Dear Barb

Dear Barb;

I am attending my first year at university and living on my own for the first time. My problem is my mother. She is making me feel guilty because I moved out to attend university. I am an only child and my father died many years ago. My mother suffers from depression and has always been dependent on me. I am confused about whether I should have stayed home with my mother, or made a life for myself? What do you think? Where do my obligations lie?

Merek in Alberta

Dear Merek,

Your confusion is understandable. From your question it appears when your father died you may have stepped into his shoes, either by choice or by being forced into it. As a result your mother seems to have shifted her dependence from your father to you. In your question you do not mention whether you have other family members that could help with your mother, therefore I will assume you do not.

Everyone is entitled to have a life of their own; this includes you Merek. Yet you also have an obligation to your mother. You mentioned that your mother suffers from depression; I assume she is receiving treatment for this. Have you considered speaking to her family doctor or a counselor about what resources are available for your mother? Perhaps she could join a support group where she would have an opportunity to meet other people. As well, you could research social agencies in your area. Find out if they offer any activities that your mother may be interested in. Most cities have hiking/walking clubs that meet once or twice a week. The weekday ones likely include retirees or people who are not working for various reasons. A hiking club would provide your mother with the opportunity to meet people, as well as becoming physically active, which has proven to be helpful with depression.

Initially it may be difficult for your mother to get out and participate in these activities. Therefore you may have to accompany her until she meets others and feels comfortable. Hopefully, through meeting new people your mother will start to build a life for herself independent of you.

Remember, you do have the right to go to university and develop a life of your own and you don’t need to feel guilty for doing this. On the other hand, you should not forget about your mother. Consequently I would suggest that you visit your mother as regularly as possible, taking into consideration how far you live from her. As well, a weekly phone call would be a good idea. If your mother continues to be unhappy and make unusual demands, you will have to be strong and resolve within yourself that you are doing all you can to assist her.

I know this may be difficult, but if you give up your life for your mother, you could end up a very unhappy, resentful man. Moreover I am sure your mother would not want to see this happen to you, but because of her depression, she may not be able to think beyond her own needs at this time.

Thanks so much for writing, Merek. Your situation is challenging and requires a delicate balancing act, but I think you have taken the first step toward achieving this balance, by moving out on your own.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.