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How to handle Christmas stay envy?
November 22, 2009 2:45 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to stand up to my mother about Christmas and to handle her jealousy about our better relationship with my partner's parents? She's determined to make the holiday season into a zero sum game with my partner's mother

My partner and I originally set a rule of not going to either party's parents for Christmas, but doing our own thing instead- partly to have fun and partly to avoid my very difficult mother who goes into overdrive at Christmas. This worked until partner agreed that we should spend last Christmas with his parents, arguing that just because my mother is very difficult, his mother shouldn't be deprived. We weren't able to stop my mother finding out, and she's now trying to leverage it into guilting us into spending Christmas with her and my stepfather. When I say no, (and I'm going to) there's going to be a major tantrum about why she isn't getting the same treatment and she will cast up to me everything I/we've done with my partner's parents. The truth is, they're a lot easier to get on with, and we're a lot more comfortable with them, but I can't say this to her without hurting her/ making for an even worse argument. What's the best way to handle her jealousy of our better relationship with my partner's parents?
posted by Flitcraft to Human Relations (42 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mother is difficult, but I suck it up and make a visit on Christmas. She's happy, my dad's happy, I put up with some BS, but it hasn't killed me yet.

I guess I try to put myself in my mom's shoes. Yes, she's batshit crazy and makes me crazy, but if a short visit on Christmas makes her happy, then I can deal with it. It makes for less bitching to listen to later. I can't change her or her behavior, but if I think about it in the grand scheme of things, she's not a horrible person.

If you put yourself in your mom's shoes, you might see why she might be hurt by being left out, and jealous of your relationship with your partner's parents. Just my 2 cents.
posted by bolognius maximus at 2:54 PM on November 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


*Tantrum*

"This is exactly why. Call me when you calm down and we'll talk about it. Goodbye."
posted by hermitosis at 2:55 PM on November 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


A short visit wouldn't be accepted - she would want parity ie. that we came and stayed over. Also it's not just me to consider, my partner has been through a lot of stress recently and she drives him nuts. So I'd be ruining his Christmas and making him very unhappy to placate her. If it was just me, then yes I would probably suck it up, but I'm not sacrificing my partner to her.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:03 PM on November 22, 2009


* though we are willing to come and stay over at a slightly later date, as without Christmas my mother is far easier to deal with and seeing her at a later date would mean she wouldn't be able to ruin Christmas for my partner.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:06 PM on November 22, 2009


Take your mom and stepfather out to a nice brunch or dinner instead of going over to their home. You spend time with them for Christmas, but in a neutral location and you can leave whenever you want, but if things are going well, you can go back to their place. And if she wants the "equal" treatment, just tell her you're creating a special and new tradition unique for her. Put some thought and specialness into the day/night for her and that will probably make her feel important.

Also, the "short visit wouldn't be accepted" concept needs to be removed from your mind. She will have to accept what you give.
posted by cyniczny at 3:20 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Could you suggest New Year's instead? It's in the same holiday season and you can play up the symbolism of ushering in a new year with her, while giving partner some time to destress ("give partner some time to relax so that they can have a good time too).

It's hard to determine from this post if your mother is run-of-the-mill or egregiously bad. To some extent, it's a family holiday, so you and partner should suck it up and do your familial duties. However, I know some people who get so uptight over the holidays that it ruins theirs and often their loved ones' holiday entirely, which is really not the point of family holidays. You have no obligation to put yourselves through misery or being insulted or what have you.

Maybe if your mother saw you more often, she'd be less demanding over the big holidays?

Is there a distance parity between the two sets of parents? Or, could you go over for a day and return back to your place easily with one and not the other?

You can always use the Emily Post (I think) standby "Oh, I'm afraid that is impossible" and then offer your alternative.
posted by bookdragoness at 3:27 PM on November 22, 2009


It might be too late for this year, but maybe you could start a new tradition next year of spending Christmas with your partner's family, and another important holiday with yours. For example, Christmas is always with his, Easter always with yours. Or Christmas with his, [some other special day - her birthday?] with yours.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:38 PM on November 22, 2009


I'm offering my birthday just before New Year on those sort of grounds, and yes she is egregiously bad - as in gets so uptight she ruins the holiday for others and also as in 'has made up absolutely fantastical accusations against me and my partner out of whole cloth', and also as in can't be left alone with my partner without being unpleasant, nagging and intrusive. Also public transport is an issue as we are non-drivers and there is no public transport at Christmas, so a short visit is not practical. But really my partner does not deserve, after all he's been through recently, to have her inflicted on him at Christmas. It's not negotiable. I'm not doing this to him. I'm looking at how to handle the conversation where I say no and where anything done for or with his parents will be cast up to me.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:43 PM on November 22, 2009


Let her have a tantrum. You can't control her. Hang up if it's too much. Enjoy Christmas, let your partner enjoy Christmas.

She is not a victim of you, she is a victim of her own personality and behavior.
posted by kathrineg at 3:44 PM on November 22, 2009 [8 favorites]


I should add that we already have the tradition of spending my birthday in the holiday season with them, but it's already been made clear to me that this doesn't lessen the jealousy over having spent Christmas with his parents last year. It's how I handle that jealousy which is the problem,
posted by Flitcraft at 3:46 PM on November 22, 2009


As a mother, it would break my heart to hear that one of my beautiful daughters were happier to stay with their in-laws than me for Christmas. That's not to say you should... but it's not your mother having a tantrum because she's crazy (I'm sure she is, my mother was too).... your mother will have a tantrum because she is genuinely very very very sad to not see you and realises that it IS personal. For a parent to realise that... well, it's devastating.

What if you came and stayed the night before and left early Christmas morning or came late Christmas day and stayed Christmas night till Boxing Day?... citing other commitments.

I hope you sort it out. But crazy mum still loves you and wants to be with you. That's a good thing. You have to do what's right for your mental health and that of your partner... but it's your mum, she's hurt and..... well... I"d make my partner suck it up for one last year and then NEVER EVER EVER go to another parent again. Or invite Mum to join the in-laws.

My mum died suddenly when I was in my thirties... after NOT spending her last Christmas with us. Although I'm a proselytising atheist and Christmas is largely meaningless for me... I am still sad that I didn't get to have that last Christmas with Mum. I had rejected her loopiness for many Christmases but the last one, she booted us for a trip to Cuba.

Long story short.... she's your mum and if there is any way you can see your way around it, try and spend a token amount of Christmas day with the haggis. They're a long time gone.
posted by taff at 3:52 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, just read your follow ups. I think we posted at the same time but I was a much slower typer. Anyhoo.. my birthday is just before New Year too and that isn't the same. I expect she's just going to react badly. I don't know if I could be graceful. It would feel like a slap in the face. Even though it's self preservation on your part.

What if you write her a letter? Explain how much you love her and that your partner isn't 100% right now so you'll be staying home for Christmas.

All the best.
posted by taff at 3:56 PM on November 22, 2009


My mother's tantrums grew in frequency after my parents' retirement and my sister's move out of the country. I have lived with her erratic emotionally immature behaviour all my life, but couldn't recognize it for what it was until I was in my thirties. One day, while in the backseat of my parents' car, my mother began one of her tantrums. When I was younger, as a child, as a teen and well into my twenties, I would have ignored her, or talked back, but that day I had had enough. I spoke calmly, and directly to my father, and asked him to pull over. My parents were completely shocked, "What?"

"Pull over," I said. "I'm getting out of the car. I'm getting out of the car because I'm an adult and I no longer wish to be present when you behave like this. If you were my friends or people that I knew, I would leave the room. I am making the choice to not condone this behaviour. Pull. Over."

My father didn't pull over, but my mother was silenced for a bit. Then, the fact that I didn't insist further that I was getting out, was perceived as permission to go on. She started again.

Again, I repeated, "Pull. Over. If you don't respect me enough as an adult to behave maturely in my presence, then I will remove myself from your presence. I'm serious. Now behave like an adult or I will get out of the car."

I didn't get out of the car that time, but I have been consistent in my own choices since. I will and have left the room/restaurant/parents' home/ my own home whenever my mother went into a tantrum. My mother is not an idiot, far from it, and she knows the deal. I won't stand for it. It has changed our relationship enormously. Now, she might actually think about what she is going to say, and perhaps want and need, without going into a tantrum. It means that her family can actually address my mother's needs. Everyone has benefitted from that awkward stand. It is not all smooth sailing, but that conversation was seminal to forming a new kind of relationship.
posted by typewriter at 4:05 PM on November 22, 2009 [19 favorites]


Thanks but I'm not going to make my partner suck it up. If your answer is to make my partner suck it up, then please don't post. I've spent years sucking up bad behaviour from my mother but I draw the line at expecting my partner to suck it up. If she hadn't behaved so unpleasantly to him, I wouldn't be having this problem, as he is a genuinely nice chap who usually likes to oblige people.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:07 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I would like to enjoy the holidays. The way you treat me, and the way you act toward my partner, preclude that enjoyment. I do not wish to spend the holidays in a way that makes me feel wretched, and you seem not to care that your behavior is the cause of this wretchedness, so we choose not to spend the holidays in misery."
posted by notsnot at 4:18 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can you just go by yourself and leave partner at home? Tell your mom he's sick or something? Also, seconding typerwriter's method for handling her tantrum if you decide not to go.
posted by nooneyouknow at 4:23 PM on November 22, 2009


Your mother has a choice: she can choose accept your decision, or she can choose to throw a tantrum. You are not responsible for her choices. You need to do what you know is best for you and your partner. You can't control how she reacts to your decision. I think your mother needs be accountable for her behavior. One of the consequences of her Christmas insanity is that you won't be there.

There were many Christmases I didn't spend with parents for similar reasons, and many I did once my boundaries were respected. I loved my mother, who passed away a few years ago, but I do not regret sparing me and my husband and kids from stressful, horribly unpleasant holidays.

What do you tell her? That you understand that she is upset, but that you have other plans. When the tantrum starts, you calmly end the conversation.

Good luck.
posted by Linnee at 4:41 PM on November 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


She can only guilt you if you accept the guilt. Your partner is your number one concern and you sound as if you have an excellent reason to avoid the Christmas fiasco with your mom. Really, is one more hellish Christmas with dear old mom going to be a comfort when she's gone? Life's far to short to spend with people you don't want to see - drop the guilt and enjoy your holiday.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:46 PM on November 22, 2009


OP is done. She/he already said that and is asking for ways to communicate that he/she will not be home for Xmas.

Lying is an option: We are not going anywhere.

Passing it on to the partner: He really needs to connect with his family right now, so that is what we are choosing, please support us.

Being honest: Partner and I have been going through a lot lately. Honestly, we are choosing what we feel is best for us, I am sorry if you don't agree. I love you.

(not good at dialogue today, and there are many ways of expressing each option, but hopefully the points made it across.)
posted by Vaike at 4:50 PM on November 22, 2009


I'm looking at how to handle the conversation where I say no and where anything done for or with his parents will be cast up to me.

I have a "you are doing this TO ME" Mom about some things. I am sorry about this. It's really hard to have and maintain adult relationships when you feel like your forever trying to get your parents to just chil out and stop being petty tyrants about everything. I basically agree with Vaike's list. You and your partner should figure out a story that works for the two of you. In some relationships, putting this sort of thing "on the partner" can be the good way to move forward, in some it's absolutely the wrong way. You can pick the one that works best for the two of you.

As you've told us, your partner really isn't in a good place to deal with family Christmas. Your Mom isn't being reasonable about the holidays. I'm basically here to tell you that you can choose the holidays you want [even if they're unfairly splitting time and hanging out more with family you like more! even if you don't ever see your family again! even if you decide to stop celebrating christmas!] and I think while it's decent manners to let people know in a way that is situationally appropriate to them, it's also not your fault if they choose to have tantrums and it's absolutely okay to say "I'm sorry this is hard for you to accept but $PARTNER and I have decided on a quiet holiday at home together because of $REASON. I will offer $COMPROMISE but it's just not going to happen this year. Thanks for understanding."

No further apologies, no explanations. Adults just get to choose these things. If you choose, later, to have a discussion with your Mom about how her behavior is basically cementing your not coming home for the holidays ever, that's also okay. Not reflecting the drama back and not accepting her weird statements about what you "did" to her is the way you move forward with your new family. I hope you have a good time and work out something that helps you be at peace with this.
posted by jessamyn at 4:59 PM on November 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


This problem is as old as the hills and the way couples deal with this is to trade off. Mom gripes about you not being there this Christmas? Offer her Christmas Eve (if possible) or next Christmas. You have a lot of options here with a birthday during the season, so if Thanksgiving isn't enough this year and your birthday isn't enough, then she'll THEN have to lump it. Sounds like she might gripe about not being chosen for the FIRST separate Christmas, but whatever. Those plans are already made.
posted by rhizome at 5:00 PM on November 22, 2009


You haven't mentioned whether you've ever told your mom that parts of her behavior at Christmastime bother you. You tried to hide behind a claim that you'd be spending Christmases at home, and you also tried to hide the fact that you spent last Christmas with your partner's family. This gives me the impression that you haven't leveled with her. This might be confusing her - she's asking for an explanation of why you're behaving the way you are, and you're handing her bullshit. You're mom's special neuroses aside, how would you react if someone handed you a bullshit explanation for their behavior towards you? Would you like it?
posted by jon1270 at 5:06 PM on November 22, 2009


Don't you dare ask your partner to suck it up. Good for you that you aren't doing that. Christmas is a holiday during which the leverage families have to inflict whatever they wish to inflict, especially on younger partners, reaches critical mass, and you two should stick together and make your own decisions, choosing what is best for you rather than giving in to anybody, even if they're pleasant and easygoing about their demands (though it sounds as though your mother is not.)

My advice is simple:

It sounds like you can't keep her from wanting to believe that she's intentionally being cut out of your life. But you can put the subject strictly off-limits, chiefly by using a tactful and practical lie. "Mom, we can't come for Christmas because transportation is tough – plane/bus tickets cost a lot, we can't take off work too much, etc. – but I'll be coming for my birthday before New Year's. Okay?" Avoid asking anything but direct yes or no questions which imply an affirmative; she can easily derail the talk if you give her room to do so. And state your and your partner's plan flat-out, in the first sentence of the talk, clearly identifying it as the plan and standing with him as his partner. I've found in dealing with parents that if you begin with even a hint of tentativeness or leave hanging sentences ("so, um... bus tickets cost a lot this year... and it seems like it's going to be tough to come for Christmas...") they'll usually jump in and solve what they'd like to see as your problem ("oh! well, I'll buy you a ticket - so that's solved, then!") before you've even had a chance to spit out that you've already reached a decision with your partner.

Be firm, and refuse to engage in an argument about whether you'd rather spend time with your partner's parents, who loves whom, whether you're being an ungrateful child, et cetera. This needs to be your tone: "Mom, my partner and I made this decision, so this is what we're going to do. Okay?" You're informing her of something that's already settled, and if she starts to throw a tantrum, get upset, get angry, get hurt, or otherwise make this an issue relating to your love of her or your love of your partner's parents, politely tell her you don't really want to talk about it this way and cut off the conversation immediately.

And all else aside, remember that Christmas is in many ways a silly, silly holiday that deserves more lightheartedness and less serious, keening "family need." If your mother calms down enough to hear a reasonable argument, you might want to put this one to her: "Mom, I love getting to spend time with you, but it always seems like at Christmas I hardly get to do that, what with the hustle and bustle and the whole thing of it. I'd rather come later - that way, we can actually enjoy hanging around with each other, instead of being so busy and so emotionally involved with what's going on."
posted by koeselitz at 5:14 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just tell her.

You are treating your partner's parents better than you are treating your own. You have your reasons for that. Now you're looking for excuses to make your Mom feel okay about you not going. There isn't going to be some perfect conversation where your parents feel good about being blown off.

Christmas is one day. If you really can't compromise to ever spend Christmas with the woman, then be a grown up and tell her.
posted by 26.2 at 5:16 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Been here, fifty gajillion times. I think you have all the pieces in place, mentally and logistically, you just need to assemble them into the right creation. The spirit of compromise that you evince (birthday, etc. etc.) is right. Put that on the table, say that xmas is off the menu but here's what we can do. Like it or lump it.

Long suffering children might notice that's it often the "asshole" sibling that gets treated the best by the parents, despite not jumping through the myriad of flaming hoops they put up. The reason for this is because the asshole siblings make perfectly clear: "Here's what I'm prepared to deal with. Meet it or not. If you don't, I could care less; you can fuck right off." Parents wilt like cheap candles on bitumen when confronted by this, every time.

My brother is a bit of an asshole, but I try to learn from how he deals with my parents. I will dust my truth-bombs with some sugar, and will put up with a lot more than him, but fundamentally his approach has yielded great results for me.
posted by smoke at 5:36 PM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I also want to say that, if you're going to lie about this (and I feel as though that's probably the best way to go in the face of someone who might be tantrumy about this) there are some lies which might turn out to be pretty destructive and other lies which will be more or less harmless. For example, a few people have mentioned that you might say something like "Partner isn't really up to it." Even though it sounds like this is somewhat true, it would probably be a lie if you said it to your mother, who (it sounds like) would hear this as "Partner demanded that we not do it, and I acquiesced." The question of how much weight either partner holds in the situation, what went on between the two of you, how your discussion went, et cetera, is not for her to discuss with you. That's your business, and you need to present a united front when you approach your mom; any explanation that starts off "well, Partner isn't feeling up to it..." shifts the blame to him and opens the door for her to attempt to play you off of each other rather than respecting that you are a unit and make decisions together.

In fact, even saying "we just don't feel up to it at the moment" can be somewhat dangerous because it implies directly that there will come a time when you will feel up to it, and, if she's patient, she can just put off the tantrum until next year. And lying about how you feel just now can be a touchy thing; if you say just that, for example, how can you justify going up right before New Year's?

That's why some trivial lie about something circumstantial - e.g. transportation difficulties, logistical considerations, et cetera - is a lot safer; it doesn't drag in the weighty politics of the situation. And I think that, in being so trivial, it leaves room for the implication that there were deeper reasons why you made the decision without stating them openly.
posted by koeselitz at 5:38 PM on November 22, 2009


I think I upset you and was mis-understood by a couple of others. I was typing (and baby-wrangling) at the same time as you were saying that you would never put your partner through this again. I didn't mean to suggest that your partner should suck it up. Just that that would be would I would (and have done) do.

I think a long and loving letter that she can't get wrong because it's all laid out in black and white. Not an email and not a phone call. Be careful how you word it so she can't twist anything... but do it by letter. And a phone call a few days after she receives it, as a follow up.

Again, I'm sorry if you and I crossed purposes with your follow up and my original answer. I didn't mean to ignore or trivialise the difficulty you're looking at.
posted by taff at 5:46 PM on November 22, 2009


A lot of very interesting and useful stuff to chew over, both for now and for the future. This is a long-running sore which has been complicated by the 'in-law' issue and by the fact that my partner has had a really hard time recently and the last thing he needs is my mother's amazingly-invasive style of inquisitorial probing. If you level with her, she uses any information you give her to beat you over the head with. It gets taken down and used against you. Neither of us can cope well with it. Lack of public transport means that Christmas is an excellent time for her to trap us with no means of escape. Then you can add full-on Christmas obsessiveness to the mix.

So it looks like clearly communicating the decision, and then which parts of it are non-negotiable, but also what is open to compromise and on the table, and calmly having nothing to do with any tantrum. What it occurs to me might help in future is to find ways of solving the non-driving problem, so that there could be a means of making a short visit to her and having an escape pod at the ready.
posted by Flitcraft at 6:33 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this definitely isn't a suck-it-up scenario. You're doing the adult thing and preventing this bad situation from happening.

Lay out the plan in firm language. You're not negotiating the plan, you're telling her what your end of the plan is. If she doesn't like it, tough, but you will spend your birthday with her if that works for her. You can always pull out the "Oh, I'm afraid that's impossible" line. Don't say "I'm sorry, blah blah". I agree with the posters above who say to cut off the tantrum and say that you'll talk to her again when she can stay calm.

At some point, when it's farther from such an emotionally-loaded holiday, level with her that it's her bad Christmas behavior that makes you so reluctant to spend it with her. It's not that you dislike her - no, you love her!, etc. But she needs to have her bad behavior highlighted, so maybe she won't blame it on some bizarre parental-favoritism. If you can enlist your stepfather, he may be able to help too.

Best of luck - this is a terrible situation to be in, but you have control of it. What's she going to do, come to your house and abduct you for Christmas? Lock the doors, disconnect the phone, do whatever is necessary to retain your and partner's sanity.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:34 PM on November 22, 2009


I just saw your update. Is there any public place nearby her house? Like a coffee shop you could walk to instead? It wouldn't solve the stuck-without-transport-home overnight problem, but would allow you to get away in preparation to leave.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:35 PM on November 22, 2009


What is it with older parents that they expect their adult children to visit them on holidays?
Flitcraft, you will not put your partner or yourself through any crap that you didn't order. No "sucking up" (horrible phrase) no compromising, no making nice, no guilt. If Mammy doesn't like it, she can croak.

I have had it with these holiday conundrums. The playwright Moss Hart wrote, "A family is a dictatorship ruled over by its sickest member." That's never more clear than during the jolly holidays.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:38 PM on November 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


So it looks like clearly communicating the decision, and then which parts of it are non-negotiable, but also what is open to compromise and on the table, and calmly having nothing to do with any tantrum.

This sounds good to me. Maybe add something like 'Mum I love you and I'm looking forward to spending time with you on my birthday' once she's accepted that that's what's happening.
posted by shelleycat at 9:15 PM on November 22, 2009


Are you non drivers or non car owners? It sounds like renting a car for the night would be worth the aggravation, if it gives you an escape route.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 9:24 PM on November 22, 2009


I am hoping that every person who contributed to or read this thread will right now take a vow:

I swear I will not treat my adult children this way. I will be open and honest in expressing my wishes, but I will gracefully accept it if they have other plans for the holidays and we will make arrangements to see each other some other time.

I've already told my college-age girls this, and I plan to stick to it as they move on in life.
Maybe we Mefites can start a new holiday tradition to make this BS a thing of the past, all over the world.

Best of luck, Flitcraft.
posted by CathyG at 9:28 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Regarding non-driving-- do you not have a license, or just not have vehicles? Many cities have car-share programs, and there are a few commercial programs such as Zipcar that can provide you with a relatively inexpensive ride for a few hours, if it's just not having vehicles.

Although of course that's just logistics; the real issue is changing how your mother acts over the holidays, or if you cannot change it, expressing to her that you choose not to deal with it. I think you want to be sure to express to her not just that you won't be there, but a bit of why (does she plan too much so you can't relax? order people around? is it just that she won't stop questioning your partner?).

There is a benefit to having two separate discussions: now, tell her that you simply won't be there. End of story, that way there is no rationalization.

In a couple weeks, maybe after you're there for your birthday, talk to her about the really problematic behaviors (maybe even highlighting how she's so much better when it isn't Christmas?). The second discussion might not be fun, but it might be a way to avoid having the first discussion every year for the rest of your life.
posted by nat at 9:44 PM on November 22, 2009


So it looks like clearly communicating the decision, and then which parts of it are non-negotiable, but also what is open to compromise and on the table, and calmly having nothing to do with any tantrum.

Yes. Exactly this. You and your partner make the decision, including what's up for negotiation and what's not. You'll have to do the communicating on your own. Practice what you're going to say when you call, how you're going to respond to whatever she throws at you. You and your partner can role-play this, which should be darkly fun.

Once your mother realizes you've defended yourself against the standard weaponry, she'll escalate things with an entirely new, shrapnel-packed emotional grenade. So prepare a generic exit that does not engage her nonsense and does not leave things open for later negotiation/warfare; jessamyn's program is excellent.

It's hard, Flitcraft, but totally worth doing—as you know.

What it occurs to me might help in future is to find ways of solving the non-driving problem, so that there could be a means of making a short visit to her and having an escape pod at the ready.

Again, yes—sort of. The basic problem is setting electrified, razor-wire boundaries with your mother. Until you've done that, any of the logistical solutions will soon fail. ("Why are you leaving so soon? You have a car! You can drive back later!")

Do what you're doing, and you'll be fine.

On preview: Bless you, CathyG.
posted by dogrose at 10:13 PM on November 22, 2009


Flitcraft: “What it occurs to me might help in future is to find ways of solving the non-driving problem, so that there could be a means of making a short visit to her and having an escape pod at the ready.”

The only answer there, I think, is careful planning. If you're both going up for a visit, sit down with your partner briefly beforehand and talk about it: how are we feeling about it? How long do we think we can stand? When will we return? This seems artificial, but it's honestly what partners often have to do, I think, to prepare themselves for the environment of being with family. Once you've decided between you what the particulars of a visit will be, it's easy to make them clear and firm at the outset, announcing when you tell your mother you're coming right off the bat exactly how long you'll be there and when you'll have to leave. And when a plan is in place, there are usually at least half a dozen easy reasons why the planned time to leave has to stay the planned time to leave - you/your partner has to get back for work, the last train is leaving the station, we already bought tickets on the bus for this afternoon, et cetera.

As always, the important thing about a partnership facing the parents is to project a firmness and a strong, undeniable sense that you two, not anybody else, decide what you're going to do and when. Parents are often so used to their fiat authority that it's hard for them to grasp this point, but in time I think your mother will start to see it – that no matter what curve-balls she pitches you guys stick to your strategy and watch each other's backs – and give you some of that space back.

I don't know if it will help, but I've found that the very best "excuse" to get away from these situations is having a friend who is your ride. It doesn't sound too likely that you've got some friend who'll happen to be driving near where your parents live, but if it's at all possible I recommend it; it's usually possible to extricate yourself from a family situation without too much difficulty, but really nothing does the trick as well as a guy who shows up at the door and says "time to go." If you both actually drive, but don't have cars, borrowing a car from a friend (and having to return it to them because they need it) can be a good excuse to have to get back, too.

Of course, if your visits have a habit of becoming spontaneously unbearable, it's a good idea to take bookdragoness' excellent advice and think of a nearby spot - a neutral pub, a coffee shop, etc. - to which you both can withdraw. Then, if either of you gives the sign that you've had it, you can make an excuse ("get some fresh air") and duck out quickly.
posted by koeselitz at 10:21 PM on November 22, 2009


She's going to be your Mom for a while. So, stop accepting crap. Mom: I want you to spend Chjristmas here at Hell's Cottage. You: Mom, we're going to be at Breda & Ian's for Christmas. Mom: @$#@**$#! You: I know you're upset; I'll call you tomorrow when you're calmer. Then you call her the next day, and repeat as needed.

If you don't set boundaries and say No, then you're going to have this struggle as long as she lives. If you set boundaries, show her you love her and only accept civil behavior, she'll learn, and eventually you'll have a healthier relationship. When I started setting boundaries, my Mom was relentless, pulled every manipulative trick she could think of, and rallied my siblings to put pressure on me. But over time, most of my siblings started setting the same boundaries, and it got easier. My Mom and I ended up having an okay relationship, free of manipulation. It was worth the aggravation.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 AM on November 23, 2009


You can try guilting your mom with "life is short, your behavior is unacceptable, it's one day, DEAL". I did the hang up/ruin Xmas thing for years. This will be my mom's last Xmas (cancer) and the next day is my son's 1st bday. None of the bullshit I put up with for years matters anymore. I will ignore it, sigh, cry when I get home and realize that they wasted years on petty shit but you know, it won't ruin my Xmas.

Good luck and much love. Too many of us know what it's like to have Xmases like this. And it's a damn shame people have to get that way.
posted by stormpooper at 9:39 AM on November 23, 2009


I think this is why we have Thanksgiving in America - so you can go to one partners family on one holiday and then another's on the other holiday and everyone is happy...

Anyway, would it be possible for you an your partner to each individually go to your respective parents, and leave early for your own plans? It seems to be pretty even and balanced, allowing each parent to see their spawn, but still allowing you and your partner to relax in your own way.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:53 AM on November 23, 2009


I just wanted to say- my husband and I established our first year of marriage that we weren't going to travel anywhere on Thanksgiving, and we got some of the "what do you MEAN you won't EVER come HOME for Thanksgiving" static at first, but OMG it's SO worth it to cut down on the stress - and neither of our families are as dramafull as your situation sounds. And now when we get family pressure, we just say, "Mom/Granny/whoever, you know that we stay here on Thanksgiving" and just let it go at that. And we are both SO GLAD every single year that we do it this way. So stick to your guns in a calm, non-escalating way, and enjoy your private holidays!
posted by oblique red at 1:34 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Many thanks for all this. I went for clearly communicating that Christmas was off limits but offering a longer stay around my birthday. Which seemed to get accepted but in hindsight I'm not so sure. I also investigated minicab hire for dealing with public transport problems. The result: Christmas at home with my partner was great and stress-free, but the birthday visit to my parents, despite all our efforts was an absolute disaster, which at its worst involved both my mother and step-father yelling nastily at both of us over things like what was for lunch, when a taxi was due, had a plug been moved etc. and trying to get my partner to side against me. It was traumatic and miserable for both of us and I'm particularly upset that they had a go at my partner. They ruined my birthday and made him miserable into the bargain. We wont be staying again Christmas or no Christmas, but will probably have to move to a meal in a public place where they cant behave like that.
posted by Flitcraft at 5:57 PM on December 28, 2009


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