Mum is so clingy after losing dad

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After decades of living together, the death of a partner is obviously traumatic – and not just for the surviving spouse but also for the family. Counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance to a woman who has grown resentful of her mum’s behaviour.

•••

The problem
“When my father died just over three years ago, my mother and I went through a rough time, as we missed him badly. It took me a while but, with the help of my family, I got through it.

“My mother had always seemed to be the strong one in their marriage and although I knew she’d need time to adjust after dad died, I was unprepared for just how clingy she would become.

“She wants me to call her every morning, ‘just to make sure she’s still alive’, and she’s always popping in, wanting to chat. I work from home, so this is really difficult for me, but she doesn’t seem to get that. She expects to be included in everything we do, and we can’t even go for a day out without her expecting to join us. She’s been on our last two family holidays and is proposing to come with us again this summer, even though we’ve not decided where we’re going yet.

“If I ever dare do something without her, I get a lecture on what she did for me as a child and why I shouldn’t now neglect her. I am really beginning to resent this emotional blackmail and my family are suffering too. The children are resentful that we can’t do the sort of things they want to do because nanna can’t do them, and my husband slips out the back door whenever she pops in! I love my mother and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but this must stop.”

Fiona says
“This isn’t healthy for you and it isn’t healthy for your mother, so I agree that things cannot continue as they are. Finding a way to make her back off a little though – without hurting her feelings – is likely to prove tricky. Since the death of your father, she has looked to you and your family to fill the void in her life. Her emotional blackmail of you is one of her many ploys to make sure that you continue to do so. No wonder you’re feeling resentful.

“You don’t mention any wider family, so I’m guessing you’re an only child – but surely your mother has friends, possibly other relations, who might be able to help? It could be that all the friends she had when your father was alive are part of a couple, hence she may be uncomfortable with them now she’s on her own. However, I’m sure they’re not all in that situation.

“As your mother pops in, I’m also guessing she’s fairly local – so do you know any of her friends you could talk to and ask them to invite her to join them in things? Just going out for tea with people she knows would start to make her more independent again. If you allow this situation to continue, your resentment of her will only grow and fester, so you need to talk to your mother before that happens.

“The next time she starts a lecture, don’t get angry and don’t tell her she is wrong – simply tell her how you feel.

Explain that you love her and want to share some time with her, but that you also want some time alone with your husband and children. Make it clear what you are prepared to accept and, if this hurts her, tell her you’re sorry she feels that way but don’t back down.

“She will probably need encouragement to seek support and friendship with a wider circle of people. Perhaps getting to know new people through a bereavement organisation or group would help her. If she doesn’t work – and it sounds as if she doesn’t have much to occupy her time – then perhaps encourage her to take up volunteering of some kind. She needs to get out more and fill her life again, so continue to reassure her that you love her, and I think you will find that she will, gradually, give you more space.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

What advice would you offer?

– With PA

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6 Comments

Total Comments: 6
  1. 0
    0

    May I suggest a reason other than “emotional blackmail” for the mother’s behaviour?

    She has been closely confronted with mortality and her own is probably now weighing heavily on her mind and scaring her. The writer says her mother wants a call “just to make sure she’s still alive” and that she wants to be in company. This is a woman who is SCARED she is going to die and doesn’t want to be alone when it happens, or doesn’t want to be alone SO THAT IT HAPPENS. No one wants to be the person found in their home months after they passed away because no one checked in on them.

    • 0
      0

      Quite right Anne and all those who don’t think of those things, well, they will get there one day too.
      It doesn’t take long, it flies, everyone has to face it, death or loneliness. You can’t stop the end, but you can stop loneliness. That is what families are for.

  2. 0
    0

    I agree with Anne’s comments and would also add that it could be helpful to encourage the bereaved person to widen their circle of friends. Maybe return to a long-forgotten hobby or take up a new interest with other like minded people and could expose them to different age groups which may lead to many other benefits. This could lead to a natural progression towards less dependence on the part of the bereaved person and may be something they just have not thought of themselves. It’s very, very hard to adjust to life alone after a partner dies. Even though the woman in question in this article appears to have always been the strong one in the marriage, this may not have actually been the case. It’s possible that an outward sign of strength is covering up a lot of fear underneath.

  3. 0
    0

    Mums clingy hey? You just give back what was given to you, no questions asked, there is no advice, for this, it should be natural.
    The only time this doesn’t fit is if there is a family split or disharmony that goes beyond putting up with some one if you really are not close.
    Very few and far between are in that situation.
    Look after your parents.
    Parent becomes dependent child gives all, parent becomes child- child becomes parent. To a sensible level. But nature should be telling anyone this, in our world we are forgetting the older people, too much!

  4. 0
    0

    I sympathise with both parties and agree with Anne. It might help to join some activity group together. Spend a while going with your Mum if you can, so that she get used to making new friends again. You might take up a short term hobby class or something like that. Your Mum is in the same state as someone whose marriage has fallen apart and she doesn’t know how to be a single. It’s a scary world and she’s lonely. Your hearts in the right place because you recognize the problem, so think hard and you’ll find a way to restore the balance between all parties. Good luck.

  5. 0
    0

    I sympathise with both parties and agree with Anne. It might help to join some activity group together. Spend a while going with your Mum if you can, so that she get used to making new friends again. You might take up a short term hobby class or something like that. Your Mum is in the same state as someone whose marriage has fallen apart and she doesn’t know how to be a single. It’s a scary world and she’s lonely. Your hearts in the right place because you recognize the problem, so think hard and you’ll find a way to restore the balance between all parties. Good luck.


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