Posted by Alicia Waltenberger.
Mother’s Day can bring out our protective instincts—but there’s always the danger of becoming overprotective.
Have you ever found yourself bombarding your mom with gifts and calls on Mother’s Day to make up for those other days of the year you forget to let her know just how much you appreciate her?
I know I have.
It sometimes seems that Mother’s Day—if not your mother—capitalizes on that vague sense of guilt shared by busy, working daughters the world over.
And as moms age, Mother’s Day can often transform into a beast of entirely different colors. Going from an occasion to celebrate what a great job they did nurturing us and making us the women we are today, to questioning our new role as daughters: Are we being supportive, or have we started to mother our moms?
From protected to protector
For the first few years of our lives it was mom who protected us from life’s boogeymen. And it was the best kind of mom who empowered us to stand up to those threats and perils ourselves. This caregiving role often lasts well into adulthood—but there often comes a point when we are the ones more equipped to do the protecting.
Technology is the one sphere where any given generation can claim superiority over the previous generation (at least in terms of technical know-how and online perils). W2W Expert Cindy Wilson offers some really useful advice on how we can “ Protect your mom (and dad) from financial fraud.”
As her circle of friends and acquaintances narrows, my mother increasingly relies on me to fulfill a friendship, on top of a daughterly role. As she gets older, though, I wonder if that support might extend beyond the emotional: Will I be expected to weigh in on decisions she makes about her finances and healthcare?
Why I’m wary about mothering my mom
As soon as my children were old enough to dress themselves, I made sure they did—even though it took them 10 times longer to do so. Likewise, I will refrain from mothering my own mom until she absolutely needs it. As a tax attorney, I have to resist the temptation, whenever tax season rolls around, to seize control of every aspect of my mom’s tax planning. Though it would make me feel good to help her, I would be robbing her of something more valuable than any tax dollars saved: Namely, her self-sufficiency and autonomy.
Don’t do anything for your mom that she can do for herself
This can be hard for daughters who are prone to guilt and compassion, but oftentimes in our attempts to protect, we undermine our loved ones’ dignity and independence.
Even when it comes to online safety—in an era of cyber attacks and scams—I try to avoid meddling in my mom’s web activity as much as possible. Your instinct may be to protect your mom from financial predators, but empowering her with knowledge—rather than delivering a lecture—is perhaps the best way to help her. Though my mom is getting older and perhaps less in touch with the modern world, I have to remind myself that she is not an infant, and if nothing else, tends to err on the side of caution.
We’ve seen the ill effects of an overly protective mother—creating a child who remains emotionally or financially dependent on her parents well into adulthood, stunting her natural development. I think we need to be just as careful not to turn into overly protective, over-functioning daughters.
Being a supportive child is about understanding your parent’s needs so they can control their own lives. That doesn’t mean sitting back and watching your mom make questionable choices—like what to do with her retirement savings or hanging on to an oversized house for sentimental reasons—but giving her the dignity and respect due to an equal partner capable of making her own decisions.