Is it wrong of me to expect loyalty from my mom?

My mom’s friend’s son’s girlfriend has had a long, close relationship with my mom. The girl and I were never close; I could tell she didn’t like me. In the past she mentioned (to my mom) being jealous of me. Despite all that, I wanted us to try and be friends. I kind of felt left out. So one day, I asked my mom if I could tag along whenever they hung out. Guess I kind of inserted myself into their relationship. I soon realized her behavior was way too toxic for me. A day prior to ending our friendship, I walked outside and overheard a conversation she was having with my mom (my mom had her on speaker). She didn’t like me calling when she and my mom were together and blamed me for something I knew nothing about. She then began talking about me. My mom didn’t even say anything to her, and she knew I was standing right there. I voiced to my mom she was more concerned about hurting the girl’s feelings, than she was about setting some boundaries. The next day, my mom said she had a talk with her. I cannot for the life of me understand why she still insists on being close with her. I have expressed to her that their relationship now makes me feel angry and hurt. She’s mad that I am making her choose. I guess I am. I don’t know if I’m being ridiculous. If you need more details, please let me know.

 Dear Friend,

Thank you for writing in. I wish I had a snapshot of the relationship you and your mom have shared over the years, because I’m curious if her bond with your peer is a symptom of a strained intimacy with you. I’d ask your mom what her long and close relationship with this young woman is built upon? Given the age difference, I’m curious if there a mother-daughter dynamic present, and I’m curious who is benefiting most from this. I’m also curious about your mom’s relationship with her own mother—were there gaps? And I wonder about the relationship your peer shares with her own mom. Relationships we hold tight to mean something to us—they enrich our lives, they bring us joy, and they can satisfy aspects of our unsettled self. Sometimes there is more to a situation than meets the eye.

My short answer to you is no, I do not think you are being ridiculous. You have every right to expect loyalty from your mother. If she is sacrificing her intimacy with you for a relationship with this young woman—if she is willing to jeopardize her relationship with you to maintain the relationship she has with your peer, I find that curious and even concerning. She appears to have an emotional blind spot, and if I was able to, I’d gently explore with her what the blindness is protecting her from seeing.

We always make hard choices, and even sacrifices, within intimate relationships. Your mom may feel her friendship with this young woman isn’t undermining her loyalty to you—or she may feel it’s the principle of the matter—how can she just cut someone off who she has been close with? But if holding fast to a principle costs her a most sacred relationship, what did the principle serve? I’m not denying that your mom feels put in the middle, and that she may see it as unfair that you are pressing her to choose, but I’d point out that she is already making a choice by staying in close contact with this young woman. I’d ask your mom why she was making that choice.

In much the same way that our spouse comes first once we are married, parental loyalty to one’s child is just as natural. To be loyal is to be faithful and protective with those we love; their imperfections, their mistakes, and their fears, are safe with us. If I am loyal to you, it means I’ve got your back, even when you’re at your worst. It means I won’t betray your heart, and I will be your fiercest protector.

Loyalty is an expression of love, and while love doesn’t ask us to sacrifice a fundamental part of who we are and what we need to feel whole, it does press us to accommodate the emotional needs of those we love, even if we don’t fully get it. Just as we leave our home of origin and put our spouse first, as parents we are meant to prioritize our child’s emotional welfare. This is the natural order of adult-relationship development. When there is difficulty around this re-ordering, it is a signal that emotional development has stalled at some point.

This may be a turning point for you and your mom—confronting painful aspects of a relationship and addressing issues, while hard, can deepen intimacy. But if your mom is unable to align with you on this issue, may I suggest you find someone to help you navigate your pain? Even if your mom can provide a very good reason for why she cannot temper her relationship with this young woman, it will likely remain a hurtful situation for you, and you deserve to be lovingly heard and supported.

I wish you and your mom all the very best.

Love, Liz



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