My mother threw out a number of things during a redecoration. She told me to look through them to make sure nothing precious was getting thrown out. The thing is, I thought I had plenty of time to do this before a planned trip to the thrift store a few weeks from now. I didn't realize that a number of these things would get thrown outside next to the garbage cans to get rained on. Among them was an irreplaceable (AFAIK) VHS tape of my late father competing in a TV quiz show. My mother cannot understand why this upsets me, has several arguments for why she is right, and I feel unable to cope with arguing about it. Please tell me what to say!
posted by tel3path to Human Relations (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I live with my elderly mother, who recently redecorated the living room. In doing so, she cleared out all of the bookshelves and set several boxes of stuff aside for decluttering. The local thrift store is closed for the next few Saturdays, but when it opens, I am to check through the stuff to see what is worth keeping, and take the rest of the stuff away in the car (my mother doesn't drive).
As part of that, my mother has been saying I might want to check through another batch of stuff. I guess I wasn't giving it my full attention, because a few days ago I saw a big heap of books and things outside next to the garbage cans. Outside, as in exposed to the elements, getting rained on several times, and so on. I didn't realize she was just going to toss stuff outside, and I didn't much like it, but whatever.
About half an hour ago I went to take out the garbage, and in the recycle bin I found an old VHS tape of a TV quiz show my late father competed in a decade ago. Self-recorded and irreplaceable, as far as I know. It had been among the things left out in the wind and the rain.
On discovering the tape in the trash bin, I asked my mother if this was the tape of my Dad on the quiz show and she said I don't know, whatever. I guess she realized I was upset, because she pointed out that I should have looked through the stuff when she told me to, and she wasn't totally careless because she piled the stuff up in a way that some of it wouldn't have gotten rained on. (It looked like a tumultuous heap to me, but there it is.)
Beyond that, she seems to be totally uncomprehending as to why this would upset me. I explained that this tape featured Dad competing on a TV show and is clearly labelled with the name of the show, and that I was afraid it would have gotten damaged. Again, she pointed out I should have looked through the stuff. I also explained that I didn't know she was going to toss it all outside, and she pointed out that it's not a certainty that any or all of the stuff got damaged, and was I wanting to transfer the tape to DVD, or what.
Now in order to see if the tape is damaged or not, I'm going to have to look at it. (My mother doesn't know how to operate a VHS recorder, so getting her to do it isn't an option.) I can't defend this on rational grounds, but as long as I hadn't seen the tape, I still had one more moment with my Dad. I can't handle looking at it right now. Especially if it's damaged, but even if it's not.
Now, to be fair, she has no idea that I feel the way I do about postponing watching the tape. But even without that, she seems genuinely uncomprehending as to why this would upset me. Trying to get my point across, I took the picture of her great-grandmother off the shelf and said, "Well, look, you wouldn't like it if I just tossed this outside, would you?" She told me not to be stupid.
I just removed myself from the situation because I didn't know what else to say. I've upset her too, now, of course.
Here is my question: what do I say?
My Dad was verbally abusive for quite a lot of my childhood, though he improved later on in life, and I'm not sure what this has to do with it other than that I don't want to upset my mother, and that it's especially important for me to resolve this with integrity.
I've also spent many years reading books on how to be assertive and communicate clearly and make I-statements and hold my own. I've used these skills to great effect over the years, and they're the only reason I was able to hold my own at all during some terrible situations, including some life-threatening ones (trying to get a diagnosis for the cancer that killed my Dad, to name one). There was an incident over a year ago where someone kept me in a room for two hours demanding that I sign a document that was full of defamatory and false statements about me. By the power of my assertiveness skills, I held my own, but I'm still experiencing a bit of PTSD about that and the whole situation around it (I'm on the waiting list for EMDR, supposedly, but there's no sign of progress there). It's just that it all seems so arduous. Like so very, very much effort for so very, very little reward. I mean, my Dad got his diagnosis just before he died, and the person with the document made a strategic withdrawal and found another way to defame me later on, so, yay? It was worth all that arguing and consulting people and careful rhetorical planning of what to say and the exact correct manner in which to say it? I guess.
My way of dealing with people who I don't have to deal with, when they have upset me beyond endurance, has been to withdraw. How sweet this has been. No more getting smacked around emotionally, no more having my vulnerabilities used against me. However, I don't think ignoring my mother for the rest of her life is going to be quite as satisfying.
The thing is, I don't want to be rational and collected and use my I-statements and assertiveness-fu. I also don't want to yell and scream and rant and rave. I just want this conflict to go away and not to have happened. Maybe it would if I could make myself feel all right, but I don't think that would count in terms of resolving this with integrity. And I know that withholding is a pretty abusive thing to do in itself, so continuing the way I am is also wrong.
So, to repeat the question, MeFites: what do I say? Can I fix this with integrity, but without arguing about it? Maybe it would be better if I just give up? I suppose I'd get over it, and any damage is already done. So shouldn't I just say it doesn't matter? Or we can agree to disagree or something? Or maybe tell her she's right because in fact, she is right, and I'm just too pigheaded to see that?
What do I say?