I love you, mom, but shut it. For your sake, for my sake, for all of our sakes...
May 4, 2011 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I want my mother to stop trying to discuss with me a specific relationship problem she's having. Is this unreasonable? How do I defend my request to her and not feel like a jerk?

I've been trying to get my mother to stop talking to me about a complicated relationship she's in. In a nutshell, she was involved with a deadbeat guy for a while who was never very into her and who was and still is using her (for small amounts of money, emotion support, housework). She is still pursuing him, despite the fact that he is with another woman now. This has been going on for over a year now.

Throughout all this, I have ranged from being supportive to being completely frank about what I think of this guy and downright mean, telling her that I think she's being a fool and that she deserves the heartache that is coming out of all this. I don't want to talk about this situation with her anymore because:

- I've given her my advice repeatedly and have no more and no different advice to offer
- At this point, I can't talk to her about the situation without being mean. I don't want to be mean to my mother.
- The longer this goes on, the more respect I lose for her and this bothers me
- I simply have no more patience or sympathy for her
- I find the drama of it exhausting
- I'm angry that, at a time when my mother should be modeling for me how to be a good mother and and adult in general, I'm the one taking on the parent role
- Being my mother's confidante, especially regarding her sexual life, makes me feel icky
- Worrying about this and being angry about it is taking up too much mental space in my world
- The situation occasionally causes fights with my husband, because he takes my lead and makes fun of my mom and then I switch over to defending her, confusing both him and myself.

I've asked her to stop, but she keeps bringing it up. She'll do childish things like insert 'my friend' for his name, but continue to bring up her confusion over his 'mixed signals' and his problems, which I'm supposed to feel compassion for. She seems to think that because I'm an adult in a happy relationship, I owe her my attention to her crappy non-relationship. She's said outright that I should just get over my reluctance to talk to her about her sex life, as though it's prudish on my part. I can't avoid her; we're together a lot more often lately to spend time with and babysit my new daughter. And, although it can be tough to see them, there are things about my mom that I like. I appreciate her help and advice in talking care of my daughter. She's wonderful with young children, but just not so much with her adult children. My sister feels the same way about this as I do.

Please help. How do I talk to her about this - hopefully for the last time?
posted by kitcat to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Mom, I love you, but I'm afraid I've said all I'm ever going to have to say about this topic and so I'd like to talk about something else. So what are you going to do with my daughter today?"

Keep saying that -- saying you're not going to engage and then changing the subject -- again and again and again and again and again and again, for as many times as it takes for it to sink in.

you do not owe her an explanation "why" you feel that way. You have this boundary, and you are telling her it is there, and you are just going to keep enforcing it again and again and again. I mean, walls don't explain why they stop people from walking through them. They're just there, and if someone tries to walk through them, they'll be stopped.

Just tell her you're not going to talk about this and change the subject. Over and over and over and over and over.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:34 AM on May 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

How: much the way friends who can not stand to hear about abuse draw boundaries with the abused. Say you won't talk to her about it, and then Walk Away/Hang Up if she starts pulling her childish maneuvers. Reiterate that you care about her, love her, and want only the best for her, but that it's Painful for You to hear about this without seeing any positive change. You will be there for her if things change, you're happy to hear about the rest of her life, but you Can Not hear any more about the bad situation.

You're doing the right things in telling her that she has to stop. Just make it clear that when she doesn't stop, you leave to reinforce that boundary. Enlist your sister to do the same, to save her sanity, too.
posted by ldthomps at 11:35 AM on May 4, 2011

tell her all of the above (except the last part, she doesn't need to know your husband makes fun of her).
Point out that it's not about her sex life, it's about her being with an loser who is using her.

Tell her, "Mom, since you're not going to listen to my advice, you don't get to whine about it to me."
posted by Neekee at 11:35 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had to go through this for the past couple of years since my parents got divorced after 34 years of marriage. It's terribly frustrating. What I did was basically reiterate many times that my role in their divorce is not as their friend and confidante, but as their adult son. It's important for parents to respect basic parent/child boundaries, like not dragging you through the details of their relationships. Don't be harsh about it, but you have to stick up for yourself.

As soon as she starts talking to you about things that make you uncomfortable, immediately remind her that you are her child, not her confidante, and to please knock it off.
posted by pwally at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's a way to do this without upsetting her, but you're clearly upset, and why are her feelings more important than yours? EmpressCallipygos has the right answer.
posted by desjardins at 11:47 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm not talking about that with you anymore. Did you see Celebrity Apprentice last night?
I'm not talking about that with you anymore. Are you hungry? I'm making a snack.
I'm not talking about that with you anymore. The flowers are super pretty. Hope it doesn't get hot too soon.
I'm not talking about that with you anymore. Aren't puppies awesome?

I've done it, and it takes awhile but be pleasant about it and just move forward. No reaction and no discussion.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:04 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's no magic word that causes people to suddenly start respecting boundaries. All you can do is consistently say, "I'm not going to talk about Jim, but I meant to tell you XYZ..." and end the conversation if she won't respect your boundary. Don't get mad, don't yell, don't get mean--just say, "I said I'm not willing to talk about Jim, so I'm going to go do something else now. I'll talk to you later. Bye," and hang up the phone, leave the room, or leave the house. Her feelings will be hurt, but not because you've been mean or unkind. When someone is aggressively crossing your boundaries, you have to be firm, and that can feel like you're doing something wrong because the boundary-crosser gets upset, but really, you're not doing anything wrong. You're trying to respond to unhealthy behavior in a healthy, kind, and loving way.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2011

I've been in a situation like this with friends, and while i'm aware that a parental relationship is totally different, the only thing thats worked with friends has basically been to say "You've been talking about this for a long time, nothing about this situation has changed, and you know i keep giving you the same advice. Either consider my advice, or stop talking to me about it. There's no point in me discussing this with you if all you're going to do is ignore me and keep repeating the same behaviours with [dude]. I love you, but I am not going to discuss this with you anymore unless you are genuinely interested in what i have to say and in changing this situation that is making you unhappy".

Perhaps written in an email, if she genuinely is ignoring your wishes when you verbalize them.
posted by Kololo at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

How do I talk to her about this - hopefully for the last time?

Not going to happen - this has been going on for a year now. There is no magic button you can push that will stop her from talking and preserve your relationship. I'd suggest you give up on that plan.

Best of all worlds, find her a therapist - she needs to talk, therapists get paid to listen, win-win.

Other than finding her a therapist, maybe you need to try conceptualizing this whole thing in a different way - like instead of your wonderful mom telling you yicky stuff, this is a problem in behavioral psychology. There is a behavior that you mom is displaying that you want to extinguish. The first rule of this is to figure out if anything is going on that is reinforcing your mom's behavior. If there are (e.g., you are listening attentively, nodding, spending more time with her than you would normally), remove those reinforcers. You'll know you're being successful when the behavior starts to wane. You can also try reinforcing some other behavior, ideally one that is incompatible with the one you're trying to extinguish. For example, if you are attentive and engaged only when she's talking about other subjects, and not when she's talking about the guy.

You can also try shifting the context of the behavior - like, make a rule with her that she can talk about the guy only between 2:00 and 2:30. You'll be attentive and sympathetic, etc. but only during those times. When 2:30 comes around, it's literally, "times up," and you get up and go if she brings him up.

Sometimes paradox works too. Instead of trying to get her to stop, ask her to tell you more and more and more and more and more. You don't have to give any opinions, just say you don't know what she should do, just that you need to hear more. This goes on to the point where *she's* sick of talking about him and changes the subject.

Finally, in the spirit of "everyone needs a hug," you can try just not offering *any* opinions about what she should or shouldn't do - you just tell her you love her and you are so sorry she's having to go through such a hard time, but that you know she's strong and smart and capable and that she'll figure it out.
posted by jasper411 at 12:25 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure about the rest, but let me just say: you are not a jerk for wanting this. In no way are you a jerk. Pretty much no one wants to hear about their mother's sex life, and pretty much no one wants to hear about the same horrible relationship over and over for a year.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:28 PM on May 4, 2011

Draw a boundary and insist it be respected. I don't think that's being douchey at all. She, not being objective about the situation, may have a different opinion. But you'd be in the right to make a clear and consistent declaration in defense of your right to not hear about this guy.
posted by inturnaround at 12:31 PM on May 4, 2011

My mother tried this, years ago, and when she got to the "you're a prude" part, I went ballistic and told her, loudly, that no, I was not prudish, she was inappropriate and had no sense of personal decorum. I was her daughter, not her therapist, not her girl-friend. I did not want to hear about her sex life in any way, shape or form. If she needed advice, to try Dear Abby or read Cosmo. She was pretty miffed, didn't speak to me for a while, but it worked. YMMV.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:33 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I found this helpful: Validating With Purpose
posted by halseyaa at 12:35 PM on May 4, 2011

I don't think you need to justify it any more than to say, "I can't talk about this with you. I love you and hope you feel better and I enjoy all our other conversations, but this is one that I just can't have. I'm not going to talk about it anymore."

You're her daughter, not her best friend. Although you're an adult, you're still her child, and relationships between parents and children are just different than relationships between peers. But even if you were her best friend, it would be perfectly appropriate for you to tell her that you can't talk about this subject with her.

(And it's so reasonable for you to feel angry and exhausted by all this. Make sure you have a safe place to express those feelings and that you're taking good care of your own needs.)
posted by zahava at 12:55 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you explain that it is painful to hear about her being used by this guy? That as much as it hurts her, it's hurting you because you love her?

If you make it about not taking (good) advice, that she's a fool, etc., then that's all she'll hear. If you make it strictly about caring, that might do it.

The truth is this man has hooked her and is using her. On some level, she must know that, yes? I assume she puts up with this because she doesn't feel like she deserves any better out of life. How tragic...

My suggestion is to focus on the caring for your mom and see if that gets through to her. Otherwise, yes, you will have to repeat the stock phrase and change the subject every time she brings him up.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:00 PM on May 4, 2011

The situation occasionally causes fights with my husband, because he takes my lead and makes fun of my mom and then I switch over to defending her, confusing both him and myself.

That's a natural response to someone making fun of your mom. It's kind of hypocritical that we can make fun of our families, but our spouses can't, but that's human nature. In our house, we're careful not to mock or snark too much about each other's family, even when they deserve it, to prevent exactly this kind of fighting.
posted by immlass at 1:32 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm angry that, at a time when my mother should be modeling for me how to be a good mother and and adult in general, I'm the one taking on the parent role

It seems like your mother would like to treat you as an equal, which seems reasonable if you're an adult.

Adults get to say "no" to one another.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:12 PM on May 4, 2011

Mom, I can't help you with that.
Mom, I can't help you with that.
Mom, I can't help you with that
Mom, I can't help you with that.

You won't get bored finding new ways to say it and the repetition will help it sink in with your mom. Depending on your mood, you can write it on a card and put it on a stick and hold it up when she starts mentioning her "friend".
posted by vitabellosi at 4:01 AM on May 5, 2011

« Older "Fish I like" -- where does this come from?   |   I need to stop thinking about my boyfriend's... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.