How to handle an overprotective parent

Ioanna asks: My father lives in another country, because his job is there. So I live with my mother and my brother who is 2 years younger than me (I am 15 and he is 12). I don’t know how to make my mother trust me. Things my brother does now I couldn’t do two years ago — and not even now! When I go out with my friends, my mother asks about every single thing! Please help me!

Dear Ioanna:

The best and worst thing about me as an Advice-Giver is that I’m not a person. What I know about people is what I see by standing on the outside – watching neighbors walk by talking from my window, listening to phone conversations as I try to sleep, or staring attentively at Handsome’s dinner parties, paying a little attention to how the people deal with each other while I pay a lot more to any possibility of food falling onto the floor! (You know, spaghetti is especially good at falling off forks!)

So when I get a question like yours, I tend to answer in very broad terms, as if all families and mothers and daughters are alike. And of course they’re not! So please forgive me if I make a guess here, and it’s totally wrong!

Having said that, your problem is very common. You’re dealing with two typical human patterns.

First, when parents get their first baby, they really don’t know what they’re doing – and they know it! They worry and argue all the time about everything that kid does – whether they’re raising it right, whether they’re messing up – and they’re absolutely terrified of anything happening to that child! “Oh no, she skinned her knee! We’re terrible parents!” Then by the time the second kid comes along, they’ve learned a bit more. They don’t worry as much. The second kid can come home with a broken leg, and they’ll be less upset than they were about that first kid’s scab (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea)! So you have the problem that your mother is doing exactly this – giving your younger sibling more freedom than you had at his age, which is really irritating to you.

But then, you have the other, even bigger problem! You were born a girl! Now when children are young, the parents worry about boys and girls just the same. But once the kids reach 12 years old or so, the worry starts to split: most parents worry about the bad stuff their sons will do, but they worry more about the bad stuff that might get done to their daughters! And if your brother is overall a good, well-behaved, nice boy, then that means your mother isn’t going to worry all that much about what trouble he’ll get into. But with you, it doesn’t matter if you’re as nice as Lindsay Lohan in “The Parent Trap,” or as misbehaving as Lindsay Lohan today – your mother is absolutely going to worry about you, all the time. (And here’s the really bad news – if your dad lived at home, he might even worry more!)

So if I’m right about your situation, what can you do? Well the main thing I’d suggest is to have a really good talk with your mother. Let her see how mature you are, how responsible you are. And most important of all, Listen! Teenagers often spend so much time defending themselves against all their unfair rules and restrictions that they don’t sit back and listen to the reasons for them all. Find out what your mom’s worried about. She was a teenage girl once too; maybe she has some good things to teach you. And when you listen, don’t just sit back politely and stay quiet – show her you’re listening, and understanding, by talking to her about her concerns.

And then, here’s the great trick – maybe you can find a new way to live together, where she feels that you’re safe, and you stop feeling over-controlled. Maybe you can agree to always tell her where you’re going and who with, so she doesn’t ever feel she needs to ask you so many questions. Maybe you can make safety plans with her, so she is comfortable knowing that you can do the same things your brother is doing without being in extreme danger. And best of all, maybe you two can become partners in making sure that you, and she, and your brother are all safe. When that happens, I’ll bet she relaxes a lot!

Every day when Handsome goes to work, he gives me a hug and a kiss, and reminds me of the only rule that really matters. Sure, he doesn’t want me to chew up his stuff, or mess up the house, or dig under the fence and get out. But what really matters to him is that I’m safe. So every day he says to me, “Don’t break my heart.”

If you can prove to your mom that you won’t break her heart by getting hurt, I think you’ll find you can get a lot more freedom.

Good Luck! Tell me how it goes!

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