Feeling the Pull of Mom’s Judgment

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Social Q’s

My mom and I were chatting on FaceTime. I mentioned that I was going to a concert. She asked what I was wearing, so I showed her. She said I looked cute. Then she asked if I was going to put on more makeup. I told her my makeup was already done. She looked pained. (She does that a lot.) She also bought me eyelash extensions even though I never asked for them. But here’s the upsetting thing: It works. As I walked to the subway, I rooted in my bag for more makeup. Am I oversensitive for 29?


Not at all! And to prove how “normal” you are, let me share my (screwed-up) feeling of relief upon reading your question: “At least her mom liked her outfit,” I thought. Parents can be nimble-fingered at pushing our buttons — because they installed them. This is especially true in matters of self-esteem, where mere flickers of parental facial muscles can trigger feelings of hurt or outrage.

It’s worth noting that your mom is probably not aware of her outsize influence on you. You’d think that she (and other parents) could translate their own experiences with powerful progenitors into smoother dynamics with their own kids. But strangely, it doesn’t often work that way.

Every morning, when you’re getting dressed, remind yourself that you don’t need approval from anyone. (It’s your face!) And when you next see your mom, say: “Those little things you say and do about the way I look make a big impression on me. I know you mean them kindly, but can you skip them? They make me feel unsure of myself.” You may have to remind her (and yourself) that you’ve got hair and makeup covered. But trust me, you do.

Tattoo Drama

I have loved body art since I was 16. Seven years later, I finally got a tattoo on my chest that I’ve wanted for years. I love it! The issue: My mother hates tattoos. She thinks they’re disgusting and holds negative opinions of people who have them. I’m close with her and extremely open, but I haven’t told her about my tattoo. I am going home soon and want to tell her. She’s going to find out eventually, and shirtless photos make their way online once summer begins. How do I do it?


That’s right. Get out your cast albums of “Gypsy.” It’s a double dose of Mama Rose this week. (“Mama’s got the stuff. Mama’s lettin’ go. Mama?”)

I doubt you will change your mother’s mind about tattoos or the people who get them. No need to climb that mountain. But the odds are good that she will make an exception for you. She loves you and won’t want to lump you in with people she holds (unfairly) in low regard.

On your first night home (leaving plenty of time for recovery), say: “Mom, I’ve kept something from you because I didn’t want to upset you. But I value our openness, so I want to tell you now. I got a tattoo. I’ve wanted one for years, and I love it. I hope you’ll understand.” There may be some fireworks initially, but she will probably relent. The deed is done. And only a shortsighted parent would blow up a loving relationship over a tattoo (that can be covered at mealtime).

Friends and Money

A friend bought two tickets to a play and suggested I do the same. We planned to have dinner beforehand. That day, my husband was found to have pneumonia and kidney problems. I canceled and asked if he had a friend who could use the tickets. He did. Later, I asked if his friends enjoyed the play. They did. End of conversation! Naïvely, I expected him to pay for the tickets or at least thank me. Your thoughts?


Be clear with friends about money. Don’t say: “Can you use my tickets?” if you mean: “Will you buy my tickets?” I assume it was pretty unlikely that you would have called around for other takers, with your husband ill, on performance day. You gave your friend an option to salvage your planned evening after it became untenable for you.

In your friend’s shoes, I wouldn’t have expected to pay for the tickets, either. They were closing in on worthless. But I surely would have thanked you (though stopped short of giving you a ticker-tape parade). Remember: Your friend already had tickets. Still, the most concerning part of your question is your husband’s health. I hope he feels better.

Family Labels

My long-term partner and I have five children between us. He and I maintain separate houses for the benefit of the kids, who range significantly in age. Still, we act and feel like a family. How do I introduce myself to other parents or the dance coach, for instance? I am not a “stepmom,” and “friend of the family” diminishes our relationship.


What’s the matter with the way you described it? “Hi, I’m Rachel — Janey’s dad’s partner.” That seems clear to me.