Tell Me About It

My separated mother has become an embarrassment

I ran into my mother in a Dublin night club and saw her flirting with men. I didn’t think it was appropriate

PROBLEM: My parents separated a year ago. It was unexpected for me; I had always thought they were happy together; since I moved out a couple of years ago I hadn’t noticed any deterioration in their relationship. Obviously things were not as they seemed.

I have found myself in a difficult and strange position recently as my mother has begun asking me for dating advice. I feel uncomfortable giving her advice on how to catch men’s attention, and I do not like the shift in our relationship this has brought on. She frequently refers to me as being more beautiful than she is and she seems to think I have all the answers to her romantic life. I do not feel comfortable when she asks me how to find the right man for her. I feel like every question she asks me is a slur against my father. My mother seems so insecure and helpless all of a sudden, and I no longer want to confide in her with my own problems, as I don’t think she can handle them.

The situation really affected me when I ran into my mother in a Dublin nightclub and saw her flirting with men. I had never seen her like that before. Where once she was the rock in my life she has now become an embarrassment. I’ve stopped answering her calls and I just wish she would end this phase she is going through.

ADVICE: This is a very modern problem. More and more people are finding themselves in a situation where the boundaries of their relationships are blurred. Separated people no longer settle into a sedentary life but want new, exciting relationships. My guess is that your mother finds herself in a place where she has no knowledge or experience to fall back on, and of course she turns to you.

It sounds excruciating for you to have a mother who is dating, and you also feel protective towards your father, whom you may feel is somehow being betrayed by this. Meeting your mother in a nightclub might well be the catalyst to tackling this problem head-on; it sounds as though the time has arrived to have a serious conversation with her and to recruit some outside support.

Your mother is experiencing grief and loss and is trying to rebuild a life that has been knocked by rejection. No doubt her self-esteem has taken a hit. But you too are also suffering grief, not only for the loss of your parents’ relationship but also for your position as a child of this family. The mother who used to offer solace and reassurance is now seeking your support in the same areas that you used to rely on her for. Some restoring of natural order is needed here; you will bothneed to be open to honest discussion.

Could you schedule a conversation with your mother outside of your home, somewhere that is neutral and where both of you are unlikely to rush off in tears or anger? Can you tell her that you miss having her as a mother but you understand that she needs to engage with the possibility of future relationships? Can you suggest that she look into meet-up groups for women who are separated so she can begin to socialise with others who have traversed the new ground of dating in midlife; there is much on offer for her, including nights out, holidays with other women and support networks.

The main thing is that you want to draw out the mother in her and allow her to again be interested in and supportive of you, even if this means changes in her life. Ask her how she would like your relationship to be in the future, and be open to adjustments that might be suggested by her. The capacity to adapt and be flexible in life are two of the 15 competencies that are central to emotional intelligence, and this is a situation where you might grow these capacities. Being embarrassed by your mother is something you need to address, as this leads to a sense of shame for her and for you – is this really how you would like to define your relationship?

Instead, see her courage and audacity in engaging in midlife dating and offer her some of the advice you have garnered from your experience. Confidence is what makes us attractive, and the over-flirting you see from your mother may be indicative of insecurity. Tell her how wonderful she is and that she will find her equilibrium in time and with your support.