Reality Check: Shaking Off External Control

Last column, I described a mother-daughter conflict where mom, Sandy, tried to compel her daughter Chloe to study in a specific way. Sandy is convinced that she knows what’s best for Chloe.

Now, let’s look at the situation from Chloe’s perspective. What does Chloe see when Sandy attempts to bribe, coerce, threaten, and nag her into studying “Mom’s way”?

According to Chloe, “Mom thinks she’s helping but she’s not. I know I need to learn this, and nobody knows better than me what will happen if I don’t pass. I’ll be stuck at home, forever, with no future. I certainly don’t want that. So I know what’s at stake.”

“But for me to be able to understand, I have to talk it out. I have to discuss. Mom doesn’t get that. When I tell her that I can’t get it by just reading, she says “Read it again!” Like that will help.”

“When she sends me to my room to study, it makes me so mad that sometimes I just sit there and daydream. I know it’s counter-productive but I can’t help it. She’s treating me like a child. I know she’s worried about my future. So am I! It’s my future though, not hers. I have to prepare for it, and I have to live it.”

What can Chloe do to shake off the external control that her mother is trying to exert over her? Here are some possibilities.

  • Chloe could try to establish exactly what her mother wants. Is mom’s goal that Chloe pass the exam? Or is it to make Chloe do things mom’s way? It may be helpful to ask questions to clarify that, in a calm and non-defiant way.

Assuming the goal is to pass the exam, then,

  • Chloe could explain to her mom that she understands the consequences of her actions. This could go a long way toward easing her mom’s mind.
  • She might also explain that she does have a plan for how to study and pass, and be prepared to share that plan.

What behaviours are likely to be ineffective for Chloe?

  • Ignoring and not responding to her mother. This will likely result in more nagging.
  • Rebelling and refusing to do anything. This may well lead to lack of success in the exam, and will definitely not help the mother-daughter relationship!
  • Taking the bribe. While, “You give me things and I’ll do whatever you want,” might seem great in the short-term, what does it say for the long run? It tells mom that you’re ok with being controlled; all she needs to do is buy things for you. Do you want to prove that you are willing to be manipulated for the right price? And, if you comply with mom’s way of study, will you pass?

Will Chloe always need to struggle to shake off her mother’s external control? As Chloe demonstrates that she is mature, capable, and understands consequences, her mom may relax. Negotiating differences can help them ease off the external control habit that they have built up between them. What do you think?

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