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Dear Stavroula

Dear Stavroula: I Feel Responsible for My Mother

Dear Stavroula,

My mother was widowed at a very young age and has never found someone else since. Neither I nor my sister know if she ever had another relationship. She worked hard, rarely went out, and generally devoted her life to raising us, since our finances were very limited. My sister is a few years older than me, has been in a steady relationship for years, and recently decided to live with her partner abroad, essentially leaving me to take care of our mother. Our mother took it hard; she feels abandoned and constantly tells me that she hopes I don’t do the same as my sister, because she sacrificed her whole life for us. All this has made me panic – I fear that I will never be able to live the life I want. I too dream of going abroad once I finish my studies, but how will I be able to do that to our mother? Just thinking about it makes me feel terrible. I feel like I’m suffocating.

Vasiliki

Dear Vasiliki,

Motherhood contains in it selfless love, devotion, contribution – and undoubtedly many times it will be necessary for the mother to sacrifice her own desires and needs in order to be able to respond better to the needs of her child, especially while he is small and almost completely dependent from her.

However, in no way should this mean that the mother is required to ignore, even deny, her own personal needs in order to be considered a ‘proper’ mother. When this happens, that is, when the mother chooses to act as a ‘martyr’ by identifying love with sacrifice, and demanding recognition for it, a heavy burden falls on the backs of her children. A mother’s love, in this case, instead of liberating and giving wings, binds and restricts.

Perhaps something similar is happening in your case. Your mother made a choice for her life – she did what she believed was right, depending on the way she grew up, her perceptions, and the circumstances of her life. She overcame difficulties, helped you grow, and offered you as much as she could. You owe her a debt of gratitude for that.

But this does not deprive you – or should not deprive you – of the right and obligation to make your own choices for your life. Everyone is responsible for their decisions and choices in life and their consequences. And that includes coming of age.

I would advise you to seek the help of an expert so that you can manage it better. She will help you understand that love is not synonymous with sacrifice and deprivation. It will help you cut yourself off from guilt about moving forward with your life. Choosing what you dream of doesn’t mean you don’t love your mother or are abandoning her. It means you respect and love yourself.

And when it’s time to take the next step in your life, explain to your mother that you can love her and care for her and take care of her even if you don’t live with her. Show her gratitude for what she’s given you, understand her fears and insecurities – but don’t back down. Go about your life with the awareness that everyone’s success or failure, happiness or unhappiness, is on their own backs.
A mother’s love should not become a hand on the throat that suffocates but the strength in the heart that frees and the embrace that strengthens.

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