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Question
Posted by: Purple | 2011/01/27

hurt my mothers feelings

Hi CS,

Hope you are well.

I have a wonderful, loving, caring mother who really goes out of her way to help all of her children, who unfortunately is also extremely over sensitive and also very interfering.

When I had my son she offered to come and stay with me for 3 weeks, which I gratefully accepted. She told me loudly in earshot of my husband that he was bathing our baby wrong (he wasn''t dunking him headfirst, so not sure how it was wrong), she had a four hour sulk because I pointed out she''d forgotten the towel when she wanted to bath my son, every time I looked at him she would roll her eyes and tell me I was playing dolls. Every time I sat down she would start issuing instructions about how I needed to eat or take a bath or whatever. She also was extremely helpful and cooked meals, kept visitors entertained, answered many questions regarding baby and did many things I" m sure other grannies wouldn''t do to help.
We managed to only fight about the towel incident and I bit my tongue through the rest of the time, except once when I had just sat down to drink a cup of tea and she started issuing me instructions and I told her I was resting now and would not be doing those things (my baby was all of 8 days old then so I felt I deserved a bit of a rest).
She then went home and I had a good moan to my husband, and things went on as normal. (she lives on the other side of the country from me).

My sister then had a baby and my mom did the same things to her. My sister is used to just ignoring my moms interfering, so they never fought but my brother in law told her he was not bathing a baby wrong as that was pretty much impossible and basically told her that if she wasn''t asked for advice she should rather not tell everyone what to do. He is a very active parent.

In general, no matter how gently we raise a concern with my mother, she takes deep offence and will sulk about it and my father will phone us and tell us how mean we are being and so on.
She will take offence to things people say that none of the rest of the family (except my Dad) can see what she is offended about. As an example, when my brother was little a relative who was a nursery school teacher sat and sang songs with him for ages and he loved it. Someone commented how lucky it was her training had taught her so many songs and everyone laughed. My mother then said loudly to the air in general " he probably wonders why I don''t know that many songs"  and then she got up and went inside. I still fail to see why he would have wondered that and how this upset her. If anyone tries to take a photo of her, she will turn the back of her head to the camera and then later when everyone is looking at the photos complain that there are no photos of her.

Anyway, getting back to my point. My sister was about to have another baby, so she and my brother in law sat down and agreed on giving my mother a long talk but asking her if she would please come and stay. My sister then phoned her and in a very nice way explained that they really needed her help and appreciated it, but that while she was there if she would please not make negative comments about the way they do things and also if she disagrees with something they do and feels they should do it differently if she weould please respect their parenting choices. (My mother loves to say, I can''t interfere and its so hard not to tell you this but you really should do this in that way).
My mother then phoned me in tears about how mean my sister was to her and how she didn''t think she would go and help her and how she was going to phone them and give them some rules for her visit to them if she did go (she didn''t know that I knew they had already phoned her and given her some rules).
Anyway, she went and her time there passed without incident, though my mother did inform me that the first baby who is now a toddler was going to resent the new baby for life (the toddler reacted perfectly normally to the situation and I thought adapted remakably quickly to what is a huge change in her life). My mother also made out that my sister was in a state of panic because her baby never really cried much, however my sister told me on the phone how very relieved she was having such a calm baby as it made the adjustment so much easier on all of them.

Now, I am about to have another baby. My father announced to me over Christmas that he and my mom were not going on holiday this year as my mother was coming to stay with me when my baby was born. I''d been planning on having a little chat to my mom and asking her to come and stay when baby was a few weeks old (which coincides with my brothers graduation from university) so that she didn''t have to do so much and could just enjoy her grandchildren (she always moans about how tired she is after we have babies). So I mentioned this to my father who said of course I''d need help getting my son to school (my husband does the morning school run). Anyway, nothing more was said and I thought more about how to broach the subject with my mother and as we will no longer have a spare room thought I''d also point out the lack of space.
Last week my mother phoned me and informed me that they weren''t going on holiday as she was coming to stay with me when the baby was born (she so wants the due date but I''m being as vague as I can and teling her an approximate period of about 3 weeks - which is true - babies rarely arrive on their due date, she has told me she has reservations about my gynae because he can''t calculate the date accurately.
So I gently explained that we needed a bit of time to adjust to the new baby ourselves and that I would find it more helpful if she could come when my brother graduates as baby will be a little older by then and she can enjoy her grandchildren and we''d all be a bit more used to the new addition by then.
She told me she had meant that she was coming up before the baby was born to help me (with what? -I''m working until my due date anyway) and then she ended the call.
She has not phoned me since, and when I phone her, she speaks to me but is not as chatty as usual and doesn''t give me any news, just hears what I have to say, asks after my son, my pregnancy and my husband and then ends the call.

Obviously I''ve wounded her deeply, however I don''t really feel that bad about it because I feel I explained things very gently, I didn''t just tell her that she interferes, orders me around, makes things more difficult with my son as he plays up in her presence and refuses to eat food when she''s around, that she undermines my discipline and that with a new baby, a partly functional alcoholic for a husband, school and extra murals I''m going to find dealing with a prima donna and her histrionics a bit difficult. I felt saying all that would be unnecessarily hurtful to her.

Do I just give her time to get over her sulking (which I''d find far easier than having to actually discuss the issue again)or should I actually try and discuss it with her to clear the air. I maybe feel that I shouldn''t phone her every second or third night like I usually do, but that I should just wait for things to calm down a bit and let her phone me when she''s ready and if she brings up the subject discuss it with her.

I love my mother dearly and she is a lovely person, but one has to walk on egg shells around her. You might innocently say something about blocked ears and she will snap at you for not knowing that her cousin had this and had xyz problem and his doctor said abc.
My sister does well with unwanted (and 35 year old rejected by research advice) by just smiling and saying thanks and then ignoring it, but I always have to say, well, my peadiatrician told me about new research that says xyz and then I get the sulks from her and I get asked " well what happens to babies who were fed that then"  I refrain from answering - well some died and the rest were OK, just like some people get lung cancer from smoking and some are lucky and don''t. I never learn that I can''t have a discussion with her about anything related to parenting as she feels its a personal attack. I" m trying hard to emulate my little sister though.

We''re a close knit family and I hate having these tense moments. I can''t explain things to my father as he will completely back my mother (they are both like that about each other and present the most united front that governements would be proud to emulate). They''re great parents and have four happy, mostly well adjusted children to show for it and much of their advice is useful and we''re grateful for it.

Anyway, what do you think I should do now?

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Discretion is the better part of valour, they used to say. Your sister does seem to have the most useful approach, and I wonder what makes it so hard for you to follow here example here.

Maybe because you're a bit more like your mother in feeling a need to defend your ways and decisions, rather than feeling just that bit more confident and, knowing you're right, having the grace to do as you wish but leaing her feeling as though she might be right.

Your mom sounds like one of those people whose entire sense of identity is bound up with knowing what they know and giving their advice as though it was an organ donation !

Maybe she feels self-conscious that you (I don't know about your sister's history) have been better educated and qualified and have made a career or careers in ways she didn't do (maybe never had the chance to do).

So these are some small areas where she feels confident and stakes her identity upon being the One who Knows about them and whose advice must be golden. She sounds generally under-occupied - does she stay at home with perhaps not enough to do within her own household to keep her mind occupied ?

Smiling and accepting the advice, not with any implied or explicit promise of actually following it, but thanking her for giving it, boosting her amour propre, may help. One can say : "That's an interesting approach - maybe I'll try it if my own way doesn't work. "

Sometimes you can find tasks for her to do which don't matter very much but where she can take full charge and feel good about being useful, to keep her occupied when she would otherwise interfere elsewhere.

You know you won't change her mind or her habits. But you don't need to do so - just change your own habits of the ways you respond. Don't rise to the bait.

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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Our users say:
Posted by: Purple | 2011/01/31

Yes Lee, that is the dilemma I face right now. I love my mother dearly but the " help"  is not much of a help. I am dreading the day my wonderful mother does pass on, which will in all probability be many years from now, and don''t want to regret not having made her feel special enough, but right now I also need to look after my and my family''s sanity.

Reply to Purple
Posted by: Lee | 2011/01/31

Oh my - reminds me of when my youngest was born and my mom came to ''help'' me. She drove me mad and expected to be waited on hand and foot. However that was a long time ago and life goes on. Wish she was still here to irritate me.

Reply to Lee
Posted by: Purple | 2011/01/28

Thanks for the sound advice Outsider.

You are right Romany, that is true.

Reply to Purple
Posted by: Romany | 2011/01/28

Even respect has it''s limits.

Reply to Romany
Posted by: Outsider | 2011/01/27

It''s not good for you to be feeling this way and while your so far into your pregnancy.

If it were me, I would phone her and tell her with no hidden words. That I am sorry for hurting her feelings, I would stand my ground and tell her that I needed my space for the first two or three weeks and that my husband and I will manage, I would also let her know that we would like her to visit for her moral support and to help out when I need that little break and just want you to appreciate my feelings too because I am more than capable of doing it on my own. Etc.

Only you will know how to handle the situation and really hope it works out for you. There is nothing worse than a mother telling you how and what to do when you already know how and what to do. Just because they did it there way when they had babies - things are different ways of doing things are different these days.

Thinking of you!

Reply to Outsider
Posted by: Purple | 2011/01/27

Thanks outsider, that is how I usually react though, and it makes things worse with the sulking. I do usually let her just have her sulk till she''s finished and lately I''ve been telling her that she is just playing the victim and nobody is going to run after her checking that her feelings have been hurt.
She did start with how nobody appreciates what she does and everybody hates her when we spoke before this time, and I did stop her straight away and point out that I''m tired of walking around on egg shells and that she finds something to be offended about in whatever anyone says. That was only a days sulking before she got over it.

She isn''t really domineering, more tries to play on your emotions, except, since it mostly doesn''t work on the four of us, I don''t know why she still does it.

However, I just don''t have the energy to deal with all this when I''ve got a new baby and think that by ever so gently asking her to come when the baby is a few weeks old, when she will be coming here for my brothers graduation anyway, that I''ve upset her badly (this time) as she never usually sulks for this long, its usually just a few hours. So I don''t know whether I should cause what will be a huge fight involving both parents or if I should just let my mother come to terms with things and be the one to approach me when she''s calmed down and if she brings it up, discuss it with her then.

Reply to Purple
Posted by: Outsider | 2011/01/27

It sounds to me like your mom has always been very domineering. But at some stage you are going to have to stand up to your mom and father for that matter whether it hurts there feelings or not.

It is different for each person, however, I would do as your sister did, before your parents come through let them know how you and your husband are feeling and that you appreciate her advise, but need her to realize that you have your own experience now since this is your second child and that you would appreciate her not telling you guys what to do or how to do every time you handle the baby and or the rest of your immediate household family.

Bottom line is STAND up to your mom, it''s the only way you will get things right. YES, she will probably be offended but once she see''s that you are not going to back down and you will live your life the way you want to - she will land up eventually eezing off a bit.

Don''t constantly break her down, and when she tries to pull rank, let her know " yes mom I understand"  but would like to do it my way afterall you won''t learn unless you do things your way and what''s best for you.

Don''t let her emotions affect yours, if she wants to sulk it''s her choice go about your business as normal.

Good Luck hope it works out for the best!

Reply to Outsider
Posted by: Lolo | 2011/01/27

Summaries pls......

Reply to Lolo
Posted by: cybershrink | 2011/01/27

Discretion is the better part of valour, they used to say. Your sister does seem to have the most useful approach, and I wonder what makes it so hard for you to follow here example here.

Maybe because you're a bit more like your mother in feeling a need to defend your ways and decisions, rather than feeling just that bit more confident and, knowing you're right, having the grace to do as you wish but leaing her feeling as though she might be right.

Your mom sounds like one of those people whose entire sense of identity is bound up with knowing what they know and giving their advice as though it was an organ donation !

Maybe she feels self-conscious that you (I don't know about your sister's history) have been better educated and qualified and have made a career or careers in ways she didn't do (maybe never had the chance to do).

So these are some small areas where she feels confident and stakes her identity upon being the One who Knows about them and whose advice must be golden. She sounds generally under-occupied - does she stay at home with perhaps not enough to do within her own household to keep her mind occupied ?

Smiling and accepting the advice, not with any implied or explicit promise of actually following it, but thanking her for giving it, boosting her amour propre, may help. One can say : "That's an interesting approach - maybe I'll try it if my own way doesn't work. "

Sometimes you can find tasks for her to do which don't matter very much but where she can take full charge and feel good about being useful, to keep her occupied when she would otherwise interfere elsewhere.

You know you won't change her mind or her habits. But you don't need to do so - just change your own habits of the ways you respond. Don't rise to the bait.

Reply to cybershrink

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