Dear Annie: I am in my 40s, married, with children.
My parents were married for 38 years before my father’s passing six years ago. My siblings and I had discussed the idea of our mother finding new love at some point. We felt it was inevitable because our mother, honestly, would be quite the catch. She is loving, funny, smart, kind, dependable, hardworking, a great cook and debt-free (thanks, Dad!). All qualities that we were grateful to have in a role model for ourselves and our children. So, we were not surprised when she told us two years ago that she was “talking” to someone.
Within the first year of the new relationship, this person gave our mother what we considered many red flags — narcissism, lying and infidelity, to name a few. She broke it off for a month, only to take him back, with her attitude being to forgive and forget. Over the past two years, our mom has seemingly turned into someone we do not recognize.
She is ill-tempered during any conversation, unreliable, self-centered and co-dependent. I believe she acts this way because we do not approve of her man. We do want her to be happy. But as people who care for her, we also feel she deserves better. She is not open to discussing any of this as a family.
Where did our mom go? Is there an age or moment when one decides to stop being a parent? Should we stop trying to see her as our parent and start seeing her as another adult with issues? In relationships, are we together because we are similar, or are we similar because we are together?
— Life Upside-Down
Dear Life Upside-Down: It sounds like you had an incredible role model and upbringing. No, a mother never stops being a mother, but at a certain age, or after a traumatic event such as the death of your father, relationships and roles can change and grow. Your desire for your mom to be happy is a by-product of your love for her, and you are right to be concerned for her happiness.
A happy person is not ill-tempered, unreliable and self-centered. This dramatic shift in personality is a warning sign that something unhealthy is going on in her new relationship. They say that love is blind, but when you are being manipulated and abused by a narcissistic partner, you can’t be blind to bad behavior.
However, it’s your role to continue to be there for your mom unconditionally. If she gets angry at you or cancels appointments, then meet her with kindness and forgiveness. Maybe see if you can go for a mother/daughter day together. When you are alone, ask her how she is doing and really listen to her.
If you feel that there is any type of abuse going on, encourage her to seek immediate help. Losing her spouse of 38 years is a traumatic event. A professional therapist could help her regain independence and see this relationship clearly.
Annie Lane, a graduate of New York Law School and New York University, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Email questions to email@example.com.