Stop calling me, dad
August 12, 2013 2:31 AM   Subscribe

How do I discourage my needy dad's constant texts and phone calls? And / or how do I stop feeling pressured by them? Difficulty: Without having a heart to heart conversation about it.

I am 38 years old. I have a toddler, a job, and am expecting Baby 2 in three months. I don't have the energy for this. I think I could handle it if the rule were "call dad once a week and everyone is happy". It would still be more of a call of duty, but it would be ok, and not unpleasant.

The problem is, increasingly, my dad goes into stalker mode. I think it's because his other daughter (my half sister) is now 21 and not much interested in her dad, and he keeps having fights with his wife and he never figured out how to make friends.

He'll text me or call me. I do not answer or pick up the phone. He'll escalate in the next several days, sending something like three texts a day and phoning twice a day. ("WHERE ARE YOU??! I WANT TO TALK TO YOU MORE OFTEN!") Eventually, after about a week or so, I call him by myself. He complains a bit, I ignore the complaints and we have an okay conversation.

Now, if that left him satisfied for a bit it would be ok. But apparently that just fuels his need because whenever he gets any kind of contact with me, the very next morning he'll call AND text me again! And the whole cycle starts again.

He never gives me a chance to miss him.

Obviously, this is not working. My husband says I should text back that I'm busy and will call when I can. I did that. His response? A text that said "when are you coming to visit".

I'm getting to the point where I want to throttle him every time I hear the phone beep. This is because I feel pressured and somewhat guilty. If I can't stop him, can I at least have help on how not to feel pressured by him?

Thank you!

Ok, here comes background for people thus inclined:


Not sure my reasons for not wanting to talk to him matter, but here they are:
- Keeping in touch, calling up people, emailing, burns my energy at the best of times. I do it because it is good to have a give and take conversation with friends, but I find it weirdly hard.
- All conversations with him are solely for his benefit, not mine. It reminds me of when I was twelve and he (divorced dad) kept saying I should tell him what's going on in my head, he wanted a closer connection, we're drifting apart, tell me MOAR. And I, divorced daughter, desperate to please, would ransack my brain for secrets and private problems to share with him so that he could psychoanalyse me and get to feel like he was "helping" me. He wants a feeling of closeness and wants me to provide it.
- Nothing he says is actually helpful to me. His advice is pointless, his sympathy superficial, his memory on things like my best friend's name is spotty at best. I think it's because his affection was always more sentimental than reliable. He was never on time when it counted, never organised anything, never made sure to celebrate birthdays on time. It was all just emotions - his emotions. I don't care to hear an expression of his sympathy because it doesn't count for anything. Hell, he won't even remember anything that he doesn't agree with. He is reacting more to the narrative in his head than to the actual person standing infront of him.
- It's never an actual give and take conversation. He goes off on tangents and rants. He's okay with me interrupting and bringing the subject back on track, but for me it feels like steering an out of control car. Not very relaxing.
- The 'yelling' via text just drives me nuts. He probably just can't handle his caps lock, but dude!
- He's always had a volatile temper. He yells at his wife and his other daughter for reasons to do with the narrative in his head. With me, he is creepily different because he is desperate to please. I feel like he's not authentic.
- Calling him just makes him want to talk to me even more. It's a Sysiphos job.

Because he won't remember the stuff he doesn't want to remember. I'm sure he doesn't register or take seriously how often he already contacts me, anyway. He'll just be all hurt and passive aggressive about it and we'll talk round and round the issue forever and nothing will change.

Once, my little family went on vacation for two weeks. I took the liberty of ignoring all his phone calls and texts. When I came back, I called him and he complained. I shrugged and said, "I locked my phone into the safe because I didn't want to get any phone calls and emails from anyone for the entire vacation. It was very relaxing." He sounded hurt. I said, "hey, the phone in the safe trick is a trick I learned from you. And you were right about it." And he said "Oh, so this is tit for tat?" I said, "no, it was a neat trick."

(This is the guy who in pre-cellphone times used to disconnect his landline at night to prevent calls!)
posted by Omnomnom to Human Relations (46 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
You seem to have correctly identified the fact that you can't make him happy, which sounds sad and stressful. At the same time, it frees you to prioritize your (and your immediate family's) desires and needs over his fruitless demands.

Put his phone calls and texts on silent, or better yet, block him. Then call him when and if you feel like it. If he guilts you or says anything that makes you uncomfortable, tell him you don't want to be guilted and hang up.

Neither one of you gains from you experiencing this obnoxious behavior. So why do it?
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:42 AM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Eventually, after about a week or so, I call him by myself.

Stop doing this part. Completely ignore all his texts and and calls until he stops sending them.

You're rewarding the undesirable behaviour by giving him what he wants, you need to reward the desirable behaviour by only calling him when you're getting what you want (ie. not being called and texted constantly)

If he can go a week without calling or texting you, reward him with a call. If he starts back up with the calls and text, ignore him again until he can go 2 weeks without contacting you then reward him with a call. Next time make it 3 weeks of no contact before you call. Rinse and repeat until the call frequency is at a level you're comfortable with.

If you've ignored him for 3-6 months and he's still constantly calling and texting you then block his number and tell him why.
posted by missmagenta at 2:43 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get a new phone and don't give him the number. Tell him you will call him (on the old phone, or a land line) once a week, for half an hour. As soon as the time is up you tell him it's time to go and you put the phone down. Any time he asks you a question, and actually listens to your answer you say "thanks for listening".

You are absolutely allowed to draw boundaries, he is way out of line.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:45 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Okay, first of all: you do not owe him any explanation (like the safe thing) WHY you haven't answered his calls or emails. You have a phone and internet connection FOR YOUR OWN BENEFIT: they are NOT there so you are available to the world 24/7. You have voicemail so you can talk or not, YOUR choice; you have a locking door on your home so you can interact with people or not, again it's your choice.

Basically, it sounds like you're going to have to manage this as if he WERE a stalker: ignore his emails, send them directly to a holding folder or even trash. Ignore his texts. If possible, send his phone calls direct to voicemail, never pick them up when he calls.

And if he DOES try to start an argument when you call (at your own convienence only, of course!), tell him you don't want to fight, and if he continues to argue you'll hang up --- and then DO IT, and turn off your phone (or at least the ringer) so he can't call back. Don't reward the crazy.

PS --- congrats on the new baby!
posted by easily confused at 2:51 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Heh, update -
I texted back about when I was going to visit: "don't know yet".

He sent me this long text about "I can't help feeling you're looking for the greatest possible distance from me! Why?? How is Toddler Nom supposed to build up a trusting relationship with me? Can we still talk?"

I probably shouldn't be doing that by text but seriously I don't want to talk to him right now so I texted back:
"By quitting calling me every day, sometimes several times a day, and by giving me time to miss you? By respecting my boundaries? I said I'm busy and I AM busy. This pressure is not helping. I will call when I have energy and time for a conversation. I don't have anything more to offer you."
posted by Omnomnom at 2:53 AM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

Sheesh. Okay, when he sends something like that? Ignore it, do NOT answer: that just opens the door for him. Just pretend that kind of "When are you going to visit me?" message from him never existed.

There's a line about leadership that I'm not overly fond of, but it might do your situation some good:
"Never apologize, never explain."
posted by easily confused at 3:03 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you have, or can you make, time in your life to call him for an hour a week or every two weeks? Sundays at 7 or whatever? Then call him then and only then, and feel free to ignore his texts throughout the week. I know it probably feels impossible to get that time, but if you can it will be an actual compromise where he gets to talk to you but you don't feel harassed.

If you have an iPhone you can block his calls (I believe you still see them in your missed calls, but they don't ring your phone; I think it's similar for texts) using the do not disturb function. I would use this to minimize your hassle during the week, which will make you feel more amenable to actually talking to him when you say you will.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:24 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Gift of Fear seems to be appropriate for so many different situations. It recommends that someone being harassed sends a clean and unequivocal message to the person harassing them, saying that they want the harassing party to stop contacting them. Then, the harassed party doesn't respond to any more messages.

What I would do in your situation is send a message very like the one latest one you sent, but without any question marks and using clearer phrasing. Something along the lines of you love him, he is driving you away by constantly bothering you and that from right now, you're not going to respond to him. You're only going to contact him after he stops bothering you. (This is assuming that you want ongoing contact with him, which you seem to).

Then, when some time has passed and he's stopped bothering you, contact him. If he starts his antics up again, repeat the process. How long you wait is up to you, I'd suggest a week, just to make sure.

He's engaging in an extinction burst. He didn't message you asking for a visit by accident. He is looking for more personal contact than just a text message or a phone call provides because you're pulling away. If you're patient, eventually the burst runs out of steam and you can remodel the behaviour. It generally gets worse in the mean time, so be prepared for that.

Right now, he's at this high level of harassing you because it works. If he's ramping up his behaviour from Monday to Saturday and you call him on a Sunday, you've trained him to think that this is what he needs to do.

In my experience, people who act hurt and passive aggressive know exactly what they've done. They act like they don't so they don't have to shoulder the blame for the situation, because if they did that, they wouldn't be able to blame you. Someone who treats you badly, whether bound by ties of blood or water, is not a good person. You're not a bad person for cutting them off if they bring you more harm than good.
posted by Solomon at 3:40 AM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

I know you've ruled out addressing this directly with him but I think this is a mistake.

The passive (or passive aggressive) options of ignoring him, changing your number etc are really not going to help change his behaviour. On the contrary, they are going to make him extremely frustrated and insecure and engender further problematic behaviour.

I would set boundaries with him directly: Dad, I don't mind talking to you, but here are my rules (once a week, 30 minutes, no shouting etc etc). If he breaks those rules, you call him on it when you next talk, explain why you are not responding and don't respond to further attempts to contact. In effect, you are training him to recognise boundaries.

You can't train him to recognise boundaries without addressing it directly. Yes, it may fall on deaf ears for some time, but training takes time to bed in. Once you've established boundaries, then you can ignore him and tell him why when you next talk. At that point, you're explaining why but you're explicitly preempting discussion (i.e. "this is not up for discussion").

Secondly, as you've said, there is a secondary issue about why he's needy - his other relationships and his mental state. It might be worthwhile to address these too if you can or at least try and force the issue onto his wife if that is a possibility. His behaviour seems quite manic and in the great scheme of things regular text messages to family, however disruptive, are quite a benign expression of this. In short, he needs help and in his own way is asking for help.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:50 AM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: I should add that while his increased contact started when Toddler Nom became interesting to him, and increased unpleasantly when his daughter became more independent, he has upped the ante the last two weeks because he tore off his toenail and now is stuck on a couch, cranky, fighting with his wife.

So he's extra needy and I feel extra guilty. Don't know if that changes anything.

Thanks for your replies so far! You're helping me get perspective.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:53 AM on August 12, 2013

Encourage him to have more contact with other people.
posted by devnull at 4:02 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

'It was all just emotions - his emotions. I don't care to hear an expression of his sympathy because it doesn't count for anything. Hell, he won't even remember anything that he doesn't agree with. He is reacting more to the narrative in his head than to the actual person standing infront of him.'

Therapy for you; firm boundaries for him. I get a sense from your question and your follow ups that you're struggling with being simultaneously emotionally abandoned and emotionally smothered by your father. Your father is using you - quite explicitly - to satisfy his needs, and to reduce his anxiety, while at the same time giving you nothing.

I think therapy for you will help you process this relationship and set firmer boundaries. You aren't responsible for your father's emotional wellbeing. And remember the AskMeFi mantra: 'I'm sorry, that won't be possible.' 'Why didn't you call me back?' 'I'm sorry dad, it wasn't possible.' 'Why won't you come visit?' 'I'm sorry dad, it's not possible.' Don't let him use his relationship with his granddaughter as leverage; he'll have a relationship with Toddler Nom on your terms.
posted by nerdfish at 4:09 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

"I think I could handle it if the rule were "call dad once a week and everyone is happy". It would still be more of a call of duty, but it would be ok, and not unpleasant."

You can make the rules whatever you want them to be. If you only want to call him once a week, then only do that. Ignore whatever he does in the meantime. I give you permission to not feel guilty about ignoring. Say for example he calls and texts a bunch of times throughout the week, and you ignore them; then when you have a free ten minutes on Saturday morning you call and have a talk or leave an affectionate voicemail or write a long email; just tell him what's up that week as if nothing's wrong. Ignore the guilt trips and pleading and worries about feeling far away from Toddler. Just proceed right into "catching up" in a pleasant tone. If he starts complaining: "well we're speaking on the phone right now, so I was hoping to catch up with you; if you're interested in complaining and criticizing I'll hang up and we can talk next week when you're feeling better." then don't talk until next week.

If the contact really is incessant, you can filter him to his own inbox on your mobile phone and email account; I used Mr. Number, an andorid app, for this a while ago, as it will "block" texts and calls but save the voicemails and content of texts in the Mr. Number inbox without causing your regular inbox to alert you. This is useful because then you can check on it when you want and see everything. Instead of it pinging your attention every single time he's trying to reach you.
posted by zdravo at 4:15 AM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I know you've ruled out addressing this directly with him but I think this is a mistake. [...] In effect, you are training him to recognise boundaries.

I agree with muffinman. I am currently "retraining" my mum with some success (about something else) and she used to also previously ignore normal type requests completely, try to make it out that I was being unreasonable and block out conversations she didn't like. Remember that you hold the power here, you have what he wants, even if it doesn't seem like it because he's being such a pain.

I would have no qualms about going no-contact for months, but make sure he understands why. Don't get into a discussion about whether your reasons are valid or not. Just state your boundaries, he either respects your wishes, or he doesn't get what he wants. He will learn, trust me.

And in the meantime, assign his number a silent ringtone, block it altogether or use whatever technological solution you like.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 4:35 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

nthing make a time. Lots of families do this: Wednesdays at 8, you call your dad. He can look forward to it, and you can feel guilt-free in ignoring all contact in between.

You also mention that because of the toenail he's calling more. He's probably bored shitless. Irritating, but understandable, and presumably temporary.
posted by smoke at 5:00 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Emotional Incest.

I don't think you can do this without being honest. I've managed the same problem with my mother by doing just that. She'll call me five or six times a day; I'll flat-out tell her that this upsets me, that I always call her back a reasonable amount, and that if she calls repeatedly, I won't call her back. Then I don't, except at my leisure. She'll usually ramp up the guilt for a day or two--the trick is not to let that work on you at all--and then abruptly, something clicks and she gets it.

Then a few weeks later we end up doing the whole thing over again. But it's better than it used to be.

Therapy was really helpful for me in this, and it let me see that the amount of contact that she wanted--multiple calls a day!--was really unreasonable. And it helped me voice that, too, without feeling manipulated and drained by the conversation. I think it will help you, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:13 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Tell him what the rules are. If the rule is that you call him once a week, Sunday mid-afternoon, tell him that's the deal and stick with it, and ignore his communications in between. If the rule is that you don't talk until he stops bugging you so much, tell him that and then don't communicate with him until he stops bugging you.

Stop feeling like you need to explain when you don't give him what he wants. You're an adult. Tell him "here are the rules and here is what we are doing starting now," and if he asks why, tell him "because I said so; this is not up for debate and I will not justify myself to you."
posted by J. Wilson at 5:15 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd make a statement about my availability and that's about it.

"Dad, I'm exhausted from parenting a toddler and being pregnant. I'm falling asleep in my oatmeal. I love you and I want you to have a great relationship with your grandkids but berating their mother is not the way to go about it. I have enough energy for one phone call a week right now. I want to be the one to initiate it, so that I can devote that time to you exclusively. Oddly enough, this isn't about you. It's about ME. And I'm going to be selfish and stand up for my right to parse out my time the way I want to. I love you and that's the way it's got to be."

As for the hurt feelings and all of that, welcome to the world of having a narcisistic parent. We have a support group forming.

You're not going to be able to convey this information in a way that he's going to feel good about, so dispense with your guilt and stand up for your right to not be on call to your bored, selfish dad at his whims.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 AM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm going to have to disagree with the suggestions to make a set time and/or duration for you to talk to your father, whether you were to phone him or he calls you: telling him you'll talk to him something like 'every Saturday from 9-10am' just ties you down to his whims. Such a set time would only give him yet more control of your life: imagine if, with your spouse and toddler and new baby and your job and whatever else is claiming your time, you were to MISS one of those calls --- imagine the power that would give your father to complain and bitch even more than he already does!

Picture this: Spouse's car breaks down at Set-Phonecall-Time and you drive to the rescue, preventing you from giving your full time and attention to your father --- would he be reasonable and say 'problems happen' or would he dump a heapin' helpin' of guilttrip on you?

A set time would tell him that bowing to his demands is more important than anything else; and while he apparently already believes that, it's not true, and rewarding his unreasonable demands like that would simply lead to even MORE unreasonable behavior and demands.
posted by easily confused at 6:31 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

"By quitting calling me every day, sometimes several times a day, and by giving me time to miss you? By respecting my boundaries? I said I'm busy and I AM busy. This pressure is not helping. I will call when I have energy and time for a conversation. I don't have anything more to offer you."

This is perfect. You have said exactly what you wanted to say, established a boundary, made it about you and not him, and now you need to ignore ignore ignore.

Don't send another text. Don't take his call. Don't even read his texts. You said "I will call you when I have energy and time for a conversation." STICK TO THAT.

I am a mom who is having some difficulty with the nest emptying, and we have had enough emergencies over the years that I genuinely worry when my kids don't answer the phone or text back. So if it were just a worrying parent then a text back saying "busy let's talk this weekend" would be the right thing to do. But this is not just a worrying parent.

So stand your ground. He will never, ever respect your boundaries if you don't. You said you would call on your terms. So don't call (ever) unless it's on your terms.

So he's extra needy and I feel extra guilty. Don't know if that changes anything.

It doesn't. His neediness is not your responsibility. Take care of you, your kid, the family you have created.
posted by headnsouth at 6:37 AM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm going to be the voice of dissent here. Before I go on, I'll tell you that I've got at least one very long anonymous question about my dad from a few years ago that did help me---unfortunately it was anonymous and I didn't bookmark it and so I have no idea how to find it, BUT---yes, my relationship with my dad is only just now getting OK.

First, I hear you. I'm 33, with a 2 year old. I work three jobs and my fiancee 1, and we commute 100 miles a day for work and Mini Melee has to be picked up from daycare by 6. In my biggest job I'm basically a social worker dealing with community crises and on the phone for a lot of my day---believe me that I HATE the phone. My dad is retired, bipolar, and is a vietnam vet with more issues than TV Guide.

Why I'm sharing this is because you are, in effect, saying that you don't have 30 minutes a week to talk to your father. Yes, I get that he's a little trifling, but you aren't as busy or as important as you maybe think you are. I have to remind myself of this often. Inverse Cat's cradle is in full effect whenever I think of my relationship with my father, and I use it to directly and critically think about my relationship with my son. MeFi has turned into a community who wants to give everyone a special snowflake badge and send them to therapy---and there's certainly a place for that, but there's a BIGGER place for asserting control of your life and being a do-er versus a complain-er. Recently I read some book where the author discussed that if you're unhappy, and you know what you're unhappy about, you should think about WHY it makes you unhappy. Not like "because it's irritating", but what is it preventing you from doing? And, what can you do to fix it? (Which I realize is the point of your question.)

So---what I actually recommend for you is how I taught my fiancee to retrain her parents, who like to call and squawk and yell like Polish Yinzers are so apt to do... Take control of the conversation.

When the conversation turns nasty, say "Well, it's clear that you don't really want to talk to me right now, so I'm going to go. Love you, bye!" and hang up. When they're being rude and yelling at each other while one of them is on the phone with her, she now says "Sounds like you've got a lot going on right now that's more important than this call, talk to you later!" and hangs up. When they start prattling on about what she should or shouldn't do it's "I appreciate your input but I've got it under control, thanks. Where are you and mom going for dinner?" Etc. Redirect and train. She used to wind up in tears at the end of every call, then she started doing this and now they actually have calls where the volume stays nice and everyone ends moderately happy.

How did I address my issue with my dad? To be genderist, I handled it like a man and took the bull by the horns, met the train head-on, etc. That worked and was necessary with my dad because he's old school redneck, who only respects folks who stand their ground.

Just don't lie to yourself about your feelings. You've got time, you're just protective of it---believe me, I am too. You care about his well being, you just don't want to be his therapist. It's cool to set boundaries, but be honest about them. Remember that your children are watching you, even when you don't think they are----and every time you push someone away, it makes it easier to do it to someone else in the future.
posted by TomMelee at 6:56 AM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Many years ago, I wanted my dad to stop engaging in a certain behavior. I didn't discuss it with him, or talk about my feelings or anything. I just said, "You can't say X to me anymore, and if you do, I'll leave." The next time I saw him, he said X, and I said, "I told you that if you said that to me, I'd leave." And I got up and left.

I only had to do it one time and he stopped saying that to me. Never said it again. There were still issues in the relationship, but that was a big improvement.

I think not letting yourself get drawn into a discussion about the issue can really help. Not getting sidetracked into whether you love him or want him in your kids' lives or whatever. Just letting him know what is and isn't OK, and having some kind of action you can take to protect that boundary.
posted by not that girl at 7:01 AM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: TomMelee, "too busy" translates to "I have 15 things I ought to be doing, including cleaning out the entire bookshelf to get rid of the silverfish, and ten people I ought to be calling at any given moment. I need a glass of wine and can't have one. You, dad, are right at the bottom of this list of priorities."

It's honest, but not sure saying it like that will help!

(Besides, it's not 30 minutes a week. He calls me the day after my last phone call, so I assume it's 30 minutes per day if it were up to him.)
posted by Omnomnom at 7:08 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Either what not that girl said, or just tune it out. I have family that badger me and I just say "uh huh, yeah, whatever" and then do what I want to anyway. It's sad because that means you don't have a real relationship with them, you're "managing" them instead, but it's their behaviour that has created this situation, not yours. When you first ignore it, he will freak out but after a while he should calm down and bug someone else. Remember intermittent reinforcement is the hardest conditioning habit to break.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:09 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is insane. I would approach this problem as "this guy keeps calling me and texting me constantly" rather than "this guy named my dad keeps calling me and texting me constantly."
posted by oceanjesse at 7:12 AM on August 12, 2013

"too busy" translates to "I have 15 things I ought to be doing, including...

OP you don't need to respond to people's comments here to justify/explain yourself, just as you don't need to justify/explain yourself to your father. Pay attention to your responses and learn what your buttons are, so that when people push them, you can just brush it off as button-pushing. AskMe is a great place to practice that kind of boundary-setting. Ignore.
posted by headnsouth at 7:15 AM on August 12, 2013 [16 favorites]

Is there a world in which you can tell him that no matter how many times he calls you, or how often he texts you, you are committed to talking to him once a week, on Sundays, at 11:00am? And then setting your cell phone not to ring/beep when his number calls/texts? He is probably afraid that you will not call him when you say you will. (If there is a history of this, which frankly I don't blame you if there is, it could contribute to this fear.) If you can commit to the same time every week, do it. Keep your promise.

In terms of separating signal from noise, you can enlist your husband to help you with this, daily. Every night at 6pm or whenever, have your husband take your cell phone and be your answering service: delete all your text messages from dad, check your voice mails, delete the ones from dad, and hand you your phone for the messages you really need to hear or see.

You need not feel guilty for setting boundaries. He has numerous sources of company, comfort, and opportunity to be heard. That he is using you to the exclusion of those options should not be your cross to bear.
posted by juniperesque at 7:33 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, my mom is like this. I, uh, had a big falling out which resulted in me not talking to her at all for a couple of years and she's been better since then (she is now permanently fearful of being shut out of my life again, I think), but I don't recommend that if you aren't in the situation I was in. It's the nuclear option and I did it because I preferred no relationship with my parents to the one I had which was very damaging to me.

However, she definitely tries to revert to old habits sometimes (she pulled the escalating thing when I was in and out of the hospital for a few weeks. I finally got back to her and explained how sick I had been, she was still miffed and never said "I hope you're feeling better now". Come ON lady, I was in the hospital trying not to die, returning your emails about your dogs wasn't my top priority.)

Anyway, I handle it now by basically rewarding the good/acceptable behavior and ignoring the unacceptable. And I am also ok with letting her get into a snit fit and get over it all by herself. Luckily for me, if she gets mad enough she'll punish me with the silent treatment, which is fine with me since it's what I wanted in the first place. She always cycles around to needy again so I can wait it out. She is also in therapy (has been for my whole life, pretty much) so that gives her insight which she sometimes ignores and sometimes pays attention to.

I did the weekly phone call thing for many many years - from when I was 14 and went to boarding school to when I was 32 and had the complete cutoff of contact. I don't actually recommend it. It was such a huge relief to me to be able to stop having those calls - I still sometimes look at my watch on Sunday morning in the grocery store and think "thank goodness I don't have to call Mom and Dad on Sunday mornings any more." It wasn't that the calls were so unpleasant, but they were definitely a blight on my Sunday and I have enough hard shit to do in my life without adding clouds to my weekends.
posted by data hound at 7:35 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh - and I called my parents this weekend to tell them I'm pregnant. I discussed it extensively with my therapist first. Even though it's good news, I was worried my mother would somehow try to trample all over my boundaries because I knew she wold be excited and she gets disinhibited when she's excited sometimes. My therapist reminded me that in order for my mother to invade my boundaries, I would have to let her, and I had a choice. That made me feel pretty empowered (if still apprehensive about the possible work I might have to do to keep holding my boundaries). As it happened, the call went well.

So if that helps: your father can only invade your boundaries to the extent that you let him. (Because: I'm sorry your father lost his toenail, but you have more important things to do.)
posted by data hound at 7:40 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dad is like this, although thankfully just texts/emails asking to meet, not phone calls. I deal with it by ignoring all his messages until I feel guilty enough to meet with him, which is usually every few months. If he complains "I was busy". No explanations or apologies. I guess that might be too "mean" for some people, but it works for me.

I would recommend weekly phone calls if you actually enjoy talking to him. Since you don't seem to, I would avoid that option. Unlike a lot of people I don't think you owe your parents frequent communication, particularly when it's very unpleasant for you.
posted by randomnity at 7:46 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, we're all doing a lot of labeling in this thread, and I will, too. Your Dad sounds like a narcissist. He's not aware of your needs, not aware of how his behavior affects you, doesn't pay attention to you as a whole person, only pays attention to you as a reflection of him. I have had experience of narcissists, and it's exhausting and there's a limit to how successful you can be with them.

I recommend toughening up on your Dad. When you call him, and he bitches about the infrequency of your calls, tell him you love him, but you are busy with your child, and your pregnancy is exhausting. When he wants you to visit, tell him you know he wishes you had time for a visit, but your family has lots of needs. He will be pissed, but he will learn that you won't take his bullying, which is what it is. No matter how good you are to him, he will want more, so congratulate yourself on spending the time you do, and don't spend your energy worrying about his un-meet-able needs. Your return text is terrific. You have nothing to apologize for, and you don't need to explain yourself unless you want to. His feelings are sturdier than he thinks.

You have a smartphone? You can almost certainly program it with a special ring for your Dad, like 3 seconds of silence. You might be able to put his texts in a folder so you don't have to be annoyed by their frequency.

More notes on Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
Psychology Today
posted by theora55 at 7:49 AM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

My mother is going through a bunch of shit at the moment thanks to my Brother. Serious shit. She is 72 and feeling very alone and I live a long way away from her so I get regular updates, long sad heartbreaking updates. I don't have the time or energy but someone how my brothers and her problems become mine because I love her. She is acting a lot like your Dad in many ways. Things I have done that help me.

Answer the first phone call, if I want her to stop stalking me I answer, but I only talk for 15 minutes or so. I find it so much easier to do short 15 minute conversations here and there. If I answer straight away a lot of the "neediness" goes from the call there is none of the OMG do they still love me am I all alone fear which makes the later phone calls harder.

I answer her calls I do a job while she's talking and set a pretty strict 15 - 20 minute limit. The hard part is the disengage, but I've found that ending the call with the same phrase every time and meaning it. I use something like, well got to go, love you, talk to you next time (if she starts up with a new topic, I'm all oh tell me next time).

I find the one long phone call a week thing so much more draining. I have to find an hour or 2 I have to set a time for it and I get drawn into all the dramas. I find the short calls more organic, 15 mins here 15 mins there so much easier and it is so much easier to avoid being dragged into someones dramas. . Stuck in the car driving to the store, I ring mum and talk (hands free) my destination is a perfect forced ending spot, things like that. 3xshort minute calls a week is so much easier than one long phone call, especially when you feel guilty/annoyed about it in the first place.

This works even with texts. Just answer the damn text and then he won't keep sending follow up texts and making you feel guilty and annoying you, hell if you answer then you might avoid phone calls all together. I would avoid answering right away because that can set up expectations and then when you are late answering things get all stalkery again, but I would answer.

Your Dad sounds like a sad lonely man.
posted by wwax at 7:52 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Agree with wwax. Short phone calls while you're busy doing something else. I was never good with the once a week calls either.

Also, please do some reading on Toxic Parents, narcissistic parents, etc. You'll learn more about the context of what's happening and how others cope.
posted by 3491again at 8:33 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I actually would be wary of "promising" any type of schedule - that you'll call once a week or every Sunday at noon or whatever. Because that puts you in a "child" role where you'll probably either feel guilty yourself, or get chastised, if you ever "miss" your call. You're an adult, and you don't have to explain why you didn't do your chores this week.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:35 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

So he's extra needy and I feel extra guilty. Don't know if that changes anything.

I'm really sad that your difficulties and your needs are going ignored by him in favor of his desire to be entertained. That's really inappropriate. He is putting you in the parent role and it's not okay.

This sounds really, really hard. I'm sorry you're not being treated with the care, compassion, and consideration that you deserve as a busy mother who is pregnant and overwhelmed. As your father he should be thinking of ways to lighten your burden, to make things easier on you, and he is not doing that.

Hang in there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:14 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've said it before and I'll say it again. It was my dad who told me this, by the way; one of the biggest helps he's ever given me. It is a parent's responsibility to help and support their child; it is perverse, and never ok, for a parent to drain their child. You owe your resources (whether we're talking about time, or money, or energy) to yourself and your growing family. Keep this truth in mind as you decide your way forward.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:17 AM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

My mom does this and yep, I just ignore. Even on the phone when she's saying, "why didn't you call me?" I literally say nothing and she moves on to whatever story she wants to tell me about someone I don't know.

Like people have said above, his behavior is causing this. Your responsibility is to yourself and your family.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:18 AM on August 12, 2013

You might also look up parentification. This is an interesting inventory that has some questions about it.

My father is seriously self-centered and I understand that you don't want him to stop contacting you as much as you want him to realize that you are a complex person with your own needs and your own desires instead of an object for him to use to salve his narcissism, and that you are worth his empathy and care. Unfortunately, this is really unlikely to ever happen, no matter what you say to him or do. It's not under your control. You deserved, and still deserve, so much more. Again, this sounds really difficult and I'll be keeping your little family in my thoughts.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:22 AM on August 12, 2013

And here is some information on parentification from the University of Alabama:
Parentification is often defined as a type of role reversal, boundary distortion, and inverted hierarchy between parents and other family members in which children or adolescents assume developmentally inappropriate levels of responsibility in the family of origin that go unrecognized, unsupported, and unrewarded. In the parentification phenomenon, the overarching role of the parentified youth can be described as that of caregiver - caring for others at the expense of caring for self.

It is often clinically observed and empirically examined along two dimensions: instrumental parentification and emotional parentification.


Emotional parentification often involves a child or adolescent taking on the role and responsibilities of confidant, secret keeper, or emotional healer for family members.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:29 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just don't answer when you don't want to. Don't set a schedule of calls because scheduled things blow when you're already busy. You don't need more commitments. Try to call at least once a month while you're stuck in traffic or waiting for a bus or whatever to say hi and give some updates on your life. Send an email while you wake up at work in the morning about something cute your dog did. Heck, Send him a link to Candy Crush or some time waster to occupy him. Skim and delete the response. Responding when your'e too busy just escalates to a pointless arguement, so don't do it. At the same time, don't cut the guy out completely - put yourself in his shoes and imagine youre kids ignoring you for years because you irritate them with phone calls while they're clearing silverfish out of a bookshelf. He's not going to be around forever.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:13 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to repeat a lot of the good advice above, but one bonus suggestion that worked for me with a mom that wanted more communication? Words With Friends on Facebook. Scrabble is her favorite game and by "playing" together we had a line of contact open, without actual communication. Once a day, I'd spend five minutes playing a Scrabble move and it would really help.
posted by amoeba at 11:38 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

His advice is pointless, his sympathy superficial, his memory on things like my best friend's name is spotty at best.

He goes off on tangents and rants.

Because he won't remember the stuff he doesn't want to remember.

The problem is, increasingly, my dad goes into stalker mode.
(emphasis mine)

You don't say how old your dad is, but a lot of this sounds like a typical (but rarely talked about) part of the aging process.

My mom is 82. I've had these kinds of problems so I understand and sympathize. Looking back I see now that a lot of her issues were and are a result of her own difficulty accepting the changes that were happening, but because she never shared those fears with me, and because I didn't want to think about her getting older, I labeled her behavior as selfish and mean. That doesn't mean her actions weren't selfish and mean, but I was able to let go of so much anger and frustration when I realized it was coming from a place of fear and uncertainty. Not all the anger and frustration, but it helped.

It's also possible that he may be starting to have memory problems or is getting more confused and does not always remember that he asked you to come visit last week or yesterday or this morning.

It is a parent's responsibility to help and support their child; it is perverse, and never ok, for a parent to drain their child.

Parentification is often defined as a type of role reversal, boundary distortion, and inverted hierarchy between parents and other family members

But the parent/child roles will reverse in time, and in the case of an aging parent it's important not to write these kinds of signs off as a personality defect.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:04 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I can't help feeling you're looking for the greatest possible distance from me! Why?? How is Toddler Nom supposed to build up a trusting relationship with me? Can we still talk?"

Along with "parentification" I would google "emotional incest" and just make sure you are setting appropriate boundaries. It's entirely possible that this is just a part of the aging process and the memory and the not-knowing-how-to-do-it-right stuff goes along with that. Or it could be that he's having trouble with his adult-person relationship with his wife and he is trying to get a level of intimacy/response form you that is more appropriate to a partner (including bargaining and the "let's talk about our relationship" stuff) and not for a father/daughter.

So I agree with everyone that I think this is not okay and that I think better hard-and-fast take-it-or-leave-it boundaries about communication are called for. If it were me, and I understand you are not me, this would be

- I will not respond to texts from you
- I will set your ringtone to silent
- I will call you on the weekend
- I will respond to email if something comes up before then when it's convenient

And then I also agree with folks upthread, ignore the other commentary that is just idle complaining about you. Like don't reply, change the subject on the phone, whatever. When I had to have this difficult "This is what I am doing" conversation with a parent it started out like "Look, you are demanding a level of attention from me that is not only inappropriate, it's actually more attention than I have to give anyone, more attention than I DO give anyone, including my boyfriend. I am sorry it is not enough, but it's exhausting and I can't focus on my life when you are keeping me so entrenched in yours" and then stick to whatever you say.
posted by jessamyn at 3:23 PM on August 12, 2013

It wasn't that the calls were so unpleasant, but they were definitely a blight on my Sunday and I have enough hard shit to do in my life without adding clouds to my weekends.

Oh wow, I so agree with data hound here. I might be a somewhat horrible person in this respect (I know it's unusual), but I actually go months without talking to my folks on the phone, and with only sporadic emails in between. I see them two, maybe three times a year. And I have an excellent relationship with my parents. My in-laws are a bit more demanding, but even they don't expect weekly calls (god forbid!)

I wanted to chime in on this thread only to say, don't feel like weekly phone calls are the minimum you have to do to be a good person or something. If committing to that would be a blight on your weekends as data hound says, don't commit to it. Just commit to talking occasionally, when you are able and free. Tell your father that his calling schedule is making you feel smothered, and then once you've said that, ignore his calls except when you're able and free to take them--as people have said in lots of good ways above.

The thing to remember is you are an adult! You are allowed to set your own comfort threshold for parental communication; you don't have to check in on a regular basis anymore because you are not a teenager. If that makes your father sad, it's a shame, but that's life when you have adult kids.
posted by torticat at 6:33 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I read your comments again and it strikes me that something is driving your father to want this close contact. Is he ill or worried that he may become ill...facing the possibility of death makes parents especially worried and wanting contact with their children that they may have taken for granted in the past. So no easy answers here but I would suggest that you ask him why he is so worried. I do have to say that I did respond to my mother calling everyday by calling her every time I got in the car (I have the speaker phone) and that was several times a day....she soon gave me the "I have a life" speech...quit calling so much...LOL
posted by OhSusannah at 10:03 PM on August 19, 2013

Response by poster: I wanted to give all you kind people an update and a thanks! Maybe some of you can still see this.

So what happened after the abovementioned texting exchange is, my dad texted back a huffy "thanks" and then I didn't hear from him again.

After about a week I called him up and after some polite chit chat I told him "listen here, I've thought about this and I want you and Toddler Nom to have a good relationship. This is important to me, too. Here is how we're going to do it." And then I told him exactly how and when we were going to time our visits and what he could do one on one with Toddler Nom to make the time count (like, read books, explore the garden etc.)

He complained a few times that it wasn't going to work because Toddler Nom was so timid, and he made a few suggestions of his own that made no sense or just wouldn't work. And I ignored it and told him that no, we were going to do it my way.

Next time we came to visit he did exactly the things I suggested. You could see he was a little awkward about relating to my daughter but he did his best and Toddler Nom definitely warmed up to him.
He has also not called me a single time since I wrote this post, and instead I call him about once a week but at no set time.

I am completely baffled at how well my dad reacted once I put my foot down. I've also relaxed about the whole thing because I know I can handle it. I hope he'll feel like it's working for him, too.

Thanks for the encouragement and suggestions!
posted by Omnomnom at 1:25 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

« Older Sliding (mac) windows   |   Haven't got a fracking clue Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.