Another grieving process question
September 22, 2016 3:50 AM   Subscribe

Another grieving process question: Since my dad died, I've had difficulty getting along with my mother. What's going on, and how do I make sure our relationship does not become permanently weakened?

Firstly, apologies if this question is all over the place.

My dad died 1.5 months ago. Previous questions I posted have more backstory, but basically I moved back to my home country to be with him after his cancer diagnosis earlier this year. I'm living at home for the next 5 months. I am still very, very sad and I don't expect this to go away anytime soon. But I am busy and active, socialising, exercising regularly, eating well and taking care of myself - so I don't think I'm depressed.

I'm arguing a lot more with my mother these days. I feel so impatient with her. My mother is a good woman and a good mother, and I love her, but our personalities are very different, and they clash more than before nowadays. Specifically, I get mad at her for being unworldly, vulnerable and needy. (FWIW, she is the polar opposite of my father, who was definitely the one you went to for help and advice on anything practical.)

I find it hard to be my best self around her which makes me feel so bad and like a total failure. I get mad at her for little things, I find it difficult to communicate with her about my feelings, and we both get angry with each other very easily, especially about long-time trigger topics like my weight.

I fear that I am idealising my father and getting mad at my mother purely because she isn't him, which is ridiculous - I loved him but he wasn't perfect either. But all the things that bug me about my mother currently, are things that I miss in my father.

I am pretty sure this is us readjusting to being a one-parent family (my parents were divorced but got along OK), she's readjusting to having to deal with me all the time and not having to share me with my dad, and I am also readjusting to just having one parent rather than two. But how long will this last and how do I make sure, during these stages, that I do not end up permanently weakening our relationship? I don't want that to happen.
posted by Ziggy500 to Human Relations (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The things that bug you about your mom might also partly be things that always bugged you about your mom, amped up after grief, tremendous stress, and just the fact of living together as adults. Also, you had to give things up to be there, and that was hard, and being there was hard, and there's no one to blame for that (no one anyone should blame, but there are probably some automatic resentments that have come into it, without anyone wanting them to). And she's there, it's just between you two to feel that out somehow. And she needs you now, too, and it might be more than you feel up for.

I think a few things might help. One, set boundaries. Be as available as you can, but only as much as that. Leave when you have to. Two-a), if your mom's leaning on you more than is comfortable, encourage her to find other people to talk to. As many people as possible - friends, other family, a counsellor, if that helps. (Or some religious outlet, if she's religious, maybe.) Two-b), find someone for you to talk to, who's not your mom. You're both grieving.

Three, if you have moments in which you can't be loving and available, be courteous. Stick to the rule of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". At least that way, there aren't more negative words for you both to remember. It can be hard in times like this to not let strong, ambivalent emotions get the best of you, but try hard to behave in a respectful manner. (She's not a coworker, but pretend she is, at those times.) I think that with time, and when you're no longer living together, it will be easier to be get along. Right now, if you can't be kind, just try to not hurt each other.

Maybe that also means you agree that some subjects are a no-go for now (e.g. your weight). Work towards agreeing that you are just going to try to get by, for now, have a conversation about it. (Your mom might have a hard time with this... I'm betting she's not meaning to be hurtful, her criticisms are coming from a place of concern. Filter whatever she says through that knowledge, so that it might sting less. But work towards maybe avoiding those touchy subjects for now.)

Four, when you have moments when you feel more emotionally free (not angry, resentful) - try to take your mom's perspective. Consider her whole story when you think of who she is and where she's at right now. She's your mom, someone charged to care for you, whom you want to hold to some standard of behaviour, but she's also just a person, and this is a messy time for everyone.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:05 AM on September 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh dear, I am so sorry. That you know this a stage, and are concerned for maintaining the relationship beyond it, already says to me that you will be successful. At some point I told my father-- who had called yet again to complain about someone else's behavior-- that we all needed to give each other a pass for things we did around and for a while after our mother's death. If I hadn't come to that decision, there are at least two family members I still wouldn't be speaking to. And maybe they'd be justified in not speaking to me. Make up your mind that at some point you will be giving her a pass, give yourself one too. You've come all this way and made big adjustments in your life to be of service. If you don't think your behavior and attitude are perfect twenty-four hours a day, that is just par for the course.
posted by BibiRose at 5:19 AM on September 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Seconding the point above about giving each other a pass for "off" behaviour at this time, and also to just try to give each other space. If you can feel you are out of sorts with your mother, go out for a walk. One and a half months is not long after losing a parent or partner and your whole emotional equilibrium can be out of whack because of grief and changed family dynamics. You recognise that and it will ease off over time.

One other thing that struck me (and may or may not be useful) - are you maybe looking to your mother to fulfill a more parental role for you - it would be quite natural to have that sense of wanting to be looked after when you've suffered a big loss. Perhaps that is part of the source of the friction - that she seems unable to meet that need?
posted by crocomancer at 6:19 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is inevitable to some extent. The more you can force yourself not to react when you get annoyed, or make yourself consciously react in a way that will not increase tension, the happier you will be about yourself later on (and the more grateful your mom will be when she remembers this period). I speak from experience.

On preview:

are you maybe looking to your mother to fulfill a more parental role for you - it would be quite natural to have that sense of wanting to be looked after when you've suffered a big loss.

I'm pretty sure this is part of it. We never stop being children when we're dealing with our parents.
posted by languagehat at 6:21 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

This happened to me after my father died suddenly. I had a somewhat complicated relationship with my father and my mother (who has her own issues) was in a really weird place in the world as basically the "Ex wife from 30 years ago" and had a hard time figuring out where to put her grief and I got a lot of strange acting-out from her. And for me, I grieve exceptionally privately so didn't want to deal with her at all. So the line I kept repeating was "Mom, I love you but I can't deal with this right now because I have my own things to deal with" I have a sibling who I care about a lot and interacting with her in that "MOM WAS WEIRD, WAAHHHHH" way was helpful for me.

Everyone is in a weird mess right now. You, your mom, anyone else who was a friend or relative. The best thing you can do is "make space" for yourself and do the old "put on your own oxygen mask first" routine. Lots of self care. It takes however long it takes and everyone is different but for me after maybe 6 months I felt I could deal with other people's bullshit like myself again without having weird random feels popping up in weird places.
posted by jessamyn at 8:39 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

My father died in January and as a result, I've had to be more involved in my mother's day to day existence. I left home as a teenager and moved far away from my parents because I never felt like I could be my authentic self around the both of them and particularly around my mother. While I remained in loving contact with them for the ensuing decades, it was largely for long weekends and short vacations. I could get away with a call once a week or so and visits on big holidays. Until my father died, I hadn't spent more than a week in the same home with my mother in over 25 years. This was okay because they had each other and really didn't need my support.

Now I have to speak to my mother every day. She's moved to my city and expects weekly visits. In the few weeks immediately following my dad's death, she came to stay with us. It wasn't that bad. A month later, she came back up to look for houses and stayed two weeks. I honestly thought I might kill her during that time. All the traits that drove me mad as a teenager where still there, and because I hadn't had to deal with them very much, they were even more annoying.

She moved up here in June and it's been challenging. I love her dearly and I know she's a good person, but we were never close. Or at least, I never felt like we were close. I have to remind myself that I'm the last family she has left and, to her, I'm the most important person. I also make an effort to treat her with the kindness that I have for my friends and my husband. I've also started to address the stuff she does that drives me through the roof. And funnily enough, she's responded well, identifying those behaviors as something that bug her too or bugged Daddy or whatever. One of her habits is interrupting you. I've mentioned it to her repeatedly and she knows it's a thing that's maddening. Now, I just stop talking when she does it. After a few seconds of me being completely silence she realizes she's done it again. She apologizes, we laugh and go back to talking. Until she does it again a few minutes later. It's getting better, but seriously this habit's been around longer than me. It's not going to change soon and it's up to me to keep it from making me lose my mind.

Here's the thing, your dad just died. The you you were when he was still alive isn't around anymore. You're a new you and your mother is a new person too. They are people who lost someone and they are trying to figure out how to remain the old person they were in a new world. It's okay to be frustrated and hurt and freaked out. It's okay to wish he was still alive so things didn't have to change. It's okay to spend more time thinking about how much your mother drives you nuts and not thinking about how much it hurts to lose him.

Take some time by yourself, talk to some friends, find an outlet for the pain and frustration and remember that she is grieving too. You can do this and it does get better but so far, things aren't what they were and from what I understand from people who have lost parents, it never goes back to that place. But this new place can be okay too.
posted by teleri025 at 11:39 AM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

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