My mother loves to talk when I really don't want to listen right now!
October 16, 2009 9:40 AM   Subscribe

How can I drown out my mother's constant advice giving banter?

I love my mom. I really do. She is the strongest woman I know. But sometimes I find it hard to tune her out when she is talking to me and giving me advice like a child. It makes me feel so annoyed. I don't mean to be that way but damn I feel I can't tell her to sit down and watch some TV. If I'm on the computer, it usually means "Do Not Disturb." But she loves, loves, LOVES to talk. She tells me things as if they are new concepts to me. Arrrgggh. What can I do? And she picks holes into my concepts at times which makes listening to her even harder. Either how can I gently tell her to stop her non-direct nagging or how can I stop being so annoyed at her jabbering?
posted by InterestedInKnowing to Human Relations (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
She ain't gonna change. You are.
posted by keener_sounds at 9:45 AM on October 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

I had the same problem with my mother, who was (until she retired) a special education teacher at a high school. Not only did she tend to talk to my like a child, she would slip into the patterns of speech more appropriate for talking to a... special child.

The first step is, as you suggest, gently asking her stop. Every time. Specifically mention that you sometimes feel as though she's talking to you like a child and that this makes you feel uncomfortable. If this doesn't work, you may have to learn to live with it but you can't expect her to read your mind.

As an aside, when she picks holes in your concepts, is she correct? Do you resent being corrected, or is the issue that she seems to be picking just to pick?
posted by onshi at 9:48 AM on October 16, 2009

Set your boundaries. Ask that they be respected. Demand that they be respected.

All you can do is ask, all she can do is choose to respect you or not. If she chooses not to, you have to remove yourself from her presence. You choose whether or not you put up with it.
posted by Xoebe at 9:49 AM on October 16, 2009

But let me be a little more specific. The way you can change your vulnerability to her nonstop talking to you is actually to remind yourself: this is HER. this isn't about me. She is older and she isn't going to change. I don't need to be more bothered by her talking too much than I would be by the neighbor lady's going on and on about her roses.
Because of course, even though your mother is probably very nice, you might feel disrespected by this talking. You're on the computer. You are having other thoughts. You don't want her to occupy all the psychic space in the room.
But what you have to do is get to the point where you say to yourself: just because she's saying these things doesn't mean I have to stop what I'm thinking and think what she's thinking.
Good luck. I totally relate to this.
posted by keener_sounds at 9:49 AM on October 16, 2009

Boy, do I hear you. Particularly the "new concepts" part.

It's really tough trying to balance your love for your mom with an "OMG, please, LEAVE!" feeling. Same goes for, say, nosy coworkers who won't leave your desk. In this case, I think you have to basically say some combination of, "Duly noted; thank you for your comment" and "I'm pretty busy; could we talk about this later?" Simple but difficult. It helps to give that "let's talk about it later" option, because hopefully she'll see that you still want to talk with her, but unless it's actually important she'll probably forget about it (or find something new to talk about) when and if she tries to chat you up again.

One thing that helps me deal with my mom is to recognize her patterns. Is she bugging me because she's feeling insecure about herself? Does she want attention in general? If I could categorize the types of questions or advice she gives me, when do certain things come up?

Also, remember that no amount of "proving it" to her will convince her that you really, truly know this stuff. Your mom desperately wants to prove that she's still relevant to you, and that she can keep sharing your life in a way that occurs less and less as you grow older. Try connecting with her about something else (a safer topic, at a better time) and see if she calms down a bit.

And then you find a good friend, or diary, or magical green-backgrounded Internet forum, and say, "SERIOUSLY YOU GUYZ MY MOM IS DRIVING ME BANANAS AAAAAH"
posted by Madamina at 9:54 AM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

You specifically mention that she talks to you when you're on the computer.

Maybe making it about that would help -- no matter what she tries to say to you, maybe just look up for a sec -- as if you're giving her the chance to let you know whether you've got a phone call or something -- but then if she starts going on with her usual spiel, gently interrupt and say something like 'that's great, but I've kinda got a lot to do, can you wait and tell me when I'm done here? Thanks." And then just every time after that she tries to interrupt, just keep telling her, "look, like I said -- gotta focus on this, please." If she still can't stop, then if there is any way you can physically remove yourself and the computer to a different room, or building if necessary, then do that, calmly explaining that "I'm sorry, Mom, but I REALLY have to focus here, and I just need to be somewhere where I know I can get stuff done. Thanks." (If you can't move the computer, see if there's a computer cafe or library you can use, and go there instead.)

The key is to be calm when you do this, and make it about "I need to focus on work, so ANY distraction is bad" as opposed to "what you say specifically is driving me nuts." With the former it sounds like it's nothing personal; with the latter, it sounds like, "....but if it were DAD talking, I'd be listening with rapt attention," and that's probably not going to go over too well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

My Mom is similar with some other related problems. I'm lucky in that she also has a great sense of humor so if I can point out the silliness of her telling me to, say, wear my seatbelt [I always do] or be careful crossing the street, she can see the humor in it.

So there are a few things I do.

If I'm on the computer and need silence I either leave the room, ask ehr to leave the room [if I can't move the computer] and am very specific "I need twenty minutes of uninterrupted silence and then we can chat" and if she's interrupting me still I'll be like "hey, 20 minutes, come back at 1:20" This works because it's something we agree to. If your Mom doesn't agree that you need or want silence this will be harder.

Me and my Mom have what is almost concsidered a "safe word" That is, when she's giving me useless advice and I'm getting a little fed up with it I'll say -- before I am totally exasperated -- "Ms. West I am familiar with the customs of your country!" If she's in a good mood, she'll laugh and change the subject. If she's in a less good mood she'll still understand that this is my very nice way of saying "Hey you're doing that thing again..."

This doesn't always work, but it has established that we have diffrent communication habits [she doesn't mind me yammering when she's on the computer, so has a hard time really understanding why I do] and we try to respect each other to the extent that we can. For my part I try to talk about it when I'm not irritated so I get childish and whiny. I also understand that since she really doesn't understand why this is important to me [she's a little self-centered and narcissistic] that any effort she makes towards coming around to what would be useful for me is actually a lot of work for her so try to appreciate it.

So, a combination of firm boundaries, good communication and trying very very hard to not be crabby about it has mostly worked for me.
posted by jessamyn at 10:11 AM on October 16, 2009 [7 favorites]

I have found that the best thing to do is meet my mum in situations that are less likely to trigger the old childhood patterns. Go for a meal somewhere a bit nice, pictures, art festival. Not a meal in her house or helping each other with some project which is guaranteed to go wrong. I try and phone or email her to help her with stuff.
posted by Not Supplied at 10:17 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

This works on parents, too. It's humane but efective.
posted by bricoleur at 10:29 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Set up a jar with a label on it that says "Unrequested Advice Tax - $1".
posted by tizzie at 10:43 AM on October 16, 2009

Tuning people out when they're talking to you is essentially childish behavior. Adult options include choosing to address the fact with the person who's trying to have a conversation with you that you'd prefer not to have, ending the conversation when this occurs, or avoiding the conversation in the first place.
posted by hermitosis at 10:49 AM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

You need a few handy phrases to slither out of conversations without committing to anything. I use "That's a thought!" on my mom. I'm forty, and I got a ten minute lecture on 'dressing for success' this week.

That's a thought!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:04 AM on October 16, 2009

Put some headphones on. Some really big ones so she can see them. You don't need to listen to music if you don't want to.

Your mom isn't going to change, so you'll have to. Your options are to communicate to her that you want her to shut up (liable to offend and be ineffective?), leave the situation (not always practical) or put some kind of barrier between you and the problem (headphones). I'm talking from my own experience on the matter (jabbering mother), but you can't always make people shut up.

You might find some of the responses from this previous Ask of mine helpful. The situation is slightly different, though.
posted by Solomon at 11:06 AM on October 16, 2009

There's a lot that seems to be missing; my mom could be nagging 24/7, and I wouldn't hear a word because I don't live with her or see her. I assume you don't want the second half of that.

If you're living at her house, rent free, then you have to realize you're a supplicant and need to ask her nicely for specific times when you'd like "you" time. If you're paying rent (either at her house, a group apartment (that she also rents at), or in your house), then you negotiate boundaries as peers. If she's living with you for free, you let her know that this won't fly. If she's visiting, change the locks, or let her know that you don't have time for a visit as you're concentating on the computer. If you're visiting, it's back to begging.

What's she "nagging" at you about? If you're at the computer, if she's nagging at you that it might be time to move out ... well, the only way that's going to stop is to move out. If you're not sure what she's "nagging" at you about, then you're an equal part of the problem. Try some active listening when you've got a moment and she might be less likely to try to "nag" when you want a moment if she believes that you've heard what she previously tried to say.
posted by nobeagle at 11:09 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

In 2132 researchers will track this down as why people all over the world tell their moms "Ms. West I am familiar with the customs of your country!"

Some parents never transition to understanding that their children are adults, but Jessamyn's suggestions are good. I think that sometimes a lack a communication about topics reserved for adults contributes (since these are topics we rarely want to talk to our parents about), so good communication in one area can be infectious. My grandma was the same way until one day I want from 5yo to grown up in a strange moment when we had to talk about her husband's medical problems. I think it was at his funeral that she really understood that I was one of her grown grandchildren and not just grandchild.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:14 PM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

At 10:30 a.m., my mother has knocked furniture out of the way to get into a room where I was making a scheduled very-important-work conf call that everyone in the house was aware of, in order to nag me about whether or not I was going to eat something for dinner.

There was furniture blocking the door from the inside (and a big sign on the door) because this is typical of dear ol' mater. (What I am going to eat for dinner is an issue because she believes I am gaining weight/too thin/diabetic/anorexic/vegetarian/vegan/clearly have some terrible disease that I caught from not following her advice. None of those things are or have ever been true.)

My only defense is to replay comedy routines in my head or ask her about "that friend of yours, how were her last test results?" so she can tell me how she is nagging some friend of hers about their health.

My mother has gotten a teeny bit better over the years, but she's never going to stop. I am sure many thing about me are equally annoying to her.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:46 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Mom, I love you, and sometimes I love talking to you, but sometimes I want to be by myself, so I can relax and think about things. If you promise to ask me if it's a good time to talk before starting a conversation, I promise to make some time to talk to you -- and when I'm doing something like the computer, I'm not paying attention to you, so tap me on the shoulder and be polite. It's what you taught me growing up, and seems reasonable that you should treat me the same way."
posted by davejay at 12:47 PM on October 16, 2009

My parents where just here to visit me for 3 weeks. I know your pain.

Part of it is separating what would bug you if anyone said it from what bugs you because your mom says it. It drives me batty if my dad tries to "help me" drive by telling me if traffic is clear on his side. If someone else did that, I'd probably just ignore it and check for myself. When my dad does it, it feels like he's telling me I'm still a student driver and incompetent to assess whether I can cross the intersection. I'm peeved just thinking about it. Which is stupid on my part - my parents are awesome and just trying to be helpful.

It's not just that they are behaving as a parent, it's that you are reacting as their child. Recognizing that helps me take a few deep breaths before I go to my room and pout.
posted by 26.2 at 12:58 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have the same problem with my mother, especially since I had a child. Right after my son was born, she started watching everything I did and giving me really judgemental advice. She also has a tendency to say, "You just disagree with me because I'm your mother," as though I'm just being a rebellious teenager.

I decided to have a talk with her one-on-one and explain why the way she treated me was upsetting. She, of course, got defensive and said that she's not judgemental at all. At first she pretty much ignored what I had to say. But I decided to keep driving the point home. Every time she'd say something rude or judgemental, I would calmly and politely point it out. It's taken a while, but things are slowly getting better.

I recommend talking to your mom about how her nagging makes you feel. Try to be polite, and not too confrontational. She won't change over night, but if she's a reasonable person, she should be willing to put forth some effort to treat you like an adult. I think it can be hard for mothers to accept that their children are grown up and can take care of themselves.
posted by lexicakes at 1:34 PM on October 16, 2009

Move out?
posted by Jacqueline at 2:41 PM on October 16, 2009

She's actually moving out soon. So, I try to tolerate it because I know I'm gonna miss her when she does move out. But yea, she will always be mom, I guess. Sometimes I tell her when she is going too far with the nagging and judging but I really don't want to be greeted with a lesson about vitamins and politics first thing in the morning. Haha, I'm glad people here can relate. These answers are the best.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 3:33 PM on October 16, 2009

Are your grandparents still alive? Wanna bet they do the same thing to your mum? My mum was one of those people who can talk both breathing in and breathing out and really just wanted an audience. I learned to say Uh, huh, Hmmm, and Really? a lot. When it came to the 'you should do this blah, blah, blah', I learned to not respond, did not engage, and the subject died. Anything requiring as response got "Interesting" or "Now why didn't I think of that?", both non-commital, both tending to close the subject. You have to learn to play defence as she's not going to stop - ever.
posted by x46 at 5:48 PM on October 16, 2009

I've found this to be helpful when dealing with the advice-(over)-giving mother.

Me: "Mom, who raised me?"

Mom: "I did."

Me: "Did you do a good job?"

Mom: "Yes."

Me: [Knowing look, usually enough to mean - or I just say, "Well, then trust that I'm going to make a reasonable decision right now/in the future."]
posted by bozichsl at 11:04 AM on October 19, 2009

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