I'd like not to have an argument, please
July 10, 2011 12:29 PM   Subscribe

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!

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?
posted by tel3path to Human Relations (41 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry for this understandably frustrating and upsetting experience. Others will be able to give you better advice than I on your actual question. I want to suggest simply that you could ask a friend to determine whether the tape is still viewable, and thereby potentially preserve that one-last-new-moment-of-Dad that you had wanted to preserve.
posted by foursentences at 12:40 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

"He is your husband, but he is my father. You have no right to tell me how to feel."
posted by 4ster at 12:41 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Whoa. It sounds like a LOT more than just being pissed off about a VHS tape is going on here.

You seem to be processing things in very black-and-white terms. Perhaps you could take a time out from your mom for now until you cool off and then reengage with her?

Getting better and crawling out from under Life Shit feels arduous and terrible because it is arduous and terrible. Unfortunately, the only long-term option I see is to marshal your resources and focus on your own recovery. I see you mention EMDR, but do you have anyone else in your life who is part of a support system such as a therapist? It may feel undoable and arduous now, but showing up on your own behalf is a way to treat yourself with integrity.
posted by mynameisluka at 12:42 PM on July 10, 2011


You have let your mother know why you are upset, and she has failed to get it. Or she feels guilty and doesn't want to admit she made a mistake. Either way, arguing won't change the state of the video, and will not make any of you feel better (no, really, it won't).

Give it some time, she might let you know in some way that she's sorry. Or she might not. But there is no way to pressure a sincere apology from somebody who is being defensive.

Nothing is to be gained from turning this into a fight.
posted by HFSH at 12:50 PM on July 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

This isn't a right or wrong situation.

Something bad happened. No arguing can change it. You've expressed that you're upset, so why go further?

Your mom should apologize for not letting you go through the stuff first (or did she? Did she tell you months ago that she'd be going through those shelves?)

This sounds much deeper than this incident though.
posted by k8t at 12:50 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You don't have to do anything today or even tomorrow. Allow yourself to calm down and perhaps then you can work out how much of this is about the tape and how much is about all the other shit you mention.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:50 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, forgive her.

Don't tell her you forgive her, just realize she made a mistake and probably does feel bad for upsetting you.
posted by HFSH at 12:55 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It occurs to me that the video of your dad is probably replaceable.

If it's a quiz show that aired nationally in the US (whether syndicated or presented by a TV network outright), there's a strong chance that some still-extant media conglomerate owns the rights and can make you a copy.

There may be a nominal charge, and it will probably take some research to figure out who owns the rights and how to go about getting the copy, but if you're this upset about it, it's obviously worth it to you.
posted by Sara C. at 1:00 PM on July 10, 2011 [14 favorites]

If you want the conflict to go away, don't mention it again. From the sounds of things, you're the one bringing it up and creating the conflict. What's done is done, arguing with your mum wont fix the tape if it is damaged and if it isn't then no harm no foul. If you want to know if the tape is ok without watching it yourself, ask a friend to watch it for you.

And, your mum is right - if you'd sorted through the stuff when you were told to, you wouldn't be having this problem but that is beside the point.

As to what to say - apologise to your mum for upsetting her and then don't bring it up again. Being assertive is all well and good but what do you seek to achieve in this situation? It wont bring your dad back and it wont fix the tape (if its even broken) but it is upsetting both you and your mother. Even if the tape is broken - is that one last memory of your abusive dad worth causing suffering to your mother (and yourself)? Will getting her to understand why you're upset make it all better?

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.

Without that how could she possibly comprehend why you're so upset? If you want her to understand then you need to explain it. If you've never told her how important the tape is to you, how was she supposed to know? She asked you to look through things to make sure nothing precious was being thrown away and you didn't do it and after she put it outside you still didn't check it and now you claim that this was really important to you - its easy to see why she's confused. I think you need to take responsibility for your own part in this here instead of taking it all out on your mum.
posted by missmagenta at 1:04 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I didn't know I was supposed to look through them before she put them outside in the wind and the rain, I thought I was supposed to look through them before I put them in the car and took them to the thrift store.
posted by tel3path at 1:07 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

There is nothing to be gained by an argument. She didn't communicate when she was throwing stuff out; you (evidently) didn't clarify with her ahead of time. She has her own set of feelings about the objects in question; you have your own set of feelings, which are apparently different from hers. She couldn't read your mind; you couldn't read hers. An argument isn't going to change any of this.

These things can coexist. It doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't feel sad or angry; feeling sad or angry is perfectly valid. At the same time, as frustrating as it may be, your mom is not required to necessarily understand your feelings or to accept the blame for them.

What has happened has happened. The way to resolve this, in my opinion, is for you to practice compassion toward yourself (acknowledging your feelings, and treating yourself gently for having them) and toward your mom (acknowledging that she has her own feelings, and treating her gently for having them).
posted by scody at 1:07 PM on July 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think you have to just move on. Your situation is much worse given the sentimentality, but I'll relate a somewhat analogous instance from my family. About 8 years ago my mother and I cleaned out her mother's home when she became too ill to take care of herself anymore. Among the items in the house that we sold were a whole bunch of rusty antique cast iron pans. My mom is well-aware of the fact that you can scrub and re-season cast iron, but she was more concerned with simply getting the house cleared out since she wanted to limit how much stuff she brought back with us. My father had even made comments that we should limit what we kept. Well, he found out about the cast iron, and he flipped out and took it very personally that we didn't keep them, because my mom knows that he LOVES cast iron pots. Long story short, he still to this day is pissed about it and invariably brings it up whenever the awesomeness of cast iron comes up in conversation.*

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I think your mom was more focused on de-cluttering her house than thinking about your feelings about what she considered to be junk. At the end of the day you have to remember that these are HER possessions. Sometimes when I visit my parents I have trouble remembering that their things are theirs, and not ours just because I grew up there. Your mom gave you a heads-up that she was getting rid of her things, which was nice of her (and given the nature of the VHS tape, I think pretty necessary), but you shouldn't stay angry at her because she didn't hold on to the stuff indefinitely. The fact that you didn't come by to look through the stuff probably made her think you considered it to be junk, too. Like my dad - if he wanted to monitor the things we were getting rid of so badly, he should have come to my grandma's house to help us, because my mom was focusing on the task of cleaning out the house, rather than trying to save things for my dad. It sounds like your mom was similarly focused on just getting rid of clutter.

I'm not saying that you don't have a right to be upset - you definitely do, and I would be upset, too - but you've got to try to move on. I also think that my dad was pissed about the pots as an outlet because he was really pissed about other things. The rest of your question indicates that is true for you, too.

* I know that this sounds totally crazy, but now that I'm older and appreciate the magic that is cast iron, I kinda get it.
posted by gatorae at 1:08 PM on July 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

There are ways to deal with the loss of the damaged tape, if that helps. You might try contacting the studio responsible for the game show to see if they might have that particular show archived somewhere--if so, I bet they'd be happy to send you a copy.

Knowing that the damage can be repaired could definitely help you forgive your mother. Yes, she's wrong, but you're unlikely to get her to apologize, and I think that if you want to continue to have a good relationship with her the best thing is to just put this down to human frailty and take steps to prevent such conflicts again.
posted by tully_monster at 1:09 PM on July 10, 2011

I should clarify that the things being thrown out are mine, as my father left his library to me. My mother just didn't want them taking up space any more, which was fair enough. I would have taken them away weeks ago, but with the store being closed there was nowhere to take them to.

Also, it seems she wasn't putting them outside to throw them out; she was just storing them there.
posted by tel3path at 1:13 PM on July 10, 2011

I didn't know I was supposed to look through them before she put them outside in the wind and the rain, I thought I was supposed to look through them before I put them in the car and took them to the thrift store.

You said they were there for days - why didn't you look through them as soon as you knew they were outside? You only discovered tape by accident - were you planning to leave the stuff outside for a couple of weeks until it was time to take it to the thrift store?

That aside - if it was in the bin its probably fine - did it still have its cardboard sleeve? Even if there is some damage it might still be recoverable. If the tape is damp, dry it out and then send it to these people (or any similar service) - they'll check the tape for you and copy it to dvd.
posted by missmagenta at 1:21 PM on July 10, 2011

Nthing mynameisluka, in that it sounds like this immediate conflict is a trigger point for a whole lot of other shit. And you:

- get to feel angry and really sad that you might have lost a memory keepsake of your father that feels irreplaceable.

-get to feel angry that your mother, rather than acknowledging that you are upset, decided to dig in her heels with several classic responsibility-avoiding tactics: denial (why is this a problem?), obtusenss (don't be stupid, this sucky thing over there is nothing, NOTHING, like the sucky thing you've just suggested to try to get me to understand just how sucky what you just did feels to me), insulting (don't be stupid), blaming the victim (it's solely your fault this happened), and emotional escalation (she gets upset). Really, she could have just acknowledged that this upset you, and said she was sorry.

-get to take a break from your mom if you want, and just handle dealing with how you feel about the fact that you might have lost the images, and do what you need to do to see if you have lost them/need to recover them. At moments like these, when things are sensitive, people are somewhere on the spectrum of allies to irritations, and it is a gift to decide to limit contact of everyone not solidly in the ally camp until you've handled your business. The irritating people are just distractions, like buzzing flies. Shoo them out.

-get to at some point say, - and please note that composure doesn't really matter in conflict, communication does, so feel free to bust out into tears if that's what happens to you - that regardless if your mother can understand it or not, losing this keepsake of your father feels devastating to you. And that you aren't telling her this to assign blame, you're just telling her this so she understands why you are so upset. And if she responds with any minimizing suggestions (oh come on, don't be so sensitive, etc.), don't defend yourself - just call her on her behavior. "Your suggestions feel like minimizing. I'm going to feel upset as long as I feel upset, because....losing a keepsake of my father feels devastating to me." If she asks you what you want her to do about it, repeat, "I think I'm handling it, by seeing if the video can be saved. Other than that, I'm just going to feel what I feel until it passes because.....losing a keepsake of my father feels devastating to me."

I don't think it helps to say things like this to anyone - like you mom - because you want to change her behavior or acknowledge your feelings. I think it helps to say things like this her and to yourself to remind you of your feelings, and to remind yourself that feeling your feelings is okay, regardless of someone else validates them or not. She might never acknowledge them because she might feel like doing so requires her to take responsibility for them. And that's not actually what you're asking. This is one of those crappy situations that just happens, and she can feel sorry that you're hurt without feeling that it was her sole responsibility to communicate what the timeline was on keeping the materials in the house. You could have asked what her plans wre, and she could have told you the timeline. It's not about blaming you or her, just realizing that both of you had a role in this situation, and it sucks. So, you could also add - after the part that looking a keepsake of your father is devastating to you - that you realize that you could have asked her what her intentions/timeline was, and that it is to your everlasting regret that you didn't, but there it is.

Finally, I have some pen ink letters from a mentor that where the ink bleeded out on the paper during a flood in the basement. We are no longer in touch, and I loved those letters. When it happened, I was like a tornado of fury and "why-didn't-I-regret" when it happened. I wanted to slap my husband, for not ever checking the basement sump-pump, slap myself for not keeping them in the house, and slap the rain for being so fucking wet. I know that a lot of the text is gone, but four years later, they still sit, in a wire basket, on my mantle. I cherish them, though it's not the same. Perhaps, for you, if some of the images can be preserved, you can create a video clip video, but even if the video is gone, consider keeping the tape itself for a while, perhaps in a box somewhere, until you're ready to let it go.
posted by anitanita at 1:24 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I didn't realize that a number of these things would get thrown outside

I thought I was supposed to look through them before I put them in the car and took them to the thrift store.

it seems she wasn't putting them outside to throw them out; she was just storing them there

This is not to pick on you in any way, but just to observe that there is a lot of "I thought" "it seemed" etc. going on in your description of all this.

This event, upsetting as it is, is an opportunity to make a concrete, constructive change in your communication style with your mom. Taking responsibility for communicating clearly is not just about making "I statements" (as you mention in your original comment), etc.; it's also about asking questions and being aware when you're making decisions based on assumptions rather than information. This can help circumvent future situations when your expectations and the other person's expectations are so out of sync, as was apparently the case here.
posted by scody at 1:28 PM on July 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Sorry people, but the mom is an idiot. This can't be the first time OP has expressed interest in family artifacts, much less these ones specifically. You fucking say something before you put this stuff out next to the trash can, rain or no.

But, y'know, that's for next time. If ever in the future this kind of thing comes up, OP can just know to be sure to ask "...and can you let me know for sure before you actually throw them away?" Sorry, but that's pretty much the only lesson here: next time.
posted by rhizome at 1:38 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look, she didn't know that tape was valuable to you. It wasn't valuable to her and it was cluttering up her house. She asked you to get what you wanted out of her space; you didn't. If I were in her shoes, I'd be quite upset at you making this out to be a failure of mine. You can feel upset about the (possible?) harm to the tape, but you'll just feel worse and make the conflict worse if you try to make it about her being irresponsible, because she wasn't. Are you perhaps just hurt that she's reclaiming space that you kind of figured was yours as part of the family?
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:41 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You said they were there for days - why didn't you look through them as soon as you knew they were outside? You only discovered tape by accident - were you planning to leave the stuff outside for a couple of weeks until it was time to take it to the thrift store?

Missmagenta, I thought they were outside among the garbage cans because she had decided to throw them out. From the looks of things, they were a bunch of recipe books and prerecorded VHS. I wasn't thrilled about throwing books straight into the trash, but by the time I found them, they had already been rained on several times, so all I thought was "huh. Soggy books, guess those are a write-off." If I had gone through them then, it would've meant that I would have gotten upset three days ago instead of today. The only thing I can say in my defense is that it's hard to do decluttering after 9 hours of work and 4 hours of commuting when you (think you have) the option to put it off for a while.

That aside - if it was in the bin its probably fine - did it still have its cardboard sleeve?

Unfortunately it was right at the top of the bin; my mother sorted the things and deposited my Dad's tape, the only home-recorded one, in the recycle bin just this evening.

Even if there is some damage it might still be recoverable. If the tape is damp, dry it out and then send it to these people (or any similar service) - they'll check the tape for you and copy it to dvd.

That, I will do, so thanks for that. This is a great solution because they can also view the tape for me and they will be better placed to deal with any damage than I am. So, that takes care of salvaging the tape itself to the best of anyone's ability.

I have also been searching the net for details of the production company. There don't seem to be any archives directly accessible, but I know the director's name and I know he is still alive. I might have to subscribe to IMDb Pro to get his agent's name, but I'm going to keep digging.

I guess I will go offer my mother a cup of diplomatic tea or something. If she brings up the tape, I'll just say we should agree to disagree and I didn't mean to upset her.
posted by tel3path at 1:42 PM on July 10, 2011

Also, it seems she wasn't putting them outside to throw them out; she was just storing them there.

Storing them, or trying to passive-aggressively motivate you in to action? You say it was all your stuff that she dumped outside....

That total sounds like some some of my friend's parents would do when we were kids - if they were asked to tidy something up and they didn't jump straight to it, it would so get tossed in the bin (or at least threatened, followed by a ceremonious march to the bin).

You fucking say something before you put this stuff out next to the trash can, rain or no.

She did. The OP was asked to check through the stuff to make sure nothing she wanted got thrown away. Clearly there was a miscommunication over the timeframe but it wasn't like they were tossed without a word.
posted by missmagenta at 1:48 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I should clarify that the things being thrown out are mine, as my father left his library to me. My mother just didn't want them taking up space any more, which was fair enough.

I agree with you, but realize that your mother (and a lot of other people) would probably regard this with more ambiguity.

This is such a notorious sticking point in the complicated dynamics between parents and their adult children. I don't know if I've ever known anyone who hasn't had some sort of similar issue, particularly when the possessions are in the parent's house, even more-so if originally purchased/acquired by the parent, extra-bonus-more-so if not originally intended for the child.
posted by desuetude at 1:49 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The director and/or his agent are not the tree you want to be barking up for this. Directors in TV, especially for things like game shows, are hired hands. The footage is owned by the studio, production company, or network, or possibly by some media conglomerate.

You want the name of the company that produced the quiz show, and ideally any currently operational companies that retain distribution rights to the show now.

(Hint: we could probably help you if you told us what show it was and what year.)
posted by Sara C. at 1:53 PM on July 10, 2011

"This event, upsetting as it is, is an opportunity to make a concrete, constructive change in your communication style with your mom."

Wait a minute, though, there are already two boxes of stuff to take away packed and ready to go in the living room. I don't think it's enough to say I should have clarified with my mother that she wasn't going to go on to store more stuff in a heap next to the garbage to get rained on, because that really does not seem like storage to me. It seems like throwing stuff out.

What I clarified with her was that the thrift store will be open in a few weeks - she phoned them up to check so we wouldn't have a wasted journey. What we agreed was that when it reopens I need to take the stuff there, and I need to go through it before I take it over. Just because I haven't done it yet doesn't mean I wasn't going to do it. It's just not possible to do right now, and my mother knows this, because she was the one who did the fact-checking. I'm also not sure why more clarification than that would normally be needed. I mean, I didn't specifically tell her not to flush the books down the loo either, but if she had flushed them, I would have been justly surprised, no?
posted by tel3path at 1:55 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sara C., thanks for that - in this case, I found several web entries that suggested the director actually owned the production company in question. For privacy reasons I'd prefer not to divulge the name of the show, but thank you for the offer.
posted by tel3path at 2:00 PM on July 10, 2011

"Now in order to see if the tape is damaged or not, I'm going to have to look at it. 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."

This, to me, is key. Your father has died. You are grieving (and quite probably angry. Yes, it is normal and OK to be angry at people for dying.) Especially if he was abusive, you probably had a love/hate/love sort of relationship with him. Your mom may be significantly less attatched to the things your father left for you. This tape, to me, sort of seems like 'one good moment with my dad. Hes not entirely gone.'

Did she throw out the things to hurt you? I doubt it. Is there mutal mis-communication here? probably. Can (and should) you forgive her? I think so. if you have to say something to her, 'mom, I'm sorry i got so upset. It happens that one of the things by the curb was very important to me. I miss my father and this was something that helped me feel very close to him. I love you' hows that?

Now, I reccomend grief counseling. Therapist, pastor, best friend, writing letters to your father, anything that helps. Best of luck!
posted by Jacen at 2:05 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

tel3path, I am just observing that your own narrative of events involves lots of language indicating you were proceeding based on one set of assumptions, while your mom was proceeding based on another set of assumptions. If so, that's something you may or may not want to attempt to change in the future. That's entirely up to you.

However, if you and your mom were in fact explicitly on the exact same page about when you were going to go through things, and she THEN threw them out anyway, there are a couple of things her behavior suggests. The first is that she is experiencing some sort of dementia (you do describe her as elderly) and forgot that the two of you had previously agreed on a different course of action. The second is that she knew perfectly well what she was doing, and did it specifically to hurt you.

Either way, arguing with her is not a productive path, in my opinion.
posted by scody at 2:13 PM on July 10, 2011

Or we can agree to disagree or something?

I'm someone who grew up with a verbally abusive dad and an "I'm always right and I refuse to validate your feelings in any real way" mom. I sort of think bad parents sort of find each other in certain patterns and this may be one of them. The person who is garararraraa abusive and the person who, at some level, basically refuses to hear or feel that [and/or passes on their own version of abuse].

So, first off, sorry about this, it sounds annoying. Secondly, it sounds like crappy communication at some level. You made some assumptions, your mom ran afoul of them and instead of being all "oh sorry about that" [as most normal people would be if they realized they'd made a mistake like that, one which hurt other people's feelings or resulted in consequences that can't be undone] she sort of got into it with you. Not cool mom. That said, she's your mom forever and you may need to figure out how to work through things like this with her and she's likely not changing. She's likely not going to suddenly become respobnsive to your feelings and you'll be lucky if she gets to a point where she's not calling you stupid. It sounds like she's not that great to communicate with and I'm sorry.

But, you may not get to the point where you get to work this out with her. That doesn't mean that you have to lump it and roll over, or even get to the "agree to disagree" point with her, but it does mean getting to the point where you personally believe that you did the best you could, that your mom is an irrational actor, that you are still going to try to have a relationship with her, but that relationship will not have misplaced trust or much in the way of a shared values system and that's just how it's going to work.

Think about what's worthwhile about having your mom in your life [and make sure there *is* a reason] and try to find a way to enjoy what is good about her without engaging in these odd "well you said THIS but then you did THAT" cycles with her. She is unlikely to change. She is unlikely to see it your way. Find people who are good at being sympathetic and who can point out that yeah your mom is being sort of uncool here, and then leave these weird fights alone and keep them from being a large part of your interactions with her. At some very real level it doesn't matter who is right [I know it matters to you a lot, and I'm sorry, but in the grand scheme of things you don't want to be getting into this sort of back and forth with your mom, even if you're right, it's time wasting and annoying and she's unlikely to change] or what the specific facts are. It's a bad cycle you've gotten into with her and one that doesn't seem to be serving you wenn and it's probably worth figuring out how to break out of it.
posted by jessamyn at 2:16 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

So, this is not about an overall context of having a bad relationship with her and I really do not want to paint the wrong picture here. In general, we get along really well and our relationship has only improved over the years.

I think dumping the stuff outside is not to do with dementia, or to do with particularly wanting to hurt me per se; I think it was an ADD moment of not being able to deal with finding a box to put the stuff in, with probably a side order of nonspecific passive aggression. Stuff like this used to happen more often.

The "much more" that's upsetting me, besides the possible damage to the tape, is the fact of having to argue at all. I'm just sick of it. I've had a long stretch of feeling like I was fighting for my life with a spork, I guess, and I hate being reminded of how powerless I've felt for major portions of my existence.

Anyway - here I go with the Teacup of Reconciliation. Wish me luck everyone.
posted by tel3path at 2:39 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Internet hugs. A lot of people wouldn't even try or they would escalate the situation. I am not always the "better person" in situations like this so I commend you for attempting to rectify things with your mom. Tough Love goes both ways. Good luck.
posted by futz at 2:59 PM on July 10, 2011

On preview: good luck!

It sounds like you've found your answer, but I do very much empathize with the original questions: what's letting myself be walked on or disregarded, what's being abusive myself, and what's an appropriate response? given that you have been dealing with frustrating situations by cutting off contact, how do you handle it with YOUR MOM?

I'd try (as it sounds like you are) to set aside your past trauma and evaluate this based on past dealings with her. If this is an unusual situation between you two, then there's less to be gained by pushing the issue. If she often dismisses your feelings, disregards your claim on shared property, or anything similar, than this might be a teachable moment. (On preview, this sounds unusual. Great.)

In thinking about this, it might help to separate out the different vectors and analyze them separately.

Vector 1: your mom put something out by the trash that you didn't understand was going to the trash. Most likely "diagnosis" (for lack of a better word): mutual misunderstanding (perhaps a bit more fault on one side or the other), impulsivity on her part. Force of feeling: you don't seem that upset about the misunderstanding itself. Need to deal with it: if it's not a common event, there's probably little need to address that component in great depth.

Vector 2: The thing put out by the trash happened to be the last unexperienced moment with your late father. Force of feeling: extremely intense. Most likely "diagnosis:" grief, loss, resulting anger on your own part. Need to deal with it: very high. Best approach to dealing with this component: ? seeking new copy of tape, grieving his loss, processing what it means to have / not have that last moment, all the things you're already doing or are prepared to do. It's not necessary that she personally feel a great loss at damage to that tape, though her sympathy for your loss would be nice (that's its own vector, #3). I'm personally very, very sorry that this keepsake has been damaged. :(

Vector 3: In discussing this misunderstanding and loss, your mom blamed you and showed little understanding. Most likely "diagnosis:" dismissal of your feelings, defensiveness on her part (perhaps habitual due to abusive marriage), perhaps an understandable reaction partially due to your initial communication? I couldn't tell how you spoke to her, but if you were really upset, and given that she was in an abusive marriage, your anger and blaming statements (if any existed) might've triggered defensiveness on her part. Need to deal with it: perhaps fairly high. You don't want hard feelings standing in between you two. It sounds like you have a good approach to dealing with this: a conciliatory cup of tea and an apology for upsetting her. But also, in your shoes, it would mean a lot to me if the person did eventually acknowledge my feelings, so you might try explaining your feelings of loss using those "I" statements, clarifying that you're not trying to get her to feel guilty, but that it'd mean a lot if she could show understanding and sympathy about your sadness and upset about this loss (the same way you were understanding when she lost that other thing that was important to her?).

Anyway, hugs and good luck. Hope it goes well.
posted by salvia at 3:11 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Good luck --and something else to think about, if your father was abusive to her it might be a bit more than simple carelessness on her part. She might have deeper reasons for wanting that stuff out of sight.

Both of my parents were abusive to me and awful to each other and while my father and I get along decently now, unfortunately, my father still has a huge inability to empathize with me when it comes to anything involving my mother. He cannot see past his own intense emotions about her, which are extremely mixed .

Your mother might have a similar blind spot that is keeping her from empathizing with you in this particular situation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:13 PM on July 10, 2011

Good luck with Diplomacy Tea. It speaks well of you that you're willing to do that.

there are two bits to my answer. The first is that your feelings are totally justified; putting stuff in the recycle bin outside does not equal "storing," no matter how much someone might insist that it does, and given that she knew there was a reason to wait to move on the stuff, she should have called you and said "I really need this done, if you can't do it by the end of the day I'm going to have to make my own decisions."

The second bit, though, is that the scale and tone of your response makes me think that you are reacting to things that are outside of this immediate experience. NOT "overreacting," because I hate that term and don't think there's any such thing! just that there are contributory elements to this situation that lie either in the past or inside your own frame of reference, or both. That's not wrong, it's normal and OK particularly when you're vulnerable, but I think it will do you a world of good to spend some time unpacking where all the threads of your emotional response here originate.

My condolences for the loss of your father. I hope this gets easier over time.

On preview, it sounds like you're already starting to do some of the unpacking I'm talking about, specifically this: I've had a long stretch of feeling like I was fighting for my life with a spork, I guess, and I hate being reminded of how powerless I've felt for major portions of my existence. That would make me freak out and feel panicked and angry, too.
posted by KathrynT at 3:15 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Rereading my answer, I'm afraid that (in the interest of paragraph parallelism) I wrote it in a way that was insensitive to feelings of grief and loss you have. I'm sorry if that bothered you. I could see how much an untouched memory like that tape might mean. It makes sense you were saving that tape to look at later, and how much that potential might mean. My dad sent me a lot of photos, and I set aside half to look at later, to preserve some of the flood of "this is what childhood felt like" I was newly remembering. If someone destroyed that CD after those photos were unrecoverable, I would be similarly devastated. I hope you can recover the tape, and I am sorry for your loss.
posted by salvia at 3:26 PM on July 10, 2011

The "much more" that's upsetting me, besides the possible damage to the tape, is the fact of having to argue at all. I'm just sick of it. I've had a long stretch of feeling like I was fighting for my life with a spork, I guess, and I hate being reminded of how powerless I've felt for major portions of my existence.

I don't know if this is any consolation, but you're not alone at all. Being fed up and frustrated over repeated go-rounds stemming from power imbalances -- this is a familiar issue to a lot of us even without the added complication of the power issues associated with abuse. Good luck.
posted by desuetude at 5:53 PM on July 10, 2011

Is it your house or hers? If it's her house, I suggest the only thing you can do to make yourself understood is to move out and get a place of your own. If it's your house, on the other hand, I suggest telling your mother, my house, my rules and that if she ever pulls a stunt like that again she will find herself looking in the classifieds for an apartment. It sounds very much like a deliberate action, and that kind of shit cannot be tolerated.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:46 PM on July 10, 2011

Look, she didn't know that tape was valuable to you.

That might be true, but.. seriously, a recording of her late father on television!? That doesn't seem like something that might be of sentimental value? Regardless of whether another copy can be obtained, this was a pretty personal heirloom. This wasn't a random box of paperbacks or a bunch of old records where it would be more justified to think, 'well, how should I know that someone might want this junk!'

While your mother might not be able to read your mind and know how you feel about your father -- both your relationship with him and how you've coped with your grief -- it seems baffling that she wouldn't be able to comprehend your reaction, which I think is a totally natural response to grief. You lost, or may have lost, something important to you that you weren't ready to let go of yet. Regardless of whether she just wanted to declutter or if she specifically wanted to get rid of anything related to your father, I just.. I can't understand not feeling an inkling of being sorry for causing unnecessary pain. It's certainly common to hurt the people we care about by accident.. but, if we care, even we don't think we did anything wrong.. or even if we don't really understand WHY our loved one is upset.. don't you apologize or feel some pang of sorrow or sadness or something for hurting someone we didn't mean to hurt? Even if she thinks she was totally justified (I'm not going to judge that either way), I can't understand how she wouldn't be able to understand WHY her actions might have hurt you and that, no matter who's 'right' or 'wrong', no matter whether she understands.. she should see that she hurt you, and that should be enough!

Anyway, I sympathize. I lost my father almost twenty years ago, and while I didn't have a strained relationship with him in the least, I still cry probably just about every day. And your question completely made me tear up. I wish you the best, and while I can't offer any kind of practical help, I would have reacted the same way.
posted by Mael Oui at 10:50 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tell her what you told us, that the tape was was a wonderful thing to you because it contained one last moment with your Dad.

And now the moment is possibly gone, and you feel sick inside, and it's like part of your heart has been taken unexpectedly from you, like you father has died again in a small way.

You can't turn back the clock or try to convince your mother rationally, because this is an emotional thing, not a rational thing. So tell her how you feel and see what comes of it.

This is a significant loss for you. You're allowed to cry about it, and mourn it.

Big hugs. When you feel up to it, perhaps you could go to your father's grave or memorial or a place where you feel his energy, and talk to him, and say how you feel, and make another moment with just the two of you.
posted by dave99 at 5:02 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am the mother of a seven-year old, and I find myself saying this to her more often lately as I'm not just helping her through the day, but preparing her for adulthood, because she is of an age to start getting it: "I am a person, just like you. I cannot go back in time. I cannot take pain away. Now what can we do to move on?"

I think you need to remember this about your mother too. She exists in her own sphere of being, as do you - and in the Venn Diagram part where you two intersect, this happened. How large that area is, I can't know - but you can't change other people, you can only change how you react to her. So, you can say your truth. It's part of growing up, and talking to her adult to adult (where, quite honestly, you seem to be accusing her not as one adult to another but as a child who feels wrong and is a bit petulant).

But also, her reasons for doing what she did are likely just as valid to her (or, weren't on her radar until faced with your accusations) and you can fight to be right or you can work toward being happier. You want to resolve this with integrity - hopefully, this includes your mother's integrity too.

"This hurt me more than perhaps you know, and we need to proceed with this clear out more carefully for the sake of my emotional well-being. If you could be more thorough in letting me know what you're doing, and I'll promise to pay more attention and work with your timetable, that would be great and maybe we can prevent future conflicts."

That said - he may have left his library to you, but to whom does the house belong? If it is yours too, then, just as with roommates, you may need to begin a conversation about shared space and possessions. You've mentioned she's elderly, and if you're there and doing some care-taking, you may be starting that role-reversal process where you begin to parent your parent. It's tempting to assert more control than you really have there, and you might want to look at books about caring for others (meant kindly, despite the title), as you seem to have made progress in caring for yourself. But if you're not sure of what's your territory in your shared home, defining how shared it is might need to happen.

It seems like she is in a different phase of life than you, as is appropriate for your respective ages: She dealing in the now and the future, and you are still navigating the past and your now. So yes, you can agree to disagree on this thing, because it's only symbolic of your larger personal issues and it's just a thing to be mourned and grieved and gotten over like many other things - and it's a great starting point for your relating to her like another fallible adult and human being in her own right, not just your mother.
posted by peagood at 10:09 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by peagood at 10:18 AM on July 11, 2011

Well, all seems to be back to normal as of this morning.

For the record, I wasn't aggressive or accusatory last night, I just asked if this was the tape I thought it was and whether it had been left outside or just gone straight into the trash bin that evening. Unfortunately just by asking her that I made her feel very accused.

She did take me outside and insist that I check through the stuff, which she had by then put in the front yard for passers-by to take away. All the rest of it was prerecorded VHS and books, none of it of any sentimental value, and all of it very soggy from the rain, so it only took a second.

Anyway, I am sorting out a VHS-to-DVD/video-drying service, so I'm doing all I can to rescue the tape. If that doesn't work I'll hunt down the production company. Thanks, MeFites.
posted by tel3path at 11:53 AM on July 11, 2011

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