Why does my grandmother treat me like a child? What do I have to do to be seen as an adult?
December 25, 2012 9:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm 30 years old. I recently moved to the complete opposite coast of the country and have been living on my own successfully.

Never asked her or any other family members for money (all money I have, I earn from working), never breaking the law, taking care of my cat, holding down a job, paying rent, credit card, school loans, and bills on time, trying new things, being independent, traveling on my own without any help, starting therapy to deal with my social anxieties, working to develop a personal style, doing everything I can possibly do to take responsibility for myself and to be an independent, productive adult. I'm by *no* means perfect, but I'm not relying on family members to dig me out of things and I take care of myself.

Yet when I go home for Christmas, my grandmother treats me like a child. For example, I was baking macaroni and cheese for our Christmas dinner. When it came time to take it out of the oven, she said, "maybe *I* should take it out". I couldn't believe it. Did she *really* think that I'm unable to take a dish out of the oven? I'm baking stuff all the time back in my apartment on the other side of the country. I told her calmly that I could do it, I'm not disabled, and I took it out with no problem whatsoever. Later on, she said that the reason she said she should take it out was because the oven wasn't normal, or something and that it didn't heat properly (which made no sense to me). She also said it had a tendency to get really hot and that she didn't want her granddaughter to get burned, because she's burned herself before.

I appreciate that she's trying to look after me, but it bothers me that despite ALL I've done, I'm still being treated like I'm unable to do anything. No matter how hard I work to be a productive, responsible adult, she still treats me like I can't do anything. I was treated like that all my life and that's why I generally lacked confidence growing up. I'm working on building that confidence, and it all goes away when I come back home. Because it seems like my family wants to keep me a little sheltered protected child forever.

The kicker is that she doesn't treat my younger brother this way. She would never baby him. She lets him drive her places, and always ask him to lift things that I could have easily lifted, asks him to put things together (she never asked me to help, when she knew that I put ALL of my furniture together at my apartment). She would never assume that he couldn't take a dish out of the oven because it was "too hot". I think it's because he's a guy, but it bothers me.

I love my grandma and my brother and my family and appreciate the time I have with them, but this issue has been consistent in my life and is the main source of annoyance that I have towards them. My grandma will never treat me like an adult. What more do I have to do to prove it to her? Save the world? I want to enjoy Christmas but this is making me want to catch the next flight home!!
posted by starpoint to Human Relations (50 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You're really upset about gramma babying you? I'm 34. Gramma is 90. I'd love it if she could remember me enough to baby me for a bit. Man, enjoy it. It's gramma.
posted by xmutex at 10:05 AM on December 25, 2012 [34 favorites]

All you will get from this question are people's opinions. Here is mine: A person who has changed your diapers and powdered your butt is unlikely to ever view you as an adult, no matter how many years have passed. Part of my own process of growing up was realizing this. Also, parents and grandparents do treat siblings differently. We wish it weren't true, but it is a fact of life. Again, making your own peace with this will prove that you are acting in a more adult fashion. Finally, I think this kind of thing will always happen as long as you go to her house. The only way you can assert your own control over the whole oven/macaroni situation is to invite them to your territory. Then you can cook things however you want. Best of luck to you!
posted by seasparrow at 10:05 AM on December 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

Are there noticeable physical differences (size, strength, confidence) between you and your brother? That would explain much given the examples you cited.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:06 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take a big, deep breath... and let it go. You might be a fully-functional adult, but damned if you don't sound like a frustrated teenager right now. You know that old therapy saying about how "you can't control other people's actions, but you can control your own reaction to them?" You might want to work on that a bit.

This is your grandmother. How much longer is she going to be around? When she's gone, will you be whining that she didn't treat you like enough of an adult, or will you be teary-eyed remembering how funny it was that she loved you so much she didn't want you to possibly burn yourself on a hot stove even though you were 30 years old?
posted by erst at 10:06 AM on December 25, 2012 [13 favorites]

maybe you will never be an adult to your grandmother? maybe she has a set of antiquated cultural cues for adulthood and they're not aligning with your own cues?
posted by elle.jeezy at 10:07 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

How was grandma brought up? I've noticed that in some families, women are thought of as children even when they are independent adults - the only thing that gets the older generation to see them as grown, mature and capable is getting married and having children of their own. As long as a daughter or granddaughter is single, she is a child and the elder generation(s) treat her like one - no matter how accomplished or independent she is. Sons, on the other hand, are automatically growups and get respected as grown-ass humans the moment they graduate from college, get a job, and move out on their own - single or not. It's a yucky Neanderthal way of seeing daughters, but your grandma may just have that generational outlook (it really was a common outlook in many families 50 years ago - getting married was what made a girl a woman).

I don't recommend finding a husband just to get grandma to treat you like a grown-up, but this might help you understand why grandma is the way she is and why she persists in treating you like a child.

As to what to do - detach, detach, detach. You can't change her, and brooding about it and wishing it were different will only upset you (and won't change the situation). Smile, nod, make small talk, and just know that grandma has her quirks.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:10 AM on December 25, 2012 [14 favorites]

My grandma will never treat me like an adult.
Yep, that's all there is to it. It doesn't mean you're not an adult. It means you'll always be someone's little girl. Enjoy that for what it is.
posted by bleep at 10:11 AM on December 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

My grandfather was like that in a few ways -- until he could no longer drive, he would never let me drive him anywhere, though he'd let my (10 year younger, but male) cousin drive him. Anything that changes your grandmother is likely to be a cause you don't want.

It is really frustrating. It is really annoying. But you need to let it go, because all it does is upsets you. Let her carry the macaroni. Assume that, since you live on the other side of the country, she wants to enjoy her time with you and not spend it putting together stuff.
posted by jeather at 10:13 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another vote for let it go. 20 years from now when your grandma is gone, you'll wish you had someone who just wanted to take care of you in that way.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:14 AM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

The summer after I got into an Ivy League school, my (working class, high school graduate) grandma seriously considered whether I'd be able to understand and keep up with church basement bingo, if I ever went with her. "Too dumb for bingo" became a running joke. Let it go.
posted by availablelight at 10:15 AM on December 25, 2012 [19 favorites]

Because it seems like my family wants to keep me a little sheltered protected child forever

Methinks thou dost protest too much. Explore the idea that this may not be so much about your family treating you like a child, but your own worry that other people may not perceive you to be "adult enough."

It seems to me that secure adults generally don't spend too much time worrying about whether they actually are or are not an adult. This reminds me of a blog I once saw which was dedicated to "living like an adult" - which was, paradoxically, the most child-like blog I had ever seen because of the assumptions on display about what it actually means to be a grown-up.

Just let it go and be who you are. Enjoy your extended family doting on you and recognize it for what it is - a projection of who THEY are and not a reflection of who YOU are.
posted by jnnla at 10:26 AM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am 54 and my mom is like that only worse. It's not you, it's her.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:29 AM on December 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Happy holidays. Have a drink. It is almost over.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:30 AM on December 25, 2012 [10 favorites]

My grandma will never treat me like an adult. What more do I have to do to prove it to her?

As others have said, get married and have kids. Aside from that, you can either laugh it off or get upset. Your choice.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:34 AM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, when we're with family old dynamics can quickly resurface and dominate interactions. I think the only thing to do is to grin and bear it. It's disappointing when people we are close to are not mindful - lord I'm with you, especially at this time of year - and older folks, despite how they're often portrayed as being kindly and wise, do fade in certain ways as they age. My only advice is to keep searching for a way to connect while managing your expectations.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:34 AM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

I can see it bothers you, but also look at it from the perspective that she doesn't want to feel like furniture. She wants to still be useful. If taking a dish out of the oven makes her still feel relevant and productive, let her.
posted by cecic at 10:37 AM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your grandmother is painfully aware of her own fading capabilities, and thus, wants to be as productive and vital for as long as she can. It's a mitzvah on your part for you to let her take care of you, and not keep reminding her that you're all grown up. Let her do for you as much as she can for as long as she can.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:38 AM on December 25, 2012 [35 favorites]

My grandma (dad's mom) always referred to my dad and introduced him to people as "my baby" - even when he was in his 50s.

I'm with the "let it go" crowd.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:40 AM on December 25, 2012

I have been in the same sort of situation, and I get how frustrating it can be. I don't agree with the multiple answers suggesting you "laugh it off," or that the problem is somehow yours.

These childhood roles you have with family can be damn near impossible to grow out of, and it's incredibly frustrating to become a capable adult, only to arrive home and be transformed back into an 11-year-old.

Some methods that worked for me in the past:
1) Make sarcastic remarks under my breath
2) Give my parents the finger inside the pockets of my hoodie where they couldn't see
3) play a lot of games on my iphone
4) Limit my visits to only a few days, which is honestly about as long as I can stand
5) At some point, yes, realize it's not about me, but about them and their fear of the wider world. Easier said than done, but I try.

But you're a grown-up, and you deserve to be treated like one. You don't have to give anyone special dispensation because they changed your diaper when you were a baby or whatever. That's just the minimum duty families have to raise their child- it doesn't create a lifelong obligation to take any sort of shit.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:45 AM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

A possible explanation could be that it's painful to your grandma to think about you not needing her. Perhaps she loved being your caretaker when you were little, and can't envision a relationship with you that isn't grounded in your dependence on her. As others are saying above: she wants to feel useful and capable.

If she's from a tradition with clear gender roles, relying on your brother, a man, for help doesn't make her a useless old woman--she's asking him for help with manly things (lifting heavy boxes, assembling stuff), just as she would have done as a younger woman.

To be seen as an adult, I think you need to engage with your grandma differently--let her take the food out of the oven, let her fuss over you, but also try to have meaningful conversations with her. Ask her about her interests, put the focus on her. Treat her like an adult you're interested in getting to know better as an adult yourself. She may always fuss over you, but try to see it in context, appreciate what you can, let go of minor annoyance, and work on having a genuine relationship with her.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:47 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ideefixe has it.

When I read your headline I thought your question was going to be "who wants to ask me how I did it?"

Then when I read below the fold I thought you were going to say "and then she made me stand in the corner and I got a lump of coal in my Christmas stocking."

Whereas in fact all she did was insist on taking a hot pan out of the oven. Because she couldn't let her grandchild get burnt in her own home.

Aw, sweet.

Listen, this afternoon I went to put pepper on the gravy, and the pepper didn't have a shaker but only an open top. So as I was going to pour the pepper into my hand first, the tel3mum shrieked "no no stop!" fearing that I would dump too much pepper into the gravy. I laughed and said "imagine what would happen if you didn't watch me every second." At the same time she was retreating and muttering "where would you be without my constant supervision..."

If I were you, I'd tell your superego to stop picking on everyone including you, and enjoy your visit.
posted by tel3path at 10:49 AM on December 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

Here is the thing: you are insecure about your ability to be an adult, because you are still getting used to being successful at it. (And good job, by the way - I struggle with some of the same type of things in terms of upbringing and lack of confidence.) You're insecure about your abilities, so a silly little thing like this knocks you on your ass. Once you are 100% confident that you can take care of yourself, you will barely notice this kind of thing, because it won't make you unconsciously feel "oh, what if I really can't take care of myself?" It won't threaten you any more.

One thing I have learned: when something smallish appears as an attack on your whole identity, it's usually because you're afraid that the small thing can threaten you, that the petty insult is true. (If it's a big thing, or systemically pervasive like racism, that is different). The best solution is to work on feeling confident in yourself - even if it's just "I feel confident that as an adult, if I do make a mistake I can fix matters and learn from it". When you feel sure that you're able to keep going with your new life, grandma's "oh you can't even take things out of the oven right" routine will seem like the silly family comedy that it is.

Also, a good life skill is becoming able to let people (including friends) change - to accept that people grow older, or stronger, or weaker, or more educated, or more stubborn, and not try to force them into their first/older role. That's a really tough skill to learn - as you get older you'll see your friends and family change more and it will get frightening and you'll be consciously or unconsciously tempted to try to force them to stay as they were. (Just like treating someone as if she's a little tiny girl who can't handle the oven!) On some level, your grandma wants to see you as a little girl because those times when you were a little girl were good times, fond memories - and maybe because the present, when she's getting old and your future is also uncertain and you're far away - maybe the present is sad or scary. One way to conceptualize this might be "I am letting my grandmother relive these happy memories of the past because I want her to be happy, not because I can't do adult things".

Anyway, I bet that if you just keep on with your new life, in a year or two this kind of silliness will be something you barely even notice.
posted by Frowner at 10:51 AM on December 25, 2012 [18 favorites]

Everyone's saying "Hey, let it go let it go" and probably that's best, or maybe that's best, whatever. But this idea of the OP actually protesting too much, this saying that "Hey, it's not a big deal at all, grow up." -- this is not standard metafilter advice, not that I know of.

Family *is* annoying, often, and sometimes more than annoying, sometimes it's awfully damned painful, if/when the old patterns re-assert strongly.

Remember -- these people not only know where all the emotional buttons are, they *installed* the damn things. Sadly, they're often as locked in as the person that is being locked in. But that's not the topic here, you are -- if your grandmother wants our help, she can fork over the five bucks and join same as you did.

Don't stay with family when you travel. Stay at a hotel, or a motel, or a hostel, or sleep in your car, on the roof, in the barn, whatever, wherever. Because staying with family can be really crazy-making. It's nothing but great knowing that yeah, this macaroni bit totally blows but I'm outta here in three hours, go and take a sweet nap and read a book I love, etc and etc.

tl;dr -- as so many here have said -- the family members may never change. So be the adult you are, get away from that situation to take care of yourself, take that nap and call your best friend and tell them how berserk you've gotten, how you're almost positive that you're going to choke everyone at the dinner tonight, then laugh with them about how ridiculous life is, and on your way.

on preview -- drjimmy got it in before I did, dang it. Seconded.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:56 AM on December 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

The kicker is that she doesn't treat my younger brother this way. She would never baby him. She lets him drive her places, and always ask him to lift things that I could have easily lifted, asks him to put things together (she never asked me to help, when she knew that I put ALL of my furniture together at my apartment). She would never assume that he couldn't take a dish out of the oven because it was "too hot". I think it's because he's a guy, but it bothers me.

Have you ever told her that it bothers you?
posted by empath at 11:05 AM on December 25, 2012

The reason alcohol was invented was because some dude moved away to a new exciting cave community and had a great time being on their own, and when they came back to their old cave for festive winter holidays, their grandparents treated them like a cretinous toddler and wouldn't even let them roast the aurochs steaks for everyone, even though they'd been doing it on their own for years now. So cave person decided to drink some three month old grape juice they found in the storage cave, hoping it might actually kill them and end all the horrors of cave family times, but instead they got drunk and were like HAY LIFE IS PRETTY OKAY ACTUALLY.

this is 100% true and factual information.

tl;dr you only have to see her a couple of times a year, have a couple of drinks and ignore it.
posted by elizardbits at 11:14 AM on December 25, 2012 [33 favorites]

My mother does this because she wants to assert her place in my life -- to teach me something I don't know, protect me from something I don't know could hurt me. She does this because she feels like she's failed to do it thus far and needs to assert a handhold wherever she can.

I basically raised myself, teaching myself facts from my Charlie Brown 'Cyclopedia so early and quickly that she didn't have to tell me how babies were made. I told her so, reciting it one day as we drove down the Schuykill Expressway (as she never forgets to remind me). I was 4.

I'm 33 now, and despite presenting my mother with any number of baked goods from scratch, she still gives me dirty looks when we bake together. Once we got into a discussion about Jello cake, and she insisted so vehemently about the right way to make it that I said, "Fine. How do YOU make Jello cake?" expecting a treatise on poking toothpicks in juuuust the right places.

"WELL," she began, somewhat huffily. "First you take some flour and eggs..."
posted by Madamina at 11:16 AM on December 25, 2012

So, if you had asked your grandmother for money, it would have been ok for her to offer to open the oven? That doesn't make a lot of sense. Even if you were an unemployed drug-addicted badly-dressed cat-neglecting ex-con, your grandmother "should have known" that you, a functioning adult, could open the oven yourself. So don't take the endless babying as a sign that she somehow doesn't believe, understand, or respect your accomplishments. It's just hard to keep track of the capabilities of younger relatives, especially if they're not around all the time, and it feels good to help, protect, and care for others.

As others have mentioned, you won't both be highly-capable, independent adults forever. Sooner or later, you'll be the one stopping her from opening the oven. And as you wipe her butt someday along the road, she will still be thinking "Wow! I can't believe starpoint learned how to walk!" The grandparent-grandchild relationship is many things, both wonderful and frustrating, but it is not an equal relationship between two adults, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
posted by acidic at 11:16 AM on December 25, 2012

My grandmother/family was like this towards me (female) and my brother as well, but she also completely catered to him, too. The reason is because my brother is a person who feels/acts very put upon, is really dependent on others, and is actively jealous of me... whereas I am very independent, live far away, successful by even their measure. So my family would often marginalise me while at the same time uplifting him.

I don't know if I explained that in a way that made sense, or if I'm just projecting, but there was something in your question that struck me as familiar. The more independent I became, the more my family treated me, well, like they didn't respect me as an adult. It has helped me a great deal to learn ways to care less about this.
posted by sm1tten at 11:22 AM on December 25, 2012

this issue is the main source of annoyance that I have towards them

You're in pretty good shape, I think, if this is the case.

Maybe reframing it differently would help? You don't need to prove anything to her. You are a capital-a adult. Your grandmother loves you and her way of expressing that love is taking care of you. It is not necessarily a judgment that you are lacking in the adult department. I think the best way to get your grandmother to view you differently is to view your interactions with her differently.

To give you an example, I am several years older than you, own a house, have a job with huge responsibilities, and am an adult to an extent that it doesn't occur to me that when my dad wants to pick me up from a date when I'm home visiting that he is impugning my adulthood. I think he likes imagining a simpler time when he picked me up after social outings in junior high. In any case, he is just being ridiculous and I get to tell him no way, Jose, move on, and tell that story at the next cocktail party.
posted by *s at 11:29 AM on December 25, 2012

Not to be too harsh, but if you want some kind of external validation from your family and others for moving across the country, holding down a job, and paying your bills, you're barking up the wrong tree. You do not get a cookie for that-- you're supposed to do it "for free." Your family will always view you as a child because that's how they are, and you should learn to tolerate that for a few holidays every year, at least until you firmly tell them to "stop that!" (Which probably won't help). Similarly, you will forever view your parents as boring, slightly-over-anxious old people rather than the cool young couple they used to be before you were born.

What do I have to do to be seen as an adult?

It could possibly help to get married and have children before your brother does, but if you do so with the expectation that you get to be "an adult" by doing this, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
posted by deanc at 11:33 AM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

How long have you been on your own? I had little respect related spats with my family like the one you describe for about three years after I moved out. They petered out after being my own person became second nature and I developed a separate life. I've also found that distance has made me more patient with their anxieties and need for control. I make more of an effort to explain, they make more of an effort to listen because they rarely get to see me, and we meet in the middle.

Also, I've been on my own for long enough now that I've developed new respect for older people. I had my heart broken, had to learn how to develop a new social set from scratch, came to see myself through other people's eyes (it's amazing how this varies), switched jobs, went through some embarrassing adventures, and watched my dad recover from a stroke. All of this was just hard enough and painful enough that I have a lot of respect for people who have gone through more difficult experiences. Your grandmother has, in her own way, been through quite a bit in her own lifetime. She's gotten married, had and raised children, grown into adulthood. Had fights and made up with more than a few people. Alienated some, lost track of others. Wrestled with her own inner demons. I daresay she's buried a few people important to her. If you've only had a fraction of those experiences, is it any wonder that she sees you as a child still?

You're an adult. You can't "make" people treat you like an adult by demanding it. You have to act like one. Give your grandma the benefit of the doubt and be gracious towards her. Her thinking you can't handle an oven doesn't make you any less capable of handling an oven; it means she's out of touch with the person you've become. Take it as an opportunity to connect. Also, it's kind of a strange paradox, but people respect you more when you admit to faults and vulnerability. Needing things to be perfect is generally a sign of insecurity and inexperience. Being resilient and able to roll with life's quirks shows strength. Good luck! It sounds like you have a nice (if annoying) family. Go hug your grandma and enjoy your Christmas.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:45 AM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

You have every right to be annoyed by this, because it's annoying as fuck to be infantilized and treated like an incompetent.

On the other hand, it's unlikely your grandmother is going to change at this point. So you probably want to come up with a solution that focuses on mitigating your annoyance rather than trying to change her behavior.

What do you think would make you feel better? Stating your truth clearly ("Grandma, I'm a highly competent adult") or joking about her misplaced concern ("Jeez, Grandma, are you going to cut up my meat, too?") or just proceeding "as if" she's not being inappropriate ("No worries, Grandma, I've got this")? And there are probably lots of other possibilities.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:48 AM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

My mom emailed me a few days back to make sure I'd be okay because my wife is getting more presents than I am. (I'm 32 and married, for the record). No matter how old or mature you get, you will, in some way, always be a toddler wobbling around in danger of hurting yourself to your folks.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:51 AM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

A person who has changed your diapers and powdered your butt is unlikely to ever view you as an adult, no matter how many years have passed.

Enjoy it for all that it is worth. Time passes too quickly.

You're an adult to the rest of the world. When you come home, no matter how old you are, you can put that aside and relax into being a baby again. Sure, it can be a pain at times and you have to bite your tongue for all that its coming from a place of love. Now that I'm menopausal ;p it's all the more reason why I find the sense of being their ickle baby all the more comforting. I don't have to be the responsible mature professional for these few weeks at home before I'm out in the cold again.

It used to bother me a lot until I passed my forties and gained my sense of competency and confidence from the rest of my life. But now, it simply means they're growing older too, and well, if having baby around makes them feel younger and parenting again, its a very small price to pay for a few weeks each time every so often. Nobody else is ever gonna nag me in quite the same way or make sure I have my umbrella when I step out the door.
posted by infini at 12:10 PM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Looking at this as a 53-year-old mom of a 22-year-old son, it makes me sad to read all these posts of frustration, exasperation and in some cases, anger, focused toward people's families. Doesn't anyone just want to give their parents/grandparents a break?

Look, I try very hard not to do this with my kid. I'm sure I could do better and maybe he's as frustrated with me as some of you are with your parents. I have no ulterior motive though and no thoughts of him as incompetent or infant-like or any other negative motivations.

This is someone who I've known from his first breath and it was my job to teach him all the things he would need to know in order to be a fully functioning human. It's hard to break that pattern of being the instructor sometimes. Maybe it would help to consider that this often comes from a place of love and not from a desire to annoy the shit out of you?
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 12:45 PM on December 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

Your parents' and grandparents' sense of you will always be stuck to some degree around the time you last lived with or around them. That's just how it is. (If you want to change it drastically, host them and cater for them.)
posted by holgate at 3:58 PM on December 25, 2012

I am shocked at the number of people telling you to suck it up and you'll miss it in 20 years and that you're acting like a child by not enjoying being infantilized. It's fucking sexist, insulting, degrading, and ridiculous to be treated like a child solely because you're a woman when you're clearly a competent, grown adult.

I can relate. When I was 25, I moved back to my country of origin (in the developing world, as in, with very.... developing world attitudes towards women) and was treated by relatives and family friends didn't know shit about me (even though hello, I made it to the age of 25 and living in four different countries without you knowing a fucking thing about me, I CLEARLY can take care of myself without you telling me I'm using too much water to boil noodles) like I was some stupid, infantile child. I was told to have (male, of course) cousins 10 years younger than me supervising me, because obviously as 25-year old woman who had been living on my own for seven fucking years, I couldn't figure out how to buy eggs or turn on a stove. I hated every fucking second of living there.

My solution was to apply for a visa back to the developed world, get rejected, apply again, spending nearly a thousand dollars in the process, borrow thousands of dollars I didn't have, and get the fuck out of there. I haven't spoken to any of them since I left, and I am infinitely happier.

I'm assuming you're not in the position to or even willing to take such drastic measures, but nothing you say will change your family's attitude. You only mention your grandma, is everyone else the same? If so, I would try to just drink and ignore it. If not, can you ask them to stop treating you like a child and have your brother (who is clearly more respected than you) back you up?
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 4:11 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're taking this really personally. 99% chance your grandmother didn't specifically intend to cut you down by taking the mac & cheese out of the oven rather than having you do it.

There are a million reasons for this before you get to "my grandmother thinks I'm mentally challenged."

She may have had her reasons for wanting to get this out of the oven -- maybe she's not sure it's done yet, maybe she realized earlier that the handle was broken on the pan and knows you'll burn yourself on it, maybe she doesn't want to take it out till the breadcrumbs brown, whatever.

She may have meant, "No, allow me!" rather than, "FUCKING MORON get out of the way and let the real grownups do the work." It took a long time for me to understand that my mom enjoys doing little things for me (making a sandwich, putting on a pot of coffee, turning down the guest bed) because she doesn't see me often and I'll always be her little girl even though I'm a grown adult with a strong track record of taking care of myself.

She might have flaked and defaulted to relating to you as the child you have been for most of your lives together. During my visit home for the holidays, my grandfather, who is in his 80's, asked me if I'd moved to California "for school". I haven't been in school for seven years. Graduating and making a life for myself has been the sole focus of that time, but for him it's been the blink of an eye and there's not much difference between being 22 and 31.
posted by Sara C. at 4:26 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The kicker is that she doesn't treat my younger brother this way. She would never baby him. She lets him drive her places, and always ask him to lift things that I could have easily lifted, asks him to put things together (she never asked me to help, when she knew that I put ALL of my furniture together at my apartment). She would never assume that he couldn't take a dish out of the oven because it was "too hot". I think it's because he's a guy, but it bothers me.

I think that a lot of older women grew up cultivating the habit of being dependent on men. It's very easy to stick to those cultural and relational patterns rather than to make a specific point of breaking them. Frankly, it's hard to even know you're doing this.

I've noticed my grandmothers making a big show of dependence on my brothers. Asking them to open jars and carry heavy things, sending them on errands, having them build the fire or grill the meat or do whatever stereotypical "manly" task. Sort of... to show that they respected them as men? Maybe? Your guess is as good as mine, but I've never seen this as overtly sexist behavior, at least in the sense that they are trying to leave me out, or giving something to my brothers that they're not giving me. It's sexist in the way that we live in a patriarchy and people unthinkingly contribute to it all the time in little ways they don't even notice, but it's not malicious Women Can't Assemble Furniture type stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 4:36 PM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

One thing I have learned: when something smallish appears as an attack on your whole identity, it's usually because you're afraid that the small thing can threaten you, that the petty insult is true.

I think this is spot on. I agree with what some folks are saying, about drawing boundaries and making sure you get some "me" time around family. I can't tell from your story if your grandmother is one of those truly difficult and toxic people, or if she's just regular kind-of-smothering family -- truly difficult and toxic people require strong methods.

But as my regular not-perfect-but-well-meaning family members are getting older and frankly not doing well health-wise, I've tried to notice when they really annoy me, and look at that as a trigger point I can work on, rather than let my annoyance at them become the focal point. Which as I type it out sounds like a bunch of New Age b.s., but hey, it's the holidays.
posted by lillygog at 4:48 PM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Let me get this straight - this entire thing happened because your grandmother thought she should take something out of the oven rather than you? And that's all?

That's, like, nothing. For all you know, there was this weird crack in the dish that she knew about and she was falling on the grenade of a possible dish shatter for you. Or the last time she let one of the grandkids take a dish out of the oven they DID drop it on their toes or something. Maybe that one incident isn't about you at all, in other words.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 PM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I used to visit my grandmother, she would get a bit annoyed if I cleared the table or started to do the dishes (equally annoyed with anyone male, though), and somewhat huffily say, "I can do it." She didn't want to be treated as though she was old and have me do things she was perfectly capable of doing. The main thing that fixed it was when I said that I knew she was perfectly capable, but that it was my one chance to spoil her and just dote on her in general. I only flew across the country every year or two, so I had three or four days to spoil her, go places with her, and make her favorite foods. I knew that the rest of the year she did all of these things just fine without me. With your grandmother, I don't know if that will help or not, but reframing it less as helping and more as spoiling her by doing her chores while you visit, might let her accept what you do while you visit.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:59 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's the holidays! Take a deep breath and have a drink, it's almost over.

(Of course as soon as I cracked open another beer, my mom reminded me that I shouldn't mix alcohol and cold medicine - dontcha know that can cause liver problems?)
posted by bradbane at 8:27 PM on December 25, 2012

Later on, she said that the reason she said she should take it out was because the oven wasn't normal, or something and that it didn't heat properly (which made no sense to me). She also said it had a tendency to get really hot and that she didn't want her granddaughter to get burned, because she's burned herself before.

This sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I realize that there are likely other examples of the type of behavior that frustrates you, but at the end of the day, if they are mostly minor like this, I'd let it go. She's your grandma-- assume good faith.
posted by christie at 8:44 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Family and holidays. Another vote for a drink.

I'm older than you and have spent the past few day re-enacting variations on that theme with my mom. In addition to her occasionally forgetting that I have been fending for myself for several years now, we also have occasional battles of will over the "right" way to do things.

Sometimes I get sarcastic - yes mom, I guess will need soap to wash my hands. This explains why I can't get them clean usually.

Sometimes I remind her that I am very capable.

Often I have to reset, take a deep breath, and assume good will and reiterate my own good will. And give her a hug.

I see her twice a year. I try to keep it pleasant and create good memories.
posted by bunderful at 8:57 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also think it's really not okay to treat a grown, independent woman like she's a child. I'm not saying you can change your grandmother's behavior, I'm sure it's not going to do any good to try; I would just smile and keep doing what I was doing in her case. But you are right to be annoyed and angered that this is happening!

I have noticed this kind of behavior from plenty of people, including older colleagues - this unconscious default assumption that I don't know what I'm doing and are looking to them to explain something to me, simply because I'm a younger woman. It's demoralizing to be around people who, instead of supporting you by treating you as capable and independent, constantly assume that you must need help all the time. It does undermine your confidence, and it's not right.
posted by citron at 9:15 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I believe that maybe... 80... percent of how others treat me is waaaay more about them than it is about me. This sounds classically more about how your grandma was raised (do you think she was raised to be uber-confident, or is it possible that she was even more sheltered than you?). So as you are working on building your own confidence, spend some time considering that she might be much less confident than you previously thought.

On a practical note, one thing you might do, both to build her confidence in you and your new life, and to reinforce in your own mind all of the great things you are doing and learning, would be to write her letters once a month. In longhand. After a year you will both feel better about how well you are doing. (If she responds in writing, feel free to just stick those letters in a drawer unread so you don't see something that may inadvertently derail your fledgling confidence).
posted by vignettist at 10:01 PM on December 25, 2012

I have also noticed this with my grandmother, more so as *she* gets older and more anxious/cautious about life in general as she becomes more frail. She has traveled the world and encouraged me to do the same, but when we walk together on the streets of her city (smaller and with less crime than my city), she urges me to do things like watch my purse or be careful crossing at the crosswalk, as if I'm still very new to being an adult (I'm 41). It's really clear to me that this is not about me, especially because I've seen how it progressed over the past 20 years or so. I know it's a little different - and frustrating - that she doesn't treat your brother the same way, but I would be very surprised if there was anything at all behind it other than love for you and a sense of loss of control in her own life.
posted by judith at 10:07 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find the best way to handle this sort of thing is to subtitle it.

Family memeber does annoying over protective thing, in my head I say "They love me and are trying to show it through helping and caring for me."

Family member nags me to check oil in my car I think "They love me and don't want me to be stuck at the side of the road in a storm."

In your case - Grandmother worries you will burn yourself on an unfamiliar stove you subtitle "My grandma loves me and is worried that I won't realize that her stove can get so hot so she doesn't want me to hurt myself as she would much rather burn herself than see a person she loves so much get hurt."

Yes it's annoying as all hell when family do this kind of thing, but think of these things of acts of love and they get less annoying. Before my father passed he and I actually got to the point were we would joke about it. He'd nag me to get air in my car tires and I'd grin and go I love you too Dad. No one nags me about oil in my car or air in my tires anymore and I kind of miss it. Next time your Grandma does something like this, hug her extra hard and tell her you love her too. You change your mindset which will make it easier for you to take, and you maybe draw attention to the fact that maybe she is over protecting you but in an you know why and appreciate it kind of way.
posted by wwax at 9:13 AM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The one thing I think hasn't been covered yet amongst these thoughtful and kindhearted answers - something I think about often with my mother-in-law, who clucks about the kitchen and makes it clear to us that we are woefully unprepared to empty the dishwasher correctly and ill-equipped to wipe the stove without hurting ourselves.

I could read this as "she thinks we are infantile morons." But instead I read it as - this woman comes from a generation and a life where this kitchen was, whether she chose it for herself or not, her workplace. This is her sphere of expertise - this became her profession. She takes as much pride in it as I do my white collar job. She has spent so much time thinking and sweating and working at it.

I think she would respect me if I brought her to my office and she saw me in action. And yet I had not particularly taken the time to do the same for her. My conception of what it means to grow up and be an adult woman today doesn't particularly include keeping house, but I am going to respect an honor her experience and expertise in her space and let her take the lead. It does not diminish me to be gracious and respectful of what essentially is her domestic career. Maybe you could do the same for your grandma.
posted by sestaaak at 12:19 PM on December 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

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