Moving out from an overprotective household.
June 16, 2010 6:32 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell my incredibly overprotective mother that I'm moving out?

I'm 20. I'm a university student, but I commute so I live with my parents. I am financially stable, debt-free, and am planning on sharing an apartment with a couple friends. All of this is, I know, TOTALLY NORMAL. Here is the difficulty in my situation:

My mother is super, super, overprotective. For example: I still get called around midnight when I go out about "whether I'm getting home safe" since "she can't sleep when she doesn't know where her children are." She likes to micro-manage my life, keeps track of my school schedule so she knows exactly when I'll be home every day, etc...I know she means well but she's a little crazy about her overprotection. Obviously, this means that moving out is going to be a Big Deal.

Also, my 25-year-old brother still lives at home (he's also a commuter and getting an MA), and I live in an area with a lot of more traditional immigrant families as well as fairly high rent so it's pretty common for kids to live with their parents well into their 20's. She lived with her parents until she finished her first degree, and assumes me to do the same.

She also doesn't have a job and is pretty much a homemaker even though both her kids are adults, so I suspect that she'll feel her role is threatened when we move out. My brother briefly planned to move around 21 and she was absolutely FURIOUS, insisting that he didn't love his parents anymore, he would never be able to afford it, he was an idiot to compromise his standard of living, etc.

I know this sounds incredibly silly, but I want to move out without ruining my relationship with my mother! I know most parents are thrilled at getting their kids out of the nest but I know she will erupt into histrionics and treat me like an incompetant. How can I broach the news politely, maturely, and with the least drama possible?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"i've done a lot of thinking and I think it's time for me to move out. I can't wait to have you over to my place cook you dinner!"
posted by modernnomad at 6:40 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

With someone who tends to act irrationally, there really is no sure-fire way to make sure she doesn't fly off the handle when you break the news to her. It's up to her if she wants to hold a grudge or not. The irony is that she'd be pushing you farther away if she did that.

Just level with her and be honest.

"Mom, I love you and I appreciate everything you've done for me. But it's time for me to set out on my own. Birds don't fly if they don't leave the nest...and I want to fly. Don't you want me to fly, too?"

Then talk about how you'll always love her.

Bottom line, though, make it very clear that your decision is final and it's non negotiable. Then see it through. Ball will be in her court.
posted by inturnaround at 6:42 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Mom, I love you, but I have decided I would like a little more independence and will be moving out on X date."

And I'd offer a time that you'd be willing to spend with her, perhaps on a weekly basis (to help the weening process). I.e. sunday evening dinners

Best of luck!
posted by too bad you're not me at 6:42 PM on June 16, 2010

To me, this sounds like one of those situations where you can't have your cake and eat it, too. You can tell her politely, "Mom, I'm an adult, and I'm moving out." However, she may not (read "probably won't") take the news well. You'll have to deal with that.

She may pout, and throw a tantrum, but stand your ground. It will get better. This is one of those situations where the band-aid solution works best. Just rip it off. If you cater to her whims, you will be controlled by your super, super overprotective mother for as long as you both shall live.

Good luck, and stick to your guns!
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:43 PM on June 16, 2010

Pretty simple. Just lay out the facts and be loving, and realize that she's going to take it however she's going to take it. What you say could be as simple as:

posted by zippy at 6:44 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

The best thing you can do - and I am so sorry, I know this isn't really an answer to your question - is learn from the experience of you brother and gird your loins accordingly.

She is free to become hysterical, she is free to tell you you cannot make this work, she is free to use this as a metric of your love, she is free to create all the drama she wants. You cannot control any of that. All you can do is vow to not respond in kind.

You need an arsenal of calm mantras:

"I'm sorry you feel that way."

"I'm sorry you're upset. I can understand that but it doesn't mean I don't love you. I love you both, very much."

"I'm not doing this to hurt you, but that doesn't change that this is what I want to do with my life at this stage."

In other words: congratulations, you are now the parent. This decision is final, so there is no need to argue or even to correct her when something she says is off the wall. The less you feed the drama and the more stalwart compassion you can muster, the better.

As to when to tell her, I'd set aside some time maybe two weeks before you plan to move. It will be short notice but not abrupt, and it does short circuit the amount of drama to which she can subject you from close quarters.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:44 PM on June 16, 2010 [20 favorites]

You can choose to engage with her drama, or not. I'd say something neutral and factual, then shut her down when she starts accusing or being dramatic by saying something short and incontrovertible like "let's discuss this when you're not yelling." Most important: FOLLOW THROUGH. Don't make excuses or apologize, and actually end the conversation after you've threatened to.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:45 PM on June 16, 2010

By not indulging in a confrontation. Also, I've been told that, in ending a relationship with someone I owe a lot to (that had to be ended), one way to honor them is to write them a letter telling them how much they mean to me. Knowing that is a possibility, you can accept that things will not necessarily go smoothly when she first hears the news - as she will blow up in an attempt to control your behavior - but you can be the mature one and get the relationship back on track after you executive your decision.
posted by phaedon at 6:45 PM on June 16, 2010

She's going to flip out. I would definitely recommend what other people have implicitly suggested, which is have a clear, definite plan before anything happens, and execute on the plan consistently, according to a schedule that makes sense. Waffling, or delays in the plan, will cause more back and forth in a situation that will probably already be filled somewhat with drama.
posted by arimathea at 6:48 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ultimately, she wants you to do exactly what you want to do. Just do it in the kind and caring way that you have learned and it will be fine. You are a good son and you would never hurt your mom. Keep that in the back of your mind and all will go well. Good luck.
posted by terrier319 at 6:48 PM on June 16, 2010

You did say you live with your parents, plural. Perhaps you don't feel that your other parent is someone you can turn to, but this might be a good opportunity to test that theory out. I would think having their support could go far to keeping your mother chilled out when you raise the issue.
posted by mumkin at 7:00 PM on June 16, 2010

Do this as though you have no idea what to expect from her. It will take all the pressure off of you, and be a more forgiving stance towards her. Of course, your moving out is a given. On some level she's prepared for this.

See what she says. If she reacts as you expect, keep reminding yourself that what you are doing is reasonable, and she's just doing what she does to deal with stress. Just don't tie into it. As long as you don't get caught up in her reaction, you will be able to keep the conversation from getting worse.
posted by marimeko at 7:14 PM on June 16, 2010

Boy, that's familiar.

Your mom is very afraid, and wants to be in control. It's understandable, and it's commendable that you play along, but you are not doing her any favors by reporting where you are from moment to moment or giving in to her emotional appeals. Moving out is a great idea for you, and it could be (honestly) really good for your mom. More importantly, it's essential (it will happen some day) - so take control of this important transition in whatever way you can.

So: first, don't be guilty. Parents (especially of the super-involved type you describe) can smell guilt right away, and you have nothing to be guilty about. You are not choosing to make your mom unhappy. Try to remember that when she is.

Second, do what you can do make this easy on your mom, but don't - don't! - compromise on what you want for yourself. Be rational, be always open to conversation, be understanding... but remember that this is your right, and that what makes you an adult is not making adult choices, but that you can make your own choices and take responsibility for them. Be firm and follow through, or your vacillating will just become more ammunition for your mother that you are not ready.

And congratulations on taking this step - you're doing a brave thing.
posted by mondaygreens at 7:14 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I moved out from an overprotective mother when I was 22 (how overprotective? 1am curfew on the weekends). She was really pissed.

I remember Dad thinking that it would be good if I showed her the budget I'd planned, showing her that I could afford this undertaking - didn't make a lick of difference. (She spent that entire day in bed and barely glanced at my computer printout.)

Honestly, I don't remember talking to her that much about it - I just did it. Bought the pots and pans, arranged the renter's insurance, loaded up the U-Haul and drove the three or four miles down the road to my little studio apartment. I'm sure my Dad ran a lot of interference, kept her distracted and assured her that I WOULD BE JUST FINE.

So be strong, don't waffle. It's a normal step and eventually she will (hopefully) understand that you're not abandoning her, and that it's for the best for everyone.

(and I remember that first night, going to an 24 hour drug store at 2am JUST BECAUSE I COULD. It was great.)
posted by Lucinda at 7:20 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Move out first, tell her second. That way you don't have to deal with the drama and get into a big fight which could cause simmering anger.
posted by Justinian at 7:35 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Enlist not only your father but also your brother to be on your side in this.

Do NOT engage in any yelling-type behavior - respond very calmly using the phrases in the above answers; practice ahead of time.

Make a plan for AFTER you have moved out - how much control are you willing to give her: keys to your place? (please, no!) Visitation schedule - can you make sure she knows she is only to come over when invited or when she calls first? But do invite her sometimes.
posted by CathyG at 7:56 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

She'll be upset and there's nothing you can do to keep that from happening. As parents our job is supposed to be to put ourselves out of work. We spend years teaching our kids to be confident and independent and then when they go and assert that independence, it's hard not to feel a little nostalgic.

Be firm, be kind, try to keep your cool even if she doesn't, and tell her that you'll love her no matter where you live. In short, act the way you'd like her to act. Breaking the news may be difficult but I don't think you'll ruin your relationship. It may be a little earlier than she expected, but she knew she'd eventually have to let go. If you're ready, she'll adapt.
posted by contrariwise at 7:59 PM on June 16, 2010

From what you are telling us, it looks like you will have to play the adult to her child. What do you do when a child throws a temper tantrum? You stay calm, focused, and unmovable, while reassuring her that you love her and will always love her.

I wouldn't bother showing her your budget and all the other details you have worked out because if she is going to act up, she will seize on any little detail to try and persuade you that you are making a mistake. Instead pretend like you are a 40 year old in charge of your life and act accordingly. Calm, confident, unwavering is what you are going for. Think serene.

I agree with CathG that it is a very good idea to have your boundaries set ahead of time. If she calls you every day will you answer the phone? If she comes over looks in your refrigerator and wants to start cooking and cleaning for you, how will you handle that?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:09 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was there when I was your age. Be prepared for histrionics, and crazy accusations of being an unloving heartless ungrateful child, no matter what you say or do. You won't ruin your relationship with your mother--be assured she will never stop talking to you and trying to control you--but you will change it, for the better. If you ever catch yourself feeling guilty--and she's going to do everything in her power to make you feel guilty, remember: excessive worry is not about love, it is about control. Don't go out of your way to reassure her when you do move, because nothing you can do will reassure her, but will simply reinforce her belief that she has the right to control you. Make rules for her, seriously, and stick by them. This will take a lot of grief and guts on your part, but if you don't, she will micro-manage you from a distance, and you will never get a chance to grow up.
It won't be easy, but you are doing the right thing. Good luck!!
posted by uans at 8:15 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good advice upthread, but I'd add that I think you should take care of as much of the logistics in advance as possible, before breaking the news. Find the apartment, sign the lease, rent the U-Haul, buy sheets and towels and pots and pans, etc. First, it makes you look like a capable and organized grownup, and second, it gives fewer points to argue/nag/guilt you about. It's a done deal, discussion over.
posted by Quietgal at 8:31 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

This might sound weird but try not to take her reaction personally. I lived at home every summer until I finished college and the rules were pretty set in stone until that point. It was, at times, incredibly frustrating. But, my parents just couldn't shut off their parenting while I was in their house. Whatever she throws at you, it's about her issues, not yours. Be strong! Good luck!
posted by amanda at 9:13 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mother was extremely overprotective - I didn't move out til I was 24 and oh the regret. Wish I had the guts to do it sooner.

Organise yourself. Figure out the place, the bond, the logistics of actually moving. Have it all planned so that you don't need to rely on your parents for any help.

I don't know if you have an antagonistic relationship with your mother, but once you tell her (just make the statement simple, as others have advised), stay calm and STICK TO YOUR GUNS. Just reassure her, when she expresses every overreactive worse-case scenario thought, that you are going to be fine, and plenty of people have done it before, and younger.

Then just stay quiet about it, don't cause a ruckus while you're packing up your stuff.

This will all blow over. You are doing a good thing.
posted by scuza at 10:05 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing all the suggestions to have your boundaries very clear ahead of time, and to plan on staying calm. You may even want to rehearse, ahead of time, saying some of the excellent responses given above (such as the ones Darling Bri suggests).

Basically, two things are likely to happen in rapid succession for you to be aware of: 1) she will become very, very anxious, and 2) she will immediately attempt to shift the responsibility for dealing with her anxiety from herself and onto you (in whatever way she's used to pushing your buttons -- whether it's the "how can you do this to me??" school of guilt, or the "you'll be murdered in your sleep" school of fear-mongering, etc.).

Your job is to decline to take on the responsibility for her anxieties -- as lovingly and as firmly as possible. She's an adult; it is not in your best interests to be her emotional caretaker, as much as she's going try to push your buttons to make you do so.

This also means -- and this is where your own anxiety will come into play -- that you're not going to be able to control her response. There's almost certainly no magic words you can say that will instantly dispel her concerns while, at the same time, allowing you to make a clean break. She's going to be uncomfortable (possibly for awhile) with you moving out, and you may be uncomfortable with her discomfort. That's perfectly natural.

But again, watch out for the trap of trying to manage her feelings at the expense of your own. If she's not going to like this change, she's likely to try to get you to "change back" to how things were before. Please remember that you can be a loving, loyal, good daughter while simultaneously moving on to embrace your own adulthood. It's a tricky balance, but it can be done! Good luck.
posted by scody at 10:30 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

(Oh, and I just realized that I assumed you're a daughter, when you could very well be a son. Sorry!)
posted by scody at 10:32 PM on June 16, 2010

I'd enlist the support of your father and brother. And if it were me... would say "blah, blah, blah moving out, still love you, blah, blah blah.... But Mum, if I realised I'd made a mistake and just missed you too much, would you mind terribly if I came back?"

As a mother, I'd want to know that I was not being rejected... just that other situations were showing some appeal and that my house would always be home... (well, till my kids had their own families and mortgages.)
posted by taff at 11:00 PM on June 16, 2010

I agree with the advice about having the logistics sorted out in advance. But I think you need to give some thought to time-line. Will you announce you're moving out and do it that day? Or will you announce on say, Monday, that you're moving out at the end of the week? Both have their pros and cons.

You say nothing about your cultural background. Be aware that for a mother of many cultures that I can think of, my own included, your choosing to move out is not an injury that would heal very easily. And that's even if they weren't overprotective mothers, not given to irrational rants of the sort you are describing.

Which is not to try to make you feel bad about your decision. But do think through what it is that she will find most objectionable about your decision (hint: it may not be what she actually screams she is upset about), and try to address that fear in whatever you plan to say to her.

Good luck!
posted by bardophile at 11:53 PM on June 16, 2010

One statement you might add to all the great advice above is "Mom, you've taught me well. I'm going to be fine."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:55 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make sure you'll be able to stick out, both financially and emotionally, because if you come back home you'll never hear the end of it. I say this from experience. I'd assert myself then if something didn't work out my mom just totally got off on never letting me forget it.
posted by ShadePlant at 8:32 AM on June 17, 2010

But Mum, if I realised I'd made a mistake and just missed you too much, would you mind terribly if I came back?"

Whatever you do or say, NOT this. ShadePlant has it.
posted by uans at 9:05 AM on June 17, 2010

Also, be prepared for the possibility that your father and brother will not support you, and will even help your mother lay on the guilt. Your brother, in particular, has his own good reasons for doing so.
posted by uans at 10:18 AM on June 17, 2010

yes, please don't say anything like what taff suggests (no offense, taff). It will sound to your ears like you're just being sweet and softening the blow (and this is how a non-histrionic, non-dysfunctional mother would take it)... but to your mom, who essentially doesn't want you to grow up, it would be tantamount to handing her ammunition to use against you in the future.
posted by scody at 10:39 AM on June 17, 2010

For the love of god, do NOT let her have keys. It is likely she will ask, insinuate, or take a pair. Don't ler her have them. Don't let her know who your realtor is either.
posted by Quadlex at 7:50 PM on June 17, 2010

A few suggestions:

I think she wants to feel needed and she has a measure of control over protecting you from the world. I think it's possible for you to give her these things in a healthy way. You just need to flip it around - instead of her telling you what you need from her and what she will do to protect you, you can tell her what you need from her and what she can do to protect you.

In other words, give her a job, give her tasks, give her some things you don't mind her controlling, or things that would actually be helpful to your life if she did them rather than stifling. You pick the tasks, and set the boundaries.

For example. I think one good job for her would be researching moving companies. She can figure out which companies are reputable, have good safety records, etc. If she starts talking about how they are all disreputable and a waste of money, she can organize a group of friends and family to help you move. Don't address the question of whether or not you are moving. That is a boundary I'd set. But if she wants to control the method/manner, I'd (personally) give that to her.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:21 PM on June 17, 2010

It's highly probable that moving out will not only ease up on your stress and get you into a more independent living situation, but it will be the first step to counteracting her overprotectiveness. Right now, you and your brother are still living under her roof --- that means she will continue to see and treat you as little children, no matter how old you become. Moving out is an extremely sensible and effective means to take the first step of building healthy boundaries for all of you. Once you move out and she takes some time to get used to it, she'll adjust to these new boundaries and be less overprotective. But you should start now - she's not going to get any better the longer you live there, obviously.

Bottom line: sounds like you have a good plan for moving out - roommates, etc, and you're going to be fine. She'll react. You're going to be fine. Imagine yourself sitting in your new bedroom a few months from now, free of her control, able to decide when and how you see/call her and use that as motivation.

My mother went a little crazy when I was in high school and college and became majorly controlling/irrational. By the time I was ready to graduate, I was scared shitless of moving out just because I'd been trained for so long to fear her moods and her demands. I was worried moving out would hurt her because I partly felt sorry for her predicament (she is my mom) - but also because I'd been groomed to fear displeasing her. She completely controlled the narrative. When the time came, it actually went fine. I started learning how to be independent 3 years after the time when most young people begin, and not only did it lower my stress, it helped all sorts of other insecurities (dating, anxiety, etc). You never know how strong you are until you just follow through.
posted by Geameade at 8:42 PM on June 19, 2010

Forgive me for being late to the party! I just saw this question now and I wanted to answer, if even to just let you know that you are not alone!

I would advise you to tell your mom that you are moving on such-and-such-a-date to move in with some really nice friends of yours and you're super excited about it! Perhaps she will not be as upset/react as badly as you think she will if you make it clear that this is something that will really, really make you happy AND that you've been thinking about this for some time but just now decided that you're independent and responsible enough to take the plunge, thanks to her great parenting! ;) (Schmoozing never hurts!)

Even if she doesn't take it well, just tell her that you've already paid your share of the rent money upfront/signed agreements/roommates are depending on you and you cannot possibly back out now.

Best of luck!

(I'm an only child with very overprotective parents. What happened with me though, was I decided years before applying to college that I wanted to go to school away from home and absolutely would not be commuting. My parents didn't think I could make it- living in the dorms and sharing space with other people I don't know, especially since I was a very shy, unassertive only child and was NOT used to sharing and not used to dealing with conflict on my own. But I really really wanted to get out of the house and they realized that, and how happy it would make it. I'm 20, the same age as you, and I've been living in NYC for 3 years now. After feeling the freedom, I could never go back to living with my parents.)
posted by lovelygirl at 2:09 PM on June 24, 2010

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