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By "Today" contributor
updated 3/10/2005 10:44:29 AM ET 2005-03-10T15:44:29

Q: I am 49. My elderly mother, whom I have supported for 20 years, lives with me. I also have a 10-year-old. My mother is angry because I fell in love with a man. She feels I should not be dating at my age. This whole situation has led to my breaking up with him. I was so happy, and now I am so depressed. How should I deal with my mother?

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A: This situation is very sad.

It’s natural to feel intense attachments to our parents, but the challenge of growing up is to separate from them. To be a healthy human being, you need to make independent decisions. And those won’t necessarily please your mother.

Your mother has gotten used to having you all to herself. It’s unfortunate that she is too selfish to care about your happiness — but it’s even more unfortunate that you are hostage to your mother’s approval. At age 49, you should not feel obligated to do what mommy says.

The question to ask yourself is this: Are you going to give up your own life for the sake of your mother? If so, you will be crippled as long as your mother is alive.

Furthermore, you are setting an unfortunate message to your 10-year-old — that it is bad to grow up and choose a partner. You should be showing your child that finding love is joyful, and there is plenty to go around. You can love your parents, your children — and a mate.

It sounds as though your mother is not insightful enough to understand this. She is probably angry about being elderly and dependent upon you. Maybe she is envious because she lacks a mate of her own. But you gain nothing by sacrificing your happiness.

You need to find the strength to tell your mother: “I am sorry you are angry I found love, but I am still going to live my life how I see fit. Ruining my life will not make yours better.”

And how about going back to this man? Can you say you are sorry and made a terrible mistake? It’s possible that he is perplexed about why you exited his life and is hurting as much as you are.

If your mother chooses to sit there and stew, let her. Tell her that you love her, but that you love this man, too, and you are always there for her when she is ready to talk.

As far as her notion that you shouldn’t be dating at your age, that’s absurd. There is no upper age limit on finding someone you love. Love is a gift. You do yourself a disfavor by turning it away.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Love and honor your mother. But don’t let her dictate important decisions for you and intrude upon your life in ways that make you miserable.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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