Getting over my mommy issues
October 25, 2012 1:15 PM   Subscribe

My relationship with my mother has deteriorated since the birth of my son, and the subsequent birth of my nephew. How do I deal?

Our relationship hasn't always been great to begin with. I need space, she hovers. I'm quiet, she complains that I never call. Basically--she's the overbearing Jewish mother. To add to it, my sister and I have always had a sibling rivalry thing going on, and it's gotten worse since our boys were born within several days of each other.

I'm lying in my hospital bed in labor, and my mom is telling everyone who will listen that her other daughter is about to have a baby too.

I bring baby over to her house for a visit, and the first thing she does is grabs him out of my arms (he's 10 months old and needs to warm up to people at this point, or else stranger anxiety sets in quickly). Then she shows me a video of my nephew being cute.

At this visit, she calls baby by my nephew's name several times, though their names sound nothing alike. (I should note that my entire life she has mixed up my name with my sister's name, which do sound a little bit alike.)

I then notice that her phone case is a huge picture of my nephew, and when I mention it, she says, "well, I wondered if it would upset you but then I figured, I don't have one of the two of them, so why not use this one?"

She insists that I take away his paci when she plays with him, so they can "converse". She used to visit with him once a week, but stopped coming because she said she wasn't feeling welcomed. This past visit was the first time she'd seen him in over a month.

She constantly compares milestones/parenting choices with those of my nephew/sister. I can't get through a conversation without her asking me if I'm going to do something a certain way. If my nephew has just started clicking his tongue, she does it at baby while she's playing with him, to try to get him to do it too.

I know these are very specific things and perhaps not a good catalog of what's going on. My point is: I want my son to have a relationship with his grandmother. I feel like I'm going above and beyond to get past my own issues with my mom to make that happen, but I also don't know how to communicate to her that the things she does and her attitude toward the two boys bothers me without bruising her ego. She frequently shuts down or hangs up on me when I call her, without (in my opinion) provocation.

I feel like my son is getting set up for a lifetime of being compared to his cousin. I feel like I'm facing a lifetime of having every move I and my son make questioned. I don't want to deflect my "sibling rivalry" on my kid, but I don't know how to get past all of this bothering me so much. On a semi-related note, my sister and I were estranged from my paternal grandmother most of our lives because my mother hated her.

Am I nuts here, and how do I deal?
posted by litnerd to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
you've gotta let go of the delusion that your mom's ego is your problem - you can't run her side of your relationship, you've gotta let her cope or not cope on her own. your baby is a million times more important. just tell her the truth.
posted by facetious at 1:19 PM on October 25, 2012


To be honest, nothing your mother is doing sounds even remotely odd to me, or overbearing. The only thing that seemed a little strange was that she doesn’t feel welcomed in your home. I would ask her why that is, and work on fixing it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:20 PM on October 25, 2012 [21 favorites]


I have no idea how you can deal with this in the best way.

I do want to speak from the perspective of someone with a grandma who plays favorites. It sucks. It SUCKS. It sucks and I am by far and away her favorite.

We have had quite a few problems interpersonally relating to things I've done that she doesn't agree with, and during those times, one of my cousins becomes her favorite. But eventually I'm her favorite again. She always makes a point of saying that she loves all of us equally, and treats all of us exactly the same, but that I always am so much better at such-and-such than cousins/brother. And she tells the cousins/brother this, too.

If it sucks from my end, I can't imagine how much it sucks for the non-favorite grandkids. I imagine it sucks a lot.

But, one thing that her weird behavior hasn't had an impact on is how much my cousins and brother and I love each other and get along with each other. We all kind of think grandma's a bit of a jerk, and know that she's got her problems, and try to love her anyway, but WE always get along.

I would just make sure that your kiddo, as he grows up, knows that YOU love him, and that grandma loves him, too, but that sometimes grandma isn't very good at saying the right thing or doing the right thing, and it doesn't mean he's any better or worse than his cousin. That her behavior has everything to do with her, and nothing to do with him.

Good luck. This is rough.
posted by phunniemee at 1:25 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Be careful that you're not bringing your own past sibling rivalry into play here with the cousins. I'm not saying that's what is happening, just be aware of it.

As long as she isn't harming the baby physically or abusing him psychologically, let her interact with him the way she prefers. It took me so long to learn that when it came to my children and my family. I was constantly trying to make them follow my rules when they didn't really matter. I'm not talking foods or general discipline here, but it's okay if she takes out his paci.

Be generous in your assumptions. So, rather than be annoyed when she asks if your baby is doing thing X that your nephew is doing, assume that she wants to brag about both of them to everyone she knows, rather than assume it's because she's comparing the two. It may not be true but it'll go a long way to retaining your sanity.

On preview, phunniemee's advice about how to talk about grandma to your kiddo is spot on, too.
posted by cooker girl at 1:28 PM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


She has two new grandchildren. I bet she is comparing them constantly, not only with you, but your sister as well. I don't really see anything unusual in what you have mentioned.

For example, while you are in labor and she is telling people that she has another grandchild coming any minute, I bet you when your sister was in labor, she was telling people that this is two in a row, her other daughter (you) just gave birth to a son as well, imagine that, etc.

Could it be that maybe you are projecting your sibling rivalry onto your mother's behavior?

Since you and your mother have different personalities that clash, maybe you can just get very specific with visitations, etc., so that you have time to emotionally get yourself into a more relaxed state, because she just had 2 grandchildren and I don't think they will ever be truly separate for her, in her world.
posted by Vaike at 1:30 PM on October 25, 2012 [15 favorites]


I don't doubt that your mother is difficult, though these interactions sound mild. I agree with the above that unless she's endangering your baby, you can only control your reaction to her; you can't control her.

So if she says other nephew did x, say "cool!". The reality for her is that she has two grandsons and that's fabulous for comparison. It only becomes a competition if you let her make you feel less, or competitive. If she openly criticizes your kid or plays favorites, feel free to say you want both babies to feel valued and loved so she needs to stop. In the mean time, maybe try to be very gracious and send her some pics of the baby and invite her over a little more often.

I realize you have a baby, and thus no time for therapy, but talking to someone to iron out this stuff with your family of origin at some point could help your young family be happier over time. You sound very put upon by your family of origin, and that's no fun. You're not crazy, and they shouldn't make you feel that way.
posted by ldthomps at 1:31 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Comparing might have been the wrong word choice above. More like they are both going to be in her thoughts at the same time.
posted by Vaike at 1:32 PM on October 25, 2012


Welcome to the wonderful world of the Narcisist. Just so you know, it's her world, we just live in it.

For all you know, she's driving your sister nuts with the same shit in reverse.

And the best news of all is that as she ages, the filter is worse. You can anticipate with glee the lovely time you'll have in restaurants when she says in that loud, shrill voice she has, "Jesus, our waitress is a real ditz." As our waitress is refilling her Pepsi not 5 feet from her. Hope you like spit Mom.

My way of dealing is that I ignore what I can and tease her about the stuff that's truly obnoxious.

"Ma, I don't think they heard you in Poughkipsee"

The weird thing is, as tin an ear as she has for how she hurts people's feelings, BOY does the fluff get blown off her dandilion easily. So bite your tongue as much as possible because nothing is worse than your Mom in tears over your assessment of something terrible that she's done.

Since you're a new Mom, I think you may be over-sensitive. Have a chat with your sister, ask if Mom does this stuff to her. Laugh about her.

It's how you can survive.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:33 PM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is all a bit nitpicky and insecure to an outsider -- which is probably close to useless information for you, but. You would probably be a lot happier if you accepted more of the status quo as the status quo. Mixing up names is pretty common for some people, especially as they age. Quite devoted parents refer to their offspring by the cat's name; it happens, it's meaningless. Why shouldn't you want to see a cute video of your nephew from time to time? Stop looking at him as your sister's son/mother's grandson and enjoy him as your own nephew. Perhaps you can look at delighting in the other kid as something you can use to bond with your mother over -- as is, you are resentful of an infant, which is a bad situation for all and which won't bode well for your aunty-ing...

...which is probably a good thing to focus on. When people frustrate me I find it useful to pay extra attention to keeping my own corner clean. Is your behaviour with your family unimpeachable? Tidy that stuff up if no; nothing bad comes of taking a (genuinely well-intentioned) high road.

You don't have to be saintly but everybody involved could probably use a bit more patience -- yourself included.

Do hand the kid off to Grandma and let her fiddle and fuss in her own tongue-clicking pacifier-removing fashion. We see my parents less frequently than weekly but my kid was not much older than yours when she started squealing "Gnn!" and fussing to get away from me and off to "Gnn" when she saw my mother. I quite understand wanting to keep the baby on an even keel and not subjecting him to pointless stresses, but, come on, it's Grandma. Hand him off and have a beer on the back porch or whatever.
posted by kmennie at 1:38 PM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


About the names thing - that's perfectly normal. When I was growing up I got called in order "[dog's name] er [aunt's name] er [sister's name] um Kadia!"

She's probably got no control over it at all and having names that sound alike really makes no difference. Think about it this way - she's substituting the name of one person she holds very dear with another person she holds very dear. Don't ask me why my mum always went for the dog's name before mine - sigh. Interestingly, my mum never ever called me my dad's name.
posted by kadia_a at 1:39 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


"At this visit, she calls baby by my nephew's name several times, though their names sound nothing alike. (I should note that my entire life she has mixed up my name with my sister's name, which do sound a little bit alike.)"

This happens when the two names are near each other in your "emotional memory," not when they sound alike or you confuse the two people. It also happens when you feel a particular emotion usually towards one person (irritation that the dog is climbing on the counter) and then you feel that emotion towards another person (your child climbing on the counter) and you snap, "Get down, Fido!" at your child. Not because you have them confused, because your mind is accessing familiar emotional circuits. Anyway, she's mixing up you and your sister because she has similar feelings (of love) towards you both -- and the same with the babies. This is not an indication she loves her nephew more, it's an indication that she feels quite similarly towards both children.

"She constantly compares milestones/parenting choices with those of my nephew/sister. I can't get through a conversation without her asking me if I'm going to do something a certain way. If my nephew has just started clicking his tongue, she does it at baby while she's playing with him, to try to get him to do it too."

This is what people do with babies and to make conversation with their parents. Her manner may set you on edge and you may repeat the patterns of your childhood with her, but she's really not doing anything differently than lots of people saying, "So, when do you plan to introduce solids?" because, well, it's a way to make conversation. Try pretending she means everything in the best, nicest way possible, and react to THAT, instead of do 30 years of her being your mother. Dump your baggage and refuse to let her get at you that way. If she is TRYING to be nice, the results will be wonderful. And if she's trying to get at you, you'll be taking away all her shortcuts from years of pushing your buttons and it will get tedious for her. (She may not stop, but she probably won't do it as often, and you'll feel better that you're not letting her get a rise out of you.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:40 PM on October 25, 2012 [13 favorites]


At this visit, she calls baby by my nephew's name several times, though their names sound nothing alike. (I should note that my entire life she has mixed up my name with my sister's name, which do sound a little bit alike.)

you sound unreasonably touchy. My mother and her sister used to confuse the names of us and our cousins. My mother still calls all of us by a random siblings name, so do her friends to their kids, so did her mother to her, so did almost every parent ever. Nobody cares.

I then notice that her phone case is a huge picture of my nephew, and when I mention it, she says, "well, I wondered if it would upset you but then I figured, I don't have one of the two of them, so why not use this one?"

So if you seriously care about this (and if you do, that's kind of nuts) send her a photo of the two of them! Oh, there aren't any? why not? Does that mean she should have picked a photo of your boy over your nephew? Don't you feel crazy just thinking that? Good, because it is crazy to think that.

I feel like I'm going above and beyond to get past my own issues with my mom to make that happen

From this post, it sounds like you could reasonably go a fair way further to get to 'reacts reasonably to normal things'.
posted by jacalata at 1:41 PM on October 25, 2012 [16 favorites]


I don't really understand why, but my gut is telling me that this situation might improve if you spent more time with your sister and nephew.
posted by bq at 1:49 PM on October 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


It sounds to me like you are both pretty touchy. I mean, she anticipates that you are going to get upset about the picture on the phone and hey, you do! It's like a little dance you are doing. We do this kind of dance a lot in my family. It's almost like what passes for togetherness with us. I would say, try to insulate the next generation from it.
posted by BibiRose at 1:49 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here's the thing, your mom loves both of her grandchildren. Be glad for that. She is thrilled to have grandchildren. It sounds like you have a huge chip on your shoulder. I'm betting if you relax a bit, so will she.

I have no idea why you would become upset that she had a picture of her grandchild on her cellphone. Please don't be jealous of your sister's child. He is your nephew and needs your love. The more people that love your child and your nephew, the better.

The pacifier thing is a bit annoying but other than that, I think you are being entirely too hard on your mother. You have to learn to let the jealousy go. You're an adult now with a child and it's going to be miserable and sad for everybody (including your child) if you don't grow up a bit and try harder to appreciate the love that is around you.
posted by Fairchild at 1:51 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


At this visit, she calls baby by my nephew's name several times, though their names sound nothing alike. (I should note that my entire life she has mixed up my name with my sister's name, which do sound a little bit alike.)

Don't know if I can address your whole problem, but I'll just say as someone who comes from a big family, I have both been addressed by other people's names and done that thing where you go through a string of other people's names before landing on the right one. The brain's a funny thing and if I were constantly talking at/about two ten month old male infants I'd probably make that mistake pretty often too.

As for everything else: It seems to me that the key question is not whether she compares your son to your nephew but whether she compares you nephew to you son, you know? Two kids same age same family are going to get compared; the mere fact that that happens isn't indicative of favoratism. Does she talk this same way to your sister? If so no problem. If she ends up hanging out with your sister and your sister's kid a lot more than with you and your kid then pretty much every single example of shit to talk about regarding childcare is going to involve your nephew, just because that's what at the top of her mind.
posted by Diablevert at 1:51 PM on October 25, 2012


I may be bucking a trend here, in that I can see things from your side a bit more so than everyone else.

But - I still would categorize all but one thing as "mom being mom" and just sort of roll your eyes over it. I mean, the mixing-up people's names is really common - my mother called me by my aunt's name all the time (and one time she even called me by one of my uncle's names).

The thing with her insisting on taking your son's pacifier away from him, or just reaching over and grabbing him when you got in at a time when you knew damn well he had major anxiety, or other things that deal with your child's comfort and safety? Yeah - for things like that, when it deals with things you've decided about your child, I'd gently sit her down and say that you love her, but please respect how you're raising the kid, because she'd his grandma, but you're his mother. That's fair.

But anything else -- the photo cover, the comparing to nephew - just let it roll and chalk it up to her being kind of kooky. Her talking about your sister when you were in labor - that's just tacky, but not sure that that can be anything more than fodder for "dudes, you're not gonna believe how nuts my family is" contests with friends (and everyone's got those).

This is annoying, but you're not a lesser person for being annoyed by this if it makes any sense....but I do agree with most that this is the kind of annoyance that for the most part, just rolling with may be best. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Deborah Tannen's "You're Wearing That? : Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation" might provide a useful framework for thinking about how you and your mother may be upping the ante on each other when you talk.

She may never be the mother you wanted or needed, and that's not your fault. But she just has to be a good enough grandmother to your son...in whatever way she's capable of doing so, which may not meet your standards or preferences, but might be enough for your child to feel loved.

You mentioned your sibling rivalry, and it might be a good idea to do some thinking about whether that relationship can or should be strengthened. In the long term, you're both going to have to deal with your mother and the aging process; now, at this moment when you and your sister have so much in common, might be the time to see whether you can be allies.

In the meantime, practice the non-committal "Mmmmmm" noise, your poker face, and the imaginary eye-roll.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:03 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


My in-laws have always mixed up the names of their three daughters, and now they do the same thing with their grandsons. Sometimes, they even call me by my son's name. Some people are just bad at names. Your mom might be one of them. Don't take it as a reflection of how she feels about you or your son.

Your mom has experience with you and your sister and also has spent time your nephew, I would suggest that you let her hold him and try to play with him. She'll make some mistakes, and he may get fussy, but you could also be surprised. Let her click at him. She probably had fun doing that with your nephew and is just trying to play with your son. If it doesn't work, she'll move on eventually. Maybe ask her to come over and watch your son while you do something else in the house (work, a hobby, chores, etc.) She could play and bond with him, you could have some time to yourself, and you wouldn't have to focus on all the minor differences in how she interacts with him. You two could catch up at the beginning and end of the visit, but the overall visit could be structured so as to reduce the stress in your life.

As for the comparing, I think it is natural given the proximity in age. These two will always be compared to each other. When somebody mentions which college one is going to, the other one will be brought up immediately.
posted by Area Man at 2:03 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


my sister and I have always had a sibling rivalry thing going on, and it's gotten worse since our boys were born within several days of each other.

This is at the root of your problem. If you and your sister presented a united front, and both of you were saying "now ma, stop comparing them, they're both perfect!" then your mother would stop, or everyone would just roll their eyes, or it would become a family joke. You and your sister are now mothers but you are stuck in the family dynamic here of being daughters.

That is an insanely hard thing to change. For various reasons, my own family of origin is stuck in 1987 as far as our relationships go, and that includes all the sibling issues that existed at the time. They just never got resolved. Trust me, you really don't want to do that with your sister. It *will* transfer to the next generation. If you and your sister are at odds, or even just sort of not in each other's corner, then your son and nephew will not grow up in a close, familial relationship, and that's sad. My kids don't really know their cousins who are my sister's kids.

You and your sister have an opportunity to step back from this mother-orchestrated competition and help your kids have a better, more supportive upbringing with their extended family. The more you work with your sister, the easier it will be to not feel a twinge when your mother praises nephew's mouth sounds. One, you will love them too, and two, you won't take moms' bait. Instead you'll say "OMG I know right? Nephew's clicking thing is SO ADORABLE!!! Junior does a slurpy thing with his tongue instead, it's like they're talking to each other I just LOVE THEM BOTH SO MUCH!!!"
posted by headnsouth at 2:07 PM on October 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


After my daughter was born --- who is my second child --- whenever both of my sisters and my mother were around with my niece (one of my sister's child), we would all call my daughter by my niece's name.

Even I did it. And it's my daughter!

It was just because when I thought of girl children, I always thought of my niece first until I had a daughter myself. So, I wouldn't think too much of that more than slip-of-the-tongue/mind-elsewhere thing.

And my mom is constantly telling me how my sister and brother-in-law parent differently. And she's constantly telling me what milestones my niece met that my son hasn't or didn't at the same age (which is at times hurtful to me since my son has an ASD), and it can, at times, definitely feel like judgement.

But it really is just that she's really excited about all of her grandchildren and she can't help but think of the one who is missing when she's with my kids, because in her ideal world, all three of her grandchildren would be together all the time.

And a lot of the other things? They sound a bit like just things that warrant a, "Nah, that's okay, Mom," or "He'll take the pacifier out if he wants to," or a shrug of the shoulders as the only response.
posted by zizzle at 2:14 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you and your sister are at odds, or even just sort of not in each other's corner, then your son and nephew will not grow up in a close, familial relationship, and that's sad. ... You and your sister have an opportunity to step back from this mother-orchestrated competition and help your kids have a better, more supportive upbringing with their extended family.

There's wisdom here.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:16 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there any way you can call up your sister and chat? Because knowing my mom is pulling BS stuff on BOTH of us is sanity-saving in a way I can't begin to explain.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:19 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another book recommendation is The Shelter of Each Other by Mary Pipher.
posted by Fairchild at 2:27 PM on October 25, 2012


I know what it's like to hear these kinds of (seemingly innocuous) comments from someone who just drives you nuts. I don't know if there's a way to snap out of that "mom drives me nuts" place.

But I agree with others that it will be an ongoing source of strength if you can take this crazy-making time and form a united front with your sister -- support each other in the hard times of new motherhood and reject any attempt by your mom to compare or divide you (or sons) from each other.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:32 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do agree with the point about considering seeing/talking to your sister/nephew more unless you have an actual reason to dislike them (rather than just sibling rivalry), to me it came off that perhaps your mom is talking about the nephew and your sister a lot to you because she wishes that you guys were closer and she wants each of you to know what the other is up to since you are not talking to each other, she considers it her job to update you. Now, if you really feel you do not want to interact with them I think you should speak directly to your mom and each time she brings up an unwanted comparison or asks you about what you're doing parenting wise, just say that you'd rather that she not compare your child to your nephew and change the subject, or that you'd rather not discuss your parenting strategies because it makes you feel uncomfortable, or whatever. Hopefully if you are consistent and honest about this she would fairly quickly get the point and stop. She doesn't sound like a jerk, just a little emotionally tone deaf.

I'm not a mom yet, so that's probably why I don't get this, but what's the issue with her picking him up and the pacifier thing? If he's 10 months old, I would picture that he would have ample and very clear ways of making it known if Grandma was doing something he did not like - screaming or crying, I mean. If he's screaming/crying when she does these things then that seems like an instant feedback loop for her not to do it - who wants to hold or 'converse with' a crying baby? If he's fine with it.... then why would you get upset about it? It sounds like you just feel it's disrespectful because she's not doing things the way that you've presumably told her to, but if that's the case it sounds like you should pick your battles and just ignore this kind of thing, let her entertain him how she wants to as long as he's happy.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:39 PM on October 25, 2012


Your mother may be sad about your sibling rivalry and bring up stories of your sister and nephew in hopes that it prompts you to call your sister and chat, or just so you know what's going on with them.

You should try seeing the dueling babies issue as a blessing rather than a curse. It was wonderful when I was growing up to have cousins my age, my same grade, looking at colleges at the same time...it's like a built-in friend who walks you through the stages of your life.
posted by sallybrown at 3:04 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


If your mother only wants to come over once a month, that might be a GOOD thing, as it seems to reduce stress on both sides.

Yeah, she's doing a lot of comparing the two boys, but so are you: the photo on your mom's phone? YOU started that fight.

Re calling your son by your nephew's name: chill, this means absolutely NOTHING. I myself keep calling my oldest niece by my youngest sister's name, and all they both do is laugh at me. My mother was the youngest of ten kids: she said she used to get called by her sisters' names, her BROTHERS' names, her cousins' names..... In other words, almost everybody on earth is on one end of this or the other.
posted by easily confused at 6:19 PM on October 25, 2012


It sounds like she has terrible social/interpersonal skills. If possible I'd try to get on a plane where while you feel the appropriate thing to do wouldn't be to grab someone's son out of their hands immediately upon seeing them, but your mom is kind of weird, and whatever, she does her thing. Try not to take it personally. When she doesn't want to come over because she doesn't feel welcome you can ask what you can do and if she just wants to jerk you around you can say "I'm sorry you feel that way," and not have to put up with her as much. I tend to find that people who were estranged from their extended family as children really, really don't want to do that to their own children... but sometimes extended families really are maddening and drama-producing and so I'd do what you have to do to keep your son physically and emotionally safe but try not to sweat the small stuff.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:48 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think your mom's behavior sounds really irritating. She probably doesn't mean anything by the types of things you mentioned above, but that doesn't mean that they aren't annoying. To be honest, your mom's probably not going to change, so all you can really do is try to change the way you react to her behavior. Just try to ignore or brush off the irritating stuff and enjoy the good parts- hey, at least she cares. As mentioned above, she probably drives your sister crazy as well. It might be nice for you to do stuff with your sister and nephew- the cousins can establish their own bond and you and your sister can both talk about how annoying your mom is and not have people judge you for it!
posted by emd3737 at 1:08 AM on October 26, 2012


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