Reader dilemma: I'm 52 and single, so my parents treat me like a child

"Try to see things from their point of view. They see you (wrongly, perhaps, but that’s their interpretation) as lonely"

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Dear Virginia,

At 52 and single, my parents still treat me like a teenager. They drag me out on boring outings  – such as drives in the country – even though I have a house, a job and a car. They often pop round and expect me to drop everything. Recently, when they called, I was installing a washing machine and I could see my father watching me, almost hoping that I’d fail and have to ask for his help. My mother sat there saying why did I need a washing machine when she’d be quite happy to do my washing herself. I feel angry and baffled.

Yours sincerely, Richard

Virginia says...

From your letter, it sounds as if you generally feel like a rather beleaguered individual, someone who is always on the alert for slights and irritations. That’s no criticism – there are few of us who aren’t occasionally prone to making much more of chance remarks than we should, who feel singled out for criticism.

But in your case I think you’re making too much of this. Yes, your parents are irritating. But they’re not being horrible to you. They’re not cutting you out of their wills or leaving abusive messages on your phone. They are, in their own loopy way, trying to involve you in family life and care for you. Yes, I know it’s inappropriate when you’re 52 years old, but their motives stem not only from love but, perhaps, from a feeling of inadequacy in themselves. They need to feel needed.

Try to see things from their point of view. They see you (wrongly, perhaps, but that’s their interpretation) as lonely. As parents, they may feel guilty that you’ve never married or settled down with a partner. When they come round all the time and try to “look after” you, they’re trying to atone for some imagined inadequacy in themselves. On top of that, I think they’re lonely. When you were young, their whole lives probably revolved round you and, perhaps, your father’s job. Now that you’ve left home and your father has, presumably, retired, they feel utterly lost. They’ve become redundant. That’s why they pop round, longing to be of help.

Now, I know you’re not there to make your parents feel happy, but couldn’t you be a bit more charitable? And why not channel their desire to help into something that you’d really appreciate? It’s one thing to say: “Don’t pester me, get off my back!” and another to say: “Look, I really don’t want to go out for a drive or be stared at while I do my household chores. But what I would love you to do is…” and think up some ghastly chore that they could do for you once a week, something you would be really grateful of having done by someone else.

And how often do you visit them? Perhaps you could make visiting for lunch a regular event that they could look forward to. See it as an act of charity to a very lonely couple. Try to be more compassionate to the old dears, and if, rather than fume over their attempts to help you, you can turn it all into an affectionate joke, so much the better. 

Readers say

Richard, please don't let your parents' annoying ways turn you into a 52-year-old “Kevin”. Yes, they are driving you round the bend, but they also sound lonely and bored. A woman still wanting to do a middle aged son's washing is a sad figure. Try, instead of feeling angry, laughing uproariously at their nonsense, saying “You are so funny!” and giving them a big hug.  Take no notice of their silly ways, but don't be harsh. They won't be around forever.

Mary N

Your letter seemed to be like one from a vulnerable pre-pubescent child rather than that of a 52-year-old man, so from my perspective the issues are with you rather than your parents. I wonder too, if you are anxious and/or depressed as well. Two thoughts emerge. You could ask your GP if you can be referred to a counselling psychologist for an assessment and treatment, or you could seek out a reputable and experienced counselor or psychotherapist. You might also consider joining a therapy group rather than going for individual sessions.

Elisabeth

They obviously love you dearly which can't be a bad thing. As a parent I can (sort of) identify with them. What I think you need here is to be much more assertive, but use humour. My daughter, aged 35, uses it with good effect when I watch her cooking, and can't stop myself telling her how to cut the onions - she really only needs to give me one of her looks.

Penny Joseph

Next week's dilemma

I’ve got an old school friend and we’re now in our thirties. She has a very short temper. She says that she just sounds off and it blows over, and that I’m stupid to sulk and let it prey on my mind. But I don’t seem to be able to help it. I don’t like suddenly being called “hopeless” if something goes wrong, or a “fool” if I don’t know the longest river in the world. Or, if I want to make a slight change of plan, getting a barrage of anger and accusations. When I complain, she accuses me of being oversensitive and says I should get over these remarks, which she describes as “meaningless”. Should I try to loosen up?

Yours sincerely,

Marcia

What would you advise Marcia to do? To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Readers’ letters will return next week

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