Mum is so clingy after losing dad

After decades of living together, the death of a partner is obviously traumatic – and not just for the surviving spouse but also for the family. Counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance to a woman who has grown resentful of her mum’s behaviour.


The problem
“When my father died just over three years ago, my mother and I went through a rough time, as we missed him badly. It took me a while but, with the help of my family, I got through it.

“My mother had always seemed to be the strong one in their marriage and although I knew she’d need time to adjust after dad died, I was unprepared for just how clingy she would become.

“She wants me to call her every morning, ‘just to make sure she’s still alive’, and she’s always popping in, wanting to chat. I work from home, so this is really difficult for me, but she doesn’t seem to get that. She expects to be included in everything we do, and we can’t even go for a day out without her expecting to join us. She’s been on our last two family holidays and is proposing to come with us again this summer, even though we’ve not decided where we’re going yet.

“If I ever dare do something without her, I get a lecture on what she did for me as a child and why I shouldn’t now neglect her. I am really beginning to resent this emotional blackmail and my family are suffering too. The children are resentful that we can’t do the sort of things they want to do because nanna can’t do them, and my husband slips out the back door whenever she pops in! I love my mother and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but this must stop.”

Fiona says
“This isn’t healthy for you and it isn’t healthy for your mother, so I agree that things cannot continue as they are. Finding a way to make her back off a little though – without hurting her feelings – is likely to prove tricky. Since the death of your father, she has looked to you and your family to fill the void in her life. Her emotional blackmail of you is one of her many ploys to make sure that you continue to do so. No wonder you’re feeling resentful.

“You don’t mention any wider family, so I’m guessing you’re an only child – but surely your mother has friends, possibly other relations, who might be able to help? It could be that all the friends she had when your father was alive are part of a couple, hence she may be uncomfortable with them now she’s on her own. However, I’m sure they’re not all in that situation.

“As your mother pops in, I’m also guessing she’s fairly local – so do you know any of her friends you could talk to and ask them to invite her to join them in things? Just going out for tea with people she knows would start to make her more independent again. If you allow this situation to continue, your resentment of her will only grow and fester, so you need to talk to your mother before that happens.

“The next time she starts a lecture, don’t get angry and don’t tell her she is wrong – simply tell her how you feel.

Explain that you love her and want to share some time with her, but that you also want some time alone with your husband and children. Make it clear what you are prepared to accept and, if this hurts her, tell her you’re sorry she feels that way but don’t back down.

“She will probably need encouragement to seek support and friendship with a wider circle of people. Perhaps getting to know new people through a bereavement organisation or group would help her. If she doesn’t work – and it sounds as if she doesn’t have much to occupy her time – then perhaps encourage her to take up volunteering of some kind. She needs to get out more and fill her life again, so continue to reassure her that you love her, and I think you will find that she will, gradually, give you more space.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

What advice would you offer?

– With PA

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YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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