My mother and I have a difficult relationship. Looking for advice about how to get through a period during which my mother, my daughter, and I are spending a lot of time together. (And, yes, there's a lot more information inside.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My mom is providing childcare for my infant daughter several days a week. To do this, she is staying in my home several nights a week (arriving the night before the first day of care each week, leaving the morning after the last day of care). Unfortunately, we are not getting along well. Additionally, I am concerned about the effects of our conflict on my daughter’s development.
Part of what is wearing on me is my mom’s need to make commentary constantly. The commentary may be about anything—my parenting choices, the food that we’re eating, objects in my home, what I’m wearing, my daughter’s reactions to stimuli. These comments come out in a steady stream, all day long. It can be difficult for me to think or to make conversation because she truly will talk nonstop for hours. Most of what she says is a string of opinions. Sometimes, the judgment calls are positive. Examples:
• “You’re the prettiest little baby in the world!”
• “You’re the most wonderful baby ever!”
• “This is nicest home!”
• “You make everything so nice!”
• “You’re such a good parent.”
Other times (more frequently recently), the judgment calls are not so positive. Examples:
• “That’s what you’re wearing?”
• (in response to a comment of mine) “That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever heard!”
• (gesturing to object in my home) “What is this supposed to be for?”
• (in response to my description of what we’ll be having for dinner) “Well, isn’t that fancy?”
• (in response to me caring for the baby—changing a diaper, feeding her, anything, really) “Baby, what is your mother doing to you?”
If this sounds a more than a little confusing, it is. All of the comments above—both positive and negative--could be things that she says in a single hour. Both kinds of judgment calls make me uncomfortable: I don’t trust the positive judgments because I know that the negative judgments could come out at any moment. Additionally, I don’t like my daughter being raised around someone who is constantly judging her, her parents, and her home, even if some of the judgments are favorable.
The other part of what is wearing on me is the incredibly insensitive things that my mom blurts out. Examples:
• (on the anniversary of my second baby’s death, without acknowledging the anniversary) “Do you think [living daughter] will ever have a brother or sister?”
• “We’d be happier during the day if you weren’t here.”
• “Baby, I love you more than I love your mom.”
• “I read that the only reason women breastfeed is because it makes them feel good—like they’re having sex.”
It would be bad enough if these weren’t limited to comments she makes to me. However, I sometimes hear her say things to the baby, such as:
• “I know you don’t like me. You only like your mom. I can’t make you stop crying. You’ll just have to make yourself feel better.”
• “You’re spoiled.”
I believe that my mom’s behavior is rooted in her own self-esteem issues. She is doing the best she can (believe it or not) with what she knows how to do. Her own mother was depressed, manipulative, and prone to dramatic outbursts. My mother isn’t always as bad as the description above. She’s at her worst now, and things get bad for her when she feels vulnerable. In the past, I have been able to help her feel better and to tackle difficult situations. Now, I need to put my daughter’s needs ahead of my mother’s needs. This means that I can’t spend time and energy reminding her that she’s good enough, she’s smart enough, and, gosh-darn-it, I like her. Additionally, I have had to explain to her how we take care of the baby. In many ways, this differs from what she remembers of how she took care of me as a baby, and she takes this as a personal criticism. As a result, I have become the person who she perceives as a critic (there is pretty much always one person in her life who she sees as the hated critic—in the past, bosses, relatives, and frenemies have filled this role).
I have tried talking with her directly about the issues I’ve described. Sometimes I can manage it calmly, sometimes not. No matter how I approach the issue, she becomes uncomfortable and defensive. When approach the discussion calmly, she cries and tells me that she’ll “do better.” This is, of course, not at all what I’m going for—I’m not trying to shame her. When I tell her this, she takes it as further proof that she is doing something wrong and becomes more upset. In situations when I am not so calm (this is, thankfully, pretty rare), she screams, cries, calls me names, tells me that I am a bad person, and slams doors. Neither approach has any lasting good effects, and both make her feel hurt.
I feel bad for my mom. She’s hurting, and this is painful for her. However, I feel that I have a greater responsibility for my daughter’s well-being than for my mom’s, especially because my mom and I have talked about above issues many times over the years, and she has steadfastly refused to get help (or, when badgered into going to a therapist, she has refused to be honest with the therapist). Fending off her constant criticisms is making me doubt myself and is hurtful. Finally, I am worried that her influence will affect my daughter’s sense of self-esteem.
So, I realize that I need to figure out another childcare situation. I really, really, really don’t want to do daycare, but I (obviously) may need to reevaluate that position. In the meantime, I would be grateful for any suggestions you might have for improving the current situation.