July 19, 2024
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Worried About Worrying My Parents

Dear Dr. Chani,

Recently, I have been feeling so overwhelmed. My workload at my job has become more intense, my children are home from school and need a lot more of my attention, and my husband has had less work than usual due to the economic downturn. Aside from my personal issues, the world around me keeps changing dramatically. I am worried about the political environment, global economy and rising anti-Semitism. These thoughts fill my mind on a constant basis.

If you would ask me if I am close to my mother, I would say yes. But, the truth is that I can never tell her that I feel like I am drowning every day. Right now, she thinks I can manage it all and I do not want to change her impression.

I am also nervous to add to her burden. My mother has a tendency to worry. She worries about my father’s job security, about my aunt’s mental health issues, and about her strained relationship with my brother. The last thing I want to do is give her one more thing to worry about.

But sometimes I feel so lonely. I wish I could reach out to my mother and just tell her what I am going through. Is it wrong to share my worries with my mother? Is it selfish? Will it backfire if she cannot handle my feelings and she dismisses them?

Sincerely,
Sara

Dear Sara,

You are understandably experiencing a lot of stress in your life right now. You wish you would be able to vent your feelings to your mother to get some relief. But you are concerned about giving her a reason to worry about you, and being a burden. It sounds like your current inability to share with your mother means more than just not having her support, advice and listening ear. The fact that you cannot discuss it with her becomes another stress on your plate. Not only are you missing her support, you have another thing to be concerned about.

Ask yourself if part of what you are feeling has been with you for a while. Chances are that you will notice that this dynamic with your mother has been there for a long time. It might not have been in this specific manifestation, but in other ways. Think about your experiences while you were growing up. Were you a child that your mother did not have to worry about that much? When you were younger, did you feel that you were somewhat independent and that you ran on autopilot? Perhaps you felt that you were a child that your parents could rely on, either for help with their own challenges or with your siblings?

If that sounds like it fits, even partially, then it might mean that part of your role in your family has been to be the caretaker or independent child who was not a burden to her parents. In some ways, your parents gave to you, and you gave to your parents, too. Consequently, you will notice that it can be hard for you to share with your mother at times. When you share your difficulties, you move from the one your parents need to the one who needs her parents. If you have been a child that has supported your mother through many things in life, you are now not just seeking her support. You are making a role shift.

It is important for you to be aware that you are not merely wishing to be real with your mother. You are interested in adjusting your family dynamic. You are changing a role that you have had in your family for a very long time. This change might be late in coming, just on schedule or not at the right time at all. It is an issue to consider as you explore changing a dynamic your family has known for years.

Another point to think about is the complexity of relationships. The beauty of relationships is that they do not need to be hot or cold. You do not need to share all with your mother or clam up. You can “selectively share.” That means that you do not have to unburden yourself dramatically to your mother and share all of your worries intensely in a way that can trigger her anxiety. You also do not have to closet your struggles completely to protect her. That way you are able to still connect with your mother. Although you might not get the full support that you desire, you can still invite your mother into your inner world and strengthen your connection to each other.

Here is a way you can do that. Start with a small step. Think about a piece of your worries to share with your mother. As you prepare to share it, plan how you are going to say it. Aim to convey it in a balanced way. Instead of saying “I’m drowning and I don’t know how I’ll get through the day.” You can choose to say something like, “Work is rough. I’m under pressure. I think I’ll get through it, but it’s challenging.” Be sensitive to how your mother responds. If it goes well, you can think about sharing more, either in that conversation or in another one.

Sharing in a more measured way still protects your mother. It does not shift the roles as it would if you would blurt out your troubles to her. At the same time, it allows you to strengthen your relationship because you are giving your mother a window into your life.

As you think about your lifelong role, and also practice balanced sharing, you can learn more about yourself, your mother and your family. You can also preserve your relationship with your mother and watch it improve over time.

Wishing you much success,

Chani

Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional-connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her online course: The RELATE Technique™—Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation. Reach out to her at [email protected].

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