Can a Single Mom’s Relationship with her Mom Survive Moving in Together?

By Melissa Chapman

Dr. Savitri Dixon-SaxonAccording to Dr. Savitri Dixon-Saxon, Associate Dean of the School of Counseling and Social Service and Program Director for the M.S. in Mental Health Counseling at Walden University, who herself is a happily divorced single Mom and custodial parent of a five year old, the mother and daughter relationship is a lifetime parent-child negotiation in which both people are continually trying to figure out the dance.

“No matter what, women are always their Mother’s child and can never truly have an egalitarian relationship with their Mother the way they do with other adults,” says Dr. Dixon-Saxon. “When a divorced daughter turns to her Mother for support and a place to live with her kids she is essentially partnering with her Mother to help her raise her kids and therefore a tug of war will almost always ensue as to who is the authority figure in the relationship.”

Often when a single Mother is moving back in with parents, her Mother instinctively wants to baby her. While every single Mom can use a bit extra TLC, particularly when she’s dealing with fresh wounds following her divorce and the disappointment that her marriage turned out differently than she’d hope, Dr. Dixon-Saxon, cautions single Moms to beware of losing her power in such a situation.

“I would caution any single Mom from only getting nurturing from her Mother,” says Dixon-Saxon. “The single Mom who allows her Mother to wrap her arms around her will have a difficult time trying to reassert herself.”

Dr. Dixon-Saxon offers these hard and fast rules for Single Moms to help them maintain a healthy relationship with their own Mother, while they’re living under the same roof.

-Single Moms need to constantly be committed to being the adult and authority figure in their own life and in their own family unit. The relationship a single Mother has with her Mom is not one without its share of difficulties, but ultimately if you have a family that can support you and help with raising your kids, more likely than not, that is a good thing.

-In order for a single Mom, who moves back in with her own Mom to not only survive but thrive she’ll need to institute certain non-negotiable ground rules. These rules will help both the single Mother and her Mom maintain clear, distinct boundaries, as well as a level of respect for one another.

“It is very important when you return to parent’s household  that each of you are clear about your expectations of one another,” says Dr. Dixon-Saxon. “While most parents will likely tell their single Mom daughter to use this time to get back on her feet, it’s also important that you (the single Mom) contribute as well.”

-Make a plan about how you will take on responsibilities in regards to contributing to the household. Don’t simply expect your Mom to do your laundry! Negotiate some reasonable division of the household chores and bills.

-Try to be cognizant of the fact that this is your parent’s home. If you have a baby it might be hard not to consume a lot of the space with all your infant paraphernalia,  try to do your best to respect your parents schedule and needs.

“You’ll need to pick up on your loved ones rhythm,” says Dr. Dixon-Saxon. “For example if you know your Mother likes to meditate in the morning do your best to respect her need for quiet and privacy in the morning, and try not to violate it with your kid’s needs.”

– Be careful how you and your parents refer to your ex in the presence of your children. For many parents when their daughters separate from their spouses, while they want to advocate for their daughters they often take a very one-sided view of situation. In the process of building up their daughter sometimes they might not be as aware that this ex spouse, who they might be verbally maligning, is also the father of these children. When children hear you say something negative about their Dad, they will process that as you implying negative sentiments about them as well since half their DNA is from their Dad.

-Remember, everyone needs a bit of time to understand and adjust to their roles in this brand-new living situation. Therefore, single Moms need to have clear communication with the grandparents about what is acceptable, what everyone’s expectations are and to involve the kids in this discussion.

Dr. Dixon-Saxon also advises single Moms, that, whether they stay with their parents forever or they eventually transition into their own place keep in mind, that their new living situation will improve with time, and in the long-run their children will certainly benefit from it as well.

“Living with their grandparents, children get the opportunity to develop a bond with their grandparents and learn more about their family’s history and roots,” says Dr. Dixon-Saxon. “They also gain an additional sense of security that they have a network of support that extends beyond their Mom and Dad.”

Since becoming a single and custodial parent herself, Dr. Dixon-Saxon has spent much of her research energy on the issues of African American single mothers, especially those who are in poverty and those trying to achieve and maintain middle-class status as single parents.

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