have done the normal-person-who-is-not-a-snoop thing and done her best to forget what she saw, never mentioning it to you. All of this was done on purpose, including her choice to bring it up to you, watch you squirm, and then blame you for having a problem with what she did. Does she often embarrass you and then play innocent later? Does she usually substitute piss-poor excuses for an apology? (Seriously, “testing the smoothness of the drawers”? Come on.) You know what she did and so does she.

    Accept and understand that she has no respect for your privacy. Her response to you shows that she sees nothing wrong with snooping, which means she’s going to keep doing it as long as you give her the opportunity. Your instincts are 100% right. It’s time to stop letting her into your home. I’d even go a step further and make sure she’s never left with your phone, wallet, etc. either.

  28. Hi LW. My mother is an unhinged narcissist who for years treated my boundaries like the adorable flailings of a wee tiny child, like when a baby can’t quite figure out how hands work. Therefore, as an adult I shut down her boundary incursions fast and hard. If your mother is typically a reasonable person and this was a lapse, disregard the rest of my comments because they will be too harsh. But if she often treads on you in this manner, feel free to avail yourself of the following scripts if/when you call her on being an interloper.

    Her (minimizing): I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss. I changed your diapers! There’s nothing there I don’t already know about.
    You (serious): I haven’t worn diapers in 20 years, Mom. Anything occurring in my pants stopped being your business a long time ago.
    Her: Honestly, you’re so sensitive.
    You: I’m exactly sensitive enough to people being intrusive guests in my home. Yuck.

    Her (faux outrage): I’m just *shocked* that you’d have such… things. I feel like I don’t even know my own daughter.
    You (matter of fact): I masturbate, Mom. It’s not a big deal. Quit being so weird about other people’s sex lives.
    Her: But you’re my baby! I’m right to be concerned!
    You: I’m going to keep masturbating, Mom. You should speak to a doctor if you have questions about how it happens.

    Her (defensive): Well, I wouldn’t have opened the drawer if I’d known what I was going to find there.
    You (calm): A good way to not be offended by the contents of people’s drawers is to not open them uninvited.
    Her: But I was testing the smoothness!
    You: That’s not even a thing. Don’t invade other people’s privacy, you know better than that.

    Her (offensive): If you had a boyfriend, you wouldn’t need those things.
    You (eyebrow raised): Those options are not mutually exclusive, you know.

    Her (guilt trip): When I was your age, my mother –insert outlandish justification here–.
    You (incredulous): And having experienced how gross it was, why would *you* do that to someone you love? Please don’t ever do that again.
    Her: But I love you!
    You: Then please show that by treating me with respect for the adult I am.

    Her (normalizing): We’re just very open in our family. Opening drawers, who care? We don’t all have secrets like you do.
    You (relaxed): Whatever, Mom. I’m sure you’d be totally fine with Aunt Betty (note: be sure to chose a relative she hates) just walking in and looking through your checkbook.
    Her (doubling down): Of course I would!
    You: I’ll be sure to tell her that at Thanksgiving when we secretly try on all your makeup together.

  29. Oh God. I hope this isn’t a threadjack, but this is too close to home and I have to share this mortifying thing that happened to me: My mother stole my vibrator. It went missing after she helped me move and it took a few months for me to finally conclude that there was no other place it could have gone. So I snooped (yeah, I admit it) next time I was at her house. I opened the trunk at the foot of her bed and there it was, right on top.

    I thought about it for a while and decided to be the bigger person. Sort of. Ok, not really. I teased her about it. But that was a big step up for me from the outrage I would once have felt. This was closer to… pity. My mother is a really repressed Pentecostal missionary. I honestly think she was driven to this by desperation – she could never, ever bring herself to learn about her sexuality and find stuff she likes. I teased her in the hope that humor could open some sort of honest conversation about sex and bodies. It… did not. She shut down. She muttered an apology and her face turned beet red and I mentally revised my plan to bring it up unexpectedly and mercilessly in the days following in hope she’d eventually find the lighter side of it. We haven’t talked about it since.

    Anyway, when I told my therapist, she burst out laughing and said that was a first for her. I win!

  30. My dad was a snoopy snooper, but he almost seems better than this. He read my diary, my emails, my private online conversations on any and all websites or mediums, my contacts, my texts, went through my things, and literally followed me. But he only mentioned a few of his findings. He’d hint sometimes that he Knew Things, and sometimes he’d tell my mum and be like “this must be stopped!” usually self harm and promiscuity, which, I guess at least those things are actually dangerous? Not promiscuity inherently but I was underage and the people were dodgy. Well anyway it was awful but I almost feel grateful that he kept schtum with a few exceptions even though it still felt so fucking ARGH to know you were being watched constantly. We have an uneasy truce now that sometimes hits the rocks when The Past comes up, and I don’t really turn to him about anything.

    My mum, my brother and I now all have serious triggers about privacy, and pathologically respect each others’. My mum’s toilet broke a while back and we live next door and I knew that she and my brother could come and go to my flat whether I was in or out, asleep or awake, and nothing would be touched outwith toileting necessities. I also confide in them about almost everything because the trust is there. It isn’t rocket science.

  31. Sooo. Once I was doing the dishes with my Dad while my parents were over, and I sat my mum at my computer and showed her some stuff she could look at to amuse herself. She immediately went trawling through my computer and found a collection of porn, which she proceeded to start watching. I heard the noises and went in and asked her to stop. She started commenting on the various porn. She said she could do what she wanted and people needed to stop telling her what to do. I tried to pull the mouse away and she literally wrestled me for it and I didn’t want to get into an actual physical fight with her. In the end I gave up and walked away feeling sick, while she just kept watching and commenting. On hind sight I could have pulled the plug on the computer but I didn’t think of it at the time. I should have pulled the plug and said “What the *hell* are you doing?” but I really kind of froze. So I understand. Wow do I understand. I was in my early 20s when that happened I just didn’t know how to stop her. I was furious, but she kept insisting that we don’t have secrets and acting like I was being a controlling arsehole by asking her to stop. Ugh.

    Sadly all I learnt from that incident was that I should always password lock my computers and never unlock them for my mother for anything other than a locked down guest account. But since then I’ve learnt to do a better job of setting boundaries. Not a perfect job, but a better job. The thing is, if your parent is insisting that it’s reasonable they get to violate your boundaries it’s really easy to get your head spun and not know how to tell them to stop. You have to insist. And keep insisting in the face of their gaslighting. I find it helps to listen to your emotions – if you have the squirmy guts there’s probably shady stuff going on and you should stick to your guns. Keep in mind that it’s not rude to insist on reasonable things like people staying out of your drawers and not commenting on your sex toys!! I mean – gah! People accidentally find sex toys from time to time and reasonable people just don’t mention it at all. It’s a pretty unreasonable and intrusive person who shoves it in your face.

    Anyway. Thankyou Jennifer for that “we aren’t that close” nuclear option. I will, I suspect, need to use it one day. I have avoided going nuclear like that in the past but perhaps it will help. :-O LW I hope you don’t need to use it. You can show your mother consequences for this kind of behaviour – you don’t actually have to let her in your house, if she’s going to go through your drawers and comment on your sex toys.

    Ugh. Good luck. Personally for me the thing that worked best was moving across the country and only seeing her once or twice a year, so hopefully your mum isn’t as bad as that and you just need to firmly establish some adult boundaries.

    1. ACK. UGH. That’s just awful — I mean, “Oh, dear, I didn’t mean to click on that file, tee hee hee CTRL-W” would be embarrassing for a minute and then you could laugh it off and move on. But “I do what I want!” and *wrestling you for your own computer*? NOPE to the power of HAIL NO.

      I am so glad my parents have smartphones and don’t have to use my computers when they’re over at my place.

      1. At that point she’s shifted from “person finding embarrassing thing on her kid’s computer” to “person who’s spending an hour watching computer porn during what was supposed to be a family dinner.”

      2. Yeah this was over a decade ago so smart phones weren’t a thing… These days my parents have their own iPad with mobile internet. And yes…nope nope nope nope

        The weird thing is, when you’ve grown up with people like that it doesn’t always seem as nope-tastic as it really is in the moment. It’s only later when you work out why you’re upset and also how things work in the normal world that your realise how unbelievably fucked up it was.

    2. As I mentioned above, I honestly wonder how much of this behavior stems from “You can’t tell me what to do!” in reaction to any boundary set for them. And as another point, in this case and of that with the poster whose mom stole her vibrator, I have to wonder how much of this comes from a place of, “I don’t enjoy my sex life and I don’t think it’s fair that you enjoy yours!” So basically, repression because of jealousy.

      1. You can’t tell me what to do!!!11!1 Is definitely a factor for my mum. She says it in those exact words and many like it about people bossing her around and such. She definitely views me setting a boundary about my stuff and my person and what I will and won’t do as an imposition on her freedom – like, she wants to prune my garden, therefore if I try to stop her I’m impinging on her autonomy. Also if she has a plan for a thing she wants to do and I or someone else in my family decides not to go that’s also a personal attack and someone trying to stop her from doing the thing – the idea that she could go do the thing without me (or my brother, or my dad or whatever) is not a part of the picture. Because by not going I’m ruining what she wants to do – go to a thing with her family.

        Others have also pointed this out many times, but basically people like this really don’t view their families as separate people but rather as extensions of themselves or as props or pets or something. I’m not convinced they thing anyone but themselves is a real human, but when it comes to the wider world they do seem to recognise that they have to follow various conventions of behaviour to get by.

      2. I assumed she stole it because she was too shy to find and buy her own (if she only wanted to stop the poster enjoying her sex-life, she’d have chucked it out rather than kept it at the foot of her own bed). So for the shyness I have sympathy (even though it’s still a bit much to nick somebody else’s vibrator!)

    3. The thing is, if your parent is insisting that it’s reasonable they get to violate your boundaries it’s really easy to get your head spun and not know how to tell them to stop. You have to insist. And keep insisting in the face of their gaslighting. I find it helps to listen to your emotions

      THANK YOU. This was so important for me to hear. Because it’s so true, I continually get my head spun and find myself biting my lip instead of defending my boundaries. And I was taught never to trust my emotions because I’m “too emotional”, but I’m beginning to think that no one gets to be the judge of my emotions but me.

        1. LW, wordiest has nailed the translation here.

          “Too emotional” is nonsense – too emotional for what? For life? It’s a criticism that gets launched at us when we’re too young to apply logic to it (and yes, “too emotional”/”too worked up”/”overreacting” are all frequently launched at me by my own mom), so we don’t see it for what it is – a statement that makes no sense and is designed to shut down our natural (and very reasonable) boundaries, feelings, and limitations.

          I actually am a more-sensitive-than-average person, and you know what? In every part of my life except the part where I interact with my mom, it’s been an asset. It’s helped me in my career, because I’m more sensitive to my clients’ needs and able to pick up on subtleties. It’s helped me in my personal relationships with people-who-are-not-narcissists for similar reasons. Also, you know what? My “sensitivity” is actually a really awesome asshole filter. If I’m “too sensitive” to be in a relationship with you, it’s because YOU ARE NOT BEING NICE TO ME. A reasonable person’s response to any version of “Hey, that upset me/you hurt my feelings/ouch!” is “Oh wow, I didn’t mean to hurt you/upset you, my apologies, here let me fix it/I will never do it again.” Because reasonable people who care about you don’t want to hurt you. Ever. Full stop. (That’s not to say they don’t ever hurt you – we all hurt each other by mistake sometimes, it comes with the territory of being human, it just means that, when someone who is reasonable and cares about you learns they’ve hurt you, their response is about how to make sure not to hurt you in that way again, NOT how to convince you that they haven’t hurt you.)

          Someone who responds to “ouch” with “Oh, there you go, being oversensitive again” is actively telling you that they care more about their right to behave however they want to behave than they care about not hurting you. And those people? They don’t deserve to take up real estate in your life, and you shouldn’t feel bad about limiting your interactions with them for your own protection (even if they’re faaaaaaamily).

          1. I truly could have used this printed on my mirror when I was a child/teen. My dad threw the ‘too sensitive’ thing at me a lot, as did my high school drama teacher(it wasn’t my audition that kept me out of advanced drama, I was Too Sensitive for the culture of that class… Gee, ever think that having a class that callous/nasty might be the real problem?).

          2. Oh… wow… all my life I’ve regretted my sensitivity… but you just told me it was a gift. Oh. Oh. Oh.

      1. I’m glad it helps! It helps me in all sorts of situations. Keep in mind that your parents can be absolute expert manipulators of you – they raised you, they taught you how to behave and what’s right and wrong, and if those parents are dodgy in some way that means they’ve often raised you to be compliant with whatever dodgy stuff they do. They are in a fantastic position to gaslight the hell out of you. I find squirmy gut feelings are a great clue. It’s not like you even have to respond in line with those feelings right away and lash out or anything potentially unproductive – just recognise that they’re a clue and be wary. Because *something* is upsetting you, and it’s a good idea to work out what it is. I’ve found that upset but confused feeling is usually a sign that someone is being a manipulative arsehole to me – upset because they’re ignoring my boundaries or being secretly mean, and confused because they’ve somehow convinced me that it’s OK for them to do that and it would be unreasonable to complain. I used to spend a huge amount of time worrying in any given argument that I was at fault and I should be careful to examine my own behaviour – so much so that I tended not to notice how much other people might be at fault, or notice how problematic their behaviour might be.

        It is OK for you to set this boundary. Your mum did something unreasonable and out of line and is trying to convince you that you’re out of line for being upset about it.

      2. “Too emotional” really means “I don’t want to hear what you’re saying so I will call you crazy and emotional because then you’ll back down.”

  32. LW, with normal, reasonable humans who understand boundaries, there are a class of places that we know you’re not supposed to fuck with. Things like medicine cabinets, underwear drawers, personal (not shared) computers and, oh yeah, bedside tables!!

    The reason for this is because we all know that PERSONAL STUFF is there. Do you need to know where my sexy undies are, and exactly what they look like? No! Do you need to know the type and strength of my antidepressants? No! Same thing applies to bedside tables because, hey, guess what, that’s where people keep personal stuff!

    So on top of snooping, which is shitty, she’s also telling you that she doesn’t think you should keep personal stuff in the place where personal stuff is kept! Which is absolute shit! She KNOWS that she shouldn’t have snooped there because that’s a place you’re not supposed to snoop! And the fact that she gave you some bullshit about checking the drawers for smoothness? Not only is that a lie, but it’s an insulting lie because it’s so goddamn transparent that the only reason she thinks she can get away with it is either a) she doesn’t care, because you’re not enough of a person for boundaries to matter or b) she thinks you’re egregiously stupid. WHAT. THE. FUCK.

    So, a couple of stories.

    My mom used to keep her nail clippers in her bedside table, so I was used to going there when I needed to trim my nails. And I didn’t realize she had stopped doing that until I was looking for nail clippers and found her copy of Bondage Fairies. And I was like NOPE NOPE NOPE NOT CHECKING HERE ANYMORE. I didn’t mention this to anyone (except my sister, so now we both knew the secret but my mom doesn’t know that we know). So I learned, when I was kind of a dumb kid, that maybe I should respect people’s privacy? It worked out pretty well!

    Second story. My mom came over unexpectedly, and my mom and I have slightly different versions of boundaries. I’m the ridiculous one here, btw, because my boundaries are basically “All humans cannot be trusted and it’s imperative to obsessively hide any and all information about myself” and my mom’s boundaries are basically “We’re a family that likes each other.” So I went to get something and I didn’t realize she’d follow me into my room? Which I wish she hadn’t, because my vibrator and sex towel were out on my unmade bed and I had just introduced her to a guy I hadn’t told her I was dating? But she didn’t say anything. Because, hey, if I’d known she was coming over I would have cleaned, and she’s aware that I am a grown-up human who occasionally touches my fun bits. She wasn’t snooping, didn’t do anything wrong and she saw flagrant examples of the fact that I do sex things AND EVEN SO didn’t mention it. Why the hell would she? The proper thing to do when you find stuff like that is just NOT MENTION IT.

    Personally, as a high-risk-high-reward kind of person, I’m a big fan of yelling. Not because your mom found your vibrator or mentioned it but because she gave you a transparent, insulting lie about how she found it and because she told you that if you didn’t want her to snoop on you, you shouldn’t own things. Unfortunately, yelling is most effective in the moment and that moment has passed. But I would definitely go for firm, angry boundaries, roughly “What you did was NOT OKAY and also SUPER INSULTING because snooping is NOT ACCEPTABLE I AM A DIFFERENT PERSON FROM YOU so until I can trust you again you’re not allowed in my home.” Of course this may not work for you, so I encourage you to choose a script from the Captain or other commenters!

  33. Uhhhh… if someone actually did accidentally find personal items (that are not dangerous), the proper thing to do is /not comment/. Obvs she was snooping and somehow I find it even ickier that she decided to tell you about her discoveries; what is up with that? Captain’s advice and scripts sound great for this situation.

  34. I once had a cleaner who found a ~personal device~ and then made the point of telling me she found it. And it wasn’t like, “I put the thing you left in the shower in the cupboard”. It was “so I found your thing” *wink wink*

    Yeah. She didn’t work for me again.

    PS – your mum is an arsehole.

  35. I wonder if LW’s mother trying to cover her (entirely deserved) embarrassment — about seeing it and about snooping — with “well, you shouldn’t have had it in the first place!”

    Like everyone else, I’m more than a little concerned about “if you don’t want me to know you own something, you shouldn’t own it [even in your own house where I don’t live].” That goes beyond “you don’t have any privacy” to “I don’t even understand that you might expect to have any privacy, or at least, I pretend not to understand that”

    1. yeah, absolutely, it reads to me as someone displacing their discomfort by trying to cause someone else to feel uncomfortable. Like, she feels shame and embarrassment and she’s trying to project that onto the other person in the situation instead of sitting with it herself (and, thusly, absorbing the natural counterincentive to go snooping through drawers). My mother did this several times when she was caught snooping – she tried to guilt me about how she just wants to KNOW ME AS A PERSON, she got angry about the idea that I might have things that are SOOOOO PRIVATE that MY MOTHER CAN’T KNOW ABOUT THEM, etc. When people are bad at their own feelings, it’s kind of common for them to react by assigning them to other people? (My mom is an awkward bastard who grew up in a classic invalidating environment, and her usual reaction to a feeling is to try to modify the environment around her so that it stops happening. I love her very much, very very much, but it’s frustrating to get to the point in life where I have been in years of therapy to learn how to have boundaries and deal with feelings, and she is not interested, and dangit, woman, you’re supposed to be the mature one here.)

      To bring this spew of autobiography back around to LW: this is also one of those points where a younger adult might run into “my life skills: better than my mother’s in this area?” for the first time, and if you’ve had a pretty healthy childhood, that point can be really startling. Good for you, LW, for having an important sense of your own right to privacy and boundaries! Good for you for wanting to enforce them! It’s super, super good that you have those! Do not let people talk you out of them. You are correct.

  36. “she thinks if I I don’t want her to know I have something, I shouldn’t own it” WOW that line gives me the creeps! That’s not okay! That is deeply disturbing!

    The ‘testing the smoothness of the drawers’ things rings false to me. I personally really like to stim on my dressers by feeling how smoothly the dressers close and shut but a) I don’t do that on other people’s cabinets/dressers/etc because they are not mine and b) if I did and *found* something I didn’t want to see, well that’s just nature’s way of telling me not to open other people’s things.

  37. On the bright side, for a normal parent, finding the fledgling’s sex toys is probably its own punishment. Unfortunately, I’m not sure your mom is a normal parent, because a normal parent would be more into the scrubbing of the eyeballs and the never mentioning it. Rest assured, you are not the one who made it weird.

    You’re not wrong to want to keep her out of your space — it sounds like a fine strategy. I suspect/hope that in ten years this memory will induce less rage than eye-rolling. She shouldn’t be in your business, no question, but — at least in theory — the older you get, the less power she has to hurt you for doing stuff she doesn’t approve of. This is probably the best reason to set firm boundaries now: to speed that transition along, especially before any worse patterns dig in.

    I’ve got a young daughter and this thread is full of good reminders of how not to treat her, as she grows up. I’ve also got a mom who I think once “stumbled” on some things in a bedside drawer. She got her comeuppance in that she has to live with whatever feelings that generated, and at this point I’m a long way and many years from fussed about what she thinks of my sex life. Modeling privacy and respect for my own child is my job now.

  38. LW, I think your instincts are good. Never invite her into your home again. I don’t know what your relationship is like apart from this, so I don’t know how close you want to stay to her, but she’s pretty much shown she can’t be trusted to be in your apartment. You don’t owe it to her to pretend otherwise.

  39. I’ve heard more believable lies than “I was testing how smoothly your drawers closed” from seven-year-olds.

  40. As a guy that more or less regularly discusses Sex and sex life (hers and (or lack thereof in my case) mine) with my mom, LW, you need to draw a line in the sand.
    That kind of behavior is just not cool.

    I’d say that regardless of your relationship with your mom, you need to tell her clearly that it was overstepping your boundaries and that she isn’t allowed in for a while, afterwards you’ll allow her a second chance, if she does it again, then it’s a perma ban on visitation.

    No subtlety in this matter.
    ‘Don’t use a screwdriver for a nail and don’t use a hammer for a screw’ the right tool for the job, and clear honesty that what she did is not acceptable is the tool for this.

  41. When I was in hospital having my son, which turned out to be a bit more protracted and traumatic than we expected, my mother in law stayed overnight at our flat. She “tidied” my bedroom, including the contents of my bedside table drawer, sprayed her disgusting perfum around the room to make it smell “fresh” and left chocolates on my pillow like it was a goddam hotel. After the difficult birth of my son I already felt violated and vulnerable. I stood in that room and cried.

    I have never forgiven her, and it, amongst other incidents, led to me dropping all contact with her about 8 months to a year ago.

    Pushing other people to be closer than they want to be never, ever works. At best you get grudging tolerance and at worst you get excluded. LW, I’m really, really sorry this happened to you. I would consider you justified in never having her in your space again.

  42. Oh yuck LW. “Left her along for five minutes” makes it sound like a sneak attack. The best advice I can give for dealing with it internally is thoughts like, “OF COURSE I own sex toys. Who doesn’t??” And find some control in knowing you did nothing wrong and it is completely normal and refuse to engage with any kind of discourse about YOU owning sex toys – “lots of people living alone(?) in their 20’s are exactly the same” and try to make it sound like, if you’re not going to take it up with all of them, mother, you don’t get to take it up with me.

    Story time:

    My mum is a mild hoarder. So OF COURSE she still has the notebooks from when me and my sister were younger. Years ago after (snoopishly) opening one such notebook while it was lying on her bed and reading the first paragraph on a random page I discovered she kept tabs on what she found in my sister and mine’s rubbish bins when we were kids. If she found a candy or chocolate wrapper in the bins in our bedrooms, she would write down what she found in the notebook. Then she would write the date, go to the piggybanks that my mum and dad kept in their room, and take out 20c or something, and write that amount in her notebook. Eg “In McSandwich’s rubbish found Snickers wrapper – DATE – 20c from savings”

    -My mother was coming into my room when I was in primary school.
    -Going through ALL my stuff because why would you look at JUST the rubbish bin.
    -Taking money out my sister and mine’s piggy banks when she assumed we must have stolen more than our ration of chocolate from the fridge. -KEPT A NOTEBOOK ON IT.

    And if I had never read it with my own eyes, I would never have known or believed. I haven’t told my sister to protect my sister, not my mother, although I may tell her one day when she’s much more mature just to be able to commiserate with the only other person in the world who will understand the exact feeling. We commiserate often on the “ugh mum/dad” feelings although we each live with a separate one.

    But if she did that without me knowing, WTF else has she done? What is she still doing until I can afford to move out??? Why do I know with such certainty she won’t be invited over when I have my own place until it’ll cause more problems to NOT invite her?

    Reading the notebook as a teenager, years after it happened, all of this years ago, I still feel violated. That is in the Top 10 Weird Creepy Things my mother has ever done. (A lot of it also had to do with financials- the way my mother acts with me and money is so very gross and up-setting that knowing she secretly took lots of 20c from me as a child is fucking triggering.)

    And that’s how McSandwich learnt that from snooping you will get A- nothing interesting OR B- nothing you want to know about.

    1. “from snooping you will get A- nothing interesting OR B- nothing you want to know about.”
      If you have to snoop to find it, it’s very unlikely that you can intervene in it, even if it’s something you don’t like. you’ll know things you didn’t want to know and be able to do absolutely nothing about it.

      When I was 25 and still living at home (a few months away from finishing my degree) my mom decided to read my diary (which was out in plain sight b/c I had to no reason up to that point to think its privacy wouldn’t be respected: she’d told her kids that her mother was a habitual snoop and she HATED that) because “she felt like she just didn’t know me anymore”. (i.e. I was no longer a child and she had huge problems with the transition to independent adult)

      And, surprise, surprise, she found in my own words that I was a young adult doing some things that she DID NOT LIKE (some of these were not the classiest things ever, but, nothing dangerous or illegal).
      And she decided that I could no longer live there because basically I was a bad daughter who was making terrible decisions despite all her sacrifices and hard work raising me.

      Later that same day she read my diary and told me I had to find another place to live she was SHOCKED that I had changed the password to my email (previously everyone at home had everyone else’s passwords so that you could sign the next person in when it was their turn to use the computer). She demanded to know why I had changed it and then was super angry when I told her “you read my diary, how can I trust that you won’t go through my email?”.

      Sometime later, in a different fight she spat out “I wish I’d never looked in your diary! I know things I didn’t want to know and it can’t change anything” and I’m not sure if she was looking for me to forgive her or what, but I said something along the lines of “no shit / told ya / who’da thunk?” and she hung up on me.

      To this day, I have a very hard time committing to paper even though I love the physical act of writing and how it helps order my thoughts.

      1. Oh, I remember the fear of my nosy parents reading my diary. Luckily one birthday everybody gave me diaries – I had about a dozen blank ones, all in the same place, all locked, with the keys hidden elsewhere; the one I used had the safest lock, AND I’d write in pencil with a horrible chicken scratch that sometimes not even I understood.

        That is NOT how one should live their childhood.

        1. I kept a diary once, too. My mom read it. I had written about some kids that were bullying me, using every bad word I knew (in a very 12-year-old way). I got yelled at for using profanity and saying “mean things” about people.

    2. Personal accounts of other children of hoarders suggest that hoarding, no mouth filter, and lack of respect for the privacy and security of others tend to cluster. You might find some more validation and support from people who’ve been there at children of hoarders dot com.

  43. I agree with all the comments that the mom’s behaviour is absolutely not OK, but the good thing is that it’s also a common phase a lot of parents seem to go through as they make the mental transition from being primarily responsible for you, to you being primarily responsible for yourself. So it’s not necessarily a hopeless case; she may be amenable to education :).

  44. When I got to being about 8, my mum cleared out a drawer in my room and said, “This is YOUR drawer. I PROMISE that anything you put in there will be private.” And it was, because that’s how normal parents work.

    Later, she added the corollary that if she had a serious reason to be worried and all other methods had failed, then she would snoop. But I knew that it would have to be that she strongly, for real, suspected that I was into hard drugs or in some kind of violent situation, because all of the rest of her actions supported that belief. (Let me drink, smoke pot (whilst saying it was a bad idea), and offered to buy me condoms/put me on BC because “I might not LOVE you to have sex so young, but my main concern is that you’re safe.”)

    She told me that she would never look in my diary because she “wrote all that shit once and didn’t need to read the remake”.

    Honestly, she was (and is) a very imperfect mum in many many many ways, and could probably have done with being more involved in my life, but at least I know she respects me. She might not be great at making me feel safe, but I do feel respected.

    1. “She might not be great at making me feel safe, but I do feel respected”

      Yes to this. I have the opposite kind of mom too. When my siblings and I hit adolescence she mostly took to treating us like adults, with an unspoken side of “When I was your age I had to deal with that AND raising you, so I don’t see why you can’t figure this out” when we went to her with our issues. She was great in a lot of ways, including iron clad respect for our privacy and autonomy, she just didn’t have a framework for parenting teens into adulthood. So she didn’t.

      I dunno though, at least that kind of disengagement leaves you disengaged, you know? Her sometimes misguided faith that I was smart and capable and would be all right was not a terrible self concept to walk around in the world with. And after a time or two of me being upset about something and my mom having no idea what to do with me, I was free to file her under “person who is not going to be helpful” and work on finding people who would be, without hearing anything about how I didn’t let her into my life, or getting my room searched, or whatever. It wasn’t like “I have a problem, and the problem of fending off mom’s likely response to this problem, plus my mom is also a problem, oh god, how to handle all this.” It was like, “I have a problem. How do I deal with it.” It was rough sometimes, but I got to tell her that when I got older, and we have a relationship now mostly because she let me be mad and never pushed me for one.

      Jedi hugs (if wanted) to everyone in the thread dealing with the burden of bad parenting without the consolation of space to figure yourself out. CA’s suggestions seem really good to me, LW! I hope you can redraw your boundaries without enduring a great deal of backlash, because your mom sounds gaslighty and intrusive at the best of times, but if she chooses to be that way, it’s her choice and you are well justified in choosing not to hear it.

  45. My mother came to visit me a few months after I moved to NYC. While I was at work, she was supposed to go visit the Statue of Liberty… instead, she went snooping, found my “sex diary,” spent the rest of the day crying in (my) bed, and was cold/hostile to (unsuspecting) me when I got home. Her excuse? “I was just looking at your bookshelf and saw a notebook on the ground – I thought it was a college notebook!”

    1. The notebook just said “2009” on the front. She attended my college graduation in 2008.
    2. It was not on top of a pile of papers, it was UNDER a pile of papers.

    I don’t have any constructive thoughts or advice, just wanted to say that boy have I been there. I would like to think that this incident had nothing to do with an incident a couple days later where she chased me down a very full sidewalk telling me I had the devil inside me. *sigh* At least the brunching bystanders were probably amused?

  46. My sister’s MIL was an incorrigible snooper and my sister decided to deal with it by booby-trapping the places where she might pry. She once filled the medicine cabinet with ping-pong balls. On another occasion she left a mask in a cupboard facing where it would be just at eye level for somebody peering through a cracked door.

    I don’t know if it had any effect on the snooping, but my sister felt like she at least got some funny stories out of it.

  47. When I was 17, I caught my dad snooping through my dresser drawers, claiming he was “looking for a ruler.”

    I went out and bought a bunch of condoms (the more colourful and “specialized”, the better) and stashed them all over my bedroom, even though I was a total virgin with no boyfriend on the horizon.

    I never caught him in my room again and he never brought up the condoms. He did, however, clip articles about HIV and make sure I saw them. I decided I could live with that – it was good information.

    1. I don’t think this works for everyone, but oversharing in response to boundary violations is effective with my mother (or it used to be, before her mental health issues got so serious.) So if she started asking uncomfortable questions about my sexuality, I’d launch into graphic detail (so, let me explain how a play party works, mom…) She quickly learned just not to ask or snoop.

  48. I’ve never done this nor know anyone who has, but I now have a picture in my head, or maybe movie script, in which the adult snooped-upon plants incriminating evidence for the parent snooper to find. The bedside drawer would have a plastic baggie of flour with a post-it note labeled “heroin” in it. Notebooks labeled “Private Journal Do Not Read” would contain lurid descriptions of wild sex parties and criminal activities along with notes saying “I hope my mother doesn’t call the police.” Or there could be plans to go such a party on a particular date in the future when one was planning to stay home to watch a favorite t.v. show. If that’s too over-the-top, the adult snooped-upon could tone it down just to the believable point so as to trap the snooper. When the snooped-upon was sure that the bait had been taken, the incriminating evidence would disappear just as the police showed up at the door or the snooper had arranged for a drug test. In my imagination, this works out so that the snooper looks like a fool. The police take one look in the baggie and say “this is flour” and start telling the snooper not to waste their time. Or maybe it would make a better plot point if they run it through their lab equipment and then confirm that it’s laundry detergent. Whatever. These re-writes make me feel better.

    But let me get back to the Captain’s original distinction between the chronic boundary crosser and the one-time offender. One time a friend was over to my house and saw my checkbook register on my desk. She glanced at it and commented on my finances based on the balance in the book and where my recent checks were written. I wasted no time in explaining that while the book was out, I considered that private information and that the general rule in people’s homes is that printed material in the form of published magazines and books is generally considered fair game (if you see a book on my shelf and comment that you’ve been meaning to read it or if you want to borrow a magazine as soon as I’m through with it), anything in handwriting is to be considered personal– if it’s seen, it’s not to be commented on. She got my point and never did it again. We’re still friends.

    For the chronic offenders, the only thing that has ever worked in my experience is the statement of consequences followed by the enactment of consequences. When I’ve explained, the offender has only heard “blah blah blah”. When I’ve held out for an apology, the offender has thought “yeah, whatever,” given an insincere apology, and gone on with the same boundary crossing. When I’ve said “that’s none of your business, and if you continue to snoop, you will never be invited over here again,” the snooping has continued … and they’ve never been invited over again.

    You’ve got to understand that the snoopers really don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong. They don’t believe they’re crossing boundaries because they don’t understand the concept of boundaries. If you try to put it to them in terms of “you wouldn’t like it if I pried into your private life,” they don’t get it because they actually would like it if you showed more interest in their lives. (My brother and I were sharing stories of our mother’s boundarylessness years after we were out of the house and our mother was quite elderly. I asked him if she’d ever talked to him about her orgasms. Until that moment, he thought he had it worse. As far as she was concerned, she was just chatting.)

  49. My mom was not great about boundaries when I was growing up – the biggest fight we’ve ever had was when I was 15 and she found out that I had been keeping a kind of joint diary with my 2 best friends. I’d refused to let her read it, and she blew up at me because apparently my friends had been letting THEIR moms read it (to this day I have no idea if this is true) and clearly I was saying horrible things about her or else I would let her read it (I was, in fact, doing quite a bit of venting about my mother).

    She is trying to change our relationship now that I’m out of the house and building a life away from her, but it has been a rocky process. She’s come a long way in treating me like an adult and respecting my boundaries, but there are still some subjects I don’t want to discuss with her, despite her attempts.

    One of the more memorable attempt was her decision that adult mothers and daughters should be able to talk about relationships and sex. However, she is not comfortable on the subject, and decided to take the “You should wait for THE ONE to have sex” and “there are ….other things…you can do that are intimate” route. I was 21, in my senior year, and had been dating my first boyfriend for almost 6 months. The good ship-of-influencing-my-beliefs-about-sex had very much sailed, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the internet existed and that I had, in fact, figured out that other sexual acts existed besides intercourse.

  50. I really like the comments here and the community is great, but man has this thread made me break out in rashes out of recognition.

    My family-of-origin mother is a narcissist and *never* respected our need for privacy. AFAIK, she didn’t snoop, but then she didn’t need to snoop. If we didn’t communicate our secrets to her, we were “ungrateful children”. If we told her anything, we were “liars” or she would openly ignore us if what we told her bored her, which was pretty much everything.

    She started stealing money from myself and my siblings since we were 11-12 (delivering newspapers) and never saw anything wrong with it. She even told us children about it, as if it wasn’t a big deal that she would randomly take cash out of our bank accounts. None of our possessions were actually considered to be ours and she let my siblings steal anything I owned at their leisure. At least half of my university scholarship “mysteriously” disappeared when it was sent to my parents’ house, until I could convince the university to send it to me directly. She used the “poor wittle me” card at the bank to ask them to reveal personal information about my banking account, you know, the one I had set up for university, where she wasn’t a joint owner. (Small town. I know.)

    She got worse and worse as I got older. I was “troublesome” if I wanted to leave the house to meet up with friends or for any reason really. I was a “bad child” for staying in my room alone. If I wasn’t cleaning the house, I was “worse than useless”. I wasn’t allowed to practice driving to get my driver’s license, and then once I had it I wasn’t allowed to borrow the car. (There’s no public transportation where I come from. The closest convenience store is a 15 minute walk.) I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol after I reached the legal drinking age. She threw temper tantrums for a full year (including throwing things at me) when I told her I had accepted to study in a prestigious university that is a 12-hour drive from where my parents live. Once I left, she started going out of her way to give me full-body hugs in public – this, a mother who had barely touched me in the first 18 years of my life. Of course, she fully expected me to give her every square inch of my university apartment (an “unplanned visit” 1200 kilometers away from where she lives) and continue her privacy-violating ways. Threw a temper tantrum when I refused to let myself be insulted in my own home.

    When I finally went No Contact after one of the many times she accused me of doing drugs – because obviously not wanting her criticizing my life = doing drugs – she started stalking me online. Including on every professional website that has a profile with my name on it.

    Several years after I went No Contact, I realized it wasn’t normal that she sat there in front of my vagina while my doctor performed my first pap test. I was 16 when that happened.

    I still have a few nightmares a year of her running after me, trying to trap me forever in her chocking embrace.

    “We’re not that close.” is not a line I would use with her. She is way too far out there to believe anything that disagrees with her. It’s used for acquaintances who question whether I’m “a good person” for not keeping in touch with my family-of-origin. Anyone who doesn’t accept that answer is put on my List of Untrustworthy People.

  51. My boundary challenged (maybe narcissistic) mother regained the keys to my house when I needed her help with collecting my kids from school. The first couple of years were rough. There was that moment when she found some kink (babygirl) related stuff and thought my husband was a pedophile. Of course she didn’t SAY what she found, she just casually started mentioning stories of men whose wives discovered they were pedophiles after years of marriage….. it was excruciating. I think it was probably more torturous for her since she lived with the anxiety of her SIL molesting her grandkids for gods knows how long.
    It is awesome to have reached a time in life where I can have sympathy for her pain and fell NO GUILTS WHAT SO EVER!!! Dear LW, and 13 year old me whose diary was read and who was shamed, one day you will not give a shit about “her” opinions on your sex life and it is great 🙂

  52. I’ve been reading through the comments section and I find the discussion very interesting… and illuminating. It’s when I reflect on this kind of stuff that I understand how lucky I am.

    I’m 22, still living with my parents and a younger sister, and I’ve always been explicitly trusted to take my own decisions, which in turn has made me trust myself and my parents a lot more. They’ve given me the tools that I need, as a way of speaking, but they’ve always understood that I am my own person… which is what educating somebody should be about, I think. It’s the same with my sister. We also respect each other’s privacy a great deal and give the others space when they need it. So you cold say that my family situation is the exact opposite of the one discussed here. We aren’t perfect, there’s no such thing as perfection, but I’ve never met a family (and I understand “family” as a group of people who live together, blood-related or not) that works as well as ours does. That’s actually a very sad thought, but the fact that a family like mine exists is a source of hope all by itself.

    I do have indirect experience with parental snooping, though. That’s why I can empathise with this topic. It’s kind of a family tradition, you see. My great grandfather used to do this to my grandmother. He was a tyrant, I hear; I didn’t get to know him, fortunately. My grandmother greatly enjoys complaining about him and doing with the angst and the drama, about how she couldn’t meet her boyfriend alone, and once they married they were constantly intruded upon, heavily policed, etcetera, etcetera. And that’s awful, of course, but it so happens that she’s done the same to her children (my father and my aunt) during all of their lives. So she’s the kind of person that, instead of escaping the situation or dealing with it, chooses to repeat the harmful behaviour as a sort of vengeance or thoughtless parroting.

    Some examples: for some reason she always believed that my father took drugs, even though he never did; she went through his things and complained all the time when he shut himself off in his room, saying that he was “too anti-social”, he should “spend time with the family”, etc. (he has told me that it was the only way of feeling like his own person in that oppressing house); paradoxically, she also complained when he spent too much time away from home, and none of his friends were ever good enough for her; she moved things around when she didn’t like the way he decorated his room and claimed that the house was HERS, not his, etc. Very similar to the stories you guys mention here. My father never trusted her in the slightest.

    The good thing is, the chain can be broken, and it was. My father, unlike my grandmother at his age, had the strength of will to set boundaries and break free. He left as soon as he could and did his own thing while refusing to be controlled, fighting to keep my grandmother at arm’s length. He does this, still today, mostly by seeing her very little, not letting her make any kind of decision regarding his/our lives and having a huge explosive argument every two or three years that makes her step back for a while (it’s not planned, it simply happens, for one reason or another. She’s never known when to stop pushing and he refuses to bend). He has his own life and he managed it with sheer stubborness, which I honestly admire.

    It’s all on the small things, my father says: you must set boundaries again and again in the littlest of matters, and never give up or relent, because that kind of person grasps at straws and when you give a little they will take a lot until there’s nothing left of you. It IS possible to escape, though, and necessary if you want to be truly you, and I find his story inspiring. I hope it can inspire some others too.

    Not all stories end well, though. As a parallel case, I’d also like to mention my aunt. She, unlike my father, let my grandmother make all of the decisions and lives right next to her, seeing her every day. Needless to say, her life is an absolute mess in all aspects, and she’s doing the controlling thing to HER children as well, the poor things, continuing the infamous family tradition that I mentioned earlier. So I’m very lucky, indeed.

    Don’t be afraid to take the first step and break away from this kind of damaging situations. Depending on the severity of the case, at first it will probably be tiring and hard, but in the long run it will be worth it. It could change the whole course of your life and, as in my case, the lives of your children, were you to have any.

  53. this situation sucks. and the only advice i can give you is: know that it sucks, let your mom take the natural consequences for her action–ie, bc of her choice you don’t want to let her into your home, so don’t, and (if you’re not already) try to get into a position where she doesn’t have any financial or logistical leverage over you.

    the “know that it sucks” bit is harder than it seems. i had rather a snoopy mother myself (i actually wrote a letter here about her a while ago which sweet machine was kind enough to answer, with great advice!) and it took me a loooong time to understand how boundaries work. i didn’t understand privacy, i just understood secrets.

    the last part, the financial/logistical leverage thing–i just want to make it clear, that’s not, like, a moral imperative. a couple of people in this thread have talked about needing to move in with their boundary-crossing parent and i’m taking notes on their resilience in doing what they have to do, so that i have some idea about how to respond if i end up in the same situation. it’s just easier to enforce boundaries whenyour mom can’t retaliate by like, taking you off the health insurance. i’m about your age, maybe a year older, and my parents still pay for my car/healthcare expenses–and at one and the same time i’m very grateful to them and also feel very stifled by this support and am scrabbling to not need it. but my relationship with them now is noticeably better than when they supported me in more ways.

    also, don’t feel like “refusing to let my mom come to my house” is “going nuclear” or cutting her off–meet her at restaurants/her place/family gatherings if you feel like it. not letting her come over is a completely reasonable and proportionate response to her snooping.

  54. A sincere “Thank you” to the LW and all commenters.

    I’ve wondered for a while why I have been blessed with a close and trusting relationship with my mom, who at times has demonstrated the exact behaviors that have destroyed/damaged commenters’ relationships with their families (verbal abuse, enmeshment, boundaries violations, treating me like a child when I was 25, etc.). Reading your questions and comments I finally understand:

    Every time I told her a behavior was damaging to my feelings she stopped. Immediately.

    Mom didn’t understand why I was hurt or disagreed with her, but she valued my feelings and wanted to protect them more than anything. And this is why I love her and trust her. Thank you all for helping me.

  55. Hi commentariat! I’ve individually replied to some of you, but I just wanted to thank everyone for weighing in on this. I didn’t expect my question to get published, let along have it blow up in such an awe-inspiring way. Each story of something similar happening has made me feel less alone, each story of what reasonableness looks like has helped me get my instincts calibrated a little better, and every kind word has really helped bolster my resolve to make and keep healthy boundaries.

    Captain, thanks for pointing out the non-escalator-y option I didn’t realize I had. Summer time is a perfect time to flex the “sorry I have plans don’t come up, but maybe I can come down and see you next week” muscles.

    My therapist is big on seeking out motivating communities online instead of stagnant ones, and y’all are one-hundred percent motivators 😀

  56. Tiny practical thing:

    LW, if your apartment has separate rooms with doors (I’ve lived in one-room open plan apartments) and there are any practical (for instance financial?) reasons why letting your mother into your apartment again soon / ever, I cannot over-recommend getting and using a LOCK on your bedroom door. If she comments on it, MAKE IT AWKWARD. Having a lock on bedroom doors is normal adult behaviour. Trying to get into another person’s bedroom, being upset or complaining if you can’t get unsupervised access to another person’s bedroom? Fucking weird creepy behaviour.

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