Why Parents Interfere With Relationships: Should Parents be Interfering in Their Children's Relationships and Marriage?

Parents interfere with relationships for a variety of reasons. In every case, their interference stems from a feeling of entitlement toward the grown child. The parent feels that, by dint of giving birth to and raising their child, they have the right to have some say in their child’s life through adulthood. This is not always a bad thing; many times it stops at mere concern for the grown child’s life and gentle, well-meant advice. Unfortunately, in many cases it goes much further than that. Both parents have the potential for this kind of controlling behavior, though it is generally much more common of mothers than fathers. Why do mothers interfere?

Misplaced concern for a person’s welfare is perhaps the leading cause of motherly interference. In many mothers’ minds, their children are still children no matter how old they are. The mother has spent the better part of the last couple of decades raising her children and advising them in everything, and it’s hard to truly grasp that they are now adults capable of making their own decisions and living with the consequences of those choices. If a mother doesn’t approve of her child’s choice of mate for any reason, she’s more likely to try to advise her child out of sheer habit, and often out of a sometimes unconscious belief that she still knows what’s best for her kids.

From the outside looking in, no one can get a clear picture of any relationship. Many people are content to confide in their significant other rather than a parent at all times – except when there’s a problem. If there are issues within the relationship, people are more likely to turn to friends or family for advice. Parents are often the natural choice. A person will have had firsthand experience of the kind of relationship his/her parents had and so can see the results of advice given. Many times, parents who have made bad decisions can share with their grown children what they wish they’d done instead. However, seeking advice from parents can have the negative side effect of making them think that there is more bad than good. When there is no problem you don’t confide in them, and when people are perfectly happy they’re much less likely to share it with people outside the relationship than if they’re unhappy.

Some mothers see every issue within a relationship as a confirmation that their misgivings about her child’s partner were right. If someone wants to believe something of someone, they are very likely to hang on to the bits of information that support their case and ignore the others. Oftentimes this is not a conscious thing, but it can lead to very meddlesome behavior on the part of a parent who thinks they’re working for their child’s best interest.

On the more dysfunctional side, mothers may interfere in a marriage because they themselves are unhappy. For some women, they’ve never been in a healthy relationship and so are convinced that any relationship their grown child is in will only lead to heartache. They can not accept that their child’s happiness is genuine, and so go looking for what must be wrong.

Another reason for meddling is general unhappiness in the mother’s own marriage. Mothers who have a very clear idea what they want but are not getting it may project their own wants on their children. The result is the constant needling, “Does she do ______ for you?” “Does he give you ______?” and the resultant lectures or disapproval if the answers should be something other than what the parent thinks it should be. Some mothers have difficulty accepting that their children are completely different people and their wants, needs, and priorities will be different.

Finally, mothers with an empty nest may have extreme difficulties giving up control of their child’s life. While no one truly has control over another, it’s somewhat easier to maintain that illusion when you have the ability to dictate bedtimes, mode of dress, and mete out punishment if the rules are not followed.

This is not to say that all meddling mothers are in any way malevolent or desire to see their children unhappy. In most cases, the intent is quite the opposite. However, mothers are humans too. They have their emotions and imperfections, and sometimes they allow their intentions to cloud their judgment and get in the way of what they’re trying to do for their children.

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