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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am 23 and have a full-time job with weekends off. I live in the same large city where I attended college, about 100 miles from my parents. A trip via train or bus to go visit them takes about 2½ or three hours each way.
Here’s my problem: My mother tries to guilt-trip me into visiting more often than I’d like to. I love my family, but the trip is long enough that I typically have to stay overnight to make the journey worth it. My hometown is small, and all my high school friends have left, so I don’t have much to do there aside from spend time with my sister and parents.
There’s only so much time I can spend with my family until it causes me great anxiety; my mom has a lot of close relatives nearby, and they are all Trump-loving boomers who love watching Fox News and throwing around bigoted remarks every time they hang out with each other. I try to push back when I can, but it’s exhausting when it’s me against a group of old people who love to turn around and attack me when I try to speak up. So I’ve decided it’s much better for my mental health if I limit my time with them. However, I don’t think there’s a gentle way to explain this to my mom, who becomes cold and angry if I don’t want to go home every two to four weeks.
There have been two instances within the last six months where I have had to go home for several weekends in a row due to family deaths, and I think my mom might have gotten spoiled by seeing me so frequently—but those were extenuating circumstances! I can’t be going home every weekend. I am trying to build a life in my new city, and I’m tired of having to turn down friends’ invitations because I have to go home.
A few days ago, I was on the phone with my mom, and she implied that she would like me to come home this weekend. I told her I couldn’t, citing some vague (nonexistent) plans, and she asked when she would see me again. I didn’t know how to answer. Honestly, I was home enough recently that the only way I could enjoy myself there again would be if I took a break for a bit. I declined to give a straight answer, and my mom has been very quiet and terse in our communication for the past few days.
I have an anxiety disorder, and this behavior is super triggering for me. I want to make her happy, but I also want her to realize that I am an adult with a life in my “new” home (I’ve lived here five years, so it’s not that new). How should I handle it the next time she tries to get me to come home for a weekend that I could spend doing something I enjoy?
—Mom Wants My Weekends
As much as I am inclined to say “Live your best life and leave the Trumpsters to rot without you,” I’m also prone to wonder if your mother has anxiety issues of her own that are heightened by your absence (and I told myself that she is not a Trumpster in order to channel this empathy because otherwise, go have fun, who needs a family anyway—bigly overrated).
When you have a kid, your heart lives outside your body. It’s cliché, and it’s no excuse for toxic, manipulative, or insensitive behavior, but it is true. Honey, you have not known longing until your child is many miles away from you, and there have to be major steps taken to change that. Factor in two recent family deaths and your mom is hurt, kid.
That said, you absolutely have a right to preserve your sanity and to establish your post-college life as you see fit. Talk to your mother openly and honestly about what you need—all of it, from the limited interactions with your extended family, to an adequate amount of time to find your footing where you live now. Talk to her about your anxiety; the more we avoid that topic with our loved ones, the more we set ourselves up to be triggered. Compromise! The holidays are coming—can you commit to spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with her? That lets you off the hook for another month and change. Also, invite her to come visit you! She can help you pick out curtains and completely fuck up the kitchen organization system that works for you in an attempt to be “helpful.”
Let Mom know that you intend to ring in 2020 either on vacation or in your own town, and that you can come visit every other month or so when your schedule permits. Schedule FaceTime or Skype calls each week and communicate with her regularly via text, phone, or email in between. Set boundaries while also setting aside space to shower the woman who loves you so with a bit of the time and affection she needs from you.