About 8 years ago, we started having some serious trouble with a couple of neighbors (which slowly escalated to call-the-cops and get-a-lawyer kind of trouble). There was some property damage at the time too, but there is absolutely no proof this was related to the neighbor (there's still a suspicion though).

I was in university at the time, and my parents did a very good job of keeping me out of it. Being away for most of the time certainly helped. I have a general knowledge of what happened (a court case with a verdict in our favor - she had to get rid of the dogs she hoarded), but my parents never spoke about their interactions with the neighbors, and I never witnessed the extent of some of the property damage or saw my parents initial reactions.

Now, that court case was 4 years ago. Since then, I've had some interactions with one of our neighbors, and she seems genuinely apologetic about the whole thing. I'm not the easiest person to win over once you've pissed me off (and she did that because I saw what my parents were going through), but I really think she's sorry for what happened and wants to apologize.


I've seen her make several attempts to try and speak to my mom (for example last summer on the neighborhood barbecue), but my mom always avoids her or gets 'rescued' by dad.

So yesterday, we received a Christmas card from her. My mom was so mad she didn't even read it. I did, and it was a really nice card. Basically, our neighbor just wished us all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Our card also stated something along the lines of 'I really like to apologise and I want to start anew, just like the new year does'.

Then, there was a invitation for the entire neighborhood to come and have the traditional New-Years eve drinks in her home.

Needless to say, when I told my mom what was actually in the card ( I felt she at least needed to know there would be a chance these drinks would be had at the neighbors home), she got really, really mad.

We got into an argument, me arguing for the neighbor and that I really thought her apologies were sincere, and my mom who wanted nothing to know about it, to the point of shouting at me that I was being naive and manipulated.

I've never known her to hold a grudge this long, she's usually the first to preach forgiveness to me, usually, I'm the person that holds the grudge.


I'm guessing our neighbor did something that's even worse than the things I know about, but when I asked mom about it yesterday she wouldn't tell me. I'd really like to know why she called me out for being naive and manipulated, and understand her anger.

How can I have a talk about the reasons for her anger with my mom, when only mentioning the subject pisses her off this much? I'd really like to find out what it is that happened that is so inexcusable she doesn't want to talk about it, or can find it in her heart to forgive, even after 4 years...

Dad's on a business trip right now, and I'd really like to have this talked out with mom before he comes home this weekend. He's not going to accept the apologies either, but he's even less of a talker than mom and won't explain what happened either (I asked) so I would really like to focus this on my mom.

  • 6
    Is "neighbours" tag relevant too?
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 21, 2017 at 9:21
  • I'll leave it on, but it isn't really about interacting with the neighbor (neighbors doesn't have a tag wiki yet)... Do we want that tag for questions/situations involving neighbors or just for interacting with neighbors?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Dec 21, 2017 at 9:22
  • 7
    What happens if you talk with your dad? Or with the neighbours? As you describe it, it sounds like they all have been involved and know what happened. Dec 21, 2017 at 11:31
  • @XtremeBaumer, Like I said, when I talk with Dad he won't tell me either what happened, just that he doesn't want to talk about it. If I push, I get shouted at ;-). Knowing my parents, I really have the best chance talking to mom. I have had some small-talk with the neighbors, but I really want to know from my parents before I go asking them questions about this...Basically I'm more interested in my parents side of the story right now
    – Tinkeringbell
    Dec 21, 2017 at 11:33
  • 3
    What is your motif? It sounds as if it was mere curiosity, but is there maybe more behind it? Does the situation make you suffer, or do you believe that your mother (parents) would feel better, or do you care that much about your neighbor? Dec 21, 2017 at 19:01

12 Answers 12


I will assume that what you want to know is what you put in the title:

How can I try to have my mom help me understand why she won't accept a sincere apology?

In other words, I won't be addressing the related question how can I persuade her to accept a sincere apology. (If I'm answering the wrong question, please let me know.)


I'll give an example from my experience with my late mother.

My mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany. When I was growing up, she always became uncomfortable when she heard German being spoken, and it was an iron-clad family rule that I should not mention her German origins in such situations. It was important to her to keep her distance, and above all, not get put in a social situation where she would have to choose between speaking German and being rude. If I asked childhood or teenaged questions about German history, she would get uncomfortable, give minimalist answers, and then withdraw. When there was a documentary on television about the Holocaust, she carefully avoided it.

In my mid-twenties, not long after she retired, we went on a beach vacation together. When we were on a ferry ride with nothing to do but gaze at the sea, I asked her a chronology question about her family's flight from Germany, and she didn't clam up right away.

A few days later, after snorkeling in a small lagoon, I asked a follow-up question, and more memories started flowing.

The logjam started to break up.

Fast forward 15 years: I bring my new German partner to visit my mother. She is nervous, but she makes a sincere effort to welcome this person into her family. On our second evening there, she sits on the sofa with us on either side, and shows us a photo album she has put together, with her family home in Germany, her parents, the various family members who survived the war and those who didn't, and explains her family history. The logjam breaks up some more.

There were limits. She was never willing to meet my in-laws or speak to them on the phone, but she took the initiative in writing to my mother-in-law, and they had some correspondence over the years. When my children were starting to talk she was tolerant when they spoke to her in "Germish" (mix of Spanish, German and English). She always answered in English.

She did the best she could, and considering where she was coming from, it was a lot, and my spouse and I appreciated it.

Take-home message: Show a non-judgmental, empathetic interest in your mother's experience with the dog-hoarding neighbors. Allow the clam to open if it wants to. Be patient.

  • 15
    I would add that arguing tends to clog up the logjam more.
    – Nelson
    Dec 22, 2017 at 8:22

You're wondering why your mother won't accept an apology. What exactly is your neighbor apologising for?

You told us that a couple of things transpired. First there was some conflict which ended up appearing before court, while at the same time some of your parents' property was damaged. Both these things would very likely have caused a lot of stress for your parents. If this wasn't addressed afterwards, this stress would have festered for the last 4 years.

Addressing these events now opens those wounds again and reminds your parents of a time they would much rather leave behind.

Apologizing and forgiving

I think that while an apology might be sincere, it shouldn't be something you start with. If someone was hurt a long time ago, without this being addressed properly, that mental wound will have festered for a long time. A simple apology out of the blue is unlikely to be sufficient. Even worse, without specifically addressing the issue, it might come across as careless, spreading more salt in the wounds.

Without resolving the existing tension between the two, an apology and subsequent forgiveness are meaningless, because this tension is going to remain, only to rupture again on the first bit of stress. This is practically the state your mother is in: generally fine, unless the topic is mentioned.

Whatever the source of tension between your mother and neighbor is, this needs to be addressed before an apology has any meaning.

Finding out what triggers your mother

To understand why your mother is not receptive of apologies, you must find out what the source of tension in this case is. Was it the court case itself? Was it the dispute that caused the case? Was it the property damage? Was it your neighbor's attitude? Without Addressing the exact cause, any apology will sound like "meh whatever your issue is, I apologize."

Finding out what this is is tricky, because you will have to press through that anger. You'll have to go all Dr. Phil on her, asking further and further about how it makes her feel.

When she gets angry, try asking her what she is angry about. "Everything" is not an answer (so flag, downvote and delete), but start asking. Is it about the dispute? Is it about the fact that it had to come before a court? Is it about the property damage? For the time being, that's all you need to find out.

It might be helpful to point out that your goal is to help make amends, not just to simply wash away all the wrong-doing that has happened. More on that later.

Feedback to your neighbor and amends

When you know what exactly is causing this pain that has been festering for so long, we can work on finding a way to make amends. This will not be easy, but if your neighbor sincerely wants to make up for what happened, they'll have to do this.

Go to your neighbor with your findings and see if you can find something you can do that might help mitigate the hurts your mother has about these problems.

Forgiven, but not forgotten

Like I said, it is important to stress that forgiving is not the same as forgetting. The things that happened happened. Nothing is going to make them unhappen. That doesn't mean that we should forget that those things happened, but it does mean that it is not in your neighbor's power to make them unhappen either. If they want to make up for that, that still doesn't unhappen those things, but you can forgive nonetheless.

As a wise man once said:

They turned their backs on their rightful king for no better reason than dreams of power and glory, and I have marked them for what they are. Pardoned them, yes. Forgiven. But not forgotten.

You can forgive someone whilst still remembering what they did. Forgiving just means that you don't hold that against them anymore. Of course, if they were to fall back to their old habits, that would open these wounds again.

Your mother's teachings about forgiveness

I've never known her to hold a grudge this long, she's usually the first to preach forgiveness to me, usually, I'm the person that holds the grudge.

Using this might help once she has calmed down a bit, but don't use this when she is still mad. People tend to dislike their teachings being used against them, especially when they are already angry. It is a sort of smartass behaviour that is hard to appreciate in the middle of a heated argument.

Your role

You place yourself as a mediator. This makes it easy for your mother to suspect that you might disagree with her, that you might be on your neighbor's side. This is not necessarily the case, but the appearance might be against you. Point out that you're trying to understand what is still making her so mad, that you're trying to provide closure, so you can leave the whole debacle behind, without your mother exploding from receiving an Xmas letter.

  • Possibly helpful for understanding the mother's religious perspective/expectations: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/14920/4145. (Note: I am not a Christian, so I can't back this up with personal experience.) Dec 21, 2017 at 15:08
  • 3
    The problem is, the only reason this issue has been festering for four years is because OP's mom won't talk about it. OP indicated the neighbor has made several attempts to open up a channel of communication, and has been thwarted or rebuffed every time. The neighbor has been trying to relieve the tension, but OP's mom is refusing. I'm guessing the apology card was sent because the neighbor has been unable to successfully communicate in person and is trying to make her intentions known through other means now.
    – Doktor J
    Dec 21, 2017 at 15:17
  • 2
    Yes, that's the only way I see anything getting resolved (or getting a third-party mediator involved, but I doubt that idea will go over well). In trying to position oneself as mediator, it may help -- but may also hurt, depending on the circumstances -- to point out the apparent irrationality of blowing up over a Christmas card. It's one thing to not be ready to accept an apology, it's something else entirely to flip out over a sincere attempt to apologize.
    – Doktor J
    Dec 21, 2017 at 15:33
  • 1
    One of the best answers I have ever read. Awesome.
    – user1856
    Dec 21, 2017 at 17:24
  • 2
    @JarkoDubbeldam Forgiveness that needs to be forced by 'mediation', or being pressured by a third party at all, I'm not sure that is really forgiveness. I'm not even sure it's fair to expect forgiveness to be a natural outcome to every conflict. The neighbor might feel some need for that forgiveness, but it isn't their right to receive it. Whatever transpired might have been enough to guarantee that there will always be conflict between the OP's mother/father and the neighbor, and it's well within the parent's rights to hold that grudge to their grave if that's what they want. Dec 21, 2017 at 21:45

You have inadvertently sided against your mother

From your own observations, it's clear that your mother is deliberately rejecting communication from your neighbor. In response, you have been acting as an agent for your neighbor — from your own description, you have

  • delivered communication from your neighbor that your mother deliberately did not want to hear
  • played advocate for your neighbor in trying to persuade your mother to give forgiveness

You have probably done other things as well without realizing; e.g. reacting in a way that radiates disapproval or asking questions in a way your mother interprets as accusatory.

Given what you have already done, it will probably be incredibly difficult to press on in a way that does not reinforce the impression you on the neighbor's side. And I cannot really offer any advice on how to avoid that, beyond giving awareness of what you've probably done wrong.

But do you really need to get involved? What are you trying to achieve?

I get the impression you don't really have a concrete aim, and are simply meddling because of an abstract dissatisfaction that the world isn't in perfect harmony and are hoping to "fix" things. You should seriously consider if this is something that is really worth getting involved in.

  • 9
    Exactly. The lack of aim stood out to me too. Mother should start talking to the neighbour because ... because why? Forgiveness (in the sense of letting go of bitterness) does not require subsequent friendship. It is, in fact, wise to keep your distance from toxic people.
    – TRiG
    Dec 21, 2017 at 19:34
  • 5
    This is also probably the source of the OP's mother accusing them of being naive/being manipulated. OP has wound up as an extension of someone that their mother considers an enemy. This is a hill that most wouldn't choose to die on, and at best remain neutral to avoid upsetting blood relations. Dec 21, 2017 at 21:55

You say even mentioning the subject pisses her off, so you're gonna have to live with that and push through it. The best way I think is to have a honest conversation about it and ask as honestly as possible what you want. Yes she will probably get mad there. But she'll get more mad if you try and sneak your way around the issue, as she'll most likely notice what you're doing and that will annoy her even more.

I think starting by getting right to the point is best here, like:

Hey mom I noticed you don't want to even entertain the apology by $neighbour. Is there something I don't know about our feud with them that causes that?

This has the advantage of not sounding or implying accusation in it. You're not blaming her for still being angry, you're asking for why. This is an important distinction for your mom, because being angry with her for not forgiving is most likely going to make her very angry, especially if she has additional grudges against this neighbour that you don't know about.

I highly recommend against invoking christian values to elicit forgiveness, this is going to come across as incredibly shallow and a transparent attempt to guilt trip her into forgiving someone she isn't ready to forgive yet.


There seem to be several entwined issues here.

  • The neighbour wants to smooth future relations, have an apology accepted and change the current situation
  • This prospect appears to make your mother ‘pissed off’

You wish to:

  • know more of the detail which your parents kept from you at the time
  • help parties move towards a rapprochement

Here’s how I see the situation.

Note, I am not a medical or psychiatric professional of any kind, this is my opinion based on experience and observations.

It seems likely that your mother is not ‘mad’ or ‘pissed off’ or choosing not to forgive. She’s traumatised by the issue and that influenced her responses.

You/we don’t know the full scope of the problematic interactions, but here is something to think about.

  • Whatever happened, it affected your parents at their home.
  • Home is supposed to be the safe place.

If home becomes a place where you feel embattled; where every day may mean another fight with your neighbour; where perhaps the very environment is polluted by the sounds and smells of ‘hoarded dogs’ and where the aggravation perhaps causes strife within your house also… if all that happens it can strike at the very heart of what it means to feel safe and secure in your home. That can make you feel vulnerable and defensive in a deeply atavistic way, it can be traumatic.

And sometimes, people don’t shrug off the damage of trauma lightly. Sometimes it makes them react to something that seems like a re-emergence of that threat in a way that seems unreasonable or aggressive, but which may stem from a deeply felt panic. What seems pissed-off, mad or unforgiving in your mother may actually be a strongly felt reaction of fear and self-defence.

Tread carefully.

If this is what is happening with your mother, telling her that she is wrong and unreasonable, looking as though you are siding with the threat, is not going to help.

What might help, is broaching the subject in terms, not of ‘what happened’, but of ‘how did it make you and dad feel?’ or maybe ‘It must have been a really difficult time for you, what was it like, how did you cope?’

  • Put any ideas of brokering a rapprochement on a back burner. Don’t let your mother feel that you care more for the feelings of the threat than for hers. Keep it as an ultimate goal if you must, it may in time be what your mother wants.

  • Also, put your curiosity about what happened back there too, if you want to know more, you might need to go the long way around and help your mother to process those events and heal from them. But don’t push it if you think you are making things worse.

  • Perhaps talk to your dad about whether he is also affected badly, after all he lived through it too. But do think about the fact that their experiences may not have been the same, would they have been at home at different times of day etc.

Ultimately you might think about whether some outside counselling would be useful for both of them.

But as to your question 'how can you have your mom help you understand...' I think you may have to first consider if you can help your mom understand, and that may not be easy and it may not be quick. She may not herself understand in a way she can easily tell you, but she is more apt to be able to address it in a situation where she feels supported and safe than one where she feels judged and found wanting.


Why do you need to change how your mother views the neighbor or mend the relationship or mediate? Your mother doesn't want to have involvement, doesn't want to exchange cards or gifts, or attend get togethers. That shouldn't mean that you cannot have a decent neighborly relationship, send a card back, wish them well, and even attend the New Years get together. But your neighbor should understand that mending things with your mother is not something you can get involved with. Stay away from that. If they really want to be friends with you they will respect that. If they continue to want to use you to get things resolved with your mother, then stay away from that. But don't apologize for your mother or make her the bad guy.

If you are not able to carry on your own neighborly relationship without your mother giving you consequences, that is a different problem. Because all this happened nearly ten years ago, I am assuming you are an adult. You should be able to decide who you will or won't be friendly with -- just as your Mom is free to do that.

Your bottom line question was: "How can I have a talk about this with my mom, when only mentioning the subject pisses her off this much". Just change "this" from meaning "repair the relations between Mom and neighbors" and turn it into meaning "getting Mom to accept that I won't carry her grudge too".


First and most importantly...

It is not your problem.

It seems that you have moved back home. To your parents you are a child and you will forever be a child. Your Mom and Dad seemed to have drawn a line in the sand that you're for them or against them.

To the neighbor...

"I'm also sorry that there was a conflict between you and my parents. Unfortunately I can't mediate the matter."

If you try to mediate you will be caught between the immovable object and the irresistible force.

To your parents...

"I know that there was a nasty conflict between you and the neighbors. I'm sorry that you are still so hurt by the matter. You have a right to your feelings."

Then let it go, until (or unless) your parents ask you what you think about it. Trying to rationally discuss with your parents how they should think is absolutely futile. It reminds me of the old joke.

QUESTION: Why shouldn't you try to teach a pig to sing?
ANSWER: It frustrates you and annoys the pig.

I had a manager in IBM that had a wonderful saying: Your perception is your reality.

So you don't have to like it, but your parents are stuck in their perception. They obviously have come to their collective perception together. They will reinforce their perception with each other preferentially to any other's perception.

So do not put yourself in the middle and try to mediate.


How can I have a talk about this with my mom, when only mentioning the subject pisses her off this much?

I think that to have this conversation with her, you will really need to "tiptoe" forwards and be very mindful when she sends signals that you are pushing too far as its plainly obvious that the subject is sensitive and I think forcing anything will likely get her to close up and become angry.

Lets use when you informed her about the contents of the card as an example.

Now, I agree that it was the correct move to inform her about the letters contents but from what I can tell, your miss-step was when you told her "that I really thought her apologies were sincere". Since you already knew that she had chosen to leave the card alone, simply telling her is a big enough "tiptoe" for one interaction. After she got mad (which is not really justified) you lost all chance of this interaction going well by then taking their side and insisting that the card was nice. In cases like this, I would back off and even apologize for pushing too much. This would leave her thinking about the contents of the card herself, rather than the heated argument and she will be far more likely to come to the realization that it really was nice if the initial rudeness she showed you is immediately shut down/cooled off and forgotten about.

Try to remain neutral in these interactions, asking what she thinks or simply telling her information and then back off again when she gives any signal that you are pushing too far, and each new interaction you can build on the last. I know its not the most enjoyable way to act, but I think that a large number of small "tiptoes" forwards like this are necessary before any real conversation about what happened can ever take place.


This is one of the most challenging situations presented on IPS.SE, and a lot will depend on your mother's personality and her motivations. I think the answer by @aparente001 is technically the most scientific approach, but she tells you to do it slowly when you seem to need to do it faster, looking at your question.

So what is left is the direct approach advocated by more than one earlier answer. Since your mother seems to get upset at the mere mention of the topic, you do run the risk of upsetting her and earning her hostility, but it cannot be avoided if you want to get to the root of the problem. I think it can work if you present it clearly as your own need to know what happened, without trying to lead her towards forgiveness just yet.

If you are willing to accept or at least express the idea that your mother might not forgive these persons, then you can move towards your stated goal of getting Mom to tell you why not, with the very direct request for information, which I have used with success when my mother or father gets extremely set against some friend or relative without initially revealing the reason:

So I can accept that you are not going to forgive this person. But could you help me to understand why not?

If Mother asks you why you want to know, you can say exactly what's in your mind, but worded rather diplomatically, such as for example:

It affects me and makes me anxious to see how upset you become just hearing her name and how you absolutely rejected her apology. They must have done something very hurtful that you just cannot forgive. What bothers me the most is the not knowing what, so couldn't you tell me?

You might have to ask her calmly and persistently on a few different occasions before she tells you the reason. This very honest yet diplomatic approach can help not only to get her to tell you why she can't forgive those people, but also actually create space for her to eventually consider forgiving them.

Follow-up questions:

Once your mother has told you what unforgivable thing they did to her, you can try to tactfully work into the discussion these 2 delicate but important questions (inspired by @Anne Daunted's pertinent answer elsewhere on IPS.SE):

Why is what they did unforgivable?


Do you think she is sincerely trying to seek your forgiveness here?

Both these open-ended questions are intended not so much to enlighten you about the whole situation (although they will) but to stimulate your mother to think more logically about the problem of forgiveness.

Why does it work?

  1. This way you are asking for information and not for a specific course of action. By stating up front that you don't expect her to forgive these persons, you no longer put her under pressure or on the defensive. That tells me she might be much more willing to tell you why she feels so strongly against them so many years after the event.

  2. Once your mother relaxes enough to open up, she is also likely to think about the problem and about these persons in a less negatively emotional and more objective manner. That in itself might lead her towards eventually forgiving those people.

As already noted by other members, it might be best to keep religion out of the whole discussion, but, I think, only until you get that perfect opportunity to engineer an act of Christian forgiveness! Your mother's religious beliefs make this a very real future possibility, so you must keep that special card in reserve for that perfect occasion.

  • 1
    'you do run the risk of upsetting her and earning her hostility, but it cannot be avoided if you want to get to the root of the problem' The issue I have is that the OP's problem is expressed as satisfying her own need to know, not her Mother's need to not be distressed. I don't see why the OP's 'need' justifies causing her mother pain and anguish or why blaming her mother for the OP's own state of being 'bothered' can be in any way constructive. The notion of 'engineering' an act of forgiveness is frankly chilling.
    – user9837
    Dec 22, 2017 at 11:56
  • Yes indeed @Spagirl. Moreover -- even acknowledging the goodness of OP's intentions -- it is the person's (her mother's) choice whether or not to forgive someone, even if the apology is genuine. Dec 22, 2017 at 13:40

Most decent people value fairness. It sounds like this is true of your mom. It is hard not to feel angry when there has been an injustice, so your mom's feelings on this matter are understandable.

In one sense, justice has been done. She won in court. But your mom likely still feels hurt because until now, no apology has been offered, and the apology has come so late that your mom is suspicious of her motives after all this time.

I see two separate issues here: (1) Your mom's forgiveness and its effect on her wellbeing, and (2) the possibility of moving beyond it and attending the neighbourhood event at their home.

To help your mom accept the apology as you are asking you need to convince her that it is beneficial to her. Letting go of resentment is very freeing, and good for mental wellbeing. Assure her that you are not trying to convince her to attend the neighbour's home (I see this as a separate issue) and say you just want to discuss how she feels. Reason with her that as the neighbour has offered an apology, she (the neighbour) has clearly accepted her own wrongdoing, dealt with it, and moved on. The neighbour is in effect free from the situation; but as long as your mom holds on to it, she is the one that is still 'trapped'. This isn't good for her wellbeing. She is now the only one that is being affected by all the negativity in connection with these past events. Try to convince your mom that accepting the apology is good for her and that forgiveness does not mean accepting the other person was right! Forgiving is a sign of strength, not of weakness.

Moving onto the second matter - assuming all goes well with your conversation and your mom is willing to accept the apology, it would be a good demonstration of your mom's forgiveness if she were to attend the event. It might be an idea for her to go see the neighbour first, rather than the first encounter be in front of the entire neighbourhood. But on this point I have to say that your mom is not obliged to go. Forgiveness is about letting go of all resentment, but it does not take away the consequences of anyone's actions. If as a consequence of your neighbour's past actions your mom does not feel comfortable going to her home, this is not as easy to overcome and you may need to accept that your mom won't do that. She could just make her excuse and sit this one out.


Firstly, I'd suggesting waiting a little bit before breaching the subject again.

Judging from your mother's reaction, some time for her to calm down may well be needed. I'd also point out that Christmas is often an emotional and stressful time for many people and not the best moment to raise potentially heavy issues.

It's understandable that you're confused by your mother's behaviour, particularly if she's normally forgiving and presumably brought you up to be the same. However, it is highly likely that there is information about the dispute with the neighbours that you're not privy to, as your parents quite rightly kept you out of conflict as much as possible.

At a calm moment, try discussing the issue again. Maybe start with an apology along "I'm sorry if you felt I was taking their side over yours when we last spoke about this". If you mother reacts badly straight away, drop it, and wait again, and longer.

Try asking, similar to the way you have here. "Mom, help me understand. You're normally so forgiving, and you brought me up to be the same. What happened that you can't?". Don't demand that she forgives, or say that she should.

It might be worth writing to your mother with the above questions which will give her more space to answer, rather than a direct 'confrontation'.

I'm afraid you will have to very patient in this case. Pressing ahead before your father gets home is likely to be counter-productive.

  • 2
    "Christmas is often an emotional and stressful time for many people" __ very pertinent point @Pete that raises another question, why is this so? Dec 22, 2017 at 4:02
  • @EnglishStudent There's a lot of different answers for that for a lot of different people.
    – Pharap
    Dec 22, 2017 at 12:39

A couple of months ago, I was at an uncle's funeral. Another estranged uncle of mine with his wife was attending as well. This is a really close relative whom I haven't spoken to in almost twenty years. His wife approached me when he wasn't around and bravely and politely said something like "I really hope you put what happened behind you and started talking again because it's a shame you guys aren't in good terms after all these years" and even invited me to their house.

My response was "Well, you can't rush these things (funny it's been twenty years one would say)... "both parties need to feel ready..." and so on.

I avoided looking and talking to my uncle and so did he until the funeral was over and I went home.

To be clear. My uncle hasn't apologized for anything (nor will it make it more soothing for me), nor have I not forgiven him. But it's been twenty years and I still don't feel comfortable talking to him or hanging out with him. I'm not as upset as I used to but this doesn't mean I want to have a relationship with him. Will I ever? I don't know yet.

The reason I mentioned this is to demonstrate that length of time passed after a stressful or traumatic event, doesn't mean people are ready to put it behind, with or without an apology, with or without a mediator.

Even if your mom was to forgive your neighbor, she may still not want to talk to her. That's her right. And the neighbor, who may or may not be sincere or manipulative needs to respect that. She hasn't done anything wrong now by wanting or trying to re conciliate but she probably needs to be gently told (by you) that your mom isn't ready and may not be for an X number of years...

Your mom's anger about the Xmas card, the apology and so on, may mean lots of different but related things,

  • She is still upset about what happened because what happened was too stressful and possibly even traumatic

  • She currently feels too proud and forgiving your neighbor might mean your neighbor has won (in the end) and doesn't want to give her the satisfaction. She may still be in battle mode.

  • She feels too pressured to forgive your neighbor when she isn't ready and you reminding her by showing her the card and reading it to her, isn't making it easier.

  • She is ambivalent about how she feels about the neighbor and her attempts for reconciliations and doesn't know how to handle her feelings.

  • She doesn't like that you got involved and wants you to stay out of it.

To me the whole thing sounds more of a different problem. The fact that your mom won't open up to you, perhaps that she refuses to communicate to you about what really happened rather than why she won't accept a sincere (or not) apology from your neighbor.

If being kept out of it makes you feel your mom isn't treating you like an adult or that you're in the middle and feel it's unfair, then say so calmly. You might even need to have a discussion with the neighbor about you not wanting to be put in that position when it affects your mother so much. (Out of curiosity, have you considered asking the neighbor what happened back then that angered your mom so much?)

If this was me and my mom, I would pick a good moment when she was calm and receptive and asked that she listened to me. Then I would more or less say something like this:

Mom, I appreciate that in the past you tried to protect me by keeping me out of what happened with the neighbor but I'm not away from home anymore and this isn't helping me understand why you get so upset. You got mad about the Christmas card, even angrier when I read you the card and mentioned the New Year's Eve invitation. Mom, it has been four years. I'm not asking you to forgive her, nor forget what happened. But after four years, don't you think I also deserve to know what went on? I hate being in the middle of this and you saying I'm naive and that I'm being manipulated without offering an explanation isn't helping me understand. I'm in difficult position here and I need your help. Mom, I feel that you're not allowing me to understand. When you feel ready, could you please make an effort to explain to me?

If she agrees you could slowly ask for more details or ask for more clarification but without pressuring or insisting. I'm sure you're also aware that because you were not present you cannot know with certainty that your mom will be objective. Had you been present, you even might have had a different opinion or perception of the events. Events might be objective but the feelings that surround them usually aren't. So again keep in mind when you ask:

what it is that happened that is so inexcusable

that the same thing that is so inexcusable to your mom might not be so to someone else.

Bottom line: You can't force your mom to tell you what happened but you can tell her how that is affecting you. And what she is willing to do to make it fair for both of you, how to meet you halfway.

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