The dilemma I’m in my late 20s and live and work abroad. My parents live in the UK and are very overprotective and controlling. Mum does everything financial for me – she has all my bank passwords; the statements go to her address and she controls my savings.
I am a teacher with a reputable international company, but my parents don’t like my job and regularly tell me I need to come home. They refuse to use my girlfriend’s name and repeatedly refer to her as “your friend”. Our relationship is generally one of obligation. It is impossible to talk to my dad because, if you disagree with him, he gets abusive and violent. Mum sees danger everywhere and is paranoid that something bad might happen.
Whenever my parents want me to do something they guilt-trip me and call me immature until they get what they want. If I go to the pub when I’m home, they want to know exactly who I’m with and want to give me a lift there and back. This level of suffocation is stifling. I don’t think they would be receptive to talking without getting violent or angry. I don’t want to cut them out of my life entirely, but I can’t carry on like this.
Mariella replies So, stop. That may sound oversimplistic and it would certainly make for a very short column if I didn’t elaborate further, but sometimes it is an unavoidable truth that the only person holding us back is ourselves. Your mum controlling your finances at your age is utterly ridiculous and is the simplest element of this sorry story to resolve. For your own sanity, to create some much needed distance and to confirm your resolve to make changes, I suggest that you immediately change your passwords, redirect your statements and stop being so passive about intrusions into your personal matters.
Much of what you describe is multilayered, historic and challenging to unpick, but not being so passive is simple and long overdue. You’re a grown man with your own life, a career and a partner – you really don’t need to be micromanaged from the family home. But when you’re on the receiving end of aggressive, controlling and bullying behaviour, it’s very easy to consider as normal things that definitely aren’t – thereby settling for the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, that simply encourages and even escalates unhealthy behavioural patterns on both sides. What would you tell one of your teaching colleagues who said their parents controlled their finances? Sometimes just airing our thoughts can make the choices ahead seem both simpler and more obvious.
You’ve already made a pretty big bid for freedom, and your move abroad must have partly been informed by your desire to escape your parents’ reach. But, as you’ve discovered, the border of the human heart is not restrained by geography. Facilitating others so that we can continue our own dysfunctional ways is common behaviour. It’s even got a name – codependency, which is exactly what’s going on here.
Independence isn’t just an ambition, it’s an essential element in our survival and the key to contentment in the long run. We all need to be in command of our own destiny, happy with our choices and comfortable with our own company before we can ever hope to find happiness with a partner.
Once upon a time it must have suited you to leave the reins in your mother’s hands when it came to your finances. Either that or your parents’ determination to exert control has been so great that you’ve learned to shrug your shoulders and accept the unacceptable. But this is no time for dithering and succumbing to pangs of guilt – though were this a two-way discussion I’d like to know more about what you feel responsible for.
Also, I do wonder if your mother’s desire to be so inextricably entwined in your affairs is an attempt to escape her own problems. Your father’s behaviour sounds downright unacceptable and if he treats your mother in the same way as he treats you, it may well explain why she’s clinging so desperately on to you.
I’m very concerned about the violence you mention. If you are worried for your mother in relation to your father’s abusive nature (and also for yourself, although she is the one living with him and therefore most at risk), then it’s imperative you try to communicate with her in earnest about moving out of his grasp. An organisation such as Refuge (refuge.org.uk), which is committed to helping the victims of domestic violence, should be your first port of call for advice.
At present, both your parents are behaving badly. They seem to have confused love with control and domination. They are extremely unlikely to cut you off because that leaves them with only each other to focus on. Start to make small changes with a clear conscience and you’ll be amazed how easily it finally becomes for you to free yourself.