Would you forgive your mother for this?
October 6, 2012 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Would you forgive your mother for this?

In March, my parents flew across the country to help out with my 5 year old daughter while I was away at a conference. My husband was there, but he was working so he needed help with meal prep and getting her to/from school.

While they were there, my mom yelled at my daughter more than once, about such things as fooling around instead of putting her seatbelt on and stalling while getting dressed for school. I saw the seatbelt rage (I was in the car with her) and it was frightening. She spent most of the rest of the time watching TV and drinking wine.

Then, when I came back and was driving her out to the airport, she asked me when I was going to come and visit as she was tired of spending her money flying out to see us in a city she didn't know. She said she'd rather spend her travel dollars going to Europe instead(??). I told her that it would be a while. I told her that while it may have been OK for her to yell at me when I was a kid and continue to yell at my dad, it is not OK to treat my daughter that way. I said I would not be going to visit for a while, and left it at that.

I have not actually spoken to my mother since then. My mom sent a half-apology via email, which I half-acknowledged via email. I have put my daughter on the phone a few (maybe 6?) times.

Honestly I do not have the emotional energy for this drama right now. In the last six months I have got a new job, sold my old house, moved to a new house, and dealt with my husband's illness (he has been in hospital for almost two weeks now and will have his first surgery today). Theoretically it would be nice to have support from my family on these things, however I know my mother and it would be just questions/badgering as opposed to actual support and assistance. My husband's family is very helpful and supportive so I know what good support looks like. My mom ain't it.

I have been talking to my sister a little bit, but I don't want to put her into an awkward situation as a go-between and keeping secrets (ie, my husband's health). My sister is frustrated with my mom as well.

I am at a loss of what to do here. It seems a bit silly and childish to refuse to talk to my mother. However, I think it is not OK to verbally abuse my daughter and I do not have time for phone calls and status updates on things that I do not really feel like talking to people I don't trust about. Should I just send Christmas and birthday cards and call it good? Should I suck it up and get over it? Should I say nothing and continue as I am?
posted by crazycanuck to Human Relations (45 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I told her that while it may have been OK for her to yell at me when I was a kid and continue to yell at my dad, it is not OK to treat my daughter that way. I said I would not be going to visit for a while, and left it at that.
I think that's exactly right.

I would say to forgive her, but not give her free license to go back to her bad behavior. In your shoes, I would say something like, "Mom, I love you, but it's not okay for you to yell at me, my child, or really, anyone else in our family. I want you to be a part of my life, but know that the next time you yell, it's going to end the conversation. I will hang up or get up and leave. I will also not let you be around your granddaughter until you've shown that you can control your temper.
posted by smirkette at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

You owe her nothing but Christmas/birthday calls and cards and kind, genuine civility. (Also, is it possible she has thyroid or bp problems? I have a relative going through thyroid issues and man the personality HAS CHANGED.)
posted by mochapickle at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You draw some boundaries. The ones you draw are really up to you and what you feel comfortable with.

It is one thing to forgive your mother. I am in favor of that, and have to do it myself frequently. It is another to put yourself (or your daughter) in the position of being abused or even simply badgered. You don't have to do that, and as far as I am concerned you have permission NOT to do that.

If you need support, pick people that know how, is what I have learned in this past year. Happy to pass it along.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:04 AM on October 6, 2012 [14 favorites]

I vote continue as you are. Your mom is a source of stress, not support, and you don't need any more stress. If she wants more contact, then she can make the first move. She sounds like the sort of person who expects everyone else to please her, and frankly you have more important things to do than cater to her slightly selfish desires. Your family trumps her needs.

I did a similar thing with my mom a long time ago. I didn't explicitly cut off contact or make a big drama about it, I just didn't call or contact her, for a year. She contacted me eventually, and our relationship is stable, but not close.
posted by Joh at 11:04 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, to summarize: Your mom screamed at your daughter. You told her you didn't like that. She apologized. You accepted her apology.

What does refusing to speak/see her do now? How can anything positive possibly happen if you don't let it? How can she prove that she won't yell if you don't see her? What's the point of telling her you want a change in behaviour if you won't allow the circumstances for that to happen?

I think you're jumping to some negative conclusions way too fast. Give her another chance.

(She also said some insensitive stuff about travelling, but i don't get the impression that that's the real issue here.)
posted by Kololo at 11:05 AM on October 6, 2012 [17 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this. You know, it's okay to just do this on a day to day basis. It's okay to take a break. You don't have to decide on anything permanent or finite. And you're allowed to change your mind. You can skip the holidays this year, but change your mind next year. Or you can tough it out this year and not do the next year. You can take this on a little bit at a time and do what feels okay at the time. In my case, I've decided that spending time with my parents means some emotional preparation, some sccheduling of activities so that I don't have to be with them the whole time, some grin and bear it, and some self-care so that I can get through. Sometimes, the interaction is uneventful. Often, it does not go well, at least for parts. So, by managing the interactions, I am able to prioritize what is important to me (kids have some connection to family, opportunity to travel, chance to meet other relatives in the area, tradition, child care) but still make sure I recognize the hurt I feel and to set boundaries. It's okay to change your mind, experiment and be unsure.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:06 AM on October 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

I would forgive and not forget. If I were in your situation, I would probably not ask her help babysit ever again if I can afford professional childcare (especially if they come with trustworthy references). (I pay for petsitters instead of asking my mom, who is in the same city, because she would feel like I owe her something, and also because she's not particularly good with pets. It's not nearly the same scope as what you went through though.) I would still email/send cards for birthdays and the holidays, but that's about it. But she's family, so there's no good of escalating that would be productive.

I'm sorry, but I agree with those who said you need to draw boundaries.
posted by ethidda at 11:17 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, I would forgive her and give her another chance, although not necessarily right at this moment while you are under a lot of stress. It sounds like, while she has not been ideal with her behavior in the past, this was an unusually bad episode for her, and she may genuinely regret it and want to show you she has changed.

Whenever you feel like your life has reached a stable point, I would consider giving her a call and see if you can get things off on a better foot, if the phone conversations are going well, consider an in person get together.

I may be biased because I have a wonderful mother and can't imagine life without her, but I think in general, life is too short to hold grudges against your family unless it's over something truly unforgivable, and for me, this isn't that, unless it is a continual problem despite taking steps to ask her to change.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:18 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't have to decide whether or not to forgive her right now.

That doesn't mean you have to talk to her. If it's exhausting for you, don't do it. Take care of yourself and your nuclear family first.

Best of luck to you and for your husband's recovery.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:28 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I may be biased because I have a wonderful mother and can't imagine life without her, but I think in general, life is too short to hold grudges against your family unless it's over something truly unforgivable, and for me, this isn't that, unless it is a continual problem despite taking steps to ask her to change.

Family is different when you come from an abusive situation.

As an adult, you can stand up to the abuse and set up boundaries for yourself. Your kid can't. I think it's okay to forgive your mom and see her for, say, supervised holidays, but I would not use her for free babysitting again. In my experience, you simply can't trust a parent who still feels that screaming is an okay way to deal with things not to start screaming under stressful situations in the future. It sounds like she finds traveling to see you and her daughter stressful in and of itself, and feels resentful about it, and I wouldn't be surprised if she took that resentment out on your daughter in the future.

(Alternatively, she's making those comments because she knows they will hurt you. Ah, mothers.)

So I would see her in supervised situations where you can step in if she becomes a rage monster with your daughter. I might consider talking honestly with your daughter about it--telling her that when you were a little girl, your mommy often yelled and lost her temper, and that it's sad because it's hurt your relationship. Emphasize to your daughter that it's not okay to yell at people like that, talk about how you've navigated these issues with her, and re-emphasize that her emotional safety is important to you. Kids appreciate honesty about these things, and it can help her contextualize what has previously probably been kind of scary for her.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:31 AM on October 6, 2012 [27 favorites]

By the way, I meant to say, you said the situation was getting awkward with your sister and you wanted to try to improve upon that. Again, I haven't been in this situation, but my suggestion would be not to have her lie or keep things from your mother if that is making her uncomfortable. You still don't have to talk to your mother, even if she knows about what's going on with your husband and so forth - you could even ask your sister to reinforce that you'd prefer her not to contact you right now when they talk about it. I just see it as making a difficult situation worse if you add concealing life happenings to the mix.

re: PhoBWanKenobi's comment, I guess I just wasn't sure if this was an isolated episode of what was perceived as verbal abuse, or if verbal abuse is something that her mother always does. If the latter, then I am with you in terms of being uninclined to forgive.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:36 AM on October 6, 2012

I am just curious if you think your mother has a drinking problem--I find it interesting that you referred to TV and wine in your question. If she does it explains some of her behavior--impulsive/marginal verbal control and half hearted apologies. It is always good to forgive but not always good to forget--I would not use a lot of energy trying to change/improve the relationship. In fact I would not try at all, but civility is always an appropriate option usually a good idea. Wishing you the best with your husbands recovery--give yourself a break and take care of yourself. Remember, if your mother does have a drinking problem any effort to change the relationship is almost surely a losing proposition.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:46 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

It seems a bit silly and childish to refuse to talk to my mother.

Is your mother making all kinds of overtures that you're ignoring/refusing, but forgot to mention in your post? Because I'm not sure here what you're refusing. Your mother made a "half-apology" to you, which often is pretty much all you can expect from family ... but if there's silence from both parties since your reply then just live your life.

You need support but even if your mother means well, her support comes with strings and you don't want that. That's ok. Build your network of support where you are. Even with a healthy supportive loving family, if you live flight-distance away, you need support where you are.

So when your husband gets well, go out exploring in your new neighborhood. Carpool with other parents for school so there's a network of people to trade in-kind favors with. Find a church if that's your thing, connect with other parents, find a good teenage babysitter or two and go out to a play or concert (check meetup for social groups), etc. If your husband's illness is chronic or he has a longer-term rehab from it, then there will be support groups & other families dealing with it too.

Your relationship with your mother will be easier if you lower your expectations of her. If she's depressed (drinking, quick to anger, watching a lot of tv ... sounds like me actually) then she is ill-equipped to be your go-to person for support. Once you get those needs met elsewhere, from friends and neighbors and social outlets, and she can come to visit and play with your daughter rather than rush around getting her to school and all that, then your time with her is strictly social and might be a lot easier.

FWIW I'm a yeller too, yelling ≠ abuse. But with a 5-year-old? Not ok.
posted by headnsouth at 11:58 AM on October 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I no longer want anything to do with my mother due to her symbiosis and abuse.

Nthing a possible drinking problem; I would not leave someone with one in charge of kids.
posted by brujita at 11:58 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remember, if your mother does have a drinking problem any effort to change the relationship is almost surely a losing proposition.

And think about that too.

What do your sister and father think about your mother's drinking? I'll bet she does this at home and is no longer up to dealing with situations she can't control.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:03 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just remember, you can forgive your mother without having to expose your daughter to her abuse.
posted by grouse at 12:03 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I had ever had kids, I'd keep them away from my mother from the get-go. This is independent of forgiveness.
posted by ead at 12:08 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you are incredibly burdened by stress right now, and you should just do whatever you need to do to get through that.

You felt attacked when your Mom acted put upon for having to fly out to see you. You felt alarmed and protective of your daughter when your Mom went off on her and yelled, and you are stressed from having to deal with all of this right now in addition to your husband's ongoing health issues. Those are all valid emotions to have. Family should understand, and be supportive, when we are going through a tough time like you are.

Which, incidentally...you know, your Mom is getting older, and taking care of a small child, no matter how delightful the child is, can be exhausting even for a young, healthy person. You know this. What you witnessed came after a couple weeks of your Mom watching your child, right? Sounds to me like she was stressed herself.

She apologized to you, and you to her. Maybe it was only a "half apology" because she didn't see the situation in the same way you did. Maybe she felt that, since you asked her to watch your daughter, you should let her do that her way. Maybe she felt that she shouldn't have had an argument every time she asked your daughter to wear a seatbelt. Maybe she doesn't have the parenting skills to handle the situation as well as you would, so she resorts to yelling more often (sounds like you have a history where she did this with you, too). I know it is hard to accept this, but all of those are valid emotions, too.

I understand completely where you are coming from about your daughter, by the way. I stopped even asking my in-laws to watch my kids because of the way they handled things the few times I tried it. But I realized I couldn't blame them for not parenting the way I would in the same situation, especially when I knew their parenting strategies differed from mine. So I didn't hold it against my in-laws, I just didn't ask them to babysit any more.

And that might be the way you decide to go with your Mom. Eventually.

Right now, like I said before, just do whatever you need to do to get through this stressful time, and don't feel guilty about that.
posted by misha at 12:12 PM on October 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

However, I think it is not OK to verbally abuse my daughter and I do not have time for phone calls and status updates on things that I do not really feel like talking to people I don't trust about. Should I just send Christmas and birthday cards and call it good?


I don't think it's so much that' you're still holding a grudge about the one incident, but just that you don't have the emotional bandwidth to deal with the new incidents that will inevitably come up. Invest your energy into your hubby and your kid and yourself. You can't afford anything more than that right now. You can always re-evaluate in the future if you want to. But I don't really see anything wrong with what you're doing.
posted by bleep at 12:18 PM on October 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am at a loss of what to do here. It seems a bit silly and childish to refuse to talk to my mother. However, I think it is not OK to verbally abuse my daughter and I do not have time for phone calls and status updates on things that I do not really feel like talking to people I don't trust about.

Your mom crossed a line, you got rightfully pissed off at her, she kinda-sorta apologized, and you're still on speaking terms. Family is never super-easy to deal with: they're not necessarily the people you would have chosen to be friends with if you had that choice.

But it doesn't seem like there was any permanent damage. No one has to be best friends, here. I understand you're busy with work and family (as bleep put it "you don't have the emotional bandwidth to deal with the new incidents that will inevitably come up"), but there's no reason to declare that you're never going to visit your parents ever again. Maybe you don't have time to see them this Christmas, but possibly a vacation to see your parents after your daughter's school year is over. And possibly everyone should be in a circumstance where there the grandparents aren't stressed over dealing with a 5 year old.
posted by deanc at 12:27 PM on October 6, 2012

The issue isn't whether you forgive her, the issue is whether your daughter does and what effect a continued relationship with her grandmother is having on her. Did it upset her? If it did, was it a one-time thing or did it change how she relates to your mom? Does she enjoy being around your mom overall? When you put her on the phone, is that because she wants to talk to grandma, or are you making her?

I get that you don't want to deal with your mom, because she does sound horrible, I understand that and I sympathize. But even a six-year-old can communicate her feelings on these issues, even if there's not always verbalized or articulate. If on balance maintaining a relationship with your mother would be a good thing for your daughter, which includes how it will effect your relationship with your daughter and ability to be a good parent to her, then you should do it for your kid's sake. You'll have to be firm in establishing boundaries with your mom, of course.

If you just really don't want to deal with your mom regardless of the impact it has on your daughter, that's okay, but don't use your daughter as an excuse. Try to figure out if she herself is actually taking it as "verbal abuse". Your post tells us a lot about your reaction to your mom, but nothing whatsoever about your daughter's.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 12:35 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I feel like this is hard to judge based on just what was written, and so I may be giving your mother way too much benefit of doubt. But here's what I thought:

So, yes, she shouldn't be yelling at your child. Perhaps from now on you shouldn't request/take up future offers of this type of support.

But from her point of view, she burned vacation time and money to do your household chores (meal prep, chauffeuring, etc) while you, her adult child, weren't even there to keep her company/entertain/share the burden. She paid to do you a favor instead of unwinding in a nice resort with a TV in her hotel room and a wine tasting going on downstairs, and it sounds like from your legitimately stressful life right now, you were not in a place to really even thank her for it.

And some of her frustration/resentment may have stemmed not just from this one situation, but from this repeat of the same situation: "...was tired of spending her money flying out to see us in a city she didn't know." If she sees this as a pattern wherein you get what you want and she gets shafted, it may have unfortunately erupted in aggressive (yelling) or passive-aggressive (holing up with TV and wine) ways.

Maybe when you're done with the major life event shifts and have time to breathe and relax, you can try visiting her and supporting her in her chores or taking a mutual vacation somewhere and seeing how that type of interaction goes. Or if in the future you do ask/take up another favor visit, maybe you can offer to pay for it.
posted by vegartanipla at 12:50 PM on October 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your input this far. Just a few things:

The seatbelt incident was before I left for the trip. I left my daughter with her anyway because I was committed to the trip at that point.

My daughter did say that grandma scared her at the time. She didn't want to talk to grandma for a while. Now however she seems to have mostly forgotten. She likes to talk on the phone, usually she talks to grandma on the phone because my sister is not home (we usually try her first). Alternatively I let her talk to grandma while we are driving somewhere in the car and she needs entertainment.

My sister and I believe that both my mom and dad have drinking problems. Also, I have bipolar 2 disorder that I am convinced came down from my mother's side of the family. I told her to look into treatment when I was first diagnosed but she thought it wasn't necessary.

My mom has sent a couple guilt-inducing emails trying to make amends, I just felt I wasn't ready to address them.

Looking at your feedback, maybe I shouldn't take this on right now. Just because I am in the kind of situation where usually family can step in to help or family should know, doesn't mean that I should move heaven and earth to try to make something right.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:56 PM on October 6, 2012

Response by poster: And yes, my mom was frustrated about the trip as well because originally I had suggested that she and my daughter come to the city where the conference was located. However, I thought that one through a bit more and decided that was a bad idea - kids don't understand why mommy has to work so much at the conference, and I would not be able to take on the role of tour guide and putting kids to bed without having a nervous breakdown and screwing up my performance at the conference.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:58 PM on October 6, 2012

Well...(hesitating because my comment is going to be so against the grain of the others here)..your parents flew across the country to babysit for you. Did you think of offering to contribute to air fares? When your mother let you know that she has other things she'd rather be spending her money on, that sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

You know, maybe they think their parenting duties shouldn't extend so far as propping up adult children? I know that when you're in the middle of raising young children, working etc, it is always a struggle, but to them your struggle may seem nothing like as hard as the struggle they had. And maybe they feel that you're materially better off than they ever had a chance to be when they were bringing up their children (ie, you.)

Of course I don't know, I'm just throwing it out there. But you almost sound as if you think your mother should be there for you whatever else is going on in her life. Now when I was young, thirty or so years ago, that is not what I expected from my parents at all. And I do get a little narked when my adult children seem to think that their priorities should still be mine. I mean, I did my bit and put them first for a long time - and they do, mostly, realise I have my own things I want to do now, separate from family life. And they owe me that consideration.

Also, she brought you up so surely you know her parenting style? I'm just wondering if you're more angry at the way she treated you as a kid than the way she interacts with your daughter. And again my opinion is, maybe your mom doesn't owe you free unconditional babysitting, in your adult role as a young professional. And maybe, try and be sure what you're so angry about. Because, forgive me, to me you sound a bit punitive in that transactional way people sometimes have in families - 'You put a foot wrong, now you won't get the love.'
posted by glasseyes at 1:02 PM on October 6, 2012 [18 favorites]

She spent most of the rest of the time watching TV and drinking wine.

Sounds like classic depression to me.

You can still love her as your mother, but would you put up with this kind of behavior from a babysitter? No, you would not. She's fired as a babysitter, which sucks because she was available (?) and convenient (?), but you and your daughter will both have a better relationship with her if she doesn't ever have to be the primary caregiver for anyone, ever again. Sounds like she's having some trouble being primary caregiver for herself if her relatives are worried that she has a drinking problem.
posted by katya.lysander at 1:28 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are experiencing one of the less anticipated, but more delicious aspects of parenthood: being able to hold your mother accountable for the bad things she did to you as a child without opening yourself to accusations of grudge-holding or making things up.

So no, I wouldn't forgive her until she apologizes to your daughter (and by extension, your inner little girl of the past), and given the waft of narcissism from the "rather spend her travel dollars going to Europe instead" comment, you may be in for a wait. If she says that again, you could say something like 'go ahead, mom; the Greeks and Spaniards are in dire straits just like we are, and if they have the temerity to talk back, they might actually believe it when you pretend not to understand them'.
posted by jamjam at 2:35 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like she acted in the character you are familiar with, in that you mention she did/does the same (or similar) things to you and your Dad that she did to your daughter. So you can't really expect her to change her stripes just because it's your daughter. She'd probably have to make a conscious global change that you had already seen prior to this. Yet you expected a global change, which is understandable. We always want to think our parents (or whoever) will evolve out of the shitty/hurtful things they do, but they often don't. So going forward you know what you can expect from her. If you keep your expectations low, which probably means not depending on her from here on in, it will be, while not ideal, a weight off of you.
posted by FlyByDay at 2:49 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you should call her and talk to her about your husband's health problems, because if they come up later on it's going to be extremely awkward that you hid them from her. Honestly, regardless of what else is going on, these are the sorts of things you're supposed to let your family know about, so they can at least have the option of offering support, or sending a card, or whatever.

Also, I have bipolar 2 disorder that I am convinced came down from my mother's side of the family. I told her to look into treatment when I was first diagnosed but she thought it wasn't necessary.

Diagnosing others based on your own diagnosis is a habit you really ought to break, and I'm not surprised she rejected your advice to look into treatment. Maybe she is bipolar, maybe she isn't, but this is a pretty backward way of encouraging others to get help, especially if they're not asking for it.

I don't mean to sound harsh, OP. I think it's natural to want to just deal with what's on your own plate, and obviously your mother behaved inappropriately. Since then, however, she's made a bunch of attempts to apologize and has been on her best behavior (presumably?) during these phone calls. So, what more do you expect her to do?
posted by hermitosis at 3:02 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, I would forgive her, especially since she has made a number of attempts to apologize, however unsatisfactory those attempts might have been.

I wouldn't give her another opportunity to yell at my kid, but you say your daughter is now on good terms with your mother and they seem to have gotten past it. If you think your mother will continue to yell, don't let her spend time with your daughter in person.

You disapprove of her spending most of the time watching TV and drinking wine, when she wasn't doing meal prep and getting your daughter to/from school. This implicitly assumes you were entitled to more from her, when she spent time and money coming over to help you with those specific tasks. Then you express annoyance at her asking you to visit her instead, when you say you have better things to do.

It sounds like you're dissatisfied with the service she's providing, and also that you don't like her. You may have excellent reason not to like her, but you don't get to act like a customer with a complaint who keeps getting junk mail from the offending company. Find a professional childcare service and you can impose all the donkey work on them, per their terms and conditions, and you can complain when they fall short of expectations, per their terms and conditions, and you can expect them to be professional enough not to yell, and if they don't do a good job and you're dissatisfied by their response to your complaint you can find another provider.
posted by tel3path at 3:45 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

You both going to your own corners for a bit will not hurt. Be pleasant, but don't rely on your mother for any family favours. Focus on your daughter/husband/work for the moment.
posted by heyjude at 3:47 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Forgiving is not allowing. You can forgive your mother and still set healthy boundaries. If you want to not deal with her anymore, that's allowed. Whatever you think is best for you.

You're doing well. Good luck.
posted by windykites at 4:19 PM on October 6, 2012

If she yelled at you when you were a child and yells at your dad now, then what on earth did you expect to happen? I see that you were in a very tough position, but you should have either given your mother strict instructions in the first place or, assuming that you don't trust her to be able to follow your instructions, never have asked her in the first place.
posted by acidic at 4:47 PM on October 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

It sounds like she was out of line in how she treated your daughter, but you decided to leave your daughter with her alone even after you saw the first outburst because you needed the free babysitting (not really what your mom had been signing up for initially, it sounds like). Other than yelling at your daughter, I don't really think she has anything to apologize about... it sounds like from the question she flies out to visit you regularly and you don't visit her (?), which seems reasonable to say something about. She's reached out to you a couple times via email to apologize and you seem a little annoyed about it perhaps?

On the other hand, I don't know your mother and there's a lot to this relationship that I don't know, and you have a lot on your plate at the moment. If she's stressing you out, I don't think it's unreasonable to scale back your relationship for the time being. I just don't see anything in the question that warrants (to me, an outsider) flat out refusing to speak to her.
posted by geegollygosh at 4:52 PM on October 6, 2012

Sounds to me like your mother did you a huge favor by traveling to your home at her own expense and using up vacation time in order to provide you with a (free?) babysitting service. You should forgive her, since your daughter seems to be on good terms with Grandma.

Did you reimburse your mother for some of the travel expenses? If not, then her desire to take an honest-to-god REAL vacation by traveling to Europe (instead of paying to provide babysitting services) is quite reasonable.

Hire a professional babysitting service in the future.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 5:18 PM on October 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Things are different if there's a history of emotional abuse. It can lead to incidents & issues that feel enormously distressing & overwhelming to you being seen by people from non-abusive backgrounds as trivial or small beer and judged accordingly. If you have grown up with an abusive parent pressurizing you to play at happy families and making you feel guilty because you are traumatized and can't, except at great cost, then you get a double-whammy. If you act to protect yourself, the abusive parent gets to label you as selfish and uncaring and other people who don't understand the legacy of abuse, will often agree. This makes it even harder to feel it's ok to, at last, protect yourself from a relationship which is supposed to be supportive but which is actually hellish & stressful for you. So you end up asking strangers on the internet for help and permission to say no, and a lot of people from non-abusive backgrounds will answer, and it's possible to end up feeling mauled.

The stressful relationship and the stress and alarm when your daughter is yelled at are real. It wasn't OK for her to yell at you as a child and it is completely OK to protect yourself now from the legacy of stress it has caused you. You don't need to tell her about your husband or to make your sister a go - between but you need to choose between telling stuff to your sister which you ask her not to share, and not telling stuff to your sister.

If the legacy of stress means that you can't handle dealing with your mother on top of your husband's hospitalisation then that's how it is. Draw that boundary, get safe support to draw that boundary. Look at where and how you might want to re-draw that boundary with or without forgiveness after the crisis has passed with help from a professional. You are absolutely not being silly or childish. You are doing your very best.

You accepted help from your mother and it came at a very high emotional price, so what others see as a huge favour, (and in objective terms yes it was something which cost her time and money and was meant to be helpful) doesn't feel like that to you. It wasn't 'free baby sitting' because there was an invisible and steep emotional price-tag. It was costly for all involved.

So draw the boundaries where you need them to be in the crisis and get professional support to address the emotional abuse legacy and boundary issues when you can.
posted by Flitcraft at 7:04 PM on October 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

I totally agree with vegartanipla and I'm Brian and so's my wife! -- she traveled on her dime to help you out and you were not only not appreciative, but nitpicked her efforts. I think you should apologize to her.
posted by 3491again at 7:37 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Flitcraft: Things are different if there's a history of emotional abuse. It can lead to incidents & issues that feel enormously distressing & overwhelming to you being seen by people from non-abusive backgrounds as trivial or small beer and judged accordingly...

Agreed, that's why I (and others) said this is hard to parse just from what we've been given.

...So you end up asking strangers on the internet for help and permission to say no, and a lot of people from non-abusive backgrounds will answer, and it's possible to end up feeling mauled.

I think this cuts both ways. Answerers reading between the lines or bringing in their own baggage could have an end result of heightening the drama and making the internet-stranger-question-asker's interpersonal relationship with her mother worse. And FWIW, you never know how much experience with abuse other responders have just based on the content of their answer, unless that content actually includes a disclaimer about that level of experience.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:56 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hope your husband is doing better, that the new job is OK and the new house is starting to feel like home.

Lots of families help each other with this kind of thing. Heck, my MIL traveled to stay with my husband one week when I was at conference because he was recovering from some surgery. So you're not weird to have tried that instead of hiring "professional help." I'm sorry it didn't work out as hoped, but hey -- now you know.
posted by hms71 at 8:32 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

By the way this is why I so strongly suggested seeking professional help. If you were raged at and yelled at as a kid and saw your father raged at too, to the point where witnessing it today directed to your child is still frightening, as your question says, then in my experience public forums are not a safe space to discuss that, which is why I spoke up.
posted by Flitcraft at 9:26 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seems like you've the problem: your mother's treatment of your child. There's nothing to forgive. Your mother is who she is. Don't put your child in the position to be bullied by her. To this extent, your problem seems to be already solved. She isn't required to agree with your views about this, or approve of how you handle it.

Maybe you think your mother needs to be forgiven for the way she treated you when you were a child (or the way she treats you now). That doesn't happen without some discussion--back and forth, with serious listening on your part. You don't get to make her change her mind about anything, but if you are lucky she'll realize how you've been hurt, and will feel awful. This can lead to a new and better phase of your relationship. Don't count on it, though. You may come to a better understanding of why she's the way she is. I'll bet there are incidents, or a situation, in her life that you don't have the foggiest notion about. This could be helpful in maintaining a certain filial affection, without implying that you'll let her continue to bully (you or) your daughter.

In my universe, forgiveness (for stuff like this) is a useless exercise without acknowledgement by the person toward whom you have hard feelings. My version doesn't require them to repent or apologize, it just requires them to realize that I was hurt, and acknowledge it. Once I get that worked out, I can recompose my ideas about what sort of space they'll take up in my world. If conversation is impossible, then I just have to write them out of my circle of people I associate with. The kind of forgiveness where someone smears mustard on your shirt and apoligizes is not what I'm talking about here.

You don't have the right to forgive someone for being who they are--that prerogative belongs only to the Cosmic Muffin. You can forgive them for things they have done, but only if they seem to want it from you. Otherwise you are just exercising a fantasy, and you may be likely to repeat the mistake of letting them keeping doing (whatever) to you.

Family members and close friends that need this sort of attention are hard for me to deal with, because a situation like this always requires me to reevaluated them in terms of things such as trust, and intimacy. Pushing a family member away is always painful, even when it's necessary.
posted by mule98J at 10:37 PM on October 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

My coworker said something the other day. She said it took her a loong time to love her parents for who they were and what they could give her instead of being upset at the things she needed that they weren't able to give her. And I thought, yes exactly. It sounds like you would like her to be a patient grandma and she's not capable of that. Okay, accept that, use other family members as banysitters. Are there other good things about your mother? Try to focus on that.
posted by bananafish at 5:10 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should do what you want. I think what you're doing is fine, certainly if it's what you can handle right now and not just your idea of punishment. There are a few of us out there in this boat. I'm guessing you feel like you've accommodated her for years and are now drawing your own personal line. I for one support this. If you don't feel like talking to her right now, don't. If you owe her anything, it's an explicit explanation of what upset you. I would probably feel similarly if my mom said the Europe thing to me. I also can imagine feeling the way your mom does; it *would* be nice if my kid brought his family to me, so I could go to Europe more often. Hopefully I won't be dumb enough to say so, but you still could make it clear which things made you upset and then feel guilt-free.
posted by troywestfield at 6:39 AM on October 7, 2012

As far as parenting practices go, it's kind of a toss-up between yelling at your kid, and leaving her with someone who has a suspected drinking problem. The wine may not have started when your husband got home from work. So maybe it's not such a bad idea to model forgiveness for your daughter. We're all going to need some perspective from our adult children when they judge our performance as parents.
posted by palliser at 8:42 AM on October 7, 2012

First, do nothing. Secondly, send holiday cards. I don't think you should ignore your mother, but you aren't under any obligations to initiate contact. If she reaches out to you and asks how you're doing, respond, explain husband's health problems, etc. If she reaches out with venom, then feel free to ignore. Eventually you may be in a place where you want to initiate contact, or not. Either is a fine choice but from what you've written here, I don't think you should make a hardline choice now.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:23 AM on October 7, 2012

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