Help me plan for a difficult conversation with my mother
July 10, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I need to talk to my mother soon about something I did, and I am looking for advice on how to handle the conversation in a way that respects her but is also mindful of my own boundaries.

I recently moved to get out of a living situation that was beyond hellish. (I posted a couple times about that situation and the acute trauma response/PTSD it triggered.)Because my income is limited to SSDI that I get for mental health reasons (bipolar II, GAD, PTSD, insomnia), I had hoped to move on the cheap via folks from craigslist. Unfortunately, I had three different movers that I found there fall through. I was in constant panic and freaking out at that point over all the stress. A friend helped me find professional movers who came highly recommended, so I got an estimate from them and set up the move. The movers were great and wonderfully friendly and professional. Unfortunately, the move ran longer than estimated, and I didn't have enough money to pay them the $350. However, I do have my mother's credit card information (which she gave me for emergencies; it was her idea), so I decided to use that.On one hand, it seems like "well, she gave you that for emergencies, and this counts." But my mother is completely obsessed with saving money. Whenever we talk on the phone, her end of the conversation always features a monologue about great deals she's gotten. It isn't that she doesn't have money. She has always been comfortable financially and never lived on her own, much less on an income as fixed as mine is. Saving money is some way that she likes to feel in control, I think.

This is even more complicated by how unwilling and/or incapable she's been of even acknowledging the trauma symptoms. I had wanted to tell her about the credit card charges right away, but before I could she started texting me 3-5 times a day reminding me to do something that I knew would be crazy triggering. I tried so many approaches to get through to her that I was not just being difficult. I sent her an article about trauma avoidance and followed up on it. I told her flat out that every time she texted me reminding me to do the triggering thing, I had a panic attack. And she kept on. So my guilt over using her card was compounded by anger towards her because she was not only being unhelpful; she was being reckless with my fragile state.She went to Europe on vacation (not as extravagant as it sounds--her trip was free because she took a group of people) so has been out of range but gets back tomorrow, and I want to be prepared to talk to her. I want to acknowledge that she has a right to her feelings if she is upset, and I understand why she could be. But I also want to display self-respect and try to maintain healthy boundaries. And I don't want to make the conversation about stuff that it may not be about...I don't know how relevant it is that she won't acknowledge most of the awful stuff I've been through.

I would appreciate any suggestions on how to handle this conversation in a way that shows respect while also asserting my right to be treated respectfully. Tips on how to phrase things are also excellent. (I will add that I am happy to work out a repayment plan with her if that is good enough, but I don't know if it will be. Also, there is no one who could loan me the money right now.) Thank you.
posted by mermaidcafe to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Shoot her an e-mail

"hey mom, my movers fell through at the last minute and I needed to hire professionals, it ran a little over cost and I had to put it on the card, but I'll pay you back when I can. Hope you enjoyed *European Country*


posted by Oktober at 9:03 AM on July 10, 2014 [22 favorites]

Best answer: "Something came up during my move and I had to use that credit card number you gave me for emergencies. I charged $350 on it. Thanks for giving me that information--it really saved the day! I'll send you $XX right away and work out a repayment plan with you for the rest as soon as I get settled."

Send as text or email, whichever is more comfortable for you. Then feel free to ignore/block text or ignore/filter emails for a while if you need some distance. You've communicated what she needs to know for now, and can deal with the rest next week.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:07 AM on July 10, 2014 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Oktober has it. The simpler and friendlier the better. Your goals here are:

1. Give your mom a heads up that there's a charge on her card
2. Assure her you'll pay her back when you can

I might even add, "This did come in really handy for an emergency and I was glad to have it! It really helped."

There's no need for apology or addressing health issues, as this muddies things unnecessarily.

And hey, good on you for leaving that place!
posted by mochapickle at 9:09 AM on July 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm a bit confused from your question whether the difficult conversation is about a) the fact that you needed to use the credit card, or b) the fact that she was nagging you. Which is it?

If it's the credit card, Oktober has it. If it's about her nagging you, let me know?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:11 AM on July 10, 2014

This post from Captain Awkward may help with processing her behavior in the face of your fragility and breaking the worry cycle behavior.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:12 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I also want to display self-respect and try to maintain healthy boundaries. And I don't want to make the conversation about stuff that it may not be about

First thing to do is figure out what the conversation is to be about and if I were you I'd pick one thing

- money "I borrowed some because it was an emergency"
- relations/boundaries with her

My advice which is yours to take or leave is to split these things way up. You've had some really serious shake-ups and it's a good time for taking care of you and not for starting something you think will be likely upsetting and unpleasant with your mom. And, honestly, it may not be worth having that conversation with her, ever. You can't control other people (this is my adult child of alcoholic mantra) but you can work on how you respond to them and how much you give them access to you.

Your mom didn't respect your boundaries and I'm sorry. Setting up a situation where you tell her not to do a thing and she continues to do it and then creating a codependency where you call her responsible for your panic attacks is unhelpful to you and ultimately probably indicating that you have your boundaries maybe a bit to open w/r/t your mom who is not respectful of them. You can't control her and you need to not try, or try less. Which is not to say that she wasn't being uncool, a bad parent, whatever. Just to say that part of this boundary work is being able to not create further drama where you try to negotiate with someone who seems to not be able to work on a mutually satisfying outcome for the two of you.

So, money first: "I ran into a jam with moving and I put $350 on a credit card. I will pay you back as soon as I can. Thanks."

Block her texts second. If she can't be appropriate with you, she doesn't get access to you and you can negotiate with her ("If you continue to text when I have asked you not to I will block your texts") once and then leave it. If she's unpleasant on the phone "I am sorry I will talk to you when you are being less unpleasant" and hang up, goodbye.

She may never acknowledge the awful stuff that you have been though. This sucks but may be true. You can't make her do that. You can make sure she doesn't set up an office inside your mind. You can diminish her ability to turn this into drama. It can hurt sometimes when people are just mean and disrespectful of you. It can sometimes feel better when you realize that you don't actually have to interact with them, even if they are your family.
posted by jessamyn at 9:14 AM on July 10, 2014 [14 favorites]

People are assuming you are going to pay this back, which you may be in no position to do and which your mother may not expect. I have run into this type situation with my mother and when I have said I would pay her back, she was all "Um, yeah, you are in no position to do that." So I have no idea if that is even relevant to your issue. If it is not, then just focus on the thanking her and letting her know what a godsend she is part.

Stop viewing this as "I did a bad thing that I have to confess to." Start viewing it as "Thank god my mother is awesome, god love her, never mind that she is human and has her shortcomings and sometimes makes me really nuts." From there, start that conversation with "Oh, gee, things have been crazy busy and I am sorry I didn't mention this before, but I used your credit card for an emergency. Thanks so much for making that available to me. You're a gem." (or something along those lines).

Stop trying to educate her about your trauma, your triggers, etc. She may never understand and she does not need to. She is being supportive in her own way and it is a practical way that really saved your bacon. Be grateful for that and let go of needing her to understand. If you can't do the thing she is asking, tell her you can't and try to avoid getting into explanations. Just let her know it isn't happening. She will mostly get over it and still love and support you in her own way, to the best of her ability, in spite of not understanding.

Then try to change the subject to polite chit chat. As others have suggested, "How was your trip?" might be a great way to do that. My mom has gotten to be a lot easier to talk with over time and it's partly because I intentionally deflect focus away from my mountain of personal crap and try to have normal conversations with her about day-to-day life and listen to her vent about dealing with dumb people and whatever. It's actually a nice break for me, not a burden, to just make chit chat sometimes.
posted by Michele in California at 9:53 AM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You can diminish her ability to turn this into drama.

Exactly. This is objectively not a big deal, and if you present it as a big deal to her, you give her the opening to reacting as if it were a big deal.

So rather than having a conversation with her about boundaries, use this as an opportunity to practice setting them. "This thing happened that you need to know about, here's the plan going forward, the end."
posted by jaguar at 9:53 AM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

People who are all nutso about saving money can be more interested in projecting a "reputation" for being thrifty, or something like that. (Sometimes for reasons that originally made more sense or are at least more forgivable: a relative of mine, who was a stay-at-home-mom her whole life, had a husband who was a real atavistic jerk much of the time and belittled all of the housekeeping and child-raising things she did next to his big, important "real" work job.)

So keep in mind that when her attempts to be Craigslist-thrifty wipe out she quite likely also just lays out the cash for a straightforward and simple solution, and just refrains from telling those stories to hang on to what she imagines is her thriftiness street cred.

People of this persuasion have also been known to go through ridiculously over-complicated processes in pursuit of thrift and then claim it saves money when it actually doesn't.
posted by XMLicious at 10:10 AM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like your mum likes deals that make her think she's saving money - but actually saving money seems less of a priority. Otherwise she wouldn't be spending money on the deals.

So if you'd like her to feel good about this, frame it as 'I got a deal for the move, for $350 instead of $500 because it was a friend.'

For what it's worth, I've never heard of a move as cheap as $350, so I do think you did really well!

My last move, I spent $4000.
posted by Dragonness at 10:34 AM on July 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: The point of saving money is to have it when one needs it, no? If I told someone they could charge my card in an emergency, I'd be fully prepared to float the balance for them if they ever used it. I understand that your mother is stressing you out right now and obviously you know her better than I do, but would she really set you up to fail by giving you permission for something and then freaking out on you when you did it?
posted by teremala at 7:36 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot of people would call me obsessed with saving money (I happen to think that being "comfortable financially" is a result of being careful with money, not a reason to stop!), and I would never give my credit card information to someone unless I was comfortable with them using it in an emergency (and trusted their judgement about what an emergency is). So don't read too much into your mom's general attitudes towards money. She might freak out, but considering she told you that it was OK, there's a good chance she won't mind at all. Don't count your bad eggs before they hatch.

I agree with others that matter of fact is the way to go here. If she does freak out, you can deal with that then (probably the same way you deal with her triggering you - by setting some boundaries and then enforcing them).
posted by randomnity at 10:38 AM on July 11, 2014

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