WTF, Mom?
July 6, 2009 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Mom managed to make me feel like crap (again) during a family holiday. Do I confront now, confront later, or just let it go?

While doing a craft project with my nephews, mom made yet another snarky comment about "putting my art school education to use" that she "paid $20,000 dollars" for. I've heard all this before, but she threw in a new twist this time, about how I "called home crying and wanted to come home" after 2 years. Um, no. The school was in danger of losing its accreditation and I was making what I thought was a smart decision at the time. I transferred to a (cheaper!) state school and finished my degree.

This was all nearly 15 years ago.

Meanwhile, I have a house and a husband and a job. Maybe not in my chosen field, but I know very few people who do. I even have savings, which is totally unheard of in my peer group.

I was a gifted "golden child" early in life, but I've been working very hard since then to get over feeling like a failure. Bitterness over not succeeding in the career of my choice led to a period of alcohol abuse that almost destroyed my marriage. (Mom doesn't know this.) I still have an almost paralyzing fear of failure, but I'm working on it and mostly doing OK. My husband is amazingly supportive. I know that the 17 and 18-year old me made the best decisions I could at the time.

I just keep replaying the incident in my mind. Every time she does this I tell myself that next time I'll say something, but this time my nephews were there, and I didn't want to start a scene. I told my side of the story (again) and then tried to pretend it didn't happen. The rest of the weekend went fine, and we hugged goodbye like always.

She lives about 3 hours away, in another state. I don't think I'll be able to talk about this to her without crying which is going to start a whole emotional meltdown for both of us. Do I try to deal with this over the phone? Wait for our next face-to-face visit? Write a letter or email? Or just let it go?

Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
"Mom, when you say things like [example] it makes me feel like crap, and I can't help but to think you are doing it intentionally. If you say anything like that again, I will walk away or hang up the phone without explanation or engaging you in conversation about it. You owe me an apology for the times you have done this, and it can't keep happening or we won't be able to have a relationship."

E-mail, letter, or verbally. Then follow through.
posted by The Deej at 9:04 AM on July 6, 2009 [34 favorites]

You can't let it go, it's bothering you too much. If you try and "let it go", it will only build up more and more and more until it explodes even bigger than if you had taken care of it in the first place.

Passive aggressive behavior can be incredibly frustrating. However, if this truly hurts your feelings when she says stuff like this, you really need to say something. Saying something doesn't mean yelling and fighting. Your mom is being childish, and apparently it's up to you to act like the adult.

Be honest, be calm but speak very frankly about how hurt your feelings are when she says stuff like this. If she gives even two shits about you or your feelings, she should get it through her head what this is doing to you and how it makes you feel.
posted by Brettus at 9:05 AM on July 6, 2009

Your mom sounds similar to mine in that she makes you feel like a liability/ failure because she spent money to send you to school and now you aren't a millionaire.

How I dealt with my mom is the last time she started with this crap, I sent her an email telling her that for my own emotional well being, I could not talk to her anymore. She barraged me with emails and voicemails and I just didn't answer them.

This was about 2 months ago and we are just now starting to talk again but only very simple and direct question and answer type things like "What are you doing for Independence Day?" "I'm going to go to the beach and we're cooking on the grill". Don't discuss things like feelings with her.

I don't know how bad your relationship with her is, but for me it was worth it to just cut my losses and accept the fact that we love eachother as mother and child, but we will never be friends and have very conflicting personalities and approaches to life.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:08 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like The Deej's answer... Just explain how her behaviour makes you feel, and then set some expectations, and consequences if those expectations aren't met. Rehearse what you're going to say, and play out the scenario in your mind, trying to anticipate things so that you can leave emotion out of the mix.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Say something. If she's anything like me, she doesn't even realize how much it hurts your feelings.
posted by jmd82 at 9:19 AM on July 6, 2009

I'm guessing you may have tried what The Deej suggests, if not, do what he says first.

I have a dad with a similar problem in that he doesn't know (or doesn't care) that what he's saying about a particular topic really gets at me deeply, and ke knows. I've come to the conclusion he will die thinking what he does and it's taken a long time for me to not let my buttons get pushed by it. If your mom is not one given to self-relflection when confronted by her children about how her words and deeds do damage, you're well advised to know that you can grow out of this while she may never. That's what sucks about being able to pick your friends but not family.
posted by nj_subgenius at 9:24 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

To address the snarky While doing a craft project with my nephews, mom made yet another snarky comment about "putting my art school education to use" that she "paid $20,000 dollars" you could address it right there by saying "You bet mom! Being able to sit down and do a craft with my nephews is priceless.

Maybe a little flip, and might not help you with the "big" problem, but it may put in some perspective.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:27 AM on July 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm missing something here. If this was a pitch for a movie, I'd say the mother's character needs more development. You present your own grievance very well (and believe me, I can relate; nobody gets under one's skin more effectively than immediate family members), but there is no real insight into where your mother "is coming from".

Perhaps this is something you need to explore.
posted by philip-random at 9:28 AM on July 6, 2009

Me, I would put her on the spot when she says something like that. I would calmly respond or, if I couldn't do it calmly, email later, something like this:

"Mom, what are you hoping to accomplish by saying that other than putting me down and making me feel bad? You raised me to be a polite, considerate person and those values are very important to me. I want you to realize that you hurt me very much when you say things like that, and I hope you choose not to do it again. We could have a much better relationship if you held your tongue on criticism of my past choices. Don't you want us to have the best relationship we can?"
posted by bunnycup at 9:29 AM on July 6, 2009 [9 favorites]

Nthing something like what The Deej suggested. My boyfriend has been in a similar situation with his mom where she brings up mistakes he's made (unlike yours, his were definitely mistakes) in ways that make him feel horrible about them all over again, but she had no idea how bad she was making him feel.

Since you seem to have your stuff together -- at least in all appearances to you -- she may not realize just how affected you are by her stinging words.

Also, I'd want to add another question: "Why does she say things like that?" I can't think of any reason other than making you feel bad, and since that might be the case, she should examine her own actions and hopefully she won't like what she sees.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:29 AM on July 6, 2009

A friend of mine's father expected him to become a banker after (as the dad put it) "I spent all that damn money to send you to Princeton." My friend became a Latin scholar instead. When his dad made comments like your mother did, my friend said "I'm not an investment. I don't accrue interest, and you don't get a return. If that's what you want, don't talk to me; talk to your broker."
posted by ocherdraco at 9:34 AM on July 6, 2009 [41 favorites]

Every time she does this I tell myself that next time I'll say something, but this time my nephews were there, and I didn't want to start a scene.

Even in front of young nephews, you can say "Mom, stop that," and follow up with "I'm serious, that's a very hurtful thing to say and I don't know why you'd talk to me like that" if she won't drop it. Re-telling your side of the story is useless if she's convinced herself it happened differently. The problem isn't her memory, it's the insulting and hurtful way she's speaking to you. You know that you earned your degree, have a house, a husband, and a job--you are a successful, responsible adult; it's unfortunate your mother doesn't recognize that, but her attitude doesn't invalidate your achievements. You also, I hope, know that even if you had dropped out of school, lived in a studio apartment, were single and unemployed, you'd still deserve to be treated with respect and kindness by your mother.

Maybe you could bring this up by e-mail or phone and ask her to agree to disagree about your art school experience: "Mom, I'm happy with the life I've made, and whatever you think of my education and its financial burden on you, your sarcastic comments are hurtful and I'd like them to stop. I want that crack about art school when we were doing crafts with my nephews to be the last one I hear from you."
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:35 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

If your mom is not one given to self-relflection when confronted by her children about how her words and deeds do damage, you're well advised to know that you can grow out of this while she may never.

This is my feeling exactly. My parents make drive-by comments on occasion (about much more trivial topics, but they still can sting), and I am quite sure that if I tried to raise the issue - no matter how constructively - they would go on the defensive immediately and react with hurt feelings and dismissiveness. It would just not be a productive discussion.

It sounds like are aware of your own insecurities and how they are affected by (and contribute to the way you are affected overall by) your mom's statements. It also sounds like you have a lot to be proud of in your life - a supportive husband, a job, and a financial cushion. As much as you would like your mother to stop making jerky comments, it may well be easier and ultimately more rewarding to learn how to shake those comments off rather than confront your mom about them.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:37 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

You are not a failure.

Your mom may view your education as a waste of money because you don't have a career in the arts. However, your education provided more to you than what your mother believes or what you may even realize. Your mom's criteria for what would make her child a success in her eyes may be skewed.

I'd write to dear mom and point out that a) you're college educated, b) have a good job, c) have savings, d) have a stable marriage with a great man and e) any other positive point. Acknowledge that your current career path is not what you planned when you were 18, but that you made the right decision for yourself. You are right that it is VERY common for people to have a degree in one field and a career in a different field. (Both my husband and I fit that description perfectly as do all of our friends.) Point out to mom that by commonly accepted definitions, you are successful and she needs to give up the unnecessary and nasty remarks about art school. If her criteria for considering her child a successful adult are different than these standards pointed to above, then the problem is hers and not yours. She should be happy her child is a productive member of society regardless of your current profession.

Going forward, if she snarks again, walk away from her or hang up. If you are doing a project with the kids again, tell the kids "Ooops, I forgot something. I'll be right back." Do not respond to her. Get up and walk away from her. Walk around the house or to your car and back. Then resume with the kids like nothing happened.

Unfortunately, some parents refuse to acknowledge the success their children achieve because the parents cannot get beyond their own vision of what would make their children a success. If mom thinks you'd only be a success as an artist or lawyer or doctor, you may be unable to satisfy her image NO MATTER how successful you are in life. As much as we want our parents' approval and as much as it pains us that they don't see us as successful, you know what you've achieved and that you are NOT a failure. In this case, it is her failure to accept your success that leads to these situations. (It probably also factors into your own fear of failure.)

You may not be able to change your mother. However, you can tell her to stop the snark an you can choose to walk away when she doesn't respect you enough to honor that request.

Good luck.
posted by onhazier at 9:45 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think I'll be able to talk about this to her without crying which is going to start a whole emotional meltdown for both of us. Do I try to deal with this over the phone? Wait for our next face-to-face visit? Write a letter or email? Or just let it go?

It depends a lot on your relationship with your mom and expectations there, but personally I would go with email. You can write a succinct, non-threatening note about this specific comment and the previous ones, and how they make you feel. Her reaction could be anything from being offended that you would even brought it up to apologizing and avoiding making those kinds of remarks, but at any rate you would have gotten your point across as painlessly and unambiguously as possible.

If I wrote an email in your situation I would probably hit these points:

- Mention the comment you are talking about and note that there have been previous ones.
- Honestly thank her for paying for your education and helping out in general during this time (the main point of saying this is to make your email seem like less of an attack on her, in my opinion you should always throw in some genuine positive comments if you are bringing up something negative about someone).
- Note that you may have made different decisions knowing what you know now, but that you made the best decisions you could have at the time and stand by them.
- Say that her comments unfairly characterize that part of your life, and that her doing so hurts your feelings.
- Ask that she not make those kinds of negative comments in the future.

Obviously that's very different from The Deej's hardline approach, which is also an option. In my opinion/experience, the art of these kinds of things is to make your point and reach your desired outcome while being as diplomatic as possible, because it's easy to hit the wrong buttons and end up with hurt feelings on both sides. As nj_subgenius said, some people can't or won't change this kind of behavior, and the fact that she hasn't taken a hint from your reactions to the previous comments is not a good sign. But I think the best first step should be to give her the benefit of the doubt and go with a less aggressive approach.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:50 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My take on this is that your mother may not realize she's hurting your feelings or upsetting you. As you say, she doesn't know about your former alcoholism and she probably doesn't know about the paralyzing sense of failure you say you struggle with. Families do make comments like this as a way of relating their knowledge of your history to the present-day you, and to enjoy reminiscing about their memories of you.

I tell stories to my young-adult nieces and nephews about things they did when they were growing up. And if I saw my brother, who was a political science major and whose jobs have included sales rep and restaurant manager, playing Risk with our nieces and nephews, I might easily say something like, "Hey, that's putting that degree in political science to good use!" But of course, I wouldn't do it if I didn't know for a fact that he's been pretty happy working the jobs he has, and I would never mention any financial help he'd gotten from me or my parents, let alone in specific dollar amounts, because that's just tacky.

So I think it's possible your mother is trying to relate to you and perhaps doesn't know enough about how you feel about this issue, and at worst is being somewhat tactless. She could also be an evil harpy. I don't know, never having met your mother.

Just call her and try talking to her in a low-key and non-accusatory way, and see how it goes. Be open to her take on the situation too.
posted by orange swan at 9:51 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think people who are pulling out the expectations and consequences may be a little baggage laden and trigger happy here.

I like Bunnycup's approach except I would stop at "Mom, what are you hoping to accomplish by saying that?"

Honestly, just ask her. I would also be inclined to follow up with "Can you explain to me why this is this still a regular issue for you 15 years later?" Asking questions is a very good way to approach these sorts of things because the questions are non-emotive and place no blame.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:06 AM on July 6, 2009 [8 favorites]

My mother used to keep complaining about paying a couple thousand dollars for a program abroad that I did.

I told her to write up a bill for the total amount that she paid, including interest, and I would pay the money back to her. Just send me the amount I owe and I will pay a couple hundred dollars of it back, each month, and that will be the end of it.

She wouldn't do this (I guess I didn't expect she would, but I'd have paid if she had) but she also stopped complaining.
posted by citron at 10:32 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Write down what you want to say to her and call her right now. Crying is okay.
posted by heather-b at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2009

What I've learned the very hard way in dealing with my mom (who appears to have a long lost identical twin in your mom, OP) is that all I can do is control my own behavior because hers ain't changin'. I disagree with those who lean toward the side of saying mom ain't gonna change, so you should just hang. I would (and did) take it one step further.

My behavior with my own trash talkin' mom is simply to radically limit my time with her and no longer put myself in situations where this crap occurs. I've explained why to her, a la WeekendJen, and said basically that I'm not comfortable with that kind of behavior so would be changing mine. It's not your job to parent the parent. Your focus needs to be on you, your marriage, you family, and your wellbeing. Tell her that. Then explain that you won't be seeing as much of her any more because of her comments. She won't like it, but so it is. You have other priorities besides being a punching bag for whatever it is she's dealing with.

Admittedly, I have much baggage on this topic. I think people who behave like this don't do well with the whole "let's talk about this" approach. Talking it out just doesn't help because people who make comments like that are not sensitive to others' feelings in the first place. It's therefore rather pointless to expect such a conversation to open their eyes and make them empathetic. Trying to talk rationally with irrational people is pointless.

Additionally, people who behave like this have an amazing amount of entitlement to them; my experience is they're unlikely to back off when you express your feelings to them. It appears there's some resentment on some level about having paid for your education and that's opened some door of entitlement with regard to these comments. It's been fifteen years! She's not getting over it! Therefore I think it's up to you to make the change here since she's festering, or, at the very least, latched onto a pattern of behavior that is going to be difficult if not impossible to break.

This hurts deeply. I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by December at 10:36 AM on July 6, 2009 [9 favorites]

So maybe it's worth a try? Then it becomes her problem. "Mom, you seem upset about that money. Just send me a bill and I'll pay it back to you. Then you won't have a problem any more."

Every time she brings up that $20K, say all right, send me a bill for it and then let it go. Or if she starts in on the "you called up crying and wanted to come home," just put it back on her: "That's nice. Do you want me to pay you back for the tuition? Otherwise, what is the problem exactly?"

No need to get upset and make a scene by doing this, either, just be business-like, because if she's not really complaining about money (yes, obviously, she isn't) she's got nothing to complain about. But make it about the money and keep repeating to the effect that, all right, if you didn't want to pay for my school, I'll pay you back and then we'll be done with it. Seems reasonable.

I guess it would be kind of annoying if she took you up on the offer and you were on the hook for $20K + interest, but.. Well I've often thought that if it cost me well into the thousands to get my mother off my back, it'd be worth it.
posted by citron at 10:43 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Since this question mostly lays out your point of view I don't know if this weekend's crack was part of a larger pattern of hurtful behavior or really at all how this incident fits into your overall relationship with her.

If these comments are part of some kind of pattern of belittling you or making you feel bad in other ways, then I would probably say that you should email her (allows you the time to compose something and reflect, and allows her time to process what you say) and tell her how you feel.

If we really are just talking about some one off comments, I feel like you have to learn to let this one go. I do not mean to minimize how this makes you feel. But I feel like I would suggest that you know more deeply that you made the best decisions you could when you had the opportunity to make them.

It is really, really hard to pick yourself back up when something doesn't go the way you want - and it can feel like a failure even if it's not. But I think there is so much to be said for building yourself a life that you are happy with. I think it is awesome that you pursued something you wanted to pursue, and even more awesome that at various points on your journey you have stopped and said I don't think this is working out so great, let's make a change. I think that's a heck of a lot more to be proud of.

And so I say let this one go because ultimately your mom's cracks, *anyone's* cracks about an educational choice made 15 years ago - well, they don't speak as much to who you are today or even who you were then. And I hate to see you feel bad for that.
posted by KAS at 10:46 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Offer to pay her back. Seriously.

You pretty much answered your own question when you mentioned "bitterness over not succeeding in the career of my choice". Face it, you and your mom both viewed that twenty-thousand dollars as an investment. I'm assuming it was a lot of money for her, but she was willing to do it for the daughter in whom she had placed so much faith. She feels like her investment went down the drain, and you feel tremendous guilt about the whole issue, which makes you acutely sensitive to her comments.

So, offer to pay her back. Tell her if you hear any more snotty comments, you're going to start paying her back, say, a thousand dollars a quarter. Better yet, just send her the first check, and explain what it's all about when she calls to ask about it. One of two things will happen: she'll realize how she sounds, and drop it, or she'll keep it up, in which case you'll keep paying. At any rate, this is a problem that can be fixed for twenty-thousand bucks. That's a lot less than some people spend on therapy and pills.
posted by dinger at 10:49 AM on July 6, 2009

You know what phrase I use every so often in life? "Why don't you go eat a dick?" Nobody expects it. It just kind of catches people off guard. Unless you are 14, you are not used to being told to go eat a dick. It is an extremely juvenile expression. It is also highly inappropriate, so your mother for example, is not expecting to hear you say it. But sometimes people need to be told to go eat a dick. And so I tell them to. It's called setting boundaries. I have established a boundary called the "It is time to tell this person to go eat a dick" line. When someone steps over that line, they get told to go eat a dick. Now, I try to save this for when it is absolutely necessary, because it is not very nice, but when I feel like someone is being an asshole to me and needs to stop, it is nice to have a standard retort, so I don't get caught looking. It communicates very effectively that you are not pleased with a person's behavior in a manner that cannot be argued with. A more mature thing to say would be "What you are saying is hurting my feelings and I would like you to not say that anymore." But then they can argue about why what they have said is not that bad or why it is true or why you are too sensitive. But they cannot argue that they should not go eat a dick. There is no arguing with that. While I don't think you need to call your mom up and tell her this today, just bear it in mind the next time she starts being an asshole. "Oh I see you're finally blah blah blah." "Hey mom, why don't you go eat a dick?" Just lay it out there. Maybe she will think twice about giving you shit.
posted by ND¢ at 10:59 AM on July 6, 2009 [16 favorites]

Another way of bringing her up short without explicitly offering to pay back the $20K is to just ask, "Is there something you want me to do about that?" with either the stated or implied followup, "or are you just bitching for no good reason?".
posted by katemonster at 11:04 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Having an adult relationship with parents is tricky on both sides. There are always times when she's mom and you'll always be her baby. Mother's Day, birthdays, how best to cook the Thanksgiving turkey, nostalgia, and yes, even shared emotional baggage.

But right now, she's passive-aggressively exploiting the mom card just to be crappy. Why? Well, I don't know. Disappointment over a vicarious-living scenario not coming through? Jealousy over your healthy marriage? Insecurity because your adulthood is making her feel old? What'd she go to college for? Is she doing what she thought she wanted to do at 18?

You'd not stand for this sort of ridiculous contempt from anyone else. I'd turn my head and give her a big WTF look, along with "what a strange, hurtful thing to say. Please stop it."And then drop it, quick, and go back to what you're doing. Don't bother retelling your side of the story -- you're just opening up an opportunity for her to argue with you over minutiae. I like "I'm not going to argue with you," as a response to further attempts. I like the "what do you hope to accomplish" line, except that it could potentially prolong the discussion past what is useful.

You don't need to defend your life, and you certainly don't need to be defensive about not "properly" using your art school degree. (It's not a vocational degree, for pete's sake. You go to art school to study art, not because it guarantees that you'll be the next Michelangelo.)
posted by desuetude at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2009

I think most people go through something like this, to some degree, with their parents. To me it seems inevitable that kids will not meet up with parents' expectations. However it does sound like your mom is being particularly mean, that this is harsh.

But, I think in life you can't go wrong with the "let it go" approach, even if it is only emotionally, even if you are entirely justified in your anger/sadness.

I think you have an opportunity to direct this energy and time towards your husband and children, instead of this black hole. Because at the end of the day, you may be able to influence your mom, but only to a certain point.

HOWEVER....I think if you detach from this situation (move on/ let go) and THEN confront her the next time she brings it up, in an unemotional, direct, one-time-only way, it will be all the more powerful and you'll have a better chance at influencing her/shutting her up.

I'm sorry you feel like crap, but you have more power not to than you realize.

(just curious, if you've given her some of your art, does she display it??)
posted by mrmarley at 11:23 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

First decide whether this is just her being a clod or whether it's a pattern of belittling behaviour. If the latter, crying and showing weakness won't work. You need to confront from a position of strength. Telling her she's hurt your feelings might give her an Aha! moment. Took me years of dealing with someone like this to understand that confrontation was the best way. Not arguing, but challenging the underlying idea as others have suggested. For example, to the mother who complained all through Christmas that we spoiled the girls and bought them too much and were lousy parents, thus spoiling Christmas for the kids and extended family: would you like tea on a tray upstairs, mum, as I know how much Christmas upsets you? The response: oh, no, dear, whatever made you think that? And perfect behaviour. She knew exactly what she'd been doing. Once I put her on notice that she'd either get along or get a time out, she behaved. Awful to do, but necessary.

I have an issue with your mother criticizing you in front of your newphews. If you are not respected in your own home by your own mother, the children will pick up on these signals and may gravitate to grandma when they want something you won't allow them. Children have very good instincts for where the real power lies. If this behaviour continues when you have children of your own, you may well have a bigger problem. Give her the $ if you can, and buy your freedom. And remind her that your changing schools saved $ since that was so important to her. BTW, exactly what percentage of art students actually work in their field?
posted by x46 at 11:33 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

One fundamental question you might consider is whether you are expecting your relationship with your mom to return to some idealized loving mother-daughter state, and if so, to lose that expectation. People with problems who act hurtfully can't give you the kind of mother-love you want.

Since you've been working to overcome the intense impacts of the hurt that was caused by her relationship with you, you're probably keenly aware of the difference between how you're being treated and how you want to be treated. But it's unlikely that anything you say will significantly change how she treats you, especially in the short run.

So you have to get to this place where you don't really need or expect that change, and you see her as she is. Then, you can figure out how to relate to this particular person who has these problems and behaves hurtfully in these ways.
posted by salvia at 11:34 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I "called home crying and wanted to come home" after 2 years. Um, no. The school was in danger of losing its accreditation and I was making what I thought was a smart decision at the time.

Is it possible that she did not know at the time what "in danger of losing its accreditation" meant and how huge an issue that was?

I mean, really, if she was the same sort of background as my parents and those of my high school classmates, that is, Depression/WWII era working-class Yankee farm types and many lacking a high-school diploma, then, then she just would not know the ramifications of an unaccredited institution.

And with the money spent, she might not care. Another class/educational background issue might be their acceptance of an art education -- that classic question "what'll that get you?"
posted by jgirl at 11:57 AM on July 6, 2009

I talked to someone once about how to deal with crazy-ass metafilter members. I think its pretty much agreed upon that you deal with them like you deal with family. Just assume they have some kind of mental illness and move on. God forbid something happen to your loved ones...but if they were ever stricken by some kind of mental illness and referred to you as a "whore", what would you do? Would you take personal offense to that, or would you just say "the person can't help it, I'll just ignore it"?
I, personally, would go with the latter.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:39 AM on July 6 [+] [!]

I understand where this is coming from, but respectfully disagree with the notion that a recipient of this kind of family verbal abuse (and that's what it is, really) can just learn to shake it off and say, Well, that's how mom is. I think that for those experiencing this type of hurt, it's difficult to convey all the emotional underpinnings that make this so painful, which is very different than some unknown crazy person on MeFi or a family member becoming mentally ill, as hal_c_on proffers as examples. The emotional connections and history attached to those examples are very different than those attached to one's mom who is currently (presumably) not mentally ill.

The reality is that the mom, most likely, doesn't in fact have any mental illness. She's just acting like an entitled jerk who is routinely (according to the OP) and intentionally making statements that hurt the OP. Again, I hold to my stance that you can't have a rational conversation with an irrational person, but that doesn't mean they get a free pass to behave the way a mentally ill person would.

The mom has made a decision to behave the way she has and the OP can therefore make the decision either to include or exclude that kind of behavior from her life, as the mom is highly unlikely to change her own behavior, in my experience. That leaves the OP with only two options, either to put up/shut up as hal_c_on suggests or to change her own behavior. I don't think putting up/shutting up is going to eliminate the pain of these comments, so that leaves option two as the only response: the OP can alter her life so as to eliminate the amount of time she's exposed to potential negative commentary (limiting number and length of visits, etc.).
posted by December at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I hate to sound like an asshole, but have you ever acknowledged how thankful you were/are for the fact that she paid for your education? I don't know your family's financial situation, but 20k is a lot of money for most people to swing. Or maybe your 18 year old precocious self felt entitled to art school? God knows I didn't appreciate how expensive my liberal arts college was when I was 18 and knew my parents would pay for it. I'm assuming based on how you've worded things that you didn't pay for your undergrad education. Not to mention you can't hold against her things she doesn't know (ie how can she be insensitive about your bout with alcoholism when she is unaware of it?). It's easy to write people as selfish assholes. Understanding their own set of motivations requires a bit more work and I think it's especially easy to dismiss the things our parents do without engaging in some empathy.

Also, you say you don't want to talk about it with her because you'll start crying and it will end up being an emotional meltdown. God knows, I've been there with the whole not wanting to talk about shit because I'll know I'll lose it with my parents, but I've always been surprised at how supportive they end up being. And how much they then back off of the issue once they know how much it stresses me out.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:10 PM on July 6, 2009

This is why I'm happy that I paid for my education.

I understand your mom's feelings. I think it's likely that, as others have said, she viewed your education as an investment. She trusted you to make it wisely, but she doesn't believe it's provided any returns. A liberal arts education is valuable, but it's mostly useless career-wise. I'd offer to pay her back if I were you. Or at least be prepared to show that you deeply appreciate the fact that she paid for it because, frankly, you should be.
posted by smorange at 9:44 PM on July 6, 2009

Check out books by Harriet Lerner, specifically The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Connection. I go back and forth on self-help books, but found a lot of good info in these books. Good luck.
posted by Majorita at 12:17 AM on July 7, 2009

I think people who behave like this don't do well with the whole "let's talk about this" approach. Talking it out just doesn't help because people who make comments like that are not sensitive to others' feelings in the first place. It's therefore rather pointless to expect such a conversation to open their eyes and make them empathetic. Trying to talk rationally with irrational people is pointless.

Yes to December. Your mother sounds like my parents; they're both endlessly negative. My dad still balks whenever I mention going camping or going to a conference because of ONE incident that didn't go so well (conveniently ignoring all the other gazillion good ones). Everytime I mention my intention to apply to something or go somewhere they'll always crack about how it won't work, I'm being stupid, etc.

I personally don't agree with all the people who suggest calling her out on her behaviour, only because - as December mentions - it hardly ever works. My parents are determined to see every concern I bring up as an accusation against their parenting skills (self fulfilling prophecy, guys!). I had a breakdown over university in 2007 and wrote an email to my family saying "look guys, I'm unhappy and I don't know what to do, please help." Their first response? "Why are you calling us bad parents?" NEVER SAID THAT. fucking hell.

I wish I knew what to do. I want to send you lots of hugs and wishes and love because you're absolutely not alone. It seems to be this weird complex some parents get where they'll NEVER be satisfied no matter how much you try to keep them happy. My only recourse now is to do whatever I want, because it's not like they'd be satisfied with anything until I prove that I'm OK - and that's when they notice.
posted by divabat at 8:46 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

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