Help me deal with my mother's poor planning
March 22, 2012 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I need advice on dealing with my family's flakiness.

My youngest brother, who lives about 3 hours away by car, called me two or three weeks ago to ask if he could come visit this weekend. I told him that we were busy on Saturday night, but that he'd be welcome to come up on Friday or Sunday night. I also told him that I wouldn't be able to spend a ton of time with him (for good reasons), and he said that he'd just come up for one evening, we'd have dinner, and he'd go back pretty early the next day. I may have said that he could come up Saturday evening if there were no other options, but that we weren't canceling our plans, so he'd have to find something to do while we were gone and we could have lunch out the next day.

We spoke briefly about a week and a half ago. He mentioned that he's still wanting to come up, but that Mom wanted to come with him and that it felt more complicated now (we have a 9 month old baby, and she wants to see him, which is understandable because he's incredibly awesome. Well, and she's his grandmother, sure, yeah). I said "okay, please let me know as soon as possible what you're planning, and remember that I'm busy that Saturday night."

Mom called today. It's Thursday, and they are coming to visit on... Saturday. Of course. I told Mom that we really would be going out on Saturday, no kidding, and she said that'd be fine, and they'd find something to do.

I am super annoyed that they are only now confirming the visit--we've already made more plans for Sunday, plans which aren't as firm as the Saturday night plans, but which are still needful. My partner is annoyed because they're invading our space without much real notice (just tentative plans), and possibly screwing up our Sunday plans.

The thing is, this is normal for my Mom, and I just let it slide and rearrange my life to accommodate her and, to be honest, fear that if I don't, she won't come visit at all and I will never see her unless I go visit her (right now I genuinely don't have time to do that--this summer, sure, but not now). The best I usually do is insist that she call when she's leaving the house so I know when she'll get here, but she usually fails to do even that.

I am not inclined to cancel this weekend, since I just confirmed it with Mom about an hour ago, and my younger brother has taken time off (something he doesn't get often), just broke up with his girlfriend, and I'd genuinely like to see him. However, I think my partner would like it if I would cancel with them and ask them to come up another weekend. In truth, what I'd prefer is to tell my brother to visit and leave Mom at home, but that's impossible.

I am aware that I left open the option to come up on Saturday and be neglected. I feel, however, that if I'd said that to just about anybody else, they would have gone out of their way not to come up on Saturday. I will probably not make this mistake again. But I'm still annoyed.

I am looking for an answer for this specific situation--should I cancel this weekend with Mom and my brother?--but I also want advice for the future. I know that either I keep putting up with this or accept that I will barely ever see her, but maybe not? I have tried talking to her about this, but my mom is a little bit like a brick wall when it comes to changing her behavior. The only way I've ever really affected her behavior towards me involved living out of state for over seven years and barely speaking to her, but I am unwilling to cut her out again to make a point as small as this one. There is obviously a lot of baggage here but I want help with this one specific thing, today. So, help?

(If you want to analyze this--why does she do this? why do I let her?--I totally have theories and I'm interested in yours, but the root of the behavior isn't really the crux of the question. I just want strategies for dealing with the fact that my mother cannot truly plan ahead and tends to plan visits with me right before showing up.)
posted by hought20 to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At least from the way you've described this interaction it seems to be about 95% your behavior and 5% your family's. You know exactly what is going to happen, but you don't change your behavior, so exactly the same thing keeps happening. When you change your behavior, something different will happen.

I would opine that cutting her off entirely is not necessary. I would think saying "we're not available Saturday, but I'd love to see you Sunday between X and Y times" would work if you stuck to it. And the way you stick to it is by not turning over the decision to her, but by telling her what your decision is and what you're available for.
posted by facetious at 9:30 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

my mother cannot truly plan ahead and tends to plan visits with me right before showing up.

And you keep letting her do this, instead of telling her what you'd like instead.
posted by emelenjr at 9:34 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would be livid if I were your partner -- my husband's family works like this, and mine very much doesn't. The answer is deadlines, and "I'm sorry, that won't be possible". "As soon as possible" is not a deadline -- perhaps she was acting in what she thought was as soon as possible. "By Monday night" is a deadline. Then I would probably call Monday night if I hadn't heard (because I don't mind being proactive if it means getting my plans planned) and get a yes or no... or if it was a maybe I would say "OK, we have to make a decision on our plans tonight, and since you're not sure, we're going to plan to do something else, so we'll just take a pass on this weekend and let me know when you can come up next."

Go out to your thing Saturday, go to your thing Sunday, see them when you can, it's fine. But you didn't give her any sort of deadline or any reason to change her behavior, so she didn't.
posted by brainmouse at 9:37 AM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am not inclined to cancel this weekend, since I just confirmed it with Mom about an hour ago

Don't confirm last-minute plans next time. It sounds like you're annoyed and feeling disrespected, but not actually stating your needs clearly or politely enforcing your boundaries. Your mother may need help planning ahead (help in the form of you putting your foot down about not accepting last-minute plans), but she can certainly do it--and will, if seeing her grandchild is a priority.

You need a new script: "Please let me know by Monday if you'll be joining us this weekend," and "I'm sorry, Mom, when you didn't get back to me about coming up this weekend, I made other plans. Want to schedule something for the following weekend?"
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:43 AM on March 22, 2012

brainmouse, that's a pretty spot-on answer, thank you. You're right--I need to give them firm deadlines and be more proactive about making plans like this. Thank you!

Also, my partner wanted me to mention that my mother does this because she, very weirdly, thinks that she's doing us a favor. She doesn't want us to clean for or plan for her visit at all. When she comes to visit, she also will not state any preference ever about how we spend our time. It's completely maddening.

I think, with my partner's sufferance, I will simply get through this weekend and next time around I will set firm deadlines and be proactive in getting clear on plans with them, or suffer the consequences (and my partner's wrath).

More responses are welcome (particularly about how to deal with this weekend), but I've already got a pretty nice perspective shift, here. I am totally more in control than I think I am and need to act like it.
posted by hought20 at 9:44 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

If they're coming up to see you, their schedules will adapt to yours. If your Sunday thing doesn't last from dawn to dusk, you'll have a window in which you can accommodate them. Offer to see them during that window. If that doesn't work for them, you can express your regret and move on.
posted by adamrice at 9:47 AM on March 22, 2012

I think also that next time you have to say "you aren't welcome on Saturday" if that's what you mean. I mean, if I'm your mom and your brother, I don't feel like I've done anything wrong: I asked if I could come this weekend; you said "sure but if you come on Saturday you'll have to arrange yourself some entertainment"; I did that, even though you think a reasonable person wouldn't have. So you're pissed, and I have no idea that you're pissed.

Also, next time feel free to say "let me know by Wednesday so I can firm up plans." Then call on Wednesday if you haven't heard form them and say "since I haven't heard from you, I assume you aren't coming and I made other plans. Let's find another time for a visit."

As for this weekend: can you leave the 9 month old with them on Saturday so you can have a night out without the babe? Then they get time with the kid, and you can see them for breakfast/brunch/lunch/whatever on Sunday?
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:49 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's a silver lining in this: you have a 9-month-old, and suddenly you have babysitters for him. You get to do your stuff with your partner without having to worry about your son, and your mom and brother get to hang out with the newest member of their family (unless the plans saturday and sunday were baby-specific plans, in which case nevermind).
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:50 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mother is this way, too: concerned she'll get in the way, and too eager to please. I used to do this, and my wife got annoyed with me and told me to decide. So I ask if she or anyone else has a preference, and if they do not, I decide.

Be bold. Make decisions. If your mother or other eager-to-please people then speak up about their preferences, either accept the new path and realize that you need to make a declaration to get a response, or stand your ground if it's something you're set on doing.

Having family close is nice, and awkward. There is the notion that they could come up with little planning, but when they always feel like your schedule is so busy that they are always intruding, they may only ask to come when they haven't visited in a very long time. If you want your family to visit, you can take the lead and invite them up when it is more convenient for you. Or, as dpx.mfx pointed out, let them hang out at your house / in the area and entertain themselves, and you can join them when you have time.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:53 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

My family is like this.

When I'm in your position, I call Mom & bro before committing to New Sunday Committment and say- "Hey! Last chance for Sunday, or we're committing to New Thing!" And then I'd give them a couple hours to figure out yes or no.

If they call up two days later and say "Hey! We can do Sunday after all!" then I am free to say no if I want, no guilt. (please note the "no guilt.")

It sounds like you're expecting them to do a lot of mind reading. Just be very clear about what you have available then, (in a kind and gentle way), do whatever makes you feel happiest. The rest will shake itself out, I promise.

Your family sounds very reasonable. Setting very clear boundaries will be awkward at first but everyone will get used to it, and in the long run, you'll be happier to have your boundaries respected, and they'll be happier because when they come you'll be genuinely happy to have them there, instead of 15% irritated because of all the last minute things you've had to shove aside to accommodate their visit.

My personal challenge has been to not say no! just out of principle. If Sunday's New Committment falls through and family wants to visit at the spur of the moment, I say yes, instead of saying no because I'm annoyed that they Did That Thing AGAIN! So learning to be flexible, less dogmatic, more open to spontaneity, is something I'm learning.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:59 AM on March 22, 2012

I am sorry, it sounds as though you and your partner are terribly stressed. Have a good weekend, do relax and enjoy whatever time you get with your family. Maybe get your mom to get Sunday breakfast if it will take some of the frazzle out of your partner?

Yes, maybe you should talk to your mother and brother about how you could do things better next time, but for sure you should talk to your partner about how you could make life a little calmer. Lots of us thrive on a little stress, but this sounds overboard -- you say you couldn't go and visit your mother for months -- your 9-month-old deserves better, even if they are the cause of some of the stress.
posted by Idcoytco at 10:29 AM on March 22, 2012

Yes, let them come this weekend. Let them know you also, because of the late confirmation, have made plans for Sunday. Let them babysit Saturday and Sunday. Make an agreement with your SO that this will be the last time, and from now on you are committed to making boundaries, then decide with your SO what these boundaries will be and stick to them. Enjoy the weekend with them because you know that from now on you are empowered with new boundaries and they will not be able to surprise you in the future.
posted by Vaike at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2012

Even though it sounds like you knew the answer you wanted to get when you marked the 2nd answer as best after 15 minutes, I will chime in and say that they are taking you at your word, so take them at theirs. You said they could come if they were able to entertain themselves while you did your previously made plans. Maybe they see that as a good thing in that bro and mom can visit with each other and still see you and baby in same weekend. Next time, if you don't want them, tell them.

I am not good at making my own plans in advance, but I can certainly respect someone else's plans. I have gone to visit my brother knowing they are doing something from 3:00 to 6:00 or some other time and I either read a book, watch tv or go to a nephew's game or something. No big deal. It sounds like you don't want them in the house even though you said they could hang out.

Just be clear on what you are willing to accept and live up to that. Don't tell them one thing if you mean another.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:15 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the issues here is that I don't think you're saying to your family what you actually mean.

What it sounds like you're saying is, "If you want you can come up this weekend on Saturday, but we're unable to rearrange our plans, so we'll be busy Saturday night."

What it sounds like you mean is, "I'd really rather you not come up on Saturday, since we already have plans and it will be difficult/stressful/guilt-inducing to have you here."

For me, I'm totally willing to have family around when I have other plans as long as they're cool with me doing the other things. Obviously, I make a reasonable effort to rearrange my schedule if I can, but I don't stress too much about it, particularly if their request comes very late. Then, in the time between when I'm doing things, we can hang out. In other words, as long as they realize that I'm not always able to drop everything, I don't care when they come and any boredom, etc. is their problem. So, I say what you say, but I actually mean it.

If you don't mean what you say, you should say what you mean.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:30 AM on March 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

It's not so much that I knew what answer I wanted to get as it is that this was a fairly simple question that I couldn't see an answer for due to my own confused emotional response.

Anyway, there's a lot of good advice in this thread--thanks so much, y'all!

As it turned out, my partner and I came down with a stomach bug and had to call the visit off. I'm calling it karma for my poor communication and misguided irritation with my innocent relatives.
posted by hought20 at 1:01 PM on March 24, 2012

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