"In our culture, girls don't move out"

I'm 23, educated and working, but my mom says that unlike my brother, I have to stay home

Published August 5, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I recently graduated from college with a bachelor's in sociology and mass communications. I'm 23 years old. I'm working in an entry-level job in public relations. I've gotten enough work experience, and I have money to move out.

The problem: my mom.

Don't get me wrong, I love my mom and all that's she done for me. But she won't let me move out. She wanted me to save up enough money to be able to buy a condo, and I did. But whenever I try to show her that I've got a budget plan, all I get is, "No. Girls in our culture do not move out."

Not only is this extremely sexist (my older brother moved out around my age, and my mother had no qualms about that), but she won't even give me a reason beyond that.

How do I tell my mother that I'm moving out without destroying my relationship with her?


Dear Captive,

Your struggle is an old struggle and it takes place all over the world. Your mother's struggle is an old struggle too.

In some cultures, the family home would be enlarged and modified so that sons and daughters could marry and raise children somewhat independently and yet stay within in the family home. This makes economic and architectural sense, and provides for a gradual transition. In America that is not a strong tradition. In America children move out. I think because of that families often break up too quickly, which is painful and can lead to, or enable, emotional cutoff. So be careful how this all happens. If it is possible, try to stay within the rhythms and patterns of your family life, while establishing yourself as an independent person.

Both of you will have to accept some change. When you move out you will probably realize how many services your mother is providing, and how time-consuming it is to duplicate those services on your own. Your mother will probably realize not only that she misses you but that she also has more time on her hands, and may find she needs some new challenges and interests.

This change need not destroy your bonds. It can happen in a way that preserves the family.

You will have to figure out how to assert yourself in the world yet maintain some loving dependence, so that your mother does not feel abandoned, and how to continue to play the role of daughter while also playing the role of adult woman in society. This can be done by establishing a separate residence while still observing the rituals and protocols of home. This can be done by being definite but gradual.

A lot depends on what kind of relationship you have with your mother. If the relationship makes you feel good then establish a residence close to home. That way your mother can easily visit and remain an important person in your life.

Not all relationships with mothers are good. Sometimes it is necessary to create distance as a barrier. Sometimes, because of the peculiar combination of personalities, culture and geography, a mother-daughter relationship can be so intense and one-sided that the daughter must actually place physical distance between herself and her mother in order to have a feeling of safety and separateness. But the costs of creating such distance are often higher than one realizes at first.

So ask yourself: Would you mind so very much your mother dropping by? Would she basically be a helpful presence, and is she basically aware that her daughter is an adult who has her own life and her own rights to privacy and decision-making? She may occasionally treat you like a little girl but that is not pathological. Mothers do that. You don't mention any awful tension or intense controlling, so my impression is that your relationship with your mother is fairly typical and that this move can be managed.

Establish your own residence step by step. Explain each step to your mom; if you want her in your life, live nearby so she can come by and bring you things.

She probably will bring you things. It's nice when mothers do that.

And, by the way, do look into your own culture and what it says about women. There is probably some wise and useful tradition there, as well as some silliness. Use what you have learned about sociology to look at your culture as a functioning system, and try to understand how your role in it is shifting now, and be smart about this, as you have been smart about the rest of your life.

By Cary Tennis

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