Having surgery, not sure what to do about overly-helpful mother
July 20, 2016 12:54 PM   Subscribe

In the next couple months I will be having outpatient surgery in a city 2 hours away from my home. I can get there on my own, but I will need someone to stay overnight with me and drive me home the next day. My mom has very eagerly volunteered, but I don't want her to come with.

To head this off - I cannot have the surgery in my hometown; there are no doctors who perform it. However, after the first night, I can recuperate at home.

My mom has always been overly-involved; I think some of this is due to the mania from her (mostly treated) bipolar disorder, and some from how she was raised. She was abusive to me as a kid (bipolar was untreated) but we've reconciled. As an adult, I've been able to maintain good boundaries without serious impact on our relationship, but in this case, telling her no is really going to hurt her feelings.

I don't want her there because she will talk to the doctor like I'm not in the room, she will misgender me, and she will override my decisions as if I'm still a child. I know this because I had to call her when I was in the ER recently, and because I had a lengthy hospital stay a few years ago in which she attempted to wrest control of the situation from my fiancé at the time (now my ex). This surgery is very routine, but if something happens, she's not good in a crisis. Plus, she's a terrible driver and I don't want to be anxious I'm going to get killed the day after surgery.

She's offered twice and I've been evasive and non-committal so far. I've tried hinting that I don't want to inconvenience her, driving in that city is scary, etc., but she says she's fine. My preference is to have a friend come with me, but it would be financially onerous for any of them to take the time off of work (I would pay for gas/hotel). My second preference is my stepmom, but I feel like that would really hurt my mom's feelings. I am not concerned about emotional support for the surgery, so frankly I'd be fine with anyone who can attend to minor needs and drive two hours.

I know from reading AskMe for years that the answers will probably be that I need to take care of myself first, and I know that, but is there a gentle way to put it to her, or some other option I hadn't considered? "Sorry, that won't be possible" is going to be taken as passive-aggressive.
posted by AFABulous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you give her a different job? Like helping you recuperate at home? Even if you don't really need her to do that? That way she can feel like she's involved but you can reduce most of the issues you mentioned by just not having her at the hospital.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:03 PM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

How about using tact with a bit of honesty: "Mom, I know that you want to be there for me, but I would feel much better if you stayed home and looked after the day to day things that you need to do. I can make sure that my ride and/or companion has your contact information if anything goes wrong. I need to do this on my own."

You could add some specifics in there if you need to, such as her need to do certain things or keep busy, to keep herself feeling calm and relaxed - or just leave it alone without any explanation at all. She doesn't need you to be nice about this. She needs to know what you need for you to get through this the best way possible - and that means that she needs to stay home.
posted by itsflyable at 1:05 PM on July 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Do you have another person lined up to go with you? If so, say, "Thanks, Mom, but Wanda has already agreed to take me. I'd love to have you help me when I get home." Maybe ask for a special thing she cooks or bakes for when you get home instead.
posted by smich at 1:06 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just say no. Stop being evasive and just say no, that you've got it covered and don't need her help. You don't have to elaborate with reasons you don't want her there or explain to her what your alternate plan is. You can just say no.

I had cancer last year and every goddamn person I knew wanted to come and stay at my house while I was having chemo. I said, many times, some variation of: "I would rather not have houseguests while I'm not feeling well." Even to my mother. I know she had to have been upset, but she had the grace to keep it to herself and respect my wishes, and if your mother can't do that then you're even more clearly making the right decision by setting a boundary here. I alienated one "friend" over this policy who subsequently quit speaking to me but boy, was that ever an indication that I didn't need her around when I wasn't feeling well. Be strong. You can do it!
posted by something something at 1:06 PM on July 20, 2016 [41 favorites]

The only thing that would work for my parents is to have a concrete "my friend ____ will be with me to help out and will be driving me, but I could use your help later with [very specific less involved thing]." Is your surgery in Chicago? You have a vast network of Chicago area mefites who like you very much who may be available to you. My car is a horrendous POS so I shouldn't drive anyone who needs to be safe or comfortable, but I am very good at talking to doctors. Just sayin'.
posted by phunniemee at 1:06 PM on July 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

Plus, she's a terrible driver and I don't want to be anxious I'm going to get killed the day after surgery.

^ This is your polite out. "Mom, you know I love you, but you aren't the best driver and I just can't take the stress post surgery. Thank you, but no."
posted by Michele in California at 1:08 PM on July 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

She's offered twice and I've been evasive and non-committal so far.

Find another person and just tell her no, you have someone who is helping with that. Be polite but firm "Soandso is going with me. It would be great if you could _________" and then give her some task to do that would anchor her at home. If it were me (and I have a difficult mother though not quite like this) I would not open the door to negotiation by giving reasons but I would also not presume she would take a hint.

My second preference is my stepmom, but I feel like that would really hurt my mom's feelings.

This shows that you are a kind person. At the same time, your mom's feelings are her own to deal with and from an external perspective this looks like putting her feelings above your own.
This is a hard pattern to undo (ask me how I know) but a good idea for your continued emotional well-being. If she's awful about it that is on her.

She is a grown up and the reality of the situation is that you do not want her there for perfectly good reasons and you would prefer someone else. You can be kind about this message but there is no reason to pretend that the world is otherwise. Reconciling with your mom (good job! that is hard!) doesn't mean you have to trust her again. Just being in the hospital with someone who would misgender you is something that is 100% okay to NOPE out of.
posted by jessamyn at 1:09 PM on July 20, 2016 [19 favorites]

I agree with giving her a job for post-op care. She will still feel a sting that you don't want her for the "main event", but giving her a job to do afterwards (or even during - can she feed your cats while you are gone?) will help her still feel loved and important.
posted by jillithd at 1:09 PM on July 20, 2016

I agree with giving her a very specific job at home. And make it important. "Mom, it would be a lifesaver if you could set up the kitchen so that I can get to these snacks with little difficulty, and I know you're so organized..."
posted by xingcat at 1:15 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just to drop in a teacup worth of kindness here: Letting someone help is a gift to the giver as well as the receiver so if you can find something that she can do to help you, it will be good for both of you. From what you've written, it doesn't sound like the situation calls for any harsh words or rude comments. Maybe not driving though...
posted by lois1950 at 1:17 PM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Why don't you talk to her about your concerns? Does she know that you don't like the way she behaves at the doctor's? It seem to me that you can either 1) tell her what bothers you and kindly ask her to refrain from, e. g. talking to the doctors like you're not there, etc., or 2) if you think that won't work and she'd behave like that anyway, try to explain that the surgery itself is stressful for you and her behaviour wouldn't help you in such a situation, and go with someone else (provided that you can get someone else - if not, then your mother is probably your only option). Regardless of how you decide, make sure that she knows you appreciate her willingness to help you. If you criticise her driving skills, maybe let her know that you're concerned about yours, just as hers safety - maybe she'd also be stressed after the surgery and wouldn't be able to fully concentrate on driving safely? I don't really know how bad her bipolar is, but hopefully she'll understand. I don't really know if my advice helps you, but I hope your surgery goes well and you'll be able to deal with this without unnecessary drama.
posted by U.N.Owen at 1:21 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

How do you usually manage your interactions with your mother? The amount of frank speaking that you can use will probably be governed by whether you're in the habit of frank speaking in the first place. Do you usually tell her when she does things that bother you? If you do, how does she react?

If she's just blithely misgendering you, etc, and you have never successfully had a discussion with her about getting her to stop something like this, now is not a great time to start.

If this were me, frankly, I'd probably just lie as much as I could manage - tell her that [whoever is going] has already requested time off and cannot change their plans; tell her that you can't deal with more than one other person after surgery; tell her whatever gets you through with the minimum of conflict. I'm always of the opinion that if an authority figure has shown over and over again that they can't handle the truth, you're absolutely free to conceal the truth any time anything really important comes up.

(Does this have anything to do with my childhood? Maybe. But still.)

I'd tell the nicest and least upsetting fib I could come up with - if your stepmother can be sworn to silence and can come with and you can tell your mother that it is instead your best friend's EMT cousin who has volunteered to help or something, that would be great.
posted by Frowner at 1:35 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, what would happen if you were honest with her? Something like

Mom, I love you, I'm so glad you want to be there for me now, but the truth is, I know from last time that in your love and care and worry for me (ie how she sees it), sometimes, things get a little amped up. it is going to be very hard for me to feel relaxed, and above anything else right now, more than love, I *need* to feel relaxed and like I'm control of things. You love me and you worry. That's at the heart of it, I know. You're going to want to make sure everything's right. But mom, honestly, you panic a little, in your worry, and that makes things harder for me. Like I would want to talk to the doctor myself, you know? And I m concerned about how you're probably going to be nervous in the car and maybe drive too fast...

But seriously, that worry is going to stress me out. And unfortunately that isn't great right now. But knowing you care so much matters a lot to me.

I would really love it if you would do this for me, instead (thing).
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:40 PM on July 20, 2016

Also if she would have to go through any hardship (travel etc), highlight that too. Make it really gritty and real (mom your knee, honestly how are you going to Xx for Xx hours with your knee? Come on, you have to take care of yourself too) etc. Ie tap into HER perspective
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:45 PM on July 20, 2016

Depending on how, well, how she is, you might want to tell her the specific date of the surgery after it has already happened. It sounds like she might think she's being a good mom if she just showed up uninvited.
posted by amtho at 1:45 PM on July 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

Just say No, I have a friend taking care of me; I've already arranged it. And if your friend is your stepmom, that can remain unsaid.

I wouldn't let my mother come see me when I had a baby. They came the next day, stayed two hours, and then drove the fuck back home (six hours) because I need that woman around me when I'm uncertain and in pain like I need a hole in the head. It's like having a really loud undermining mouse running around making things just a little bit harder, but every single moment. I didn't want them to come up at all but the two hour visit was a compromise. I know they think I'm an asshole, but honestly, I don't she likes me much anyway, she just needs my attention.

I agree with Amtho that another option would be to lie about the date, have it done, and then it's already done and over and tell her after the fact. I have done this sort of thing as well. I'll also just lie my head off if that's what's necessary.

Ugh; my sympathies.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:55 PM on July 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

Just about this: "My preference is to have a friend come with me, but it would be financially onerous for any of them to take the time off of work (I would pay for gas/hotel)" - if I could manage it at all, I would be happy that a friend let me do this for them. Your friends, too, might be honoured that you asked them for help.
posted by Edna Million at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thinking back on my interactions with bipolar people I have known, I am kind of liking the suggestions to just lie. Maybe lying per se is not the answer, but I am thinking that avoiding real drama of the sort that makes problems worse needs to be the higher priority here.

I do get that when people have big feels, especially if they have an issue like bipolar where they have poor impulse control, this can create drama. So making them feel insulted and that sort of thing can turn into more than you really want to deal with and it can just never really die. They can just keep harping on that for years for to come, or even be vindictive about it. So I get that your desire to minimize the hurt feelings here is not simply about kindness to her. It is a logistical issue.

But a larger concern is that her actively interfering with appropriate medical care is a very serious problem that goes way beyond "And now I have to listen to this shit for the next twenty years." So I would try to think about this logistically first and foremost. Preventing real drama of the sort that makes health problems worse has to be the larger concern. Minimizing impact on her feelings needs to be viewed through a logistical lens, not as kindness per se. I mean if she is just going to be upset at being excluded and there will be hell to pay and there is no avoiding that, then the thing you need to avoid is her showing up at the hospital, in whatever way you possibly can.
posted by Michele in California at 2:45 PM on July 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Get someone on board with helping you. THEN confirm a back-up. THEN you tell her it's taken care of, but you would love to have her to x, y, z for you if it isn't too much trouble.

Or deflect until after the surgery.

Or put your foot down, because she isn't a marvelous person who has always been amazing and just happens to have tender feelings. She is someone who you reconciled with despite past abuse, who isn't safe or helpful when you are in a vulnerable position.
posted by pearshaped at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Last year I had to go to the dr to find out if I had cancer (I didn't, dr was a bit of a drama queen).

I told my parents I'd rather go by myself (in your case with a friend) because I didn't want to take care of them freaking out while I was freaking out.

I would tell your mom the same thing. She's understandably going to be stressed, but you need someone there who doesn't have a dog in the fight so you can focus on yourself.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:53 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

A lot of my friends have subpar parents who have suddenly decided they want to ~be there~ now that we're adults, as if the hurtful childhood never happened, as if they've never let us down, as if they're not still incredibly overbearing, as if they don't still misgender us. You don't owe her more chances and you certainly don't need to put her feelings before your boundaries. Tell her you've got it covered, let her deal with her feelings like a grown-up, don't feel like you need to come up with some kind of other helpful act just to make her feel useful (especially if you're worried that she'll use that to try to shove her way in to help more). Her feelings about not being allowed to help are not your problem. If she wanted to be considered a source of help she should've been actually helpful when you needed her the last several times.

It sounds like you're really used to tiptoeing around your mother's feelings, often to your detriment, and I would like to point out that this is not a requirement. You can simply tell her no. You'll probably expend just as much energy weathering any "I just want to help why did you turn me down" drama as you are right now with her trying to wear you down enough to let her help/tying to find the perfect phrasing to keep her from reacting like she will. Concrete boundaries are always better than dodging and hoping that the overbearing person gets the hint; you might feel like a broken record but you will feel like you are standing firm.

Best of luck with your mom and with the surgery!
posted by buteo at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Tell the hospital staff what your needs are too.
posted by brujita at 4:55 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

You need to get someone already lined up. Right now it sounds like you don't and you may not be able to get someone, and it's going to be veeeeery difficult to dissuade your mom if the position isn't already certainly filled.

(And yeah, it probably can't be your stepmom, because more dramaz and she will find that out.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:29 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

It might be too late for this, but I would just lie. Not a BIG lie, but the kind of lie where maybe you tell her the surgery is on such and such date that is actually a few weeks later than the real surgery. Then you have the surgery, the person you want to have with you is there, and afterwards you can catch up with your mom and say something like the surgeon had an unexpected opening on short notice and you wanted to get it over with sooner.

A friend went through something similar and she just waited until after the surgery to tell her parents, and because everything went perfectly well she was able to really minimize it and make it seem like it was such a non-thing that there was no reason to tell them in advance or have them there. Subsequently they were not hurt at all, just happy it all went well.
posted by telegraph at 5:58 PM on July 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm all in favor of the big lie. If you've told her the date, tell her it has been pushed back 3 weeks. Swear stepmom or friend to secrecy about the date. Get it done, recover--mostly-- then call mom. Whoops, had to get it done unexpectedly with no notice. Now that I'm home, I'd love it if you could come and stay for a couple days to help out.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:58 PM on July 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

^^^^ this ^^^^
posted by Koko at 8:47 PM on July 20, 2016

I like the idea of the lie, but what if something goes wrong and she has to find out?

Just my little voice of paranoia there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:43 PM on July 20, 2016

Welp, I'm a blunt New Yorker, so I'd say "Mom, I love you, but I know from past experience that you will talk to the doctor like I'm not in the room, you will misgender me, and you will override my decisions as if I'm still a child. I do not want to deal with that, so I'm having someone else come with me."

And you don't need to apologize. Your mother owes *you* the apology for behaving in a way that means you can't ask her to help you. And I'm saying this as someone who is a mother to a grown child.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:23 PM on July 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think OP is not in a position for dealing with the fallout that will occur when honesty meets BPD. So I'm in team Big Lie.

OP, if the shit hits the fan, or if you have to confront her head on, the DWIL forums are helpful with dealing with difficult relatives (just google them).
posted by Omnomnom at 1:29 AM on July 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

I like the idea of the lie, but what if something goes wrong and she has to find out?

Just my little voice of paranoia there.

"They pushed up the surgery because there was an opening in the schedule, and I didn't have a chance to let you know beforehand, because I was busy preparing for it." If something untowards happens during the procedure, and she finds out, there you go. Sometimes medical stuff happens *really* quickly, and there's no time to notify anyone.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:23 AM on July 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

I like the idea of the lie, but what if something goes wrong and she has to find out?

My understanding from the tone of the ask is that OP's mom is NOT her healthcare decision maker, and whoever that is will be present or available. If that is not the case, then that needs to get sorted definitively first before worrying about mom's feelings.
posted by telegraph at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2016

I like the idea of the lie, but what if something goes wrong and she has to find out?

It's a good question and I think the answer is, "I'm sorry Mom, honestly, I just didn't want you there and didn't want to hurt your feelings. I appreciate the thought, but I felt I needed to have some control in the situation and sometimes even when you're a grown up and helpless, having your mom around for something like that kind of makes the whole dynamic something that has to be managed."

(Rewrite for the mom in question, obviously.)

Which is....truth-y? So that would be the parachute.

Also, lie about whether or not the procedure was done entirely is an option.

I had D and C's I told my mother about afterwards, because she knew I was pregnant and the thought of her going omg miscarriage and showing up, oh god, the horror. So I just waited until the whole thing was a done deal and told her.

My brother didn't tell her his girlfriend was pregnant until she was like eight months along or something.

Nobody wants to tell my mother anything.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:55 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

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