No, really, you shouldn't have
July 23, 2015 6:42 AM   Subscribe

How do I react to someone else's emotional labor?

I've been mulling this question over both in my personal life and as a possible question for AskMe for a long time, and now with the emotional labor thread on the Blue, I feel like I finally have the language to describe what is going on here.

My mother is the queen of emotional labor. This mostly translates into actual physical work: planning events, caring for the sick, making sure everyone is included, keeping a beautiful and immaculate house. She is very proud of these things, and others routinely compliment her on her party-throwing and casserole-delivering skills, and rightly so. Her remunerated job is in children's theater, where you have to be the person who knows where each prop is and makes sure that everyone has lines. She also, deservedly, gets a lot of compliments on her ability to pull together a show that everyone enjoys participating in.

My issues here are twofold: 1) she does a lot of emotional labor that is really, really not necessary, and 2) she nags and manipulates me into doing this completely unnecessary labor too.

I'm cringing at even voicing Issue #1 because the entire point of the discussion on emotional labor is that it is so often devalued and seen as unnecessary, and that is super shitty. But, seriously. She does things that are 100% unnecessary. She worries when I get stuck in traffic and arrive an hour late for a visit to her house (I'm 30 years old and she lives in the DC area). She vacuums/mops twice a day. She approaches my poor fiancé and nags him into conversation when he is perfectly happy reading a book or just staring off into space, because she feels that he will feel left out.

Issue #2 is involving me in all this. I'm getting married in 2 months and the last time I visited home, Mom and I had a 20-minute-long heated conversation about how I needed to "fix" my wedding registry because she felt it included "inappropriate" items (two board games and a sofa). Her argument was that no one wants to buy frivolous things like games for a wedding registry, and that a sofa would cost too much to ship, and that I should think about how having those items on the registry would appear to my guests. After 20 minutes of argument, I caved and removed the items from the registry (and my fiancé immediately added the sofa back on). The last time my mother and I spoke on the phone, she told me 3 times in a 7 minute conversation that I needed to send my sister the information about hotel accommodations because my sister couldn't send out the invitations until she got it and she (my sister) was super stressed about it. I called my sister and not only was she not stressed, she hadn't even spoken to Mom about the invitations.

This is not a new behavior, but I feel like I am finally starting to see it for what it is: emotional labor where it is not wanted or needed, with a healthy side dose of manipulation. I am starting to dread my bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, bachelorette party, and even the wedding itself because I am imagining a whole set of demands of things I need to do (according to my mother) that will cause me stress and that in the end aren't even necessary. I'm also imagining the reaction if I put my foot down on some of these things, which will be that I'm "doing it wrong" (which after reading about emotional labor I am starting to think is code for "You're not playing the female societal role appropriately"). I'm also starting to dread calling my mother on the phone because I don't want to hear about another thing I am "supposed" to do to make this a good wedding. I'm tired of having to explain that neither I nor my guests will think it's the end of the world if I don't find the perfect pair of shoes.

I don't want to be this way with my mom. I want to enjoy talking with her and I want to enjoy sharing the experience of my wedding with her. And when the wedding is over, I don't want to do this all over again with family visits and Christmas presents. I can't even imagine how bad it will get if/when we have kids.

Mom won't appreciate or listen to a discussion on emotional labor. Previous attempts to get her to knock it off have ended in tears about how I don't appreciate her, and to be honest I don't really want to be another person telling a woman that her emotional labor is useless. How can we move forward? Any advice?
posted by chainsofreedom to Human Relations (36 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I feel that you have missed the point of the emotional labor discussion and jumped at the chance to apply a novel paradigm to your frustrations with your mom.

What you're describing isn't a woman that is saddled with an unfair share of emotional labor; it's a person whose values are at odds with your own.

I note with interest that you didn't mention your mother's partner, if she has one, at all. The emotional labor discussion as I read it was largely about how woman are held responsible for all or most of the emotional labor in their relationships with men.

Respect doesn't require that we sublimate our own values in the values of our superiors/elders/loved ones. You don't have to tell your mom that she is wrong in order for you to conduct your wedding the way you want to. You just have to acknowledge that people have different preferences and values. It's also OK to acquiesce, if you prioritize appeasing your mom over having the wedding you want (many people do).
posted by telegraph at 6:53 AM on July 23, 2015 [60 favorites]

I don't think you need to color it as her emotional labor is useless, but rather that those things she considers important have a very different level of importance in your life (or no importance at all). I really think a one-on-one conversation with her is in order, before any more of the wedding goings-on. Gently let her know how much her demands are stressing you out. That her demands are exactly that - things SHE thinks are important, not necessarily things YOU think are important. Maybe there can be an agreed-upon "code word" when you're starting to feel the emotional labor overwhelm. Perhaps, "Margarita time, Mom," to nudge her when she needs to chill out.

I have a mom like this, too, and I know how it feels to try to live up to weird expectations. Good luck with everything.
posted by lock sock and barrel at 6:55 AM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know you say she won't have a discussion about this, but three times in the past two days I've killed an unwanted discussion of something to do with emotional labour by saying (completely neutrally), "okay, but I can't discuss this with you further until you read at least some of that thread. We can't talk about this until we share the same vocabulary and concepts." And then you change the subject.

Obviously, it hasn't exactly worked, because the person in question still hasn't bothered to read the thread. But it's quite freeing for me, because I don't have to engage.
posted by lollusc at 6:58 AM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is situation of boundaries. "Mom, I don't want to talk about that right now. How's the theater?" "Mom, you already told me I should call Sis. Have you seen the latest episode of Scandal?"

My mother is pretty much the opposite of yours. During my wedding, the one thing that horrified her was that we sent out some information about the wedding by email. She mentioned that she thought that that was a bit gauche, and I said, "Don't be that crazy wedding mom." She apologized immediately. I think you can appeal to your mother's desire to make your life easier in the same way. "Mom, I appreciate your help, but I just want to stop thinking about the wedding for a second and talk to you. I miss just talking about fun things!" If she's as considerate as you say, she may listen.
posted by chaiminda at 6:58 AM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

I agree with telegraph.

I think that board games that you and your spouse will play together are an excellent wedding present. Spending enjoyable time with your spouse is a good way to strengthen the relationship, which helps assure success in the marriage.

Perhaps the board games issue is an example of how valuing fun and emotional connection with your _spouse_ (maybe your values) is in conflict with valuing 'making it easy for certain people to understand your choices and relate to your plans' and connection with other family members (maybe your Mom's value here).
posted by amtho at 7:00 AM on July 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

(I'm imagining you giving that response when your mother tells you to do emotional labour yourself. I don't think there's anything you can do about her doing labour you consider unnecessary.)
posted by lollusc at 7:00 AM on July 23, 2015

My mom is not too dissimilar from yours. I can say that having a kid that she has grandmothered, channeling her tendencies into things that help you will be beneficial.
Task mom with researching throw pillows that will match the couch. Have her find the perfect flower arrangements.
You're not going to change her, so work with her.
posted by k8t at 7:08 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I like the way that telegraph explained this is about different values. You see her mopping twice a day as unnecessary. She probably sees it as something she needs to do to keep the house clean. You can't do anything to change her mind there and maybe she likes the house to be *that* clean. That's not incorrect - she just prefers a cleaner house. Similarly with your fiancee, involving him in conversation is more about making herself feel comfortable rather than him, though she may not realize it. But again, that's not wrong, necessarily. That's how she does things.

I don't know what role your mother will play in your bachelorette party but regarding other wedding stuff, I think you just need to develop a better response and more comfort letting that stuff go in one ear and out the other. Admittedly, I don't have a lot of experience with this because my family gave up on trying to tell me what to do for the most part when I stopped listening pretty early on in life. But I have a crazy aunt who I call regularly. She almost always mentions a few things, like her dead sisters (one of whom is my mother) or something generally inappropriate (calling people "retards" - not maliciously but using that word to refer to someone with a mental disability). When I call her, I almost look forward to hearing those things because it's a hallmark of a conversation with her and I almost feel like then the conversation is done - she talked about dead people and retards, I can go on with my day now.

Your mom's dead people and retards (God forgive me for saying that) are various bits of advice and concern. Maybe you can make talking with her almost a game, like I do with my aunt - your mom gets three strikes. "You really shouldn't register for a couch" + "I was so worried that you were an hour late to meet up" + "I don't think it's appropriate to register for board games" = "hey Mom, love you but I really gotta go, talk soon!" You don't have to make it a thing.

Really, I think that a lot of the time, what family members want with phone calls and such is they just want you to listen - not necessarily to do what they think you should do but listen. My crazy aunt doesn't want me to do anything about dead people, she just wants to tell someone she misses them. That's okay. Your mom clearly loves you and cares about you and wants to be sure that you know the "right" thing to do because it's important to her. Listening to her is a gift you can give her.

Again, I don't have to deal with this so I can't really appreciate how annoying it is. But the flip side of that is, in some ways, I feel like people don't care what crazy stuff I registered for or about how the invitations to the party were addressed, and then I worry that maybe I'm doing it wrong and nobody is telling me. I trust family members and loved ones enough that if I was doing something actually wrong, they'd tell me and still love me anyway but your mom's wisdom in this area is a gift she wants to give you. You don't want it, that's okay, but receiving it graciously is a gift you can give her.
posted by kat518 at 7:10 AM on July 23, 2015 [22 favorites]

Do you call if you're going to be late, knowing that your mother will be upset otherwise? Has your fiancé told your mother that her behavior bothers him (does it?) Why is your sister sending your wedding invitations?

I agree that you seem to have misread that thread/the concept of emotional labor.
posted by animalrainbow at 7:11 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

She sounds like a mom being a mom. And well, she sounds a little awesome (my mom did the nagging with zero casseroles, parties, or nursing anyone that was sick).

She seems involved in your wedding. Is she throwing the wedding? If she is behind it financially she has some say in it. It is old fashioned but so is a parent paying for an adult's wedding. If she isn't then I'd let her know that you might do things a little differently than she would if it were her wedding but that you appreciate all her great ideas. Then yes her to death. "Shoes? Oh yeah, I think I found the perfect ones!".

Maybe she was right about the sofa? I'd love if my mom had any practical advise to give me. The only advise I remember her repeatedly telling me is "Never have kids, they ruin your life".

It's sweet that she wants your wedding to be perfect even though I am sure it is super annoying.

Good luck.
posted by ReluctantViking at 7:11 AM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think there are two separate prongs of analysis here:
1. How she runs her home and hosts guests in her home; and
2. How she thinks you should run your life.

You should mostly acquiesce on #1 and she should mostly acquiesce on #2.
-Arriving late due to traffic -- she's worried about you; maybe send her a text or build in traffic time, so she expects you later. [I'm not really sure that a mother's worrying about her child while the child is driving a vehicle in a large city can be deemed "100% unnecessary" or ever be expected to stop]
-Mopping/vacuuming -- that's how she wants her house to be (or believes it is expected that she keep it that way), let her be.
-Conversation -- perhaps have your fiance clarify prior to his reading/staring moments that he's going to go do just that. Or, this is a case where he can extend some emotional labor and engage her in conversation to alleviate her discomfort at having (what she perceives as) an un-entertained guest (to some, especially of a certain era, this is a mortal sin).

-Wedding stuff - "Mom, I understand that these things are important to you, but Fiance and I have different priorities. This is our wedding and should reflect our partnership, I'm sorry if that upsets you, but it is what it is." You're only manipulated because you continue to engage in a back and forth argument about it. If she's paying for the wedding, this adds complexity to the mix, obviously. But you need to work on establishing and maintaining your own boundaries, even if it includes hanging up the phone and refusing to discuss the topic.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:11 AM on July 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

Honestly, this is all about setting expectations with her. You have to erect boundaries and stick to them if they're ever to have a chance of being respected. With the board games and the sofa thing, I'd have shut that down and said that you aren't going to discuss what is on your wedding registry as it was something that was done as a couple and is not open to discussion. If she tries to go there, shut it down again and tell her that you've asked her to respect your decision and, even if she doesn't agree with it, she must respect it if you're to stay (on this phone conversation or in her physical presence). Then change the subject.

I won't pretend that there won't be a back and forth about this, but if she wants to remain in your life, she has to. I can't imagine your fiance wanting to engage in this any more than you do.

Don't worry about what she does. How she invests her time is on her. All you can (and should) handle is how you deal with her. How she reacts? Well, you can't keep living your life to her standards. No one could possibly do so. Her candle burns at both ends. It will not last the night. Protect your own flame.
posted by inturnaround at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

emotional labor where it is not wanted or needed

Just projecting here a little bit (and building off of what telegraph says) but my non-partnered mom has a sort of surplus of emotional labor built up that she uses in very similar ways to your mom. That is, she creates these partner-relationships where there aren't supposed to be any and then gets herself enmeshed in things that are not really her business. And then, yes, gets upset when this is not appreciated and/or respected as if I were her partner and not her kid. Fortunately I have a sister and we work together on having decent boundaries about this sort of thing and I walk away not feeling like I am the one who is not appreciating mom but that mom is not actually being mature and respectful about my (adult) choices.

So for you I don't think you have to look at this as emotional labor your mom is putting into your relationship with her so much as emotional labor she's just sort of tossing out there that is not really appropriate. That is, the work she is doing is still real work, but if she's working on a thing that does not benefit you (the you and her couple or the you and your spouse couple) that's not ultimately useful. In a situation like the other threads, the way to balance is to get the people in the relationship to balance the amount of emotional labor they input. In a situation like you are in, it's more important to have boundaries about the amount of emotional labor that people spend on YOU that you do not want. Boundaries are hard, but after reading your thing, here are a few ways

- do not let yourself get browbeaten into things and do not let her haranguing you go on for 20 minutes. "Mom, fiancee and I made a decision and that's the way the registry is staying. Please do not hassle me about it." Do this as a sign of love and respect for your fiancee (you guys made the choice together, don't make them re-do it because you have poor boundaries with your mom)
- restate that you would rather have the consequences of your own actions than be pushed into actions that aren't fair or real to you. Bring up again if necessary. If you feel it will be useful tell your mom you think that she is pressuring you and it's making you uncomfortable and that you don't want to have bad conversations with her. If she's hearing you/respecting you, she'll try to back off. If not, you have to treat her as someone who is not necessarily on board with what you want and you need to then be a lot more forceful about how she treats you (literally get off the phone if she's continuing to bombard you)
- remember that you and your partner are on TEAM US and it's too bad if that will sometimes mean that you and your partner are in an oppositional stance to your mom, but that can't be helped. She sounds anxious. That doesn't have to turn into your anxiety and things that will reduce anxiety (rest, lowering caffeine, exercise) will help you. She is responsible for managing her own anxiety

And ultimately the things that are just about her? She can do them how she wants. And the things that are about you and her, you have to negotiate to have them go in a way that is more to your liking. What I hear you saying is "My mom's anxiety is making me anxious" and that's actually two sort of separate problems, not one.
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 AM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

The emotional labor being described in that thread was about observing the needs of people around you and meeting those needs.

Not only is your mother not doing this, she is actively making all of these relationships worse and more stressful through her attempts to turn you all into people you are not. (You and your fiance, you and your sister, you and your wedding guests, you and your mother, you and yourself, etc.)

Remember the story in the emotional labor thread about the mefite who liked tulips, requested tulips, and yet her boyfriend always gave her wildflowers and demanded to be comforted for the fact that he wished she was different (i.e. a person who preferred wildflowers to tulips)? That is a lot closer to what your mother is doing than functional emotional labor.

Maybe you need to have a conversation with her where you tell her you appreciate her intentions (to make the wedding great, to make you happy, to foster good relationships), but that her methods are currently not accomplishing those goals at all.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:16 AM on July 23, 2015 [23 favorites]

How do I react to someone else's emotional labor?

With empathy and boundaries.

Al-anon (if applicable).
posted by TheCavorter at 7:20 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

BTW, with weddings in particular, sometimes people are just do things unilaterally and you just roll with it unless it's a crisis. My father got a car service for the day of our wedding. I don't know why - I just thought someone would drive, we had a ton of cars. But the day of, my dad just said, I got a car service. Fine, I need to go to the wedding anyway, I don't actually care who drives. There was no need to say "DAD, I do NOT want a car service, why didn't you ask me, this is my wedding." When my sister was pregnant, he told her repeatedly that she should get an au pair or a night nurse. She was like, cool story, Dad, and never hired either. Think of family members' advice as being like a buffet - you don't have to have the honeydew but if you refuse the buffet altogether, you might miss out on some good bacon and eggs.
posted by kat518 at 7:23 AM on July 23, 2015 [10 favorites]

Do you call if you're going to be late, knowing that your mother will be upset otherwise? Has your fiancé told your mother that her behavior bothers him (does it?) Why is your sister sending your wedding invitations?

- Yes, I do call/text if I'm going to be late. I used to have to pull off the interstate every 2 hours to call to let her know that I was still driving and ok. She has eased up somewhat since then.
- I have spoken to my mom about my fiancé's introversion (yes, her behavior does bother him a bit). Her takeaway was that my fiancé is just "different like that" and if I let her get talking about it she can make quite a meal of how "different" he is in his conversation preferences.
- My sister is doing the invitations because she offered to do so. That is I think why I was so concerned at my mother's phone call - I don't want my sister to be stressed out about this; if she is, I'd rather do the invitations myself.

I will have a think on the points you all have brought up about the point of the discussion on emotional labor. a fiendish thingy's comment makes a lot of sense to me.

Oh, and my dad is still around and married to my mom. He puts quite a bit of emotional labor into their relationship. He also almost always pretty happily does whatever my mom suggests, and when he doesn't, it somehow isn't nearly as big a deal. They are also both paying for the entire wedding (this is possibly burying the lede).
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:26 AM on July 23, 2015

I wrote this in a similar thread a couple of days ago.


It was my mother's constant griping about things we were doing, things we weren't doing and things we hadn't gotten to fast enough for her liking that finally got us to get in the car and elope in Vegas. If you don't want to resent your mother on the day of your wedding, I highly recommend having a talk with her such as a fiendish thingy suggested.

Also, regarding future husband's introversion - he is going to have to say something. It doesn't have to be harsh, but it does have to be firm, that, "Hey MIL, I'm really into this book right now and I'm feeling so comfortable in your home, would you mind if I kept reading? Thanks!"
posted by Sophie1 at 7:39 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Boundaries are tough, Especially with someone like this who thinks she's just helping to make your life better/safer/more socially acceptable. Your life will get So Much easier if you can make some and enforce them, though.

"Thanks for the input. How's your theater...?"

Also, both your question and her behavior remind me of a lot of the controlling behavior that my mom and I used to display when we were suffering more anxiety. Therapy helped me immeasurably with drawing boundaries and with being less anxious.
posted by ldthomps at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2015

Being anxious & controlling is not emotional labor. It's obnoxious and draining is what it is.

But mostly I wanted to write in to say that my mom criticized my registry too. She all but ordered me to change it. To which I barked back, "What are you going to tell me to do next? Clean my room?" I totally feel your pain and I'm glad I'm not the only one.

How I've learned to deal: Basically I bark back and then let her go whine & lick her wounds without feeling guilty about it. She will literally not talk to me for a month or more when I do this, and I just let her scurry away and feel hurt, because that's her reaction and that's how she processes it. I actually feel kind of mad, because it shows me my mom doesn't want a relationship with me, she just wants someone to boss around and "play the part" of a daughter, and then gets mad when I'm actually my honest self. It hurts, it really hurts. I don't feel like she knows me or loves me at all. I can relate to where you are.

In my case, eventually she forgets all about it and is nice-ish again until the next time she oversteps herself and then I assert a boundary and then she retreats and acts all butthurt about it. I've accepted that this is the see-saw of how we relate to each other. My challenge is to keep bringing my adult self to the table with her and to set aside the unmet needs I have of her, because they're not gonna happen. I want a different relationship with my mom too. I want us to get along like normal respectful people. But I have to play the hand I've been dealt, given her personality and mine.
posted by serenity soonish at 9:17 AM on July 23, 2015 [15 favorites]

Dropping in to say I think you should put the board games back on the registry as a kindness to your gift-buyers. I hate having to drag ass to Target to buy boring stuff like plates or towels. "I bought a complete place setting." Yay. Yee to the haw.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:19 AM on July 23, 2015 [14 favorites]

1) she does a lot of emotional labor that is really, really not necessary Her generation, her choice her values. You hate to be criticized for your values. respect her values, ask her to respect your values. *Mom, I know it's non-traditional to have the board games on the registry, but let me tell you why we are doing that. tell me why the couch bugs you* Coming to a better understanding of your different values, as well as your shared values, will bring you closer.

and 2) she nags and manipulates me into doing this completely unnecessary labor too. You can end up reducing this over time. Call when you'll be late, that's just courtesy, but also remind her *Mom, I'm okay, I'm a safe driver.* What gets rewarded, gets repeated. When you do stuff you really object to because she pushes you, it makes her more likely to push you. get better at really knowing what you want, how important it is to you, and that will help you with Mom. When you agree with her, do so cheerfully and that will help her learn that you do agree with her sometimes, and help her learn where she will be successful with you. When you disagree, and will not do as she asks, be clear. Distraction can be quite helpful. *We are not having a church wedding, we are happy to have a minister at the outdoor wedding, we are having a minister to please you, and I'm done discussing it. Did you get my email? I love those dresses.* Learn to disengage, whether you have to leave a phone call, the room, the house.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Reading this post has sent me reeling into flashbacks of my own wedding. I shared the post with my wife and now we're both gibbering wrecks, as we plunge back to the stressful days leading up to the nuptials.

We had a very small and inexpensive wedding that was arranged on just a few months notice, due to some extenuating circumstances. Even though the wedding was modest, we had to fight tooth and nail against our mothers to get it done the way we wanted. Our mothers were insistent about doing certain things certain ways, demanding a bunch of traditional things (wedding announcement in the paper, a guest book, pictures of us signing the marriage license, and more) that we just did not give two shits about. They also wanted to try and stop us from doing other things, like wearing Chuck Taylors. They were mortified when we did it despite their protests. We ended up refusing the guest book on general principle, but my mother-in-law bought one and sneaked it in anyhow.

The mothers' reasoning behind these psychotic actions were twofold, as far as I can tell: 1) You will regret it down the road if you don't hold to these various traditions! 2) You are embarrassing both us and yourselves by not holding to these various traditions. #1 was stated to us repeatedly, and #2 was heavily implied if not said aloud.

We were not embarrassed by our choices at the wedding, and we certainly do not regret ignoring the traditions we did not feel personally attached to. In fact, if we got our hands on that guest book today (wife's mother absconded with it), we would burn it, unopened, with spiteful glee.

We both love our mothers, and they are good people, but the wedding turned them into monsters. My wife's mother has a lot in common with the description of your mother, and she was pushier than my mother, who gave up after a certain point. My wife's mother has very set expectations for how things work in the world and what's expected of people. This has caused friction between mother and daughter, but the wedding was where it peaked. My mother-in-law just refused to believe that we knew ourselves or what was in our own best interest. There was, and remains a blind spot there. I don't know if some parents can't ever accept their children as adults or what.

The fallout of all this was that my wife just stopped speaking to her mother for a time. I think if it had gotten any worse, there could have been more severe and lasting damage done to their relationship. Don't get me wrong, some damage was definitely done, especially as her mother was fairly unrepentant about it. And the other big thing is that the memory of our wedding was coloured by all this bullshit guilt flung at us. Our lives were in a rough place at that time, and I don't think I'm being selfish by saying that we deserved better from a moment that was supposed to be a bright spot.

I recounted that big, ugly story to give weight to the following advice: Speak with your fiance now and determine how much meddling from your mother is acceptable and draw a line in the sand. Get the drama out of the way as early as possible. Your parents financing this wedding puts a crimp in things, and it may necessitate more compromise, but figure out with your fiance which parts of the wedding you require for it to be a happy occasion, but also what you definitely don't want. Write it down, make it solid and then use it in negotiating with your mother. Make sure your fiance is as vocal in his firmness about these tenets as you are, because she's not his mother and likely doesn't know how to get those barbs in quite as well as she does with you. If your mother and father get along well, maybe enlist your father's help.

And worry more about your happiness than anyone else's for this occasion. Just this once, it's your special day. If you have to hurt her feelings because she can't meet you halfway because of her martyr complex, then hurt those feelings. She'll get over it, or maybe she won't? You are not puppets in a childrens' theater to be jerked around by her. If she can't understand that, that's not on you.
posted by picea at 10:09 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Re: whether being controlling and anxious is emotional labor: I struggle with this in my family too, and I think the really tricky thing is that the offloading of anxiety is definitely not emotional labor, but the person who is anxious believes that it is because the anxiety is real to them. Your mom calling and texting and worrying about you when you're stuck in traffic feels like emotional labor to her, but it has no benefit (and in fact a lot of downsides) to you so it isn't the same thing. The other reason it isn't emotional labor in the sense of that thread is that she isn't thinking about what you need. She feels like she's doing emotional labor because she's nominally worrying about you, but she's not worrying about your feelings, your preferences, your anxiety levels. Instead, she's worrying about other peoples' reactions: "what will Jane think of this registry?" - so she's performing that emotional labor for Jane, not for you. Thinking "should I bother OP about how I'm worried about x?" is the part of emotional labor that she's skipping altogether, from the sound of things.

When my family starts in with this stuff, I try to thank them for the emotional labor they think they're performing for me ("mom, I really appreciate that you care so much to worry about me in traffic...") but then pivot to explain why their emotional labor isn't actually benefiting me or having the effect that they want ('... but I'm fine! It's actually really distracting and unsafe to have to send you texts or worry about calling you back!"). Or for the wedding example, try to redirect things back to her needs, since most of the people in my life who do this kind of thing are also neglecting their own self-care in certain ways: "Mom I really appreciate that you are so concerned about what our guests will think of me, but that's my issue to worry about. How are things going with the [thing in her own life that she should be spending her emotional labor on instead]?"
posted by dialetheia at 10:13 AM on July 23, 2015 [16 favorites]

1. I think this is a thing you will get better at ignoring over time or at least dealing with head-on. The anxiety about being late is basically just communicate if you know you are going to be late and then it's her monkey to handle after that. "Mom, I know you get anxious. I'm running late but I'm going to concentrate on the drive and will see you when I get there. Love!"

The truth is any of us can die in a car accident any time we drive, and sometimes people are late, and grown adults just have to learn to cope with these things. Seriously. I have kids who are not grown yet but I have huge anxiety (have lost a child) and part of my job as their mother is to manage my feelings. I HATE field trips, am convinced they will die on the bus every time, and I just say "have a good time honey!" and go and eat chocolate, because that is my issue.

For the positive things I think you could say thank you now and then and give her a hug, but recognize that she is an adult making adult choices.

2. A bunch of this is boundary setting and maintaining and I encourage you to read up on that. For big things like weddings and child-rearing I have occasionally found it works to say "mom, I love you and I appreciate your advice but I am going to have to make the mistakes I am going to make in order for this to be my wedding/be the mom I am going to be." And then after that it's just listen, ignore or listen, and say "I'm glad to hear your thoughts but it's my registry and people can take it up with me." FWIW, we had quirky stuff on our registry _21_ years ago and everyone was fine with it. If someone does happen to be combing your registry to find problems with it (as long as you have a range of prices on there), then believe me, you probably want to alienate them right now and have them out of your life. :)

It is sweet that you recognize that she cares but I don't think you can change her or find magic words like emotional labour to bridge the gap in your lifestyles. I think it really is about mutual respect.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:36 AM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

"Hey Mom, it really bothers me seeing you so anxious about this. Have you considered talking to a therapist?" (If therapy is verboten/'too expensive', you can change to recommending self-help books.)

It's a way of saying "your reaction is out of line" but from a place of love and concern. Might help her (over time) to realize that she is not an objective arbiter of normal and correct. Worked on me.
posted by Lady Li at 11:06 AM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think framing it in terms of emotional labour is probably not going to help bridge the communication gap. Old-school, but - have you talked with her - honestly, directly, respectfully - just about your feelings, and hers? I think it might help to keep that kind of conversation sort of simple.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:28 AM on July 23, 2015

Years ago, I read a book by the same guy who wrote "Flow." They did a study of the relationship people have to time. Men tended to see a future that paired endings with new beginnings -- "I will retire and finally buy that boat I always wanted!" -- and women, especially full time moms, tended to see only endings and this was correlated to depression. Women did timelines where their future was filled with their kids graduating, moving away and, one by one, everybody dying.

My kids were young when I read this book and I personally knew moms who had done really shitty things to their kids because the mom needed the kids more than the kids needed the mom. I vowed then and there to not be That Mom and to start making plans for a career and hobbies and having a full life that didn't revolve around just interfering with everyone else around me as my kids got older.

I think your assessment is actually correct: Your mother does too much emotional labor and some of it is not only useless but problematic. I will suggest that a healthy way to handle this is to do the following:

1) Start letting her know sincerely that you appreciate what a wonderful mother she is. Make her feel good for being good at this.
2. Remind her you are grown and not her responsibility anymore and you can run your own life. It can be hard to stop worrying about your kids after two decades of raising them. It can be just a bad habit that you don't know to break. My sons are real good about letting me know when I am overstepping my bounds and they aren't five years old anymore and I can put this burden down. They often let me know they can cope because I am an awesome mom. It is really helpful to me that they do this.
3) Encourage her to get a hobby, go to college or otherwise expand her horizons. It sounds like she is on autopilot with investing X amount of time and energy into the kids/family and would benefit from being explicitly told she doesn't need to do that anymore and can do something frivolous, like take up a hobby, or selfish, like invest time in herself or her education or something. My sons have a diabolical plot to get me to play more games. I adore them for it.

I also find it helpful to answer questions on AskMe where I can kind of vent some of that caring urge without getting overinvested. Being a mom is a really hard habit to break. It can be very all consuming for a lot of years.
posted by Michele in California at 11:47 AM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

This doesn't tackle your whole question, just the wedding bit, but something that was helpful for me in pushing back against my mother's expectations for my wedding was thinking about how if I let her get her way on everything, I was imposing her desires not only on me but on my fiancée. And even if I didn't particularly feel strongly one way or another on something--or even if I did, but was feeling inclined just to give in to avoid the frustration and conflict--it wasn't fair to my fiancée to let my mother decide how his wedding was going to be. And it wasn't fair or healthy or desirable to outsource any conflict I might fear having with my mother onto my relationship with my fiancée, especially when he and I did share values/a vision for the event.

Which isn't to say that I didn't compromise with her on some things, especially because she did help us financially, but there were other things that I made clear I wasn't willing to budge on, because the wedding wasn't just hers or mine, it was his and his family's as well.

I hope these answers help you de-stress a bit, and take back some ownership over your wedding. It shouldn't be something you dread!
posted by likeatoaster at 1:16 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

They are also both paying for the entire wedding (this is possibly burying the lede)

Well, it's very traditional for the parents to pay for the wedding, and for the invitations to be written so that the parents are inviting the guests to the wedding of their child.

You've fallen right into this by letting them pay for everything. You are talking about "my guests", but if someone else is footing the entire bill you aren't really the host.

Really, the examples you mention seem pretty minor. A seven minute conversation wasn't entirely accurate, and had some repetition? If you want someone else to pay for your wedding you are going to have to put up with things not being exactly how you would like.
posted by yohko at 1:20 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure I so much see this as an emotional labor deal as an "I want my mom to see me (and my new family with my future husband) as more independent" deal. For the most part, I think a lot of that is about gently setting boundaries and letting your mom's deal be her deal. For example: "Mom, I'll text you if I'm running late, but then I don't feel safe messing with my phone while driving for a long conversation." And then let her stress be her stress. (Most moms I know worry about their kids driving in cities. It only has to become your concern if you let it.)

That said, for the wedding stuff, I think you're a little stuck here if you're choosing to allow your parents to fully pay for the entire wedding. If you really don't want to involve them in the wedding decision-making, perhaps it's not too late to return the money, scale down the wedding, and have a wedding you and your fiance can afford on your own? But if you're going to accept the funds, ultimately you parents are the hosts and I think rightly get to both voice their opinions and be listened to, within reason. This doesn't mean they get the final say on every single detail, but I do think it means you need to play ball with her in a way that you wouldn't if you were financially independent on this.

So, for example, talk out the wedding registry with her. Explain that you've included the games because it's an activity you enjoy with friends and they've suggested you add it to the list (sort of a white lie, perhaps, but makes the point that at least one of your guests would ENJOY buying a game as a gift -- not all see it as frivolous). And point out that you've also added items that older relatives would enjoy purchasing, in addition to the games. On the sofa, hear her out -- while I don't think this is a huge faux pas, the cost of a sofa + shipping is WAY beyond the cost of a typical wedding gift. Do you have friends you think will go in on a gift together (if so, explain that!). Have you ensured that there are plenty of $25-$75 gifts on the registry in addition to this one big-ticket item? On the invitations, it seems obvious that your mom is stressed that the invites have not gone out yet. Since she paid for the invites, I don't think this is a hugely unreasonable request.

Those are just a couple examples, but I think the broader point is that you've kinda got to cooperate here since you're accepting a lot of money (which was your choice to do). If you don't like that situation, be more aware of actively choosing not to do it in the future.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:41 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

I wrote a comment in another thread about parents that I want to share with you here too. The basic gist of it was: a) The solution is not just setting boundaries, because once you establish a boundary you have to deal with the emotional consequences of someone getting upset that you set a boundary. Your mom is trying to hand you a big old ball of guilt and shame. You don't have to accept it. b) Avoid talking about highly personal subjects with your mom when you can.

Additional advice I would give you specifically:

1) Instead of arguing when your mom criticizes you, pretend to acquiesce then don't actually change the behavior that's being criticized. It's inappropriate to register for board games and a sofa? "Hmm, yes, I see your point." She's upset because DC traffic made you late? "I'm sorry about that, I'm sure you were worried." If it comes up again, it'll be later, and not when things are heated and emotions are high.

2) I think there are two competing narratives of motherhood that are at play, which I believe to be generational. (See also: this op ed.) She thinks: "A mother's role is to provide everything for her child: to help and protect her in every way. In return, her role is to show gratitude, be faithful, and provide her mother with emotional fulfillment (because motherhood is supposed to be THE MOST EMOTIONALLY FULFILLING THING A HUMAN CAN EVER DO)." You think: "A mother's role is to prepare her child for independence. In return, her child's role is to become independent; I mean yes, it's emotionally fulfilling but the fulfillment comes from watching your baby grow up into a whole new cool person who is a fully realized human being. If there's any kind of tangible ROI to parenting it's that maybe the child will help provide for her in her old age and retirement one day." I would keep in mind where she may be coming from and why she might feel frustrated.

3) Since you guys do have a good relationship, and that's something worth maintaining, you can still maintain it without going into highly personal stuff, by talking about shared interests that you have and doing activities together.
posted by capricorn at 1:50 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go read DWIL. Join and post there. Learn to set boundaries.
posted by medusa at 3:45 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Boundaries. I refer you to Captain Awkward #583: The Worry Wyvern and The Dragon of Disappointment: "You don’t have power over your mom’s worry, or how she expresses it, but you can develop some power over how willing you are to listen to it and how you respond. Over time, little by little, boundary by boundary, you can show her that her worry doesn’t have power over you. That you love her and want her approval and support, but you won’t abase yourself for it."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:28 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

One thing that is relevant to the emotional labour thread, is that your mother will get judged, particularly by the women of her generation, about your wedding. At least some of the family/friends will be hold her responsible if you "do things wrong", especially if they know that she's funding it, because she is supposed to have trained you in "how these things are done".

Something that might work is to ask specifics about who will be offended if you do the thing she wants to change. So if she tells you that Aunty Sybil will think you're a terrible person for suggesting that people buy you a sofa, you can then give her some language that will be acceptable to Aunty Sybil, or maybe send Aunty Sybil a different wedding registery. Or you can remind your mother that Aunty Sybil is an old hag that no one likes, and she has no business getting so worked up about something that is none of her business. I could see something like this working on my very etiquette sensitive mother.

Your wedding will probably be a highlight of your mother's social calendar, and something discussed in her circle for a fair chunk of the year. It would be a nice thing to take on some of the emotional labour of sheilding her from overly critical family and friends.

That being said, if she wants you to do something that you absolutely have no interest in, say no. Tell her to tell them to blame you.
posted by kjs4 at 6:02 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would also call your mother out (gently), on the lying about your sister being super stressed. That's not cool.
posted by kjs4 at 6:03 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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