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My mom moved to the same city as my wife and I about 5 years ago. It's always been a bit rocky, but there is probably one theme that comes up the most regularly. To put it simply, her expectations for my involvement in her life are simply not possible for me in my phase of life. Regarding my "phase" of life:

  1. I have 5 kids (including 2 that are under 3 years) that keep me very busy.
  2. More immediately, our youngest is 3 months old, and little people certainly make life that much more busy.
  3. To add to things, my wife has been dealing with PPD, so life has definitely been busy in the past half year or so.

Those are just the major pointers in recent history, but the overall reality is that my life is very busy literally every day. Currently we usually text occasionally during the week, and then we usually see her in person 1-3 times a month (she usually comes over during the weekends for half a day). Regarding her expectations (just a couple examples that come to mind):

  1. Sometime a few months she expressed frustration that I don't reach out to her regularly during the week
  2. She often gets hurt if I don't text her back quickly enough (she texted me last night around 7pm to see how I was doing, and when I hadn't responded, texted me again at 8am this morning to ask "Are you still alive?"). Normally I text back quickly, but it doesn't always happen.
  3. When she does visit she sometimes makes comments about how "We don't get to chat often" (usually I spend a good chunk of the weekend catching up on chores/errands, so when she does come over she spends more time with my kids than with me)

During the former (frustrated that I don't reach out more during the week) I apologized and told her that I would try to do better, but explained that because life is crazy (the points at top), I simply might not be able to reach out to her as much as she likes.

Similarly, the texting thing has come up before. This isn't the first time she's followed up a text with a sarcastic text because I took to long to respond. I aim to get back to her quickly and usually do, but this time she got me in the middle of bedtime and I wasn't able to respond until the next morning. In general I like text messages because they don't require an immediate response, but my mom obviously feels differently. In this case I responded the same way I did the last time this happened - something like "Sorry mom, life is busy and I don't always have a chance to respond immediately".

I'm not trying to make up excuses here - most days it's wake up, get ready for the day, feed kids breakfast, work, eat dinner, start putting kids to bed (little people go to bed early), put wife to bed (she goes to bed early because of baby), sleep, repeat. I understand her frustration, especially because I know she doesn't really have any friends, but spare time is missing in my life right now, and probably will be for another couple years.

I feel like she and I have touched on this topic a few times now, with me explaining that as life is just crazy and I can't always respond/reach out as quickly/often as she would like. We seem to move on for a while and then it inevitably comes up again, in one way or another. I feel like there is a larger issue here that I might be missing which causes things like this to keep popping up.

Might there be anything I can do to help my mom accept the way things are right now, and stop getting frustrated when I don't give her as much "attention" as she wants?

  • Have you suggested any ways that you might be able to give your mother more attention, rather than just reiterating that you can't give her as much attention as she wants? – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jun 27 at 21:29
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    You're saying you're busy and don't have time to give your mother more attention. Maybe giving her attention would help you have more time. You can have your mother take care of some of your children a few times per week in your place. – JayZ Jun 28 at 12:00
  • @JayZ Strangely the reason we only see her a few times a month is because of her schedule - she isn't retired quite yet and probably works 60-70 hour weeks, including many weekends. We would be happy to see her more but she's not available more. I wonder if from her perspective she sees "I'm a busy person but I reach out to you, so why can't you reach out to me?". With 5 little kids though there is literally always someone who needs something, especially in the evenings with the run up to bedtime (which is when she texted me the other night). – conman Jun 28 at 12:17
  • @Upper_Case I have tried other methods. I have occasionally sent her cards and brought her flowers, all of which she has really appreciated. It's probably not a surprise to say that this isn't something that happens regularly though. – conman Jun 28 at 12:28
  • Did you consider to stay together? so that your mom can take care of some kids or occupying them by just playing with them? What is the distance between your homes now? I am asking from indian cultural context, adding your country tag would help to give more specific comments/answers. – NiceGuy Jun 28 at 14:39
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I am going to recommend you stop saying sorry. There are two reasons for this:

  1. it is always followed by "but", which negates it. "Sorry, but that's how my life is right now" isn't really an apology and doesn't make the person hearing it feel better.
  2. if it does work as an apology, it says that you have done something wrong and in fact, you haven't.

Instead, say something that acknowledges her feelings, validates them, and speaks to the strength of your relationship, clarifying that your lack of response or your choice of activities are based on your circumstances, not how you feel about her. For example:

I know. Things with 5 are just so much crazier than with 4!

Optionally, refer to your experience and predict things will be calmer when the youngest is x old (which might be school age.) For bonus points, ask her to make that prediction since she has experience raising you.

Whatever you say, it should be some variation of

I wish that too

instead of

well you can't have that

If it's possible for your mother's visits to be something that gives you more free time (eg she puts some of the kids to bed, or takes some of them to the park while you put some to bed) then you can have more such visits. You can increase this by praising the heck out of her when she helps and referring back to the help when she says there's no time to just chat:

You're right, I don't get time to chat with anyone or even just to sit and think a bit. Heck some days I don't manage to eat until 9pm. Having you take the older ones out like you did today is keeping me from complete insanity, so thankyou.

And then again with the prediction of when things are likely to get to the "we can just sit and chat" stage again. On the texting front, imagine replying:

oh I didn't see your text last night, just two grownups here doing all the bedtime stuff, it's easier when you're here for sure, when you're not sometimes I can't get to my phone :-) what did you want to ask me?

I had a number of people in my life who used to complain to me that they weren't seeing me or weren't spending time with me doing the things we used to do together, and I stopped apologizing and started agreeing, and two things happened: the conversations on the spot became more pleasant, because they-complain-you-say-sorry isn't pleasant for anyone, and also they seemed to get more enjoyment out of the time we did spend together. I didn't lose any relationships as a result of giving up the apologies, and I believe I actually improved them.

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