Happy news meets negative reaction

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September 25, 2018 - 10:42 AM

Dear Carolyn: Last night I told my mom that I’m pregnant. Her reaction was, “What?! You’re too young to raise a child! And how in the world are you going to pay for everything? This is a big mistake.” Carolyn, I’m almost 24, I’ve been married for a year and on my own for about three years. My husband and I thought about this a lot — it was no accident — and we are comfortable with our decision and very happy to be starting a family. But my mother’s horrified reaction is bothering me more than I’d like to admit. I just want her to be happy for me and trust that I’ve thought this through. By the way, she had the same reaction when I told her I wasn’t moving back home after college, and again when I told her I was getting married. She’ll only get upset if I talk to her about this, and tell me how overly sensitive I am. Why can’t she ever say, “Oh, that’s great! Congratulations!”? — Upset by reaction

Answer: Oh, that’s great! Congratulations!
Because it is great. So was your finding a way to live independently right after school, and so was your getting married.
I know hearing this from me wasn’t quite the validation you had in mind, but it might be time to get used to taking what you can get. Yes, you want the satisfaction of pleasing your mom, just once. But she’s made it pretty clear she’s not going to grant you that.
Why? I can’t be sure, and it’s possible she isn’t, either. Could be she feels increasingly irrelevant, that your gains are her losses. Could be she digs the power she has over you. Could be she’s simply bitter.
Or, maybe she’s just like a lot of people who feel compelled to shoot down good news: scared. All the milestones you mentioned are happy ones, but each also comes with some risk. Living on your own? Financial ruin. Marriage? Divorce, or death. A baby? Death, financial ruin, divorce.
Instead of assuming or even hoping these things won’t happen, some people find a sense of security in the reverse ­— in telling themselves they can see them all coming. Better to be expecting it than to have high hopes and a broken heart, right?
It is unfair and joyless and sad, and, if it’s the reason your mother’s so negative, it’s also not about you.
Actually, it’s not about you if she’s clingy, controlling or bitter, either — and that’s what you need to absorb. I know, this is your mother, whose affirmation can feel more than your own. But: This is her way. Don’t fight it anymore.
Instead, neutralize it. When she rushes to the darkest emotional conclusions, meet her there, without fear. “I know, Mom, a million things can go wrong. But that’s true of anything, and being alive means having to face that.” Translation: When you’re ready to be happy for me, you know where I’ll be.

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