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Dear Miss SmartyPants,

I'm very close to my mom who lives a few states away. She has a habit, though, that drives me crazy. Whenever I have a work-related trip that takes me out of town, she is already planning a vacation ... in my hotel room. I've had to talk her out of coming to Chicago, Minneapolis and Las Vegas with me. How embarrassing for a 27-year-old professional to have her mom tagging along to a conference.

The pattern continues: I booked a ski trip with some friends in Colorado for New Year's. She called me yesterday and asked if it was okay if she, my brother and dad also booked a condo at the same resort. I said it wasn't okay and now she is hurt. At the same time, I don't want to feel like every time I go out of town I have to ask her if she wants to go. How can I draw a line in the sand without hurting her feelings all the time?


Dear (S)Mothered,

You can't. Given that her expectations are completely unreasonable - you said it yourself, you're a 27-year-old professional who has her mom tagging along to a conference - she is the one responsible for her own hurt feelings.

Your job is to set limits and stick to them. You have been saying no to her, which is the right thing to do when you don't want her to join you, but I think you need to give her the bigger picture, that by inviting herself to things she's putting you in an awkward spot, forcing you to say no to her. Say all the other stuff, too - that you love her and enjoy her company and whatever else applies, but that you need and want to do some things on your own. Say that when you want her to join you you'll invite her. Once you've gotten that established, then you can say, when she invites herself again, just, "Mom, please."

You mentioned your mom lives a few states away. Maybe the real problem is that she misses you and wants to spend more time with you. You say the two of you are close, so I assume you are in touch with her frequently by phone or Skype or whatever. I also assume you see each other in person once in a while, whether you are visiting her or she is visiting you. If my assumptions are incorrect, you may want to consider giving her a little more of your time, certainly not on a business trip, but when you can both relax and enjoy each other's company. In addition to the normal holiday visits, I think it would be cool if you would invite her to a join you for a "girls" weekend once a year or so, just the two of you in an interesting city, resort, wherever.

Or maybe she's bored. If you suspect that may be the case, perhaps you could suggest a few things to make her life more interesting. If she likes to read, she may enjoy joining a book club. If she likes to sing, she might find companionship and pleasure in sharing her talent as a member of the church choir. You know her interests, so you could help her develop them in a way that would not just keep her occupied, but fulfilled. This topic could be approached with her in a loving, yet direct, way. "Mom, when you want to come on business trips with me, or join me and my friends on a vacation, it makes me feel a little like you want to live vicariously through me. But you have your own wonderful life. Have you ever thought of pursuing your interest in art by volunteering to be a docent at the museum, or taking some classes at the local community college?"

If you nudge her toward coloring her own life a little more brightly, it will make your time with each other even more enjoyable as she shares the excitement of discovering and exploring interesting avenues with you.

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