Dear Wendy: “My Parents Are So Overbearing”

I am a college sophomore who has returned home for the summer for the free food and lodging and a spectacular summer job. Life with my parents is pretty tough though, and we are having a hard time with boundaries. I don’t have a car, so I am dependent on my mother to take me everywhere (she will not allow me in anyone else’s car) and she is pretty selective about where she has time to go. Furthermore, I don’t get a lot of space. We do “family activities” every night (which I love, but there are just too many of them). I have an “approved friends” list of people I’m allowed to spend time with. My parents come into my room late at night after I have wished them good night to “check on me” and make sure that I am not on the computer or phone. After a recent trip to the mall, my mother asked me to show her my underwear purchases to make sure that they were appropriate even though I paid for them with my own money. I love my parents, and really want my family to function in a healthy way, but I am a big girl and I need some more space. Every time I ask for it, however, my parents threaten me with not paying for college or cutting off my phone service, or telling me that I will never achieve my goals. This really isn’t working for me, and I need it to stop. I’m willing to step up for family time, but I am a college student who needs more control over her life. — Space Saver

No doubt about it, Space Saver, your parents are inappropriately overbearing, but I have to say I’m impressed with your attitude and how you’ve managed to maintain a seemingly healthy relationship with them despite everything. If it were me, I’d have changed my name and run away to Zimbabwe by now just to get out from under their clutches. Lucky for your parents, you seem far less impetuous than I. But at some point, of course, your relatively healthy relationship with them is going to dissolve if you don’t set some boundaries and cut a few ties. Unfortunately, if you want to avoid student loans — and trust me, SS, you want to avoid them! — you’re going to have to suck it up for a couple more years. If you’ve already spoken to your parents multiple times about them giving you some space and their response is always to threaten to stop paying for college, you’re stuck following their outlandish rules as long as you’re financially dependent on them.

The good news is you only live with your parents during the summer, which means you have the whole rest of the year to be independent and live mostly by your own rules … uh, unless your mom commutes to your campus to walk you to and from your classes every day. I’d suggest putting the wheels in motion now to avoid future summers with them if you can. Since you’re working now and have no living expenses, put your money aside to pay for an apartment of your own (or a car!), if not during the whole school year, then as a sublet next summer. If you’re worried your parents won’t go for you living on your own from May to August, see if you can sweeten the deal with an amazing internship you “simply can’t pass up.” At the very least, your folks do seem concerned for your future and want you to succeed. Summer internships — especially those very far away from them — are a great step in that direction!

Finally, while I commend your attitude and ability to love your parents despite their insane regulation of your life and personal growth, I want to caution you about giving them too much credit and regard, especially when they say hurtful things like you’ll never achieve your goals. Clearly, a remark like that is a reflection of their own character flaws and limitations and should never be taken seriously. I’m sure they love you, but their inability to separate the person you are from the person they see as simply an extension of themselves is a real tragedy, and I hope you’ve picked up the tools somewhere along the way to safeguard yourself from their verbal and emotional slings. If you’re able to escape their grasp in the next couple years relatively unscathed, kudos to you, but if you find you’re a little “damaged” in the process, there’s absolutely no shame in seeking some professional counseling to help work through whatever issues your parents may pass down to you. As a precaution, I might even start seeing someone at your campus once you’re back in school who can help you begin the process of transitioning into independent adulthood.

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