4

My mother and I had a serious fight over the holidays. I didn't spend New Year with her because some friends invited me and my partner to join them and they live a few hours away. It was last minute and the truth is that my mother has her way of making me feel bad ahead of time if I can't do what she would like me to do or if I don't feel how she would like me to feel...

What ends up happening is instead of me saying, "Mom, I really don't know what I am going to do on that day..." or "Mom, I'll let you know if and when...", I try to please her when I really wish she didn't make me feel I need to. I don't have a problem saying "No" to my mother. (I've done it in the past and still do). I have a problem when she makes me feel guilty afterwards or makes me feel I did something wrong.

I did mention that we might spend New Year together but only because I felt pressured by her and told her that I really was doing it for her. Her understanding was that I was doing it for myself (she doesn't accept that sometimes people do stuff for others because they feel obligated even if they aren't in the mood) and then she accused me of contradicting myself which I probably was at some point but only because I didn't feel I had the right to just say "I DON'T KNOW".

I told her that for me the holidays are just days. And she is the one that gives special meaning to those specific days. Long story short I ended up telling her that sometimes she's a bully (perhaps harsh but I was upset) and that if I can't feel that saying "No" to her is OK and this is how boundaries are set (first between parents and children), how does she expect me to be comfortable doing it with others? I told her that she just doesn't understand that she manipulates and blackmails me because she is alone. And she does it very very subtly. (My mother lives alone and never remarried after her divorce and I'm an only child).

I understand it might be difficult for her but I just can't seem to be able to communicate to her that I can't always be expected to spend the holidays with her, especially when I see her often and talk to her on the phone almost every day.

Anyway, at some point during the argument she told me that if she is such a bad mother, I should keep a distance and hung up. I tried calling back but she has probably turned both phones off.

At some point she also "threatened" to involve my boyfriend by telling him that we treated her "like garbage" during the holidays. We spent Christmas with her but we were both sick and didn't stay long (She perceives it now that we were trying to get rid of her by doing that early on so we do something better later).

Question:

How can I best communicate to my sensitive mother that I sometimes feel too pressured and suppressed by her without her freaking out so much?

  • Your idea of “telling her” would ideally lead to what situation? – michi Jan 2 '18 at 15:37
  • To a better understanding of what it is (and how) that she does to me and the negative consequences this has on both of us. – Tycho's Nose Jan 2 '18 at 15:40
  • Ok, and again, if that understanding took place, what desired situation would emerge? – michi Jan 2 '18 at 15:47
  • She would stop a behavior that affects how I make decisions. – Tycho's Nose Jan 2 '18 at 15:51
  • Where are you from exactly? -- Also, is you mother's mother alive? How is their relationship? Chances are she has the same problem with her and maybe you can make her reason about it. – LinuxBlanket Jan 2 '18 at 16:53
10

You are talking about EXACTLY my mother. Indian parents are known to be overly attached to their children. It is almost always innocent motherly love. But my mother takes every single opportunity she has to make me feel bad. To doubt my love and respect for her. To make me feel guilty about me being too attached to my wife's parents (even though I am not, really. They are just closer to us, geographically, than my parents are).

This is what I've learned from my mother:

There is NO good way to tell your mother she is pressuring you without her freaking out.

You are going to have to bite the bullet and get it over with.

Storytime:

This story might just be paraphrasing the problems described in your question, but I think you need to have this background of my mother to understand where I am coming from.

  1. My mother stitched some clothes for my 1 year old girl and sent them over. Beautiful Indian dresses. I put them on her and took photos and sent it to her, but it is too grand, too exquisite to just put on her to go to grocery store or other every day activity. So I don't put that on her very often. My mother is still asking me to put that on her and send photos to her because she thinks "I sold it/gave it away".
  2. My wife is American but LOVES Indian dresses. My mother wanted to send some clothes for her and asked me to send her some measurements so she can stitch some. I forgot about it a couple times and she said: "Maybe your wife doesn't like wearing Indian clothes, I will stop bothering you about it" in the most passive aggressive tone there is.
  3. We went to my wife's aunt's house for Christmas and was with my wife's family (a big family at that). So I couldn't call her that weekend (my family is in India and I am in the US). Her response: "Its OK, I understand you have a new family there to please. Just keep us in mind also".

She is extremely passive-aggressive and sensitive. I've tried reasoning with her, telling her that I still care for her and she is still my mother, nothing works.

My resolution:

I just had to be blunt with her. I sent her a couple of lengthy texts. Explaining how I am a grown adult with my own responsibilities and family and life to take care of. There were tears and more guilt. So that didn't really work very well either.

I just went with a totally different approach. COMPLETELY INSENSITIVE to her sly comments. When she says something passive-aggressive, I act innocent and act like I didn't get that at all. When she tries to make me feel guilty, I act like I don't realize she is saying something to make me feel guilty. When she fights with me, I just apologize and talk to her about something else.

A few examples:

Mom: Yeah you have a new family to please there, just keep us in mind as well.
Me: Yeah mom, I do. These guys are really nice to me. But don't worry, I always have you guys in my mind.

Mom: Maybe your wife doesn't like wearing Indian clothes, I will stop bothering you about it.
Me: Nah, its not like that. I just forgot is all. I will send you her measurements.

Mom: Send photos of your daughter with the clothes I stitched for her.
Me: Yeah OK.

Mom: You probably sold the clothes I sent you.
Me: No, I still have it (and then laugh like you think she was just joking).

Now the reason this works is, she says things like that because she wants me to feel bad about something, she wants to make me feel guilty about taking whatever decision I am taking. When she realizes that her ugly tactic isn't working, she stops. She gives up.

Some times, not all the time, just some times, she gives up her act and gets direct with me. I can totally answer her direct question to me rather than have to deal with her indirect insinuations. She goes from "maybe you sold the dress" to "why do you never put that on her, I stitched that with so much love". And I can respond to that and make her feel happy and warm inside much easier for that.

Problem at hand:

Now that we've gotten some of the conversational examples out of the way, lets deal with your problem.

How do I make her stop making me make my decisions based on her feelings towards it?

When your mother invites you over for new year's and you cannot/don't want to go, tell her no. But don't use the word "NO". Make her see your side instead of just letting her know you won't/can't. Here are a few pointers:

  1. Talk about the topic at hand, don't outright dismiss it.
  2. Enthuse about the idea of doing something with her. Be excited. Show happiness that she wants you to be a part of something.
  3. NEVER say "Yeah I will be there" or "OK sure". Never directly tell her you're going to be there, but never tell her you're not going to be there either.
  4. Just end it with, "yeah I will find out what my partner is doing and let you know in a few days if we can or not".
  5. Make sure you spend enough time on the first 2 points before jumping to the 4th. Make her feel like you actually want to, but just can't.
  6. I always tell my wife to blame me when she wants to get out of something. I don't know what kind of dynamics you have with your partner, but that is also an option. Use him as a shield. Not like "He doesn't want to", but like "He has this other thing he wants to take me to".

Your problem shouldn't be "How do I tell my mom I don't know yet without hurting her", it should be "How do I not hurt my mom".

I hope this helps you smooth things out with your mother.

  • Based on that comment, I think Fildor is kind of right. There seems to be some deeper and tougher troubles in your mother's life and she is taking her frustration out on you. – Crazy Cucumber Jan 2 '18 at 16:30
  • The majority of parents here are like that :( – Tycho's Nose Jan 2 '18 at 16:37
  • @Tycho'sNose True, but with a son/daughter that calls multiple times a day and visits twice a week, very few mothers are like that. If you don't mind me asking, how old are you and when did you leave your house to live on your own? And how old is your mother? – Crazy Cucumber Jan 2 '18 at 16:40
  • Thanks for your answer. You are right about trying to not hurt her in my effort to set boundaries. I'll apply some of your ideas. – Tycho's Nose Jan 3 '18 at 10:56
5

Let me paraphrase how I understand your currently applied strategy for solution:

(1) I will convince Mum that behavior B is bad for me, (2) then she will change it and (3) then I can act differently

Though well-intentioned, your strategy is setting you up for failure and frustration, because Mum has to act differently before you can, and this is the first problem, she won’t even listen.

As an (unintended) consequence, you depend making your choices on her behavior.

Crazy Cucumber’s very thoughtful answer demonstrates a solution operating on a different logic. Instead of trying to change Mum’s behavior, he changed his behavior to include both - doing what he likes to do - and at the same time reassuring Mum from time to time - but without giving up his plans (too much).

Don’t be fooled though: this sounds easy, but is really difficult to do - but not impossible - because of two reasons:

  1. Mum’s behavior
    you know what I mean (“treated me like trash...”, etc.)

  2. your behavior
    ... and I am doing a wild guess here, please check for yourself if I portray this correctly or not ... criticizing yourself harshly for not caring enough for her, leaving her alone etc. which transforms into feeling guilt.

Mum’s communication has so strong effects probably because “part of you” chiming in.

“Part of you” of course is a metaphor. Our mind has the astounding capacity to generate different meanings from the same data simultaneously, and these meanings might even be in open contradiction to each other. Some experts suggested to treat these different meanings as if different “voices” within a discussion. This is not a sign of illness or something, but rather perfectly normal (but at times painful nevertheless).

So, if I got the “your behavior” part fairly right, I would suggest...

  • starting to appreciate what you have been doing and are doing for her, and validate this (to counter the impression of not doing enough, which can be understood as a kind of self-hypnosis) - do this often, do it in writing, tell yourself how much you appreciate this, but don’t ask Mum to do it.

  • appreciate your - probably highly automated thoughts “I have to make her happy etc.” as a sign of your loyalty and dutifulness, a strength, that can become a weakness if applied too much. And exercise to not act upon it, at least postpone your reaction more and more.

  • experiment with applying Crazy Cucumbers strategies with your Mum and develop some of your own.

Please let me know what you think about this.

  • Thanks for answering my question. You got it right that I am too harsh on myself at times but you also showed me that it doesn't make sense to wait on my mother to change her behavior so I can feel better. I also like what you said about treating those contradicting thoughts as different voices within a discussion. But only one of these can win at a time, no? – Tycho's Nose Jan 3 '18 at 10:57
  • 2
    @Tycho'sNose When “voices” stand for different attitudes, “winning” leads back into either-or, more of the same. I prefer “voices” cooperating for a purpose, internal team-building :-) – michi Jan 4 '18 at 21:29
2

My mother too is over-anxious and a "guilt-blackmailer", so I do understand your feelings.

Parents are a delicate matter. They OF COURSE are WORTHWHILE people (they are your parents, they grew you up, they care for you, etc.) but that does NOT allow them to go beyond one's boundaries. And using the "guilt blackmail" is one way to state "either obey me or suffer". Which is nowhere near "fair". Therefore, whatever I'm going to tell you below, might sound harsh to do to a parent, yet it's just a way to deal with their unfairness: harshness vs unfairness. She wanted this, not you.

As per my experience, I've learnt that "attack is the best defense".

To this:

at some point during the argument she told me that if she is such a bad mother, I should keep a distance and hung up.

I would react with:

Then tell me: am I such a terrible son/daughter you would keep a distance from and hung up to?

And I would immediately press with:

Is that your best? Do you REALLY think that keeping a distance and severing the conversation by hunging up is anywhere near an ADULT way to deal with a problem?

And also

What with my boyfriend/girlfriend? Do you think that pulling anyone else into this, either in favour of or against me, will make me change my mind? Do you really think I am THAT dumb?

With my first quote, you turn around her own statement on her: she might have overlooked that perspective, in the heat of the discussion. With my other two quotes, you are attacking her, implying that

  • she is not acting as an adult
  • she is thinking you are dumb

If this fails, unfortunately all I can suggest is to give her what she wants: silence. If there's any will to be reasonable, sooner or later she will break that silence.

Sorry I can't help you more than this, but this way I did solve a couple of problems with my mother BEFORE reaching actually giving her "the silence she wants".

All the best and good luck.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.