My mother is "Minnesota Nice" and it is driving me crazy
November 11, 2016 7:30 AM   Subscribe

My mother (my kids' grandma) drives me crazy. She acts like she is interested in her grandkids, but honestly she wants nothing to do with them. How do I respond to her constant texts asking how everyone is doing if she really doesn't care and isn't going to help and is just texting out of guilt?

My brother and I often wonder why our mom had kids. I think she was in the generation who just did it because it was the thing to do. We were a burden to her and I am doing everything I can to make sure my kids don't feel the same way I did when I was growing up.
She is on facebook all the time talking about her wonderful grandchildren. She comes out to our area of the country for the winter. When she is gone during the summer, she texts all the time to ask how we are doing and that she "wishes she could be there to help". Then she shows up and it is obvious she doesn't want to help. I asked her directly for help one day last year and she was deeply offended that I asked her to "do work for me". WHAT? I asked her if she wanted to come over because I had so much laundry I needed to do.
Anyway, my question is how to respond when she acts so interested and then doesn't come over...but I get texts all day asking how everyone is doing. I just want to text her "I am home with three young kids. How am I doing? I could use help! What do you think?" Of course I am not going to text this. But what do I write? Ignore her altogether? Then she starts calling, leaving messages saying "hope everyone is doing well!"
I am the definition of insanity.....hoping my mother will be someone else, and she isn't going to change!
posted by tangomija to Human Relations (48 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I just want to text her "I am home with three young kids. How am I doing? I could use help! What do you think?" Of course I am not going to text this.

I would actually totally text this, every single time, minus the "What do you think?" part. Either she starts helping or she'll stop texting.
posted by lalex at 7:34 AM on November 11, 2016 [60 favorites]

How much animosity do you want to bring into your life? If being truthful (I need help! I'm stressed/a little out of my depth) won't cause her to tell you to suck it up/guilt trip you - then be truthful.

Otherwise apply platitudes. "We're doing great!" every time she asks how everyone is.

It's is a pick and choose your battles sort of a thing.
posted by INFJ at 7:45 AM on November 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

When she's not in town:

"I am home with three young kids, it's been a real struggle lately. I would be so grateful if you could come for a few weeks and help me out."

"Really need you here, mom. When could you come and help me with the kids?"

When she's in town:

"I am home with the three toddlers, you know how it is. Are you free to help me with the laundry today?"

"Home with the three little 'uns. You can imagine. Can you cook for us today? It would be a huge help."

"Frazzled here with the kids. Can you do me a huge favor and do the groceries for me? I'll text you the list and I'll pay you when you get them."
posted by Dragonness at 7:47 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

She is Minnesota Nice, so she won't tell me to suck it up outright! She will go away for awhile and then start up again in a few she is probably badmouthing me to my father or whoever else..
It even drives my father nuts! He tells me that he wishes she would just accept the fact that she is not grandmother material and stop wishing she were and acting guilty.
posted by tangomija at 7:50 AM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

You know you can mute the alert tone for individual contacts on your phone, right?

Just mute her texts! Respond a few hours or a few days later! Only respond to every other text.

Take this task off of your plate. When you do respond, always say, "Sorry! It's time consuming to be a great mother to three young children! Thanks for checking in with us :))"

Done and done.
posted by jbenben at 7:50 AM on November 11, 2016 [49 favorites]

I am the definition of insanity.....hoping my mother will be someone else, and she isn't going to change!

My mom is sort of like this. When she visits she talks a good game about helping but really sort of wants to be doted on and ... that's not really my thing. We've got a more arms-length relationship going on right now which means a lot less closeness but a lot more reasonable expectations.

Instead of thinking of your mom as doing nothing, think of her as doing the "minimum viable momming" and deciding that you can do the "minimum viable daughtering" and take a pick of what you think this situation requires

- set her text sound to "silent"
- screen her calls
- ignore her offense and tell her flat out that you need help and she can help or not help but that is what you are doing with the time you have available. Give her a job to do.
- find some other way she could participate that might help like buying ... something that you could use (paying for cleaning, I don't even know, think this over) or something else.

Part of this is that when she got offended, you took her feelings as valid and maybe more valid than your own and stopped asking. You take her texts as worthy of your attention and let them get to you. I am not saying this to pick on you but just pointing out how you can maybe adjust the ways you respond since you probably can't change your mom. Her feelings (offense) are sort of hers to manage. Your reality (needing to get things done, being overstretched) is yours.

Realistically, you can advocate for "No seriously mom what I need help with is laundry, not this constant checking in stuff. We can catch up as we work. How about it?" Or you can be like "fine thanks" and blow her off. Or you can go silent entirely and if she continues to try to get in on what is going on just let her know the real deal and assume once she has heard it that she knows it and if she continues to be weirdly non=helpful that is on her.
posted by jessamyn at 7:50 AM on November 11, 2016 [17 favorites]

She probably has no idea how she feels. I get that.

When you talk about her coming over, talk about it in specific terms. Not even "We're doing laundry today, would you like to help?" She might imagine that her mere presence is helping, or that she is fun for the kids to watch so she calms them, or something.

Say things like, "Would you like to come over and you fold laundry while I clean the sink?" or "Would you like to cook lunch, take the kids to the movies while I nap, or put on old clothes and weed the garden with me? I need to do all those things and don't have time to just sit and talk, sorry, but it would be much nicer to make the place better with you."
posted by amtho at 7:58 AM on November 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

In my house we would serve her up a big heaping plate of crickets, aka silence.
Don't respond to her texts, because she doesn't really care.
Don't ask for her help, because she doesn't really want to help.
Don't engage her, because she's really only asking out of guilt and not concern.
Unfollow her on Facebook, because she's trying to present herself as the World's Greatest Grandma without actually doing what's required to get that title.

After all this, either she gets the hint or she doesn't, that's not your concern.
Your concern is your children and your peace of mind.

As MY grandma used to say "What others think about me is none of my business."
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 7:59 AM on November 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

(Apologies if I'm reading too much into this, or misinterpreting) Is she "Minnesota Nice" or just narcissistic? My narcissistic pastor dad (even though he's retired) will go out of his way to tend to a member of the flock, and preached for years about family love , service, sacrifice and the like. But he's never been there for any of us in the family. My nephew (his oldest grandson) had surgery last week. He didn't even to to the hospital or call to check on him once. It could well be that your mom's Facebook posts aren't about her grandkids, they're about making sure her friends think she's a good grandma.
posted by jhope71 at 8:06 AM on November 11, 2016 [26 favorites]

I don't think this is as much because of "Minnesota nice" (although I have relatives from Minnesota and believe me I know it's a real phenomenon) as a consequence of the distance in your relationship.

When a mother is more distant emotionally, they functionally become part of the same behavioral/etiquette group as "acquaintance" - that means, you clean the house before they come over to impress them, you rush to pick up their plate, you "host" graciously, etc. All the normal actions and behaviors for "new friend" or "business partner" you want to impress.

It's honestly really terrible to want a closer more honest "mother" relationship and for her to want that "polite acquaintance" relationship. I totally understand that it hurts you deeply and I don't blame you. But I think that's where the confusion lies here. Technically she's not really doing anything wrong...unless you think she's dangling the the temptation of being a "Real Mother" to you over your head and then crushing those hopes. I agree, that is cruel and you don't need it.

Honestly, and I mean this as though you were my friend, I really think you would benefit from admitting and examining your anger and resentment over this. I suspect it's there beneath the surface more than you want to admit to yourself. And it's okay.

The acquaintance rules go both ways - you're hurting now because you feel familial obligation/closeness. If you truly disengage, you will realize you don't have to entertain her and don't have to feel guilty about it.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:08 AM on November 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

She has an eating disorder. Has her whole she is like an alcoholic, really......
posted by tangomija at 8:08 AM on November 11, 2016

I feel for you. My mother is a self-absorbed boomer who has been working on The Great American Novel for the past 20 years, and has all the narcissism that often comes with being a wannabe "artist." She complains monthly about never getting to see my nephew who lives 3,000 miles away, but then when he came to visit two years ago over Halloween she yelled at him for almost spilling something on her chair ("I just paid $300 to have that cleaned!!" and there was no actual damage), and then threw out his Halloween candy because she couldn't be bothered to ship it home to him ("It cost $10 to ship!").

This kind of stuff happens all the time and drives me crazy, and on many days it is the oft-quoted Metafilter mantra that keeps me sane: "You can't control other people, you can only control your reactions to them." I'm not going to tell you to just ignore her, or let it roll off your back, because it does hurt, and it's not going to change, and we have feelings too. All I can give you is what works for me: respond quietly and calmly, say non-committal things like "We're doing great, thanks for asking!" as mentioned above, and then go and eat a whole bag of Doritos.
posted by sockerpup at 8:09 AM on November 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Just stop responding to every text. Respond to every 5th text with "I'm busy." Don't ask for help, you know she won't pull through.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:15 AM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Make a list of pat responses, and use them in a random pick method! Turn it back to her, 1/2 of the time, "Oh! Nice to hear from you, how are you?" Sounds like she is narcissistic, or she is slipping in to dementia, and is very lonely. If that is so, she wants to be one of the kids, and be taken care of. I am warning you, that is coming right up.
posted by Oyéah at 8:16 AM on November 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

You sound overwhelmed with your parenting duties, and it is nice to have parents who help, but it is also nice to have parents who stay away. I am a grandparent, with one grandchild far away. I find a block of time, when I can drastically improve my Grandson's life, such as in the summer when he is out of school, or during the Solstice season, when adults are socially busy, then I make taking care of him my main entertainment. It is in defined measure, because everyone likes their routines, and coping strategies.

Your Mom may need a defined role, something she can do with her grandkids, on a schedule. Like Friday afternoon, pick them up, and spend three hours, give her money for treats, or something like that, organize an activity, that everyone will love. Sometimes people feel they will fail at being a good grandparent, and they need direction. I mean, is you Mom, Cruella Deville, or something? Or is it that you are so overwhelmed, you can't even name what you need?
posted by Oyéah at 8:22 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

With your update, it sounds like she is very fragile and I think you are right, it is like dealing with an addict. That can be infuriating because it feels like they are making a choice to be that way. If you want to be charitable, you can think of that big talk of hers as an expression of how she would have things, in an ideal world. She would like to be that wonderful grandmother, but unfortunately she has these limitations as a person. It's kind of sad for her. That doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of time making her feel better though.
posted by BibiRose at 8:23 AM on November 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

Not sure what your resentment is about your mother or Minnesota, as this isn't "Minnesota Nice." This is "look at how awesome of a grandma you and my friends must think I am" narcissistic personality disorder with a helping of addict on the side. ("Minnesota Nice" is "hey, let's get together sometime!" And you never do...)

Dig deeper regarding your own resentment, figure out what it really is (e.g. NPD), drop the "Minnesota Nice" thing you are hung up on, and work on yourself and your reaction; not what she does.

(P.S. My mother in law is exactly the same way. Her Facebook friends thinks that she is the best grandmother on the planet, when really she makes simple things horribly difficult for us on a daily basis! I actually have her hidden on Facebook because when I see her lovely posts, yet know the real story, I get too worked up.)
posted by TinWhistle at 8:36 AM on November 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

This took me decades to figure out, but your mother is just not going to be *that* grandmother to your kids ... and she's never going to become *that* mom to you.

"Everything is perfect" is the only answer she wants to hear. Tell her they're great, tell her you're great, tell her you're frazzled but will muddle through, but don't tell her you need help if she's not a help-y person.

Accepting people as they are is hard sometimes, but in circumstances like this it's the only way to stay sane. Redirect the energy you spend on her to building a mutual support network with other nearby parents, friends, etc.

(For what it's worth I thought you were going to say she refused to take your kids out for ice cream or whatever so *you* could do laundry ... asking her to do laundry seems more focused on your relationship needs rather than your kids'. Her not wanting to do your laundry isn't wanting "nothing to do with" her grandkids. That's a subjective reading and not your main point so I'm putting it in parens, but noting it in case it fits.)
posted by headnsouth at 8:38 AM on November 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

I think, in a real-world-feasibility way, if you want to have a relationship at all, you just have to decide what can actually be accomplished with the materials (her very limited interest and attention) at hand. This largely means you having to do all the heavy expectation management on your side and just knowing you're not going to get real caring and connection from her but if it makes your life easier to go along with her charade that making frequent declarations are the same as actually caring and making an effort. When she says she wishes she could help, just say, "oh no, you already do so much!" and "everything's great!" and just go on getting your stuff done.

If you can find a way to work it so she "helps" by doing fun stuff with the grandkids and you doing laundry, that's great, but if it's going to cost you more time and energy to manage than to just get by on your own...there's no point in making your own life harder.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:43 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

In terms of the texts, the easiest thing to do is to take a picture of the kids and send it to her as a reply. This means that you don't have to say anything.

In terms of her helping during visits: sadly, I think the only thing to do is to change your expectations or find her specific way of helping. If she doesn't want to do laundry, perhaps she'd like to take everyone out to dinner, or something that doesn't involve her breaking a sweat.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:00 AM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your mom had kids because it was expected of her back in the day.
Why are you looking for help specifically from her? It's written nowhere that a (reluctant) grandma has to help with the g-kids.
Ignore her texts and phone calls. You're on your own and always will be; your mom is not interested.
I wish you the very best of luck, especially not mirroring her behavior to your own kids.
posted by BostonTerrier at 9:04 AM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I feel a little differently from the other commenters here. I'm a new parent. IMHO, your mother is not obligated to help. Every bit of free help one gets from grandparents/friends/community is a favor, hopefully a favor one can pay forward someday. (Except help from the government and institutions, that should be a right, and is in some countries.) If she chooses not to help at all, that is an entirely valid choice.

In a sexist society, almost any grandmother has already done way more than her fair share when she had kids. I don't see why she has any obligation to do more a second time when her kids have kids.

On the flip side, as a new parent you're not obliged or expected to return any phone calls or messages. Your hands are full and most people understand that. Heck, I pretty much just had my phone on quiet mode the entire first month after birth. I'd respond to how's-it-going messages weeks later or not at all. Nobody was offended.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:20 AM on November 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

She wants to know how everyone is doing, but she doesn't want to do your chores. This sounds.... pretty normal to me, whether or not she wanted to be a parent in the first place. Having help is nice, but I know very few parents whose parents have that level of engagement. Maybe she was lonely as a parent of young kids and thinks she's helping by giving you the opportunity to vent. It's okay not to answer every text, or just say "sorry, busy with the kids can't talk right now". If you want to get into it, you can tell her that you find it painful how different her words are from her actions. But I've done that with a family member and am now expected to comfort them about how guilty they feel that they've let me down. Letting the disappointment go was better than engaging with it.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:24 AM on November 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think everyone who is talking about setting boundaries here is correct. She doesn't get unlimited access to your emotional reserves to mitigate her lack of follow-through. One thing to throw out there for consideration, perhaps, is that there is also a group of people who want to be something that they are not. They desire to be a good person in a certain way, but when it comes to follow-through, it's hard. They try to fake it until they make it, but they never really make it.

This is still a responsibility on their part. If I'm honestly self-reflective, along with others I know who are close to me, there are some normal life things that should be easy, but are exceedingly difficult for reasons that don't have easy explanations. Every once we feel compelled to try to try again and do better, but perhaps end up disappointing someone. I've had to learn to structure my life a bit so that I don't set up an expectation that I can do what I have a hard time following through on. Perhaps your mom wants to be a good grandma, or be effective in the social role of a grandma, but has that as a second order desire, and not a fundamental one that motivates action. In other words, she wants to want to be different, but is not able to find the connection to the emotional follow-through from simply desiring the ideal. It's hard to walk away from that particular social responsibility and admit that you aren't able to fulfill reasonable expectations, especially when it seems like a just do it motivation should be enough.

However, it's possible that it's also narcissism and faking it, but only you would have a good feel on that. One thing that has helped me at times, and others that I know, is when the lack of follow-through becomes painful and there is a consequence. There's nothing like getting your act together in ways that you couldn't figure out before to know that if you don't, there's the potential for significant loss. Setting boundaries and clear expectations with your mom can be super effective, regardless of the underlying reason.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:29 AM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

To follow-up, you should keep that stock response I suggested (or a collection of them as someone else suggested) in a list somewhere on your phone. Then you simply copy and paste as needed! I don't want you to spend even 30 seconds thinking up a response.

Mute, copy and paste stock phrases. Get in the habit of putting as little effort and attention towards her texts as possible. You will be amazed how much of a non-issue this can be once you remove the ability of these texts access to you.In other words, manage the interaction and limit the contact.
posted by jbenben at 9:32 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

This does sound infuriating, but I question the assumption that she should help you with anything. You said yourself that she didn't want children, so why would you ask her to do anything or be involved? It really sounds like you expect her to help out, but I can't tell if that's because it's a core belief of yours or if it's because you're responding to all her chatter about this. Why wouldn't you ask your dad instead, assuming he likes kids?

My mom doesn't like kids, but asserts that she liked us. However, it impacted my childhood in profound ways--we didn't hang out much with other kids, most other kids weren't really welcomed into our home and our friendships with other kids were hard/weird because of it. I continue to have problems forming relationships and I think some of it has to do with not learning certain social skills at the right time. I haven't talked to my mom about any of that, but she is willing to talk about her own feelings about children and knows them.

If you don't want to have a heart-to-heart with your mom where you basically give her permission to not be a grandparent, or you think that would be fruitless, then I think the best course forward is a file of like 4 responses you can copy and paste telling her variations on "everything is fine!" Less work for you and satisfies her anxiety. (Kind of like a text message version of the emotional labor email plugin.)

You know, I think your answer to "why is she this way??" is right in your question: " I think she was in the generation who just did it because it was the thing to do." She's continuing that mentality with regards to being a grandparent. I bet she imagines people in her life and on Facebook will judge her harshly if she doesn't post pictures and ask questions. Some of them probably will. Maybe she's just doing the best she can. I'm so sorry it has hurt you in all the ways that is has.

This makes me think of that tough parenting adage, "Love the child you have, not the child you want." Maybe you'll just have to love (or tolerate or not love, all are valid and okay) the parent you have, not the parent you want.
posted by purple_bird at 9:41 AM on November 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Stop expecting her to do things you know she's not going to do. There's no point in banging your head against a wall trying to figure out the magic words that will make her help you. She's not going to help; there are no magic words. You can spend all your energy being angry and hurt about that, or you can accept it (which may require processing it with someone who's not her) and move on. Respond to her with "We're fine, thanks," and leave it at that.
posted by lazuli at 10:28 AM on November 11, 2016

As a Minnesotan, here is how I would handle it: I would periodically respond to her texts by telling her that we are "fine" or that the kids are doing "well." I wouldn't respond to every text, but I might say something like, "Sorry, I've been busy here. We are fine. Hope you and Dad are doing well." That way, you don't expend much effort, she gets to pretend that she's checked in on you, and you don't tell her the truth, which doesn't actually work.

I've been through this to a lesser extent. We had a long period with one grandparent of, "why don't we ever see you guys? You should come over more and we'd love to watch the kids!" The real answer was, "because you never suggest anything and when we try to you always have an excuse." We'd just respond with something like, "yeah, that is too bad. We should find some time."

(Your mom sounds a lot like my grandma, up to and including the alcoholism and eating disorder. No actual interest in being a grandma or mother. Thought that having kids was so bad that she actually congratulated my mom on having a miscarriage.)
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 10:29 AM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can imagine these texts are annoying and obtrusive. I would ignore them. But if you try that and she intensifies (because now she hasn't heard from you and she's "worried"), then here's an idea: pick an avenue to share photos and updates about the kids and email both parents about it. Maybe it's a private Facebook group, private blog, a photo sharing website, maybe it's a weekly email, maybe you text photos twice a week. Pick one and then email your parents a note telling them you just do not have time and gosh it's hard to text when your little kids always want to grab the phone. But you want to stay connected so you're going to send them photos once a week. You won't be responding to texts because again, it's just so tough to really connect that way! You want to be a hands free mom who isn't glued to your phone. Then, stick to that as much as you can. It would be cool if your spouse helped do half the updates to further reduce your stress. I think it's key to bring your dad into this loop so he can talk her down if she's wondering why you're not answering texts.
Hope that helps. (I also don't think this is "Minnesota Nice." It sounds more on the lines of narcissist and controlling. I'm midwestern fwiw).
posted by areaperson at 11:24 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with the few answers wondering why you are stuck on the idea that Grandma should help. I consider grandparent duties sorted if my parents hang out with my daughter -- it's not clear if Grandma is doing that? But even so, if she doesn't want a close grandparent-grandchild relationship, that's okay, too...

My parents are a tremendous help when I have some sort of appointment I can't bring a kid to, or when I am very sick and need fresh food dropped off, or in other help is really necessary here right now scenarios, but I cannot imagine my mother popping by to fold my laundry? They are wonderful grandparents who are very kind to us, but apart from small odds and ends like my father always grabbing the shovel in winter and clearing the snow from my driveway and path before coming in when visiting, "help" is "hang out with your grandkid," with huge bonus points if I don't actually have an appointment and just want to sleep, or need the grandkid taken to an activity.

If you don't want her how-are-yous, I agree with the idea to just put her on silent and make boring replies when convenient for you.

We have relatives who are see-you-at-Xmas maybe-you'll-get-a-postcard-over-the-year. It makes them see-you-at-Xmas relatives, not bad people. In your previous Q your MIL was providing care for your children, and you: asked for advance notice if she was also going to be caring for your SIL's children, and asked that your SIL send the kids with food if they were going to be at your house, and were upset at the outcome (MIL, SIL, etc, being ticked off). I'm not sure your expectations for help are in line with reality.

If I can, when I drop my daughter at my parents' place, I try to drop her off with a decent home-cooked meal; I know my parents will spend the day spoiling her and not bother to take the time to make dinner, so I try to bring them a proper meal to eat after I have retrieved the time-consuming child. Are you doing anything to help your mother? Or MIL, or SIL? Or are you accepting help and then turning around and asking (!!!) your SIL to send food so you don't have to provide an occasional meal for your nieces/nephews? That part seems telling. Your mother should quit asking after the kids and come do your laundry; you shouldn't have to provide the odd meal for your SIL's kids -- other issues here aside, those stand out as pretty odd, at least in my culture/family, and if I tried those I would not get anything but people irritated with me.

Short version, double-check how you are framing requests and how much help you are offering before complaining about others helping you. I could be way off the mark here, but it seems like a reasonable starting place.
posted by kmennie at 12:10 PM on November 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

You're angry and resentful because of your entire life-long relationship with her. The constant texts, the bragging on Facebook, the lack of real interest in you and the kids now -- that's just the wormy cherry on top. Try not to get snagged on the individual annoying things she happens to be doing at a given time. See if you can sum it up as "typical of mom," "there she goes again," or "I can' t fix this." When you find your thoughts naturally going down some path of things that frustrate you about her, veer sharply away and distract yourself. It's hard at aren't going to remember to catch yourself right away, and your mind will probably want to keep tugging you back to the irritating thoughts. But with practice it does get easier. Frame it all not in terms of what she does and doesn't do; make it about what you want and need instead.

I agree with those who suggested ways for you to disengage, respond less often, and set boundaries. I'd like to say that your boundaries are for you and not for her. You're not telling her to chill out about not hearing from you or asking her to send you fewer messages. A good boundary might be, "It works best for me if I answer texts every few days instead of when they come in." My husband's mother doesn't care about her sons and their families, but blows a gasket if she doesn't hear from them when she's expecting to. The sons each have told her they will talk with her once per (time period) and they stick to it. This way, she doesn't get to decide what the appropriate interval is and she doesn't freak out. Because she also complains a lot about just anything, they also have a boundary such that if she starts complaining, they will end the conversation. She knows about this rule they've made for themselves -- and she knows she can't make them stray from it.
posted by wryly at 12:12 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also have a nagging parent who has funny ideas about how to express interest in my life and how to "help" while also outwardly bragging about me in irritatingly self-aggrandizing ways. My advice is that you need to train her a little w/r/t telecommunication expectations, but compromise a bit by matching "nice" with "nice."

So, reply to texts less frequently. At the first or second "how is everyone?" text, reply with "hi, we're fine, thanks." Then ignore for a few hours, and if she follows up with another text to "check in" just reply with a hurried "ok but I'm busy getting the kids fed/bathed/whatever."

If she starts in on phone calls after you've already texted her, treat her call as an emergency. "HI MOM WHAT'S WRONG." When she replies with her "ohhhhhhh just wanted to see how you were" thing, reply with "OH SHEESH I THOUGHT MAYBE SOMETHING WAS WRONG, WHEW, but I already said we were fine and that I was busy with the kids. I'll talk to you later, okay? Gotta go, bye."
posted by desuetude at 1:09 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you are thinking in the wrong direction. I would try changing what you want her to do for you, and focus on trying to get her to spend more time with the kids and free you up to do the mundane stuff. When she asks about kids, tell her they have been asking to spend more time with her, could she come take them for a walk? Could she spend an hour with them on a Tuesday while you go buy groceries? Could she meet you at the playground and stay with the kids while you run errands for half an hour? Or the movie theater? You've put together some paints and glue, could she come over and "do crafts" while you do laundry?

Start small. Grandkids can be intimidating to someone who's been out of the childcare mode for a while. Everything takes twice as long. And those car seats! And doing chores in another woman's house can be awkward, even if it is your own daughter.

Get creative with giving her the grandmother experience she seems to want while trying to get something out of it for yourself. Accept that you'll have to do the legwork with the set-up, but keep your eye on the prize, which will be a few hours without the kiddos underfoot. Make it easy for her to help.
posted by raisingsand at 2:38 PM on November 11, 2016

"Busy as always"
"Alive & well"
"Hectic and healthy"

You don't have to reply immediately nor to all texts. Keep it superficial. You do not have to be an endless fountain of love and caring for your mom. You've got enough emotional labor being a mom to your kids.
posted by Neekee at 3:45 PM on November 11, 2016

Thanks everyone! I wanted to clarify that I did not ask my mom to do my laundry!! I asked her if she would come over so I could do the laundry! I have come to accept that my mom is not going to have my kids over at her house EVER without me there, OR watch my kids at my house without me there.....
I just wanted her to come read the kids a book or talk to them or SOMETHING in the room next door so I could get to my mountains of laundry!
When my mother is out of state half the year, not only does she say CONSTANTLY "oh, I wish I were there to help!" but she bashes my mother in law..says she doesn't help me enough, etc. No joke! And my mother in law is TONS of help. I'm sure it's because she is jealous of mother in law and envious that mother in law is much more "motherly" than she is.
I don't think my expectations are out of line! I get it. My mom doesn't really want to grandmother. But she acts like they moved here half the year to be NEAR us.....and then when push comes to shove, she doesn't want to do ANYTHING! It even drives my dad batty. He tells me to say directly to her "THEN COME OVER IF YOU WANT TO HELP or STOP CALLING"....I really don't want conflict with her, but holding it inside is making me nuts.
She has texted me 10 times today to "check in"...knowing full well I am drowning with sick kids today.
posted by tangomija at 4:19 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

He tells me to say directly to her "THEN COME OVER IF YOU WANT TO HELP or STOP CALLING"...

Do this. If, truly, he is in your corner then he could be looking for a way to either help you by having ammo to nudge her to actually come and help or STFU or he thinks it will lighten the emotional load on your part to quit bearing around the bush.

Matter of fact, why not reply with something sent to both of them and worded such that both OR either of them are welcome to come and help to allow your dad the opportunity to say to his wife "Well, sounds like tabgomija needs some help today... I'm heading over, want to come? Ok, whatever you prefer dear."
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:26 PM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

You are allowed to ignore her texts. This Internet Stranger is giving you permission.

Don't you see how much you are prioritizing her need for attention at the cost of your own well-being? And therefore for children's well-being?

Please please please give YOURSELF a break.
posted by Neekee at 5:29 PM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

You could also make heavy use of emojis. If she texts, "I wish I were there to help", respond with "like you'd help if you were here [lots of laughing emojis] I love you [heart emoji]"

You can get away with a lot by the use of emojis.
posted by Neekee at 5:45 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm sure it's because she is jealous of mother in law and envious that mother in law is much more "motherly" than she is.

Are your father and father-in-law (if applicable) doing anything? I can't tell if you're hurt by her in particular because of your two parents, only your mother is withholding help, or because they both are but you only expect this kind of help from mothers.

But no matter what the answer is, you can just ignore her texts and calls. You don't need to offer any excuses or tell the truth about how you feel, although you certainly could tell her not to bother you unless she can help. Even if you had a better relationship with her, you're busy and nobody's entitled to constant responses.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:46 PM on November 11, 2016

Hmm, ten texts today? That's nine or ten too many.

I would actually say something to her like "Mom, I've decided to be a bit more mindful with my time. I won't be responding to texts as frequently. Being tethered to my phone is not working well for me lately. I'm just so busy." There: you've set the boundary. You won't be responding to texts as often. And then you respond once every two or three days. Keep it superficial, send a photo or some emojis, silence her texts and turn off notifications for her so you have complete control over when and how you two interact.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 6:02 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Setting my ex's notification to a near-silent beep was a huge help. I told him if it's urgent, he needs to call and I can ignore his multiple text messages now until I have the energy to deal with them. Ten is crazy-making! I also set up a private instagram recently to post pictures of our kids so that I didn't have to send constant updates to him, but instead could just tell him, check the instagram feed. I set a reminder each morning for myself to update my instagram feed. Bonus, I have an instagram feed that's private and full of cute snapshots of our kids shared with the older kids too which they like.

I am in a culture where grandparents are totally the main caregivers for grandchildren and both of my side of the family don't have almost any involvement in their grandchildren's lives. It's been very isolating and almost shameful because culturally, the blame falls on me as the "bad" daughter-in-law. I'm okay with it now but I want to say the gulf between the cultural norms pushed on you of a doting grandparent and the reality are painful. You may know in your head AND in your heart that it's not true for your life and not healthy to have that, but it's still salt in the healing wound. Especially when you look at your amazing kids and wonder why someone who's supposed to love them doesn't. It's tough at times. It gets easier. Hug your mother-in-law, she sounds great.

I don't think the public posturing of your mom on Facebook and to other people is 'extra', I think that's a big part of this mess. It's one thing if she's simply uninterested in the grandchildren and doing her own thing, it's another for her to continuously lie and foist her false reality "I'm a wonderful grandmother" onto your life and the shared family and friends, and there you are, having to keep pushing back against her barrage of lies and keep your sense of reality tight and your boundaries firm. It's a big deal.

Tell her to stop texting you. Tell her you'll email her instead. Tell her she can visit but a shorter break this time because you've got other plans. Tell other people close to you that you are having problems with your mom if she keeps lying about stuff, and be truthful. Kind and truthful. Don't cover for her. Don't confront her - but don't cover for her. Focus on the children if she has genuine affection for them, and channel love and communication there.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:35 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


You've got to find a way to expend less emotional energy on this woman. Many ways have been suggested. Do any one of the below suggstions to start with, all if you want to detach as much as possible. It is unlikely that your children will ever have a close relationship with somebody who doesn't like to spend time with them so it's not like you need to try to maintain a good relationship here. You need to preserve you emotional energy for them, not her.

So, take another breath.

Change your fb settings so your mother doesn't get your updates and you don't get hers. You're still 'friends'.

Tell her you'll not respond to texts as much, if there's an emergency she'll be told and no news is good news.

All messages, calls from her get silenced on your phone.

Set up an email rule that any emails from her get directed to a mom folder and you'll get to them when you don't have sick kids or laundry or whatever to deal have my permission to make that the junk folder as well...

You send her a bland message 1-2/wk telling her you're all fine and asking how they are doing. Once a month you send a photo of the kids. Before mobile phones and the internet you'd have had a standing telephone date once every so often that would have been short calls because long distance calls were expensive....there's a lot to be said for aiming for that sort of level of actual contact! The ease of modern communication is only. Good thing with people where communication is actually a positive thing.

posted by koahiatamadl at 11:29 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Based on your description, This is also a control and attention issue. And as someone else pointed out, narcissism issue. (Hello, the Facebook posts!)

Your mom knows how busy you are. And the fact that she can get you to stop what you are doing to give her attention ten. is a fantastic ego massager.
There'S even a chance that, at least at an unconscious level, she knows her messages are BS and that they annoy you. YET, you still reply nicely. Hurray for having that control over you.

You need to learn to set boundaries. I know, easier said than done. It's something I struggle with, too. But baby steps. Reply to 8 instead of 10 times per day. Then 7, then 6..... Even if she makes a fuss or lay down the guilt trip - will it change anything? She's an adult, she'all get over her hissy fit over lack of text messaging attention and move on.

Your mental health is important.
posted by Neekee at 6:57 AM on November 12, 2016

I have a facebook acquaintance (with two kids) whose mother is constantly tagging her on mother-daughter memes and posting how her grandkids are the light of her life etc. My friend never actually disagrees with her. Yet it is oveerwhelmingly obvious to me, that there is something fishy going on here. Because my friend only replies to her if strictly necessary, never joins in or replies to the gushing and basically never validates her mom's depiction of the happy family world. The number of grandparental pictures are rare, they are reused and gushed about constantly. My friend basically ignores her.

I don't know that friend very well, but I am 100 percent certain that grandparent relationship is mostly sham. If the outside erception is part of what's bothering you, then don't worry. Anyone who pays attention and cares will notice if your and your mom's reality do not coincide. N
posted by Omnomnom at 7:29 AM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is you mother on some sort of (new) medication, a possible side-effect of which is heightened anxiety?
posted by blueberry at 10:31 PM on November 13, 2016

One thing to try would be being more clear of what you would actually like her to do. It's unclear from your question and your follow-up about the specific (laundry) incident you mentioned. I understood it to mean "Please come help distract the kids so I can get some laundry done". Not knowing for sure what you actually said but given what happened in this thread and how your mother responded, it seems like she may have taken it to mean "Please come do my laundry". So maybe a little more of "I would love for you to come see the kids! Then I can focus on getting some of the other work around here done!" when she is actually in town.

I have a friend who has a very similar relationship with her mother, and from my point of view in that case, my friend is very specific about how she wants things done, so it makes her mom reluctant to try and just throw a hand in to help because she might "do it wrong". Any chance there is some of that at play here? Even if you are sure you aren't projecting tha, if she has anxiety at all, she may read it in you even when it's not there. Again, I think communication could be really helpful here. "Thanks so much for hanging out with the kids! You really helped me today!" might go a long way.

I love the idea of "no news is good news" especially when she is not in town. "Mom, I'm very busy with the kids, and we'll catch up with you when we can!". One thing my family seems to enjoy is I update an Apple photostream with pictures of the kids so they sort of know what we're up to even when I don't have time to say much. I don't know if something similar would help with your family.

Parenting with and without support from your family is hard! You're doing a great job.
posted by freezer cake at 10:21 AM on November 14, 2016

I don't think she's on new medication, but I wonder if she is getting more anxious as she is getting older and isn't maybe as "all there" as I thought? I've noticed when my dad is with her, she mostly passes kids off to him...
Her attention span for any activity is about 3 minutes.
posted by tangomija at 10:47 AM on November 14, 2016

If her communication really comes down to a cultural thing like Minnesota Nice, could you try to take it in the spirit it's intended, rather than taking it literally? Her message might be, "I care," and the appropriate response is to express gratitude (either with words like "Thank you" or through some other set of words, like the "We're fine" or "All is well" phrases someone suggested upthread). Or, you just think to yourself, "She's expressed that she cares. That's nice," and move on with your day because the exchange is done: she expressed care and you received it. It sounds like that's accurate--she does care, on some level--and it also doesn't set you up for disappointment or start you down the sad line of thought that if she cared she would show it in a certain way, and her lack of showing it means she doesn't care.

Maybe, for her, just making verbal offers is the most caring thing, while for you it would be tangible help. Since she wasn't a super eager parent, helping out and seeing needs might not come to her naturally even now.

I agree she may be acting out some ritual from her childhood or earlier adulthood, where "caring" means checking up on people; or maybe when she was raising kids she wished for someone to just get in touch and remind her there's a wider world out there and someone was thinking of her.

And I think you can do whatever you'd like, whether it's telling her explicitly that you have a different way of feeling cared for (which involves doing actual things for/with you), communicating less, etc.
posted by ramenopres at 8:18 PM on November 14, 2016

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