We Want to Break Up With Grandma.
December 24, 2014 12:17 PM   Subscribe

I was legally raised but mostly neglected by a single mother who spent most of her time trying to find a husband, going to clubs, the racetrack and otherwise leaving me to my own devices since I was old enough to use a microwave oven safely. I moved 6 hours away as soon as I was able and now only see her once a year, but it's the worst few days of every year. While I believe that people do the best they can, with competent help I came to realize that I actually don't like my mother. And that's okay. I don't respect her choices and I don't like the black cloud she brings to every phone conversation and in-person visits. Pure and simple, she's a nasty, unpleasant person.

I've got three kids (no husband), and for the past 20 years, I've always hosted Xmas. My mom and her current husband (a racist, sexist, deadbeat compulsive gambler) always join us and it's always several days of putting up with her rants, her insults, her tears that we're not close, her jabs at my kids. More specifically: my hair, job, home, exercise routine, car, friends, my KIDS are wrong. I'm doing everything pathetically and stupidly, according to her.

*I want to note that I don't buy into any of this and I know that's she's a deeply unhappy person. She doesn't make me feel badly personally; she just sucks to be around. Over the years I've cut my contact with her to minimal and I've suggested she may be depressed or otherwise benefit from seeing a professional. She says she's not crazy and for me to mind my own business.

In our last few days of holiday planning, my kids sat me down and just asked what was the deal with my mother and specifically, why is she just so mean to me. They expressed deep distress and discomfort having her around; that's she's a ticking time bomb who upsets everyone, and it goes on for days, and it's not that she ruins a special Hallmark moment, her behavior is just annihilating. They were very clear that her nastiness towards me is most upsetting and they hate seeing anyone treat me that way. Generally when my mother comes to visit, all my kids get out of the house as often as they can to avoid being near her. But even those two hours for dinner are highly awful.

My kids wanted to know if we could just tell my mother not to come for the holiday. Or could they please just never have to see her again. This is the first time they've stated this so strongly and I don't want to dismiss it immediately. My inner mantra has always been, "She's a monster but she's family," and to the kids I've always said things like, "Grandma is an unhappy person, but she's doing the best she can and she loves you," and I'm now realizing I don't want to do that anymore. She's just a complete suckhole of joy who throws her barbs randomly.

(I want to add that my mother has always refused to stay in a hotel and insists on staying with me. Once I booked a hotel for me and the kids and let her stay at my house and she went batshit insane. I've left town for Xmas to avoid her but for logistical reasons, I can't do that every year for the rest of her life.)

I've been put out by my mother's behavior over the years, but this is the first time my (late teens and young adult) kids have been open about how much they dislike her behavior. I want to respect that but I'm not sure what to do.

I do not like my mother but I've put up with her shenanigans over the years because I just thought families put up with each other. After hearing my kids explain how disturbing she is to be around, I need advice for the healthiest way to move forward. It may be too late for this year (but it may not because she's currently playing weird games about whether or not she'll be too tired to see us), but I appreciate any advice for the future.

Is it as simple as just telling her not to come, forever?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's okay to tell them you're not home this year for Christmas but it seems a little late now.
posted by discopolo at 12:20 PM on December 24, 2014

Or you could tell her you and the kids are volunteering at a shelter or something all day and won't be home.
posted by discopolo at 12:21 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Tell her that you and the kids are going out for Christmas dinner (or Christmas eve, if that's your big event) at anyplace local that's open. Doesn't have to be fancy--I'd pick a truck stop or diner or anything that will have more than your party and the waitress. I don't know if she's better behaved in public, but it sounds like she couldn't be worse. If she whines that she can't afford it, tough bounce. Your guest room is closed, your heat is off, your toilet is backed up, whatever excuse you like. Pick a story, stick to it, and eat fast. You and your kids can have your real celebration after she goes home.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:26 PM on December 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's not too late! Let her know that because she couldn't commit to a solid plan, you and the kids have made alternate plans and cannot accommodate her and her husband this year. Just present this information matter-of-factly, and if she rants to you over the phone, just say, "You sound very upset. I don't want to be yelled at on Christmas eve, so I'm going to hang up the phone now." Then hang up the phone.

Your children took you aside and let you know that they see this behavior as unacceptable in their home. You owe it to them - and you raised them well! - to say, "You know what? You're right. We have shared values in this household and one of those values is that we don't abuse one another."
posted by juniperesque at 12:26 PM on December 24, 2014 [108 favorites]

Yes, just tell her not to come. "It looks like our plans have changed and it won't be possible to host you for Christmas this year." She is not owed an explanation, and if she pushes, just say "it's just not possible." If she gets mean, just say "I won't listen when you speak to me like that. Good bye." Your children are - rightfully - upset by her presence in your home. You owe way more to them than to your mother. It's time to put your family first.
posted by brainmouse at 12:28 PM on December 24, 2014 [27 favorites]

Man, I know this is tough. I think as a general rule of life, it is okay to not spend time with people who are abusive, even if they are your parents. Perhaps especially if they are your parents and there's now collateral damage being observed in your children.

Is it as simple as just telling her not to come, forever?

I don't know if that's simple, but I do think that some form of letting her know that you are unable to spend time together while [list of things] happens is absolute appropriate. You don't have to lie about what you are doing or contrive other plans, etc. There are some here that will be much better in letting you know how you might go about doing and wording something like that, but I think a couple of important things to note: 1) you don't have to keep repeating yourself or justifying your decision once it's been made; and 2) it's okay at some point to walk away from a discussion if the first point is not respected. It sounds like you need a really good script for the inevitable pushback, so it might be good to invest time in thinking about how that will work. Having that in hand will take some of the edge off of the discussion.

One thing to consider might be to let her know that's the decision that is being made this year, but you are open to next year, if she can consider and respect your concerns, pursue therapy, etc. But you are by no means responsible for doing that, and I would only consider this if you were interested in somehow repairing or reconciling the relationship. Your life is your own, and you don't have to spend it with people who are abusive, no matter who they are.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:30 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I do not like my mother but I've put up with her shenanigans over the years because I just thought families put up with each other.

I get this feeling but people have to generally behave like family to earn familial loyalty. You've already given her so many chances.
posted by JackBurden at 12:36 PM on December 24, 2014 [13 favorites]

Is it as simple as just telling her not to come, forever?

Yes, yes it is. You are an adult, it's your house, and your family (children) don't want her to come. Tell her not to come and be done with it. If she gives you any lip tell her what you have told us. You and your kids have every right to enjoy your holiday the way you would like. Mom can stay home and enjoy the company of her current husband.
posted by Rob Rockets at 12:37 PM on December 24, 2014 [18 favorites]

Is it as simple as just telling her not to come

Yes. It is that simple. That is not to say that it will be easy , but it really is that simple. Your kids have asked you to do this, you and your kids will have a much happier holiday if you can do this, and you really ought to do this. Show your kids that being family isn't a free pass for treating people awfully.

You don't have to say the forever part, though.
posted by amelioration at 12:38 PM on December 24, 2014 [28 favorites]

Is it as simple as just telling her not to come, forever?

I will cross my fingers and hope for you that it is that simple, but, given the history you have described, the odds are poor that it will be that simple.

But, yes, it is totally okay to do this. You do not have to keep putting up with this just because she happens to be a blood relative.

I would do everything in my power to arrange a polite, non-confrontational way to avoid having her back for Christmas. But it simply may not be possible. So, I will quote something you said:

Over the years I've cut my contact with her to minimal and I've suggested she may be depressed or otherwise benefit from seeing a professional. She says she's not crazy and for me to mind my own business.

If push comes to shove and this turns into some kind of ugly confrontation where she tries to tell you that you cannot do this to her, she is your mother, etc, I would take a position along the lines of "Mom, I am doing what you told me to do all these years: Minding my own business. I cannot fix you. You have zero desire to improve. That's your choice and your right and I have no desire to step on your toes. But my children are my responsibility (i.e ."my business") and I no longer am willing to expose them to this. So in light of that, this is where we part ways."

If you can't come up with a way to have her not visit this year, maybe take a cue from some of the earlier replies and try to make it as minimal as possible. And then you have a year to work on how you will try to diplomatically set the stage for uninviting her next year and all the year's thereafter. But don't feel obligated to put too much time and effort into it. She shows zero respect for your feelings. The only reason you should attempt to be diplomatic is to minimize fall-out, not because she is owed anything here. So if it starts looking like there is no easy/nice way to do this, don't feel bad if you just have to put your foot down and let her go all fourth of July on you over it. Some people just aren't going to cooperate with a diplomatic solution. In those cases, do not value diplomacy over getting it solved. Just figure out how to solve it and let the hurt feelings fall where they may.

On preview: I would not "tell her what you told us." I would inform her that it is my decision and not advise her that it is at the behest of my children. That is likely to turn ugly and get the kids dragged into it, kind of the opposite of the goal here.
posted by Michele in California at 12:42 PM on December 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

How prepared are you for the backlash? The ideas above are great, but if her angry outburst will lead to police involvement or send you to bed crying or something, and if you care about this taking over the holiday (aka "ruining Christmas"), then factor that in.

You don't necessarily have to confront the situation of now-until-forever right now. You could do what it takes to respect yourself and your kids this year in a way that minimizes the drama, and then next year announce your plans early enough that the backlash won't happen on Christmas itself.

Really consider how to protect yourself from traumatic encounters. They are not without cost. Your emotional health and self-image impacts not just you but everyone else in your family. "I don't let people speak to me that way, so if you continue to [insult me / accuse me / criticize me / shout / curse], [you'll need to leave / I'll need to leave / I'll need to hang up.]" ... "As I said before, [insults / whatever] are not acceptable, so now I am [asking you to leave / leaving / hanging up]."
posted by salvia at 12:46 PM on December 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

In Al-Anon there's a slogan: "No" is a complete sentence. Your kids are incredible. They are telling you that no one should put up with such abuse, especially you.

Miss Manners advocates the broken record approach and it's great. It goes something like this:

You: hi, mom. I'm just calling to say that since we haven't heard from you, the children and I have made other plans for Christmas this year. Hope you enjoy your holidays, and perhaps we'll catch up with you next year.

Your mother: WTF? Demands explanation.

You: give her zero explanation. No one is obligated to justify anything to anyone, unless you happen to be on trial. You are not on trial. You merely continue to say the same thing. Such as, enjoy your holidays, mom. We are busy tomorrow. We've made other plans.

And then when she loses it, because she will, you just calmly say that you will speak to her again when she is able to talk to you in a civil manner. And then you will hang up the phone. And then you will be loving and kind and gentle towards yourself and your children. And you will have the best Christmas ever and feel super celebratory. Because you have just been an awesome mother and have provided an excellent role model of how to respond to people who are abusive.

Your mother may have many reasons for being the sad, depressed, abusive, negative person that she is. That doesn't mean you have to put up with it anymore. At all. Ever. Unless you choose to.

That's the part you forgot: it is a choice. Make a different choice this year. You are not responsible for your mother or her feelings. Hug your children, enjoy their company, revel in the fact that this year, for the first of many years, you will not have to suffer through that dark abusive cloud known as your mom.

If you do not make this call, you are not a victim, you are a volunteer. Do you really want to volunteer for that kind of abuse again? Be strong, make that call, and have a wonderful holiday!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:47 PM on December 24, 2014 [98 favorites]

Well, I guess I will go against the consensus here. I should note at the outset that I say this as someone who has a very difficult relationship with my mother and who doesn't fetishize biological relationships. I have gone "no contact" with my mother for various lengths of time, and I am currently estranged from two other family members. So, I do feel your pain and have some experience in these matters.

It sounds like you had come to some understanding with your mother: you will never have a close relationship but she will be included in your holiday get togethers. While your mother sounds like a pretty nasty character, I'm not sure, from your description, that her behavior, currently, rises to the level of abuse, although it certainly sounds like she was abusive in the past. Most mothers seem to think that they have a say in their children's weight, hair, job, etc. and jabs and insults seem par for the course in many mother-daughter relationships, although this is obviously far from ideal. Maybe her current behavior does rise to the level of abuse and you just haven't fully described the extent of her behavior, or maybe I just have an overly high bar for what constitutes actual abuse from one's mother. But before your children brought this up, you seemed to have made your peace with including your mother in holidays, but keeping her at arms length for the rest of the year.

To be honest, I think your children put you in a difficult position. If they hate your mother so much they don't want to be around her even for one day, that's perfectly understandable, but I think it is wrong to ask you to completely sever your relationship with your mother simply because they want to sever their relationship with their grandmother.

As someone who has been in a similar situation, I will tell you that completely cutting off your mother has all sorts of consequences that you may not be prepared for. If going no contact is something you want to do for you, go for it but be prepared for the backlash from her and perhaps other consequences that you weren't expecting. If this is something you want to do for your adult children, I would encourage you to rethink.
posted by girl flaneur at 12:55 PM on December 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

I agree with those who say you should tell her not to come. In this situation Miss Manners' favored phrase might come in handy: "I'm sorry, that will not be possible."

Best of luck. I'm sorry you are stuck with such a toxic situation, but your kids sound terrific, so enjoy the holiday with them!
posted by Gelatin at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting that you cut your mom out of your life forever. If you want to, fine. If you don't want to, fine. I'm suggesting that you declare independence from having your mom over at Christmas. And if you want to have a relationship with her, try developing something one-on-one, without her husband and your children involved. That makes it less stressful and, potentially, creates a greater possibility for successfully connecting with your mom and your mom connecting with you. Without an audience, the dynamics will be different. Just a thought.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:03 PM on December 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Very sorry for you, this sounds like a terrible situation and I agree with those who say to ask her not to come. But have you thought of what you'd do if she simply showed up at your door and demanded--"I'm your mother!"--to be let in? Such a scene could be worse than what you've described and REALLY wreck a holiday. I'm just saying, try to have a plan for that eventuality.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:07 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I hope my comment above doesn't seem to imply you should capitulate to her demands to "not ruin Christmas." Whatever she does, it's her responsibility, and it's not your responsibility to predict or control it. I'm not saying you must negotiate with terrorists (as jessamyn puts it).

My only point is that you have a lot of options. You don't have to become Ms. Perfect Boundary Setter who does this in its purest textbook form overnight, though you could. But there's no shame in picking a time and place for your battles. Sometimes these things get framed as "don't put up with abuse - cut that person off forever!" but the reality is that there are a lot of ways to handle this. None are perfect. There are shades of gray. Some people find a middle ground, which isn't to say that approach is superior either. It's a matter of trial and error, and personal preference, and balancing things. Now / soon, it seems you'll also have to balance how it impacts your children's decisions about what to do over the holidays, as this seems hard for them. But you could continue the conversation with them and discuss other possible solutions. Right now, you know the full set of variables in play better than anyone else, so I just want to help you feel empowered in trusting your gut about what would best protect you and your family and discussing that with others.

But it sounds like you do want to tell her not to come this year, and if so, go for it!
posted by salvia at 1:11 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, is she local? And bossy? If so, be prepared to hear the doorbell ring and have a plan B. As in, adult child designated to answer the door and say, hi, grandma. Sorry, but mom's not here and we've made other plans. Happy holidays! And then adult child closes and locks door. Because if you are anything like me, you won't be able to keep your mother out of your house if she shows up on the doorstep. So designate someone else in the family who is capable of doing that. And if nobody else is, and if your mom is local and bossy, then by all means eat out or go to a friend's if you can. If you set a limit with your mom and then give in, it will be 1000 times harder next time. So either don't set a limit or set the limit and hold it.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:13 PM on December 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Agree 100 percent with what girl flaneur said. I've had similar advice for forever about dealing with my mother -- just tell her such and such! There, problem solved! -- and it is not. that. simple. I understand it sounds simple to other people, but no, it really isn't just that simple as calling someone the day before Christmas to tell them blithely that you're uninviting them this year, hanging up the phone, and then going about your business. If she went batshit when you booked a hotel, she's not just going to say "Oh well, I guess that's that!" and stay home for Christmas without making your life misery.

I think if you want to plan to tell her not to come next year, go ahead and do it, when you can have the time and space to deal with everything that decision will entail. And frankly, I think that's a good idea. But I actually do not think that simply calling her today and telling her not to come tomorrow will have the desired effect. Quite to the contrary, I think it will make things considerably more unpleasant for you. One woman's view.
posted by holborne at 1:31 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I nth everyone else saying that uninviting her for this year, starting TONIGHT, is a bad idea. She will throw shit fits out the wazoo whenever she hears this news, but especially tonight of all nights. I don't think you're all prepared to weather the drama right this instant, are you? Because honestly, I'd want to change the locks (if she has a key) and possibly just not open the door and pretend to not be home or something if you try that tonight.

I'm inclined to say tolerate her for one more year and then take a year to plan out how you all are going to handle things from now on. Or alternately, after she says something awful, tell her that's it, no more, you're not inviting her next year. (Or attempt to throw her out...but yeah, good luck with that when you're a woman with three kids and she has a fuckwad husband.)

No matter what, she is going to make you suffer and pay a price for whatever you decide to do. She makes your life hell if you invite her, she'll make your life hell if you don't. It really is up to you (and I guess your kids) to decide how much of a price you want to pay to ensure total estrangement/disownment, whatever. How much punishment from her for not inviting her are all of you willing to put up with?

And yes, it's sad that you have to think this shit out, but that's families for you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:44 PM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you can do this, and should do this, starting tonight. She is likely to ruin this Christmas if you tell her not to come, but she's going to ruin Christmas if she comes, anyway, so consider it a throw-away year in which you're setting boundaries to have better Christmases in the future.

Putting it off until next year is unlikely to be any easier, even given the timing. She's not alone; she can go do something with her husband tomorrow and say nasty things behind your back rather than to your face, which is actually preferable. If she shows up, tell her to leave; if she won't, call the police.
posted by jaguar at 2:01 PM on December 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

I mean, you're basically allowing her to verbally abuse your kids in your presence. Given her abhorrent behavior, it's completely ok to protect yourself and your children, even if that level of behavior would be rude given a non-abusive situation.

She's holding you and your children hostage so that she can abuse you and your children. Get out of that situation in any way possible.
posted by jaguar at 2:04 PM on December 24, 2014 [17 favorites]

I will put it this way: my mom is not anywhere near as poorly-behaved and abusive as you have described your mother to be, and I still won't spend holidays with her. It's just a time that happens to bring out the worst in her. It is totally ok to not want to have your mom around for Christmas (or any other time!), and your kids are not just giving you permission but are actively asking you to disinvite her. There are lots of great suggestions in this thread on how to do so.
posted by bedhead at 2:38 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Assuming she is still coming this year:

Generally when my mother comes to visit, all my kids get out of the house as often as they can to avoid being near her. But even those two hours for dinner are highly awful.

Can you ask your kids to tag team it with you? It seems awful to just leave you alone for her attacks. Surely they can help you get through this year. Sometimes there are games that can make such "conversations" impossible - Dutch blitz, pit, wii boxing has been particularly satisfying... Games where everyone plays at once (no turns) work best.

Keep it short (not multiple days!) and plan a new tradition for next year.
posted by heatherann at 3:06 PM on December 24, 2014

I'd say for this year if you feel it's too late to tell her you have other plans (that she doesn't need to know the details on), if possible, then do a public dinner someplace suggested upthread. If she insists on following you home, just tell her you have other obligations that don't include her.

Later in the year without holiday pressure, maybe set the stage face to face that you're done doing holidays with her. That doesn't mean you never want to see or talk to her again. You just are drawing the line for that time of year.

I think it's a perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the kids that no one should have to put up with abuse, even / especially if the abuser is related to you.
posted by yoga at 3:14 PM on December 24, 2014

Be prepared to lock your door and hold siege while she bangs on the door Christmas day. You've got to cut her off completely, to the point of a court order if necessary, or she'll really make your lives living hell. Sorry for your troubles.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:37 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, it's ok. I had to do the same thing. (I had no contact for 8 years and no regrets.)
Will she take it well? No.
Does that change anything for you? No.
When she gets nasty about your decision, (and she will) you can end the conversation.
She's nasty anyway, right? The difference is that you and your kids don't have to hear it.

I can only guess that your mother never listened to you or cared what you needed. How wonderful that your kids have a mother who listens to them and does something about it.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful Christmas. You deserve it!
posted by Linnee at 3:38 PM on December 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

I recognize how disgraceful this suggestion is, but desperate times.

I think I'd call her and lie my head off. I think I would tell her that there was a power outage, best friend is in the hospital, a rodent infestation, snakes in my hair -- whatever it took to make sure my kids didn't have to face Christmas with this woman after summoning up the bravery to tell you how much her behavior bothers them.

Yes, lying is bad. Yes, it's a self-respect hit. But I'd consider it offset by giving my kids a decent Christmas. And following that, I'd get busy trying to figure out how the hell to cut ties with this woman because I think your kids probably put off having that heart to heart moment with you for years and I think, take it for the gift that talk is--their Christmas gift to you.

Also consider changing your phone number and giving her a Google voice number only. Mr. Llama does this and really enjoys the incoherent text Google sends him in email format. I feel like that would probably make her future attempts at contact less stressful.

Good luck to you and sorry to suggest what I know is a skeevy option. But I can't think of another option that doesn't involve having dinner with her.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:38 PM on December 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Some logistics here: it's Christmas Eve, are they already on their way? Are they flying or driving? If they're flying then I think it's too late to change things this year. If they're leaving their home in the morning to drive to you, call her right now and tell her you've all suddenly come down with stomach flu. Full stop. Don't come. Gotta run.

That gives you time to sort out what you really want to say to her so that she iwll not come next year. Work on some compromise, meet her somewhere halfway next summer for a day of hiking or whatever. Write to her and tell her you and your kids are planning a trip for Christmas 2015, whatever.

I have had no contact with my father for more than 20 years. My kids are old enough that they can see him if they want, two of the three have seen him once in those years.
posted by mareli at 3:49 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Okay, assuming (since it's already Christmas eve!) that it's too late to change plans for this Christmas: next year, plan to take your kids and go to the beach or camping or just anywhere but home. Then when your mother calls to say when she's arriving flat-out tell her "sorry, we won't be there". Don't tell her exactly where you will be; maybe say you're going to the beach, but not which beach. Never explain, just keep calmly repeating "we won't be home" and when she insists on joining you, "No, that won't be possible". And then when she starts yelling --- because she probably will! --- stay calm, say goodbye, hang up the phone then do not answer when she calls back: let it ring.

Things to remember:
* Just because your phone rings does not mean you are required to answer it --- you have a phone for your benefit, not to place you at the beck & call of anyone who has your phone number.
* Just because someone knocks on your door or tells you they want to stay in your house does not require you to open that door --- you have a door and door locks so that you can keep out anyone you feel like keeping out.

And just because someone is family (biologically, by marriage, by adoption, by casual 'we always call mom's best friend Aunt Carol') does not give them the right to treat you like this. Frankly, the best thing you could probably do for yourself (and your kids) is to go the full no-contact on your mom: do not accept any phone calls, emails, texts or snail-mail letters from her; defriend her on any social media like facebook; never respond to anything she says or does --- go 100% radio silent on her.

And finally: damn, you raised some fine, decent, caring kids!
posted by easily confused at 3:58 PM on December 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you do decide it's too late for this year, can you pull her aside in private and tell her to watch her mouth if she wants to be invited back in the future? Your kids are too old to let that behavior slide.
posted by zug at 4:04 PM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Jeepers, I love my in-laws and after a rough year with their family (who they like), for various reasons they decided to bugger off to Fiji for the holidays. Good on em, we thought, they really deserve a break from the drama.

My point is, I'm not sure defining what constitutes abuse from your mother matters. If your kids had an intervention about it and you always have a dreadful time with her, you should get to shut that crap down!

I can understand if it seem a bit late in the game to be cancelling plans (particularly if she's already on her way to you) but if there's a horrible sick feeling in your gut at the prospect of having to put up with her rubbish again, I would hang the inconvenience toward her and put those boundaries up. If you can't prevent her from coming I would explain to your kids why and your intention going forward once this Chrimbus is over, and then try and maintain those boundaries in person, as suggested from others above.

The thing I would like to add to this is that I hope you're not hard on yourself if you find it hard to set those boundaries in person - that stuff takes time to learn, and you've only just figured that it's okay not to have to take this treatment from family members. It might be something you can also give permission to your kids to help you out with, if grandma says/does anything that they feel is disrespectful - give them agency to shut her down as well instead of having to watch as their mother is mistreated.
posted by scuza at 4:42 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's really okay to go full no contact with this person. Just because she gave birth to you doesn't magically make her your mom. You're not doing yourself or your kids any favors by having her around. So don't.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 4:52 PM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

First thing I'd do is tell your kids that they are right and that you are going to put a stop to the tradition of Christmas hosting your mom. And thank them for setting you straight.

Then, consider your options realistically. It sounds to me as if, if you call her and tell her not to come, there would be a very good chance that she would come anyway and make an even worse scene. Is that a possibility? Because if it is, I wouldn't baldly uninvite her at this point unless you can make realistic plans to be elsewhere with your kids. (Do you have a friend's house to hang out at all day or something, if you have to?)

The options I see are:

1. Lying (some sort of blameless "we can't host here, I'm sick, the electricity's out and the dog has diarrhea" scenario);
2. Uninviting her, and planning to be elsewhere just in case she shows anyway;
3. Putting up with it this year, promising yourself and the kids that it is the last year you're suffering through it, which should make it easier to handle this one last time. And tell your kids that they have your support and encouragement to speak up and shut Grandma down if she steps out of line.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:59 PM on December 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

You have to do this in whatever way makes you least jumpy (personally I'd tell her that all three kids are projectile-spewing from both ends, Christmas is cancelled). The important part is this: IT IS OKAY TO PUT YOUR CHILDREN AND YOURSELF AHEAD OF SOMEONE WHO HURTS ALL OF YOU.

For your kids' sake, you should have ended this long ago. Your mother's made her choices, you are not required to suffer the consequences as a toll paid for gestating in her body. Stop doing this to your kids, if you can't do it for yourself.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:00 PM on December 24, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'm with jaguar - a huge amen to each of jaguar's comments actually -- begin this Christmas to cut your toxic mother out of your life. Your kids are clear they would never like to see her again. Please give your kids that gift this Christmas.

Is it as simple as just telling her not to come, forever?

Well, given that "she's currently playing weird games about whether or not she'll be too tired to see us" you don't even need to communicate your intentions by reaching out to her to "clarify." You already have reasonable grounds to determine she is not coming. Go with that. Act as if she is not coming.

If she shows up at your door anyway? You know you don't need to open your front door. Unplug your phones. If she trashes your yard or something, you call the police. Make a plan with your three awesome children that you have heard them loud and clear and are going no contact ASAP.

You have raised your three children extremely well. Take heart in that. Be proud of that.

As for the concerns upthread about her "ruining Christmas" - oh, come now - only if you give her that power. There are some real deal Christmas-ruining things that are beyond your control, such as a freak snowstorm or a cancelled flight. But fortunately, keeping your door locked and refusing to open it is something you absolutely CAN control. And phones these days can be turned the hell off. Because, she, like all of the old fashioned tales of vampires, also cannot come into your home unless you let her in. Even the police mostly need a warrant to enter your home. Just don't open the door. Your wonderful kids will support you in this choice.
posted by hush at 5:18 PM on December 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Just to quickly clarify my comments above:

You, the OP, are asking about the healthiest way to move forward and if cutting off all contact is the way to go. No one here can really answer that question, of course, because so much depends on the details of your situation.

There are few mother-daughter relationships I know of that are completely free of pushiness, criticism, and yes, insult; that doesn't make these behaviors OK, but I think sometimes growing up in an abusive home can make one overly sensitive to slights and lead one to romanticize what goes on in other families . I'm not saying that's the case here; I'm just saying that is something that does happen.

Things to decide before going no-contact include the following:

*Is your mother going to completely freak out? Do you have a plan for dealing with that both practically and emotionally?

*Do you have all the information you might need about your mother's and maternal grandmother's health history?

*Do you have all the information you might need about your biological father?

* If your mother were to pass away this year, do you think you would feel comfortable with your decision to break off contact with her? Even if you do it in this way?

*Have you asked her everything you might want to ask about her family (where they came from, their traditions, etc.)

*Are willing to forclose forever the possibility of a better relationship?

While there can be good reasons for breaking off contact with one's biological mother, I don't think this is a decision that should be made quickly. Nor do I think that your children's opinions should be given undue weight in making this choice. For most people, this is a life altering decision, and you might decide that the limited contact you have now is preferable to cutting her out of your life completely. Good luck.
posted by girl flaneur at 5:51 PM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

She's told you she's too tired and might not be able to make it? Great, that's your out. Tell her in light of that, your plans have changed, Christmas is no longer at your house and you've made other plans to go out with the kids, just you and your family. Don't say what they are, and tell her you hope she has a restful Christmas. That will teach her to play mind games and give you a monster free day all at the same time.
posted by Jubey at 5:53 PM on December 24, 2014 [13 favorites]

I feel you on this on certain relatives (not my mom though - she is lovely). Even though you've aired your grievances here, no one except you and your family truly knows the relationship between you and your mother. Second comments above on simply letting her slide. If she fails to show up, cool, you don't need to follow up, and if she does show, you can let her in and lay down the law in private. She'll get the message.
posted by skippingcharades at 6:40 PM on December 24, 2014

My inner mantra has always been, "She's a monster but she's family,"

This is a bad (but understandable) mantra. I am blessed that my immediate family is quite close (extended is another story - one of my own blood grandmothers is not in my life) but I do not believe that "families put up with each other" extends this far. That's for putting up with some aunt or grandfather's harmless nattering about how they think they can invent a time machine, not toxic behavior as you describe.

For most any person, if you ask them to think of the people who have most in life, that list will be almost exclusively family members. This is sad but a fact. Please don't think you have to tolerate an toxic person because of your relation by the accident of birth. Of course, don't be cruel in return (and you don't indicate that you have been or will be), but you are certainly within proper behavior not to have such a person under your roof. In fact, you may have a duty to protect your minor children from such a person. (kudos to your children for seeing it, and kudos to you for raising such children)

You have already received a lot of great advice. juniperesque and Bella Donna on spot-on regarding logistics. Good luck, and I will pray that you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:26 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

My only worry for you is that you're going from trying to appease your mom to trying to appease your kids. What about appeasing YOU? What do YOU want? Do you want your kids to show some more grace with your mom and distract her sometimes rather than getting out of the house when she shows up? Do you want to tell your mom off and tell her she needs to be fucking nice to you on Christmas, goddammit, or she can go home? Do you want to cut her off for good? Do you want to do something different with her for the holidays that puts less pressure on you, like a lunch between the two of the you at a restaurant with your own transportation on Boxing Day?

It is completely okay for you to disinvite her from Christmas, stop speaking with her, or do something else. Make sure it is what YOU YOURSELF want and then do it. You deserve a peaceful, loving holiday.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:36 PM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Please believe me when I say that I understand. My family is composed entirely of narcissists (I don't think I'm one, but am on guard for any such indications), and there is pretty much zero pleasure for me in dealing with any of them. Aside from their psychological faults/issues, they are, to use your phrase, nasty and unpleasant.


You haven't described a monster. You've described a difficult person who brings nothing positive to the equation and who you can't stand to be around. That's not a monster.

I understand the wounds are deep - so much so that even a slight shake of salt is exacerbating torture. But I'd invite you to mentally strip away two layers: 1. the fact that she's your mom, so you'd hope - perhaps only subconsciously - she'd be better, and 2. her social unpleasantness.

Your mom doesn't need to be pleasant to be invited once per year. And your pent-up hopes/expectations are irrelevant. None of us must live up to anyone's hopes, we just are who we are, the product of our genes and our experiences and our choices. So take those things away for sake of this argument, and also your own reactiveness. Strip away all expectation of pleasantness or anything else. In that light, is she truly a "monster"? Or just a raging disappointment and perennial thorn in your side?

Thing is, there are a whole lot of people out there on both sides of the parent/child equation who are raging disappointments and perennial thorns. And firing's going way too far. I suspect you feel this, hence your ambivalence. You wouldn't be posting here if you didn't grok that on some level.

I use my very occasional family gatherings to teach myself to be both open-hearted and non-reactive. It's SUCH a hard combo! And my trouble in being both is really my fault, not theirs. I believe that everything that happens to me is designed (which by no means implies a Designer!) to teach me the exact thing I have to learn....so I try to see this as an opportunity. When I'm with them, I don't expect pleasantness or change. I remain detached from the poison that may be flung at any moment, while also trying not to detach from the very deepest current of love - the very lowest common denominator of non-verbal, non-specific, marrow of my bones love. Love that doesn't listen to the yadda yadda of what's said, love that doesn't expect or react, just love that sees underneath all that. It's hard, but it's my grad school.

But the real issue is your kids. Closing off is easy to do - and habit forming! Staying open (especially under duress) is hard work. And, as you seem to deeply understand, we try to stay open to family to the bitter end. I'd be concerned about the takeaway for your kids if you detached from this nearly non-existent connection due to mere unpleasantness (and this is where I need to reiterate that I truly do understand just how awful she is, and how she makes you feel...please don't think I'm undervaluing that!).
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:07 PM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

You don't have to see this as an "opportunity" to be open-hearted. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or something for that. There is no reason in the world to subject yourself to a mean, neglectful, nasty, black-cloud of a person. Life is short.

Take care of yourself and your kids. You don't need to dread Christmas every year. It's ok to say "no" to family. Trust yourself.
posted by sockermom at 8:21 PM on December 24, 2014 [10 favorites]

"I've been put out by my mother's behavior over the years, but this is the first time my (late teens and young adult) kids have been open about how much they dislike her behavior. I want to respect that but I'm not sure what to do."

Can I tell you how fucked up it is that you categorize your children's opinion as "not liking her behavior"??

NEWSFLASH: They do not like or love her.

It is December 24th, so I'm not sure what you were expecting here.

Cut this person out of your life. Or grok that your kids will cut you out of their lives at some point.

This is not so complicated. Love doesn't work the way you have been trying to make it work.

Love shields your children from toxic odious people. At all times. Full stop.
posted by jbenben at 10:01 PM on December 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's an unpleasant phone call to uninvite her for christmas, but it will only last 5 minutes or less AND you are in control. That's much better than the alternative, isn't it? I have difficult family members too and in therapy I've learned to keep conversations Emotionally Simple. State everything from your perspective, no discussions and be okay with diagreeing opinions. Good luck and merry christmas!
posted by hz37 at 12:59 AM on December 25, 2014

First, a very Merry Christmas to you!

I definitely can emphasize. You're in a sticky situation. You've got yourself, your mom, and your kids to think about. Each side are on different wavelengths.

If I were you, I'd utilize one of those options:

a) "Mom, I'm sorry, but our Christmas gathering has been cancelled. I'm sick, the kids are coming down with bad colds, we have mice all over the place, my friend had a last-minute emergency, we made other plans because xxy friend is going out of the county soon, and so on."

b) Put up with it one last time, then next year, don't invite her. Do your own thing.

But, first, think of yourself. What do YOU want? Remember that your kids' feelings are valid, but your feelings are valid as well! Abusive behavior is unacceptable, yes, and it's great that your kids care! At the same time, you've got this whole relationship with your mom, however small, and I do think your mom deserves to at least hear the truth. Just not now. Not at this very short notice.

Personally, I'd probably do option A, and bolt to a friend's or a restaurant if possible, but if my mom was flying in, I'd do option B, only because it'd be unfair to her and would be doing a disservice to her.

Sticky situation for sure. You've got my sympathies, and remember - any decision you make is valid.

Whatever you decide to do, report back to us! I'm sure I'm not the only one who's curious of the end result. Stay strong. And, I do hope you and your kids have a wonderful, abuse-free Christmas :)
posted by dubious_dude at 2:12 AM on December 25, 2014

Wow. I am so jealous of your kids right now. You sound like such an awesome person for even considering this, OP. Adopt me? I'm kidding, obviously, but damn, I am turning a bright shade of green with envy at your kids having such a wonderful mother. You have their backs. So amazing. I did have a series of metaphors that I was going to use to illustrate my point, but I think what it boils down to is this: you have to protect your kids from stuff that will hurt them. You already seem to know this, which {high fives you}.

Blood does not equal family. Water does not equal family. Family equals family and family is the people who are good to you and good for you. Corollary; sometimes family members have bad days or rough patches and they're not their best selves. One thing family members won't do is try to hurt you, either through malice or pain. People who try to hurt you are people that it's in your best interests to run away from. People who aren't-trying-but-still-manage-to hurt you are also people that it's in your best interests to run away from. I don't know why your mother is behaving in the way she is. Maybe she's deeply unhappy with life, maybe she's in chronic pain, maybe there's some other medical condition going on, maybe she's just a twisted and spiteful person. It doesn't make any difference which (if any) of those things are the case. You still owe it to yourself to protect yourself. Maybe when you're far enough removed you can use this person as a negative focus in compassion meditation, but right now, you need to protect yourself, and by extension, your kids. If/when you're an expert in compassion, you'll be in a much safer space to be dealing with her. This person is not treating you like family would treat you.

With regards to the Christmas situation, Miss Manners has the perfect script for you to use. Say "I'm afraid that won't be possible". Use this as your new catchphrase every time your mother suggests coming over. Use it when she says "but why?" too. It's not a direct answer to the question she's asking, which to me felt a little weird the first time I tried it, but the key to dealing with a troll is to give the exact same response every time they fish. That can be no response whatsoever, or the same pat phrase that can't really be argued with. Every single time she goes off on one, or throws a barb, say the phrase. At first, she'll likely engage in an extinction burst. Where before she stamped her foot to get what she wanted, she'll now stamp her feet twice as hard. Just keep saying the phrase with the same tone and inflection. During an extinction burst, any positive response will train the person to engage in [more extreme behaviour] to get what they want, and they'll likely just do that in the first instance. Where before they would have called before coming round, they will now just turn up on your doorstep. To avoid that, keep using the catchphrase. Eventually, they'll run out of patience with using that particular tactic and stop stamping their feet. The good news is that the first time you do this is the worst. The second and third times, it's easier because you have practice and experience to fall back on.

Another thing you have to be careful of is to not let your guard down around this person. You don't have to build a castle complete with croco-shark infested waters and drawbridge, but a certain amount of awareness that this person likes to push your buttons is worthwhile. Especially keep an eye out for the feather-light touch that a button pusher will use at first. It's so gentle that you barely notice it, such as "it's cold outside, do you want to wear a sweater" being used to criticise your choice of clothing. Shut that sort of thing down instantly. The button pusher will react with horror and hurt feelings, in my experience. "I'm only telling you because I mean you well!" rather than "I'm sorry, that was patronising". That little display means that your tactics are working. If they weren't working, the button pusher would have gotten what they wanted - you feeling upset, rather than them. The fact that they need to use guilt trips AND criticism, rather than just criticism alone, proves that the reverse of what they want is happening. They're getting frustrated. Your mom may or may not behave like this, but if she does, here's some tips for disabling your buttons. It sounds like you've already got a pretty good handle on this, to be honest.

Maybe make a new holiday celebration that celebrates the group of you and your kids. Maybe you all bundle into the kitchen and cooperate in making some small cakes. Then you bake the cakes and each have a few to decorate, and then you all share your cakes with each other.

So much kudos to you for showing your children that it's OK to not be around people who treat them badly.
posted by Solomon at 2:49 AM on December 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

You know, when I first read this question, I thought it would be that you had a strained relationship with your Mom, but that you wanted your kids to have a grandmother. Since NO ONE likes having her around this is SO MUCH easier!

Call your mom and flat out tell her, "Mom, for years you neglected me, and criticized me and have been mean to me. Since I've had children, I thought that I should involve you in our lives because they deserve a grandmother who loves them. This year the kids sat me down and told me that they don't want anyone around them who is mean to their mother, who belittles and insults her and have asked me to exclude you from our family celebrations. This year, I'm giving myself the gift of freedom. Freedom from you. You cry and bemoan that we don't have a better relationship, that's yours to own. I wish you well with the life you've chosen to live, but I don't want to be a part of it any more."

Really, you can do this. Do don't lie, and don't pull punches. Tell her what you want and sever those ties.

Enjoy your Christmas.

If for some reason you can't keep her from coming, tell her, "Mom, I don't like the way you're speaking to me and if you don't stop it, I want you to leave."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:07 AM on December 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

this is the first time my (late teens and young adult) kids have been open about how much they dislike her behavior...I'm not sure what to do.

I hear you that you don't know what to do, but holy shit OP you need to do something, that is IF you would like all three of your kids to continue to spend every Christmas with you in the near future. Your kids are fast approaching the ages where Other Peoples' Safe, Drama-Free Homes at Christmas are going to start looking very attractive to them if you refuse to, as you say, "break up with Grandma."

And break up with her you must. Our children grow up and leave home and form healthy relationships and create new familial and friendship ties if we're lucky. The reality is you don't know how many more Christmases the 4 of you have before partners and their own lives and plans begin to trump family Christmas at your house. Once one of them starts having kids of their own? Don't be surprised if they all then elect to set a more permanent boundary around Toxic Grandma's issues and choose to never spend another Christmas at your house. (Ask me how I know this.)

Generally when my mother comes to visit, all my kids get out of the house as often as they can to avoid being near her.

This is a preview of your own Christmas Future unless you make some changes right away.

It probably took a lot for them to sit you down and intervene on you. What they're basically telling you is: "Mom, we love you, we respect you, and it KILLS us to watch you willingly take abuse again and again and again from the deadbeat mom who neglected you as a child. Please respect yourself enough to stop inviting a known abuser to be part of our family Christmas celebration."

If after all this you STILL insist on seeing your mom at Christmas? Seek therapy yourself - I know you recommended it to her, but you are also in need if you can't maintain boundaries. But you don't get to keep subjecting your kids to her. If, in a weak moment, that unhealthy part of you that is still looking to her to give you the love and nurturing you deserved but did not get as a young child wins out, then perhaps do something separately to celebrate Christmas with just her and you, and that racist, sexist husband of hers tagging along.

Protect your kids.
posted by hush at 8:15 AM on December 25, 2014 [16 favorites]

There is this saying that was intended to mean the opposite of what most of us ascribe to it. The full wording is "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb." Those who stand with us and for us are true family. Those who use the relationship of flesh to abuse or make us small deserve no such consideration. Not only is it OK to disconnect from your Mom, but it seems that the blood of the covenant with your kids requires it.
posted by Fibognocchi at 10:17 AM on December 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

Wishing you a Merry Christmas!
posted by BlueHorse at 1:31 PM on December 25, 2014

Just lie to her. Tell her you're going away every Christmas forever. Commit to going to see her once a year if you want to maintain a relationship. Stay in a hotel if you go to see her.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:37 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

girl flaneur: "It sounds like you had come to some understanding with your mother: you will never have a close relationship but she will be included in your holiday get togethers. While your mother sounds like a pretty nasty character, I'm not sure, from your description, that her behavior, currently, rises to the level of abuse, although it certainly sounds like she was abusive in the past. "

Considering her own children have actively questioned why their grandma is there, have said that she is"mean" to OP, and experience "distress and discomfort" in having her around, I wonder if it might not be classified as — if not abuse — not something anyone should have to deal with over the holidays. At a certain point, even the most depressed, messed up person is in some small way responsible with how they interact with the rest of the world. OP, it sounds like your mother interacts with you in the worst possible way.

I know it's after the fact, but for people in the future who might run across this question:

Anonymous, this is a hard situation but from a certain standpoint, you are asked to choose between making 3 people unhappy, or making one person who can never be happy, unhappy. Added to which these 3 people are your children, whom you are tasked to protect (including emotionally). If you can frame it this way, it seems much easier to make this decision. This is not that unusual of a situation, where there is one toxic individual that spoils an entire gathering, and inevitably it is their toxicity that complicates the situation — the other individuals involved know that this one time of gathering is the only chance this toxic individual has of meaningful connection, and so through some sort of pity, compassion, or feeling of obligation this toxic individual is re-invited even as they ruin each event.

This individual has chosen to be the kind of person they are — or, at the very least, they have not made any concerted effort to be other than that person (see, e.g. your mothers refusal to address her depression). It is such a benefit to the larger group that these individuals be left out — at least until they've done some necessary work on themselves (if such a thing is possible).

Anonymous, if you did leave your mother out of this year's Christmas (and I hope you were able to!) there is zero, zilch, nothing to feel ashamed about. In fact, you don't even have to worry about whether or not you were rude about this, honestly. Your mother had adequate chances to be a part of your life, both during and after your childhood. It takes a certain kind of relationship with your children to have them effectively un-parent you.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:17 PM on December 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

What terrific kids. Seriously, you must have done a great job. Meet Mom 1/2 way between homes for Christmas diner at a restaurant. Well worth the drive. Give your kids an extra hug from me.
posted by theora55 at 12:26 AM on December 27, 2014

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