DEAR KELLY: My mom is so consumed with image it makes me sick. My dad’s business has had some problems for two years and no one knew because she always told us to never tell anyone that we have money problems. She still bought things like Hunter boots and Kate Spade purses instead of shopping at places like Target or T.J. Maxx.
My dad was stressing every night about money and having heart pains because the stress was so much. My mom went on girls trips to Napa, buys expensive makeup and drives a super nice car.
I hate her for being so selfish and caring about what everyone else thinks. We went on a family vacation over the summer and we stayed in a small condo she rented, but we went to a super-nice hotel that was close and pretended to be guests so we could use their pool, and she took pictures of us at the hotel so everyone thought we stayed there. When I saw her posts on Facebook, people said things about how incredible the hotel was. It’s like she’s embarrassed of how much money we don’t have.
Recently my mom started telling me that I need to stay skinny so I can find a rich guy to marry me one day and that unless I dress a certain way, I won’t attract a guy who has enough money. I couldn’t care less. She’s trying to make me the same by telling me things “its so much easier to marry rich than poor.”
I’m in high school. The last thing I think about is getting married, so I don’t know why she’s crazy-obsessed with that. I hate being around her and I honestly don’t know what to do. I can’t talk to my dad because I worry about him so much. He seems so stressed about work and he’s so depressed, except when they are around other people and then he seems normal. I think he’s worried my mom is going to leave him if his business doesn’t pick up soon.
When I mentioned counseling, my mom said we couldn’t afford it. Then, after I kept pushing, she said no because we are fine and she doesn’t think things are that bad.
DEAR REGAN: Your mom seems lost on what matters in her life and more consumed with how others view her and your family. This lack of direction or contentment in her life shows itself by never having enough and always wanting more “stuff” in hopes of finding whatever is lacking. The feeling of “I’m not enough” translates into “I don’t have enough.” Instead of being able to admit finances have changed and she needs to limit the spending, she is keeping up a facade that nothing has changed.
There are many reasons people fall into the trap of needing more. Perhaps it stems from the uncertainty of your dad’s job, comparisons to others, needing attention or admiration or from her own self-esteem issues. Whatever the reason, she needs to self-explore why she is doing it and how it is affecting your whole family. But the reality is we can only control ourselves and you can’t make her do anything she is not ready to do. You can still get help for yourself. This is when you stop focusing on her and focus on your behaviors and your feelings.
Start by going and talking with your school counselor. See if she or he can help facilitate a conversation with your parents so they hear that you want to speak with a professional. If your parents are concerned about the costs, your school counselor can offer places that have sliding scale or low fee options.
Having an outlet for your stress, like a journal or a drawing pad, can be beneficial to helping us to understand your emotions as well as develop healthier coping skills than your mom.
With the holidays coming up, I suggest buying your mom a copy of Brene Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” It is one of my favorite books and puts great perspective on living your life with truth and acceptance, owning both your flaws and your gifts. It talks about things like shame, failures and being authentic. I suggest you read it first, then wrap it up for her. This powerful book helps you embrace the idea of being enough and accepting yourself and your situation as it is. It is about letting go of shame and leaning into self-compassion and love.
Your mom is struggling with who she is and where she is at in her life. And if she chooses to keep the mask on, that doesn’t mean you have to. There will always be someone richer, someone smarter and someone with more stuff, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love who you are and embrace all that makes you worthy and deserving of being happy.