I’m Troubled by My Mother Who Always Has a Boyfriend

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a third-year female high school student and live alone with my mother since my father died when I was 7. My mother has almost always had a boyfriend — who keeps changing — since I was in elementary school. I don’t feel good about that but have come to terms with the fact that she has her own life.

However, this past spring, my mother sent a picture of me to her boyfriend without my permission. This reminded me of all sorts of bad memories, such as the difficulties caused by my father’s death and the unpleasant feelings that I’ve had about my mother’s past boyfriends. The event triggered a mental breakdown, and I have been absent from school.

On top of this, I’m sometimes haunted by the thought that I’m keeping her from having her own life.

While I sometimes feel like I hate her, I really do love her and feel emotionally dependent on her. My mind is confused by these feelings. It’s very stressful talking to someone about it, which is making it even more difficult for me. How should I come to terms with this?

— S, Osaka Prefecture

Dear Ms. S:

Children only see their mothers as a mother. It is not until after they grow up that they realize that their mothers are also women with their own problems, and many do not realize it even then.

But, you seem to have realized from an early age that your mother is more than just your mother, and tried hard to accept that fact. I believe that you have wanted your mother to focus on you but have held those feelings back, thinking it would make it harder for her to live her life if you tried to demand it.

Your heart had somehow been dealing with the conflict between the feeling of wanting to stay emotionally dependent on your mother and the negative feelings about your mother dating as a woman. But then, she showed him a picture of you, and it triggered your heartache, which you have been struggling so hard to keep under control, to scream for help.

You want to tell someone about the conflict but also feel that doing so causes you to break down, and you are at a loss. These feelings can be eased by writing and spending more time in nature. You have an excellent ability to express yourself through writing and I feel that you can support yourself with this power.

— Junko Umihara, psychiatrist