How do I deal with wanting to help, but feeling like I'm losing my life.
February 28, 2017 9:16 PM   Subscribe

My mother is unhappy where she is and wants to move back to the same city as me. Her partner of 20 years doesn't want to move here. I want her to be happy, and want to help in ways that I can while still keeping my independance and sanity. How on earth can I do this?

My mother moved with her partner to a place four and a half hours drive from me ten years ago. Various things have happened, and she's no longer happy there and wants to move back to the same city as me. Her partner doesn't want to move (and is probably part of the problem, as he doesn't see dirt, doesn't clean, and doesn't take care of his health but is a bad patient) so it's probably going to be a case of my mother moving on her own.

I've said she can stop for a bit to get herself settled. It's going to be hard on her, she hasn't worked for a while, hasn't got many savings, and, although she owns half the house she's in now, doesn't want to force the sale of their house. Initially I thought it'd just be a few weeks. But it now seems like it will either be a lot longer, or even if she doesn't stop here, she'll be just round the corner and popping in more. She's mentioned renting a room in a shared house. However she doesn't want to have to talk to anyone, and wouldn't use a shared lounge. She mentioned tonight that the place she was looking at was just round the corner, so she could just come round to mine .

My spare bedroom is also a studio for my art that is just getting to the point where I'm hoping to start marketing it seriously. So it means losing my studio, and having to work from a desk in my bedroom, not ideal when you're working with clay. My mother has already mentioned me selling my potters wheel, so she can put her glass kiln there. I don't currently use it but hadn't intended on selling it just yet. But it's upset me that she'd say that, even though she backtracked the other day and said I didn't have to sell it if I didn't want to.

I'm lucky enough to be able to walk to work, however I do sometimes have to do training days elsewhere so sometimes have to drive. I also have to run errands in the morning before work, such as posting pottery, doctors appointments, getting things from shops not open after I finish at work, etc. I also have to take my pottery to be fired, which will hopefully become a much more regular thing. I also need it occasionally after work to go shopping, pick up my pottery, etc. But tonight my mother said that as she's hoping to do some temp work she might have to drive there so could use my car. If that happened then there would be a lot of times that I wouldn't be able to do the things I need to, when I need to.

I'm also an introvert and need time to just think. Especially first thing in the morning and straight after work. But when my mother is stopping here on holiday I never get that. I actually find it mentally and physically painful if I keep being spoken to when I need to zone out. To the point that I'll start digging my nails into my arm because I can't cope with the constant talking/interuptions. My other half was very concerned about me the other time she came to stay as I got that distressed. I also find it hard as she's not the cleanest, she'll miss dirt on the washing up, so everything has to be washed again. She wipes down the worktops with a dirty sponge, making everywhere dirty. And a lot of her stuff smells of damp because her other half won't fix the house. This triggers a lot of memories and pain from when I was in an abusive relationship and he was a slob. She's also ruined quite a few of my kitchen items, that I can't afford to keep replacing. For instance my microwave looks constanly dirty because of how she cleaned it once, my pastry brush that I only ever used for mushrooms got destroyed (I brought myself a decent replacement and mentioned to her about the old one being ruined because she used it to brush oil on something, so she then brought a new cheap one, and took my new decent one home with her, so I ended up with a crap one again), she microwaved a plastic jug, making it so I couldn't see the marks, I got a new one, and she's done the same to that one. I've lost spatulas because she tried scrubbing the burn mark off, and my favourite mugs end up stained beyond belief as she leaves tea and coffee in them all day. I know these only sound small, but it all adds up and I just can't afford to replace everything.

I am seeing a therapist, who I've worked with before, and she is saying that this situation isn't the best for me and is probably going to drag me backwards. And she doesn't even know about the car and living round the corner from me yet. I feel guilty, as I do want my mum to be happy and be able to life her life, but I also deserve to be happy and live my life too. I'm finding this whole situation incredibly distressing, as I feel like I have no control, things are chaging rapidly and I feel like I'm going to lose control of my life. I feel like she'll be here all the time, that I'll never have my car when I need it, and she mothers me like I'm a child instead of like an adult. She's also said things in the past like "I want you to make the choice, as then if it's wrong, it's your fault!" She also changes her mind, or gives me choices, when I pick one, she then gives me more, as though my answer wasn't any good. This triggers yet more stuff from my past abusive relationship.

I feel even more guilty as she's done so much for me. Her partner gave me my car (though I'd still have been happy with my old banger), and my mother gave me the house I've been living in for 18 years, transferring it into my name last year. I know some of you will think I'm incredibly selfish for being worried. But I already feel guilty and my therapist has said she can hear how generous I'm being, by wanting to help and trying to find ways to still live my life, but she doesn't think it's going to be good for me mentally. I'm really looking for suggestions on how to approach this with my mother and raise my concerns, like with the car etc. Also I could do with some copng mechanisms or any advice you can give. I know this is a very vague question, and I'm sorry for that, but I'm just so stressed and upset at the moment that I can't think straight.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My mother has already mentioned me selling my potters wheel, so she can put her glass kiln there. I don't currently use it but hadn't intended on selling it just yet. But it's upset me that she'd say that, even though she backtracked the other day and said I didn't have to sell it if I didn't want to.

LOL, NO. NO, NOPE, NO. THAT WONT BE POSSIBLE. No, your mother is absolutely not moving in to take over your apartment and life and talk about you selling your tools so she can install her own in your studio space. You need a crash course in boundaries because the extent to which your mother seems to think you and her life exist solely to facilitate hers is terrifying. Why dont you sell your pottery wheel so there can be room for her glass kiln is like some kind of horrifying metaphor for what she wants to do to you as a human being. This person cannot be allowed to stay in your house.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:34 PM on February 28, 2017 [65 favorites]

Since she gave you the house you're living in and the car you're driving, I don't think this is a matter of just setting boundaries. While that's not really how gift-giving should work, I think it puts an onus on you to be generous with her. If someone gives you a house, to not share a spare bedroom with them seems a bit selfish. Presumably you can rent space in a pottery studio for much less than the amount of rent you've saved thanks to them. I do think it complicates the situation. I'd talk to her about her expectations, then plan accordingly. Personally, if someone gave me a car and then wanted to use it, I'd let them use it as much as they wanted. "Mom, I just want to understand your plans. Do you think you'll be needing the car every day? If so, I might need to buy myself another clunker. Should I start looking for one?"

Regarding your need for alone time, that's a place to articulate your needs and set firm rules.
posted by salvia at 9:47 PM on February 28, 2017 [14 favorites]

Best answer: My mother has already mentioned me selling my potters wheel, so she can put her glass kiln there. I don't currently use it but hadn't intended on selling it just yet. But it's upset me that she'd say that, even though she backtracked the other day and said I didn't have to sell it if I didn't want to.

What?!? No, no, no. You are an adult. Your mother no longer gets to tell you what to do. She gave you the house of her own free will, as a gift. That doesn't give her the right to run your life. She got to do what she wanted with her life, and now you get to do what you want with yours. Your mother's relationship problems are her own, not yours.

If she was homeless, then I would say take her in. But she has a home, she just doesn't want to live there and doesn't want to sell it. Not your problem.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:50 PM on February 28, 2017 [16 favorites]

Forgot to add - your mother is deliberately manipulating you. Don't let her.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:51 PM on February 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Think about what you can do. The moment you feel sick to your stomach, scared, upset...that is not a thing you can do.

You are important. Taking care of yourself is important. You can only offer help that does not conflict with taking care of yourself.

Do not move things out of the spare room. Set a time limit for her to stay, if you let her stay at all, and stick to it. (Better still would be not letting her stay at all, and if she needs money, she can force the sale of her current home. It is not your job to facilitate her desires.)

If you let her stay at all, it should be a couple of weeks maximum, and you should not let her move her stuff in. She can have a suitcase. Sorry, no room for anything else (don't clean out your studio!). She can get a storage facility for the rest.

Oh, except kitchen stuff, because you should pack away all of yours and just get cheap/disposable stuff for the two weeks she will be there. (And this is IF you let her stay. It is even simpler if you do NOT let her stay!)

She can use your car to go pick up her bus pass or buy her own car, after she sells her interest in her current home. Maybe for more during the two weeks that you (might) let her stay with you.

Do not turn your life upside down so that she doesn't have to SELL HER INTEREST IN THE HOME SHE IS MOVING OUT OF. She is moving, SHE gets to put the effort in.

If she lives just around the corner, she can call and schedule when she visits. You're busy working on your pottery, and can't take a drop-in visit. Sorry.

I think a good base is: She can stay with you as someone living out of a suitcase. She can NOT move herself in. She can be a visitor, not a resident.

Build from there.
posted by pearshaped at 9:54 PM on February 28, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like your mother knows she's overstepping her boundaries and knows she can manipulate you by making you feel guilty and by making incrementally larger demands. You don't have to give in. Asking her to find her own housing is not selfish and mean. She has a place to live but won't work things out with her partner or sell it and move somewhere else? Hm. those choices aren't your fault, they're not your problem, and they don't require you to let her move in with you or use your spare room or drive your car. The fact that she gave you the house as a gift before doesn't mean that you have to let her live there now. That is not actually how it works. She should respect your space and life.

"I don't think that will work for me, but how about __________ instead" is a useful phrase. If she's staying with you, just put away your nice things for a bit and keep cheaper stuff around. If she starts dropping in all the time then she does not get a key and you don't answer the door unless she called and you two made plans first. You can say you're busy, you can say you're working on something, you can say no.

This is reasonable and ok to do, I promise. Your own life is your priority, her convenience is not your priority.
posted by zdravo at 10:05 PM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

You already feel upset enough. Whether she gave you the house (18 years ago) is immaterial. Some people use money as a source of control. In fact, a lot of people do.

You can set boundaries now and I would recommend you do. This sounds like way too much. Have you talked to your therapist about setting boundaries?

For me in this situation the boundaries I would set would be
- No staying the night, not even when you're just settling into the town
- No pop in visits
- No using the car
- No cooking in my kitchen
- Always use the same "special" mug for her tea/coffee

Here's the thing. Setting a boundary is basically saying "no" to someone. And people, especially people who like to push boundaries, do not like to hear the word "no." So, this is not a discussion. It's not anything that requires explanation. This is just how it is. She is going to want to make it a discussion. It shouldn't be. You can really kindly say "I'm trying something different right now. No visits, no car, etc." and then just "this is what I am doing and you are welcome to join me on most Thursday evenings for tea." Take care of yourself.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:16 PM on February 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would not give her an inch. I'm sorry, but you feel panicky and stressed because you know this is not going to be a good situation for you. Listen to that voice. Frankly your mom sounds like a bully, at best, and the talk about borrowing your car and selling your wheel and the rest is awful! And she gave you the car and house, who cares. It's YOURS. You can make the decisions about your things/home/life, even if she's made you feel like you can't say no to her or that you owe her.

You can say no to her. I learned how to set boundaries a few years ago and it felt sooo bad to me at first...people were always mad at me (because I wasn't letting them exploit me anymore!) and I felt very unsure. But now, I have much truer, more positive relationships with people I set boundaries with. The biggest benefit is that I am getting what I need out of life and relationships. If you don't have much experience with boundary setting you might read this thread; there was a lot in there that I agreed with and learned from. You might also err on the side of "too firm" boundaries when you first get started--oh well! You can always walk those back once you see how things go and if people respect your boundaries.

In your case I would email your mom and say, "of course I love you, but I want to make sure we're on the same page about expectations if you move here. You will not be able to stay with me or use my car, and I will require advance notice for any visits (no drop-bys). I am looking forward to going shopping with you, inviting you to dinner at me and partner's house, and seeing you frequently as my busy life allows. I want you to have a clear picture of what your life here will look like in case that impacts your decision making."
posted by stellaluna at 10:24 PM on February 28, 2017 [13 favorites]

I don't think she can stay in your house as your mental health will not survive that. However neither is it just about setting boundaries as she actually gave you your house and car. I think you're obligated to help her but it's up to you what that help entails. For example, could you take out a small mortgage against the house that would allow you to help her pay rent in a decent place of her own for the first year (as it sounds like you are working but currently not paying rent or a mortgage thanks to her)? Could you give her the car and buy yourself an old banger? In other words help her, but set the terms yourself. In addition to this I think you should strongly encourage her to force the sale of the house she's currently living with. She needs a nest egg so that you don't end up supporting her yourself.
posted by hazyjane at 10:34 PM on February 28, 2017 [13 favorites]

Best answer: She's a grown woman and has made a number of decisions she's unhappy with now, so she's trying to run away and make you her new partner. It's not healthy or appropriate and you're right to be panicky. Sure she gifted you a home, but she has a valuable asset that she'd just prefer not to sell and instead wants to take back half of your house. No. If she wants to move and doesn't have resources, she should sell her house and use that money to fund her new start. This is not an emergency. She has the ability to plan and prepare herself for a transition, but she's instead choosing to dump herself into your lap.

Please don't let her drown you. Your mother is responsible for making her own happiness. It's not for you to take on making her happy by sacrificing your own emotional health as well as your future. Your responsibility is to make yourself happy and healthy. Do that and allow your mom to do the same for herself. Tell your therapist everything and start building strong boundaries and be very clear with your mother. You're not obligated to be her savior. Good luck.
posted by quince at 11:22 PM on February 28, 2017 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Your mom is short on cash, which leads me to believe that if she moves in with you, she will not move out for the foreseeable future. She will become comfortable there and it will become an intractable situation. The fact that she is talking about moving her kiln in gives me that vibe, as does the fact that she feels comfortable enough in your kitchen to mess up your stuff.

So, if possible, don't host her for even a short period of time. If she ends up living around the corner from you, establish a standing appointment for meeting up, outside of which you'll only be available for emergencies. Put your phone on silent, don't answer the door, basically enforce the fact that this is the way it is. Explain to her that you require unbroken concentration to work on your own projects and need to have a predictable schedule in order to focus. Keep the visits on the short side (an hour, maybe a cup of tea) so she doesn't get the chance to undertake kitchen tasks that threaten your stuff.

Sharing the car is going to be a significant source of stress unless there is a strict and completely unwavering schedule for its use. Even then, there are going to be times when you need it and she has it. Could you purchase a decent used vehicle for her? This could be a way of solving the car issue, while also "paying it forward" since you received your current car as a gift. It's a nod to the fact that she's in a transitional moment and could probably use a little help, without compromising your space or your schedule. Only do this if you can afford it.

Above all, try to keep things on your own predictable terms, for the sake of your mental health.
posted by delight at 12:23 AM on March 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I have just exited 2.5 years of a similiar situation with my son - he moved in with me, took over my office, contributed very little and made no effort to change his circumstances, being quite comfortable living off me. I had to move out to end the situation and now he bitterly resents me for letting him down and "not giving him a chance". He no longer speaks to me which makes me quite sad.

Before he moved in, I couldn't think of any place he could go as his father had "borrowed" my son's savings and was now in prison. However, your mother has a financial asset, and if she doesn't push to get her share now, it will never get any easier and the co-owner will always have a reason why it's not a good time.

I suggest that you strongly encourage her to start afresh with her own money and place, even if it is share accommodation. Help her with the logistics of legal advice on selling the house maybe? Otherwise she may never move out. I lost 2.5 years of peace and privacy. Don't be me.
posted by b33j at 1:24 AM on March 1, 2017 [17 favorites]

Some of this sounds like she is deferring making a decision about her 20 year relationship, and she would be sacrificing your well-being with her current plan. Let her know that she is being penny-wise and pound foolish, not to mention being too hard on her supportive relationships. Give her a few nights on the couch and move nothing. This is your home and her chaos. Her proposal will not work. As part of a gentle no, Suggest she try a few neighborhoods with airbnb.
posted by childofTethys at 5:14 AM on March 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

You are getting major red flags here with the entitlement to your car and your wheel and your space.

She sounds like a person who will always need just one more week to find a place or get on her feet. It sounds selfish to say "don't let her stay with you at all" but... don't let her stay with you at all. Not unless you are capable and willing to enforce kicking your mother out of your house. I'm being serious, if you let her stay for a week or two it WILL stretch into a month or two and you will need the strength to make her leave and this is much harder when she's already there.

You are not responsible for subsidizing her half-baked idea to move. She can find an apartment (and transportation) first like everyone else.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:36 AM on March 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's time for her to experience you as her ADULT child, and for her to pull on her own adult reserves with her partner. Call her out on her ability to create her own healthy future. Help her find a lawyer to settle matters with the house and other assets in her remote home town. Geography does not solve problems. The glass kiln and her things can go in storage at $/month while she stays elsewhere with one suitcase and explores places beyond you and possibly her old hometown.
posted by childofTethys at 5:59 AM on March 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Man ... in a lot of ways I see why this is absolutely a standard "you need boundaries" type of question - and let me lend my support to that stance: if you want to tell your mom no and set the kinds of boundaries described above, I actually do think that is 100% right and the best thing you could do for yourself.

But I can see where the fact that she's given you your house and car (and the house only became yours a year ago) makes this tough. I still don't think you should bend on letting her stay with you open-endedly, but if this isn't something you're okay with, maybe you could tell her that once she's found a place to live and has signed the lease she can come stay with you for a few days before her lease starts, while her stuff is in transit or whatever (though I guess if she's only 4 hours away there might not be a "stuff in transit" period, so I dunno about that). Or maybe even better, if you have time and would be willing to do so, maybe you could offer to help her house hunt? That way you could be showing that you do want a relationship with her and want to help her (this assumes that you do - it's okay if that's not true!) without putting yourself in the very bad situation of having her live with you.

As far as the car goes, would you be able to afford giving it to her and getting yourself another new "clunker"? I don't at all think that you should have to do this, but it might be the easiest way to peace of mind. Again, this is only an "if you want to do this and it wouldn't be too much hardship on you" suggestion - it sounds like one way or the other you're in for some stress regarding the car situation, and I'm guessing that even if you tell her no on the car you're still going to get one-off requests to borrow it. Personally I think that giving her the car outright and getting a new one for yourself could be the path of least trouble.

But more than anything, I just want to say that you have my sympathy - this sounds like a really tough situation. Again I want to emphasize that you have every right (and a lot of good reasons) to enforce very firm boundaries as have already been suggested - I think we all support you if you go that way! - but I can really see where that would be difficult in this situation. Good luck to you, whatever you decide - you absolutely are not being selfish.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:03 AM on March 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your comments, they've all really helped. I feel less like I'm being selfish now.
I've always been an appeaser and tried to protect people I care about, even when I was little and my Dad was being emotionally abusive towards my Mum, and I was scared of him. Unfortunately, due to my previous emotionally abusive ex I had no savings, as he always wanted something new. I spent years paying off the debts. Then I spent a couple of years completely redecorating the whole house. In the last two years I've spent any bit of birthday and Christmas money, as well as any spare I had on buying clay and glazes so I could finally follow my passion for pottery. This is finally just showing signs of paying off.

If I could afford to buy my Mum a car, or help her out financially I would do so in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, with no savings myself it's not possible. I also suffered from work related stress three years ago, which resulted in me being signed off sick for 14 months. Because of this I changed jobs from full time to part time. Meaning my money is even tighter. So I've already cut back on a lot of things. Hence why it stresses me out so much when things that I've had for years, and would still be ok for years, get damaged.

The house is very small, it's a two bedroom house, with only one living room, a downstairs bathroom, and no garage to store things in. I'm already struggling to find space for my own stuff, let alone my mother's. I've suggested that she asks for rent for her half of the house if she doesn't want to make him sell it. She's got a storage unit already, so she'll have to either keep it, or find one up here.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 6:48 AM on March 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Huh. I'm torn on this one. Until I got to the part about how your Mom gave you your house and your car, I was all, "no way can this poor woman let her super needy, co - dependent Mom move in!" But the revelation about the house and the car sure cast things into a different light for me. It seeems as if you accepted a substantial amount of help from your Mom over the years and I feel like she, understandably, expects some help when she is in a tough spot. I'm not suggesting you should let her move in, but the paragraphs you wrote about your kitchen implements... Really? This woman GAVE YOU A HOUSE! I think there are probably some places you could loosen up a bit (maybe she could actually use your car for now in order to have a job). You do come off sounding pretty whiny and entitled to me. Sorry.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:57 AM on March 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: What. In some ways I don't even understand your question because everything your mom is asking you to do is so far off the grid. I love my mom and she's thoughtful and kind and smart and clean and I still wouldn't want her to move in with me. And she would do everything she could to stay independent if she could. Because she's an adult. Your mom needs to be told NO full stop.

She's unhappy with her partner, but instead of dealing with it (counseling, divorce, dividing assets), she's just going to run away and foist all her crap (literal and figurative) on you? NO. She sounds manipulative. Was your abusive ex manipulative too? Don't do this. Get your therapists advice on how to say no, but say no. She doesn't get to stay with you, she doesn't get to put her stuff in your house and she doesn't get to use your car. She needs to deal with her shit where she is, come up with a plan, THEN she can move, but not in with you! And not around the corner either!

When she helped you out, presumably she was in a good financial place and could do so. You're not in that place and her impositions would actually HARM your financial standing and emotional well being.
posted by purple_bird at 9:23 AM on March 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, well, everyone's mother gave them LIFE which is way more valuable than a house, but we still don't owe our mothers destroying our own mental health for their sakes.

I'm self-aware enough to admit that, barring the most dire financial situation, my mother and I cannot ever live together again. We would destroy each other. 8 miles between our houses is a valuable distance that allows me to see her weekly, and be a kind and loving daughter.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:08 AM on March 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: She's mentioned renting a room in a shared house. However she doesn't want to have to talk to anyone, and wouldn't use a shared lounge. She mentioned tonight that the place she was looking at was just round the corner, so she could just come round to mine .

It doesn't sound like she wants to live with you, so it seems like telling you not to let her move in is superfluous.

You need to tell her that you are busy with work and running your business (yes, business -- it's your art, but it's also a business that provides part of your income), so you don't have much time day to day to hang out. You aren't able to make space in your studio because it's in use to produce items for your business, you need the car for your business, etc.

If she wants to set up a glass kiln at your house, check around for local places that rent space to artists and hobbyists and give her a list. "Mom, I don't have room because I'm working on building my business." I get that your art is important to you, but you need to focus on the business aspects and consequences with your mom.

Does she have a key to your house? If you've ever lent her a key, assume she has one. Change the locks. Plan specific times she can come by for a visit, and don't answer the door if someone you aren't expecting comes by. When she comes by, serve her her favorite drink in a specific mug that you always use for this, then your other mugs won't get stained. If she tries to wash up, cook, or clean, insist that you want to visit with her now and that you'll clean later.

Don't ever have her housesit for you.

Once you start doing production work on your wheel, you'll have more mugs that are "seconds" than you know what to do with. Also, one of those magic eraser sponges does wonders on coffee and tea stains.
posted by yohko at 10:15 AM on March 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are not required to bankrupt yourself emotionally or financially in order to repay favors that were freely given. Obviously it's nice to make gestures of gratitude if you can, but only if you can.
posted by delight at 12:04 PM on March 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm bemused at how many responses say you have some obligation to your mother because she gave you the house and the car. Usually AskMe is vehemently on the side of "a gift is a gift, and once it's given the giver has no right to dictate how it can be used or what should be done with it".

For your own well-being, don't let her move in. I'd go so far as to agree with the suggestion not to let her stay "for a week" or even overnight.
posted by Lexica at 12:06 PM on March 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Do you like your mother?

Wait--stop. Did you read that question and immediately start thinking something like, "Yes! Of course! She's my mother! I care about her so much! I love her, and of course I will do anything for her!"? Because, given everything you have said, I'm willing to bet that's how you immediately responded to that question. And I'm willing to bet it was in fact an immediate response. So, let me ask the question again... And, if you did indeed respond the way I am guessing you did, this time, try to just sit with the question for a minute:

Do you like your mother?

Not "Do you love her?" Not "Do you want to protect her and keep her safe?" Not "Do you feel guilty, given the gifts she has given you?" But, Do you like her?

In your question and follow-up, you put a lot of emphasis on things that she has done, and the sense of responsibility you feel given what she has done for you. But... what is she like? Do you get along with her? Do you feel joy and relief when you get to see her, after spending time apart? Do you look forward to opportunities to catch up with her, to chat about your days, to get her advice about the decisions you have to make? Is the anxiety you feel when she visits really a completely general introversion-thing, or is it something about her and how she interacts with you, that leaves you digging wounds into your body?

Now, I don't know you--all I know about you is what you've written. I'm just guessing here, and I could very well be wrong. But given what you have said, here's my guess: when you think about going to visit her, or having her visit you, you experience a sense of foreboding. My guess is that spending time with her is something you have to brace yourself for, no matter what the circumstances. And my guess is that this makes you feel very guilty: she has done very nice things for you (which, by the way, is what parents are supposed to do!), and you appreciate what she has done for you, and you love her dearly and you want her to be happy, and so you feel incredibly guilty about the fact that she leaves you stressed out.

If it in any way feels like my guesses are accurate, try to think about this: the way she makes you feel isn't something you do. Instead, the anxiety and frustration (and anger?) you feel is a response to what she does, and what she has done. That guilt is you taking on the emotional responsibility for the fact that she does things that are hurtful, disrespectful, frustrating. That guilt is you letting her off the hook for her behavior and instead placing all of the responsibility for how she treats you on yourself.

Your feelings, here, are telling you something. They are telling you something about your mother, and the relationship you have with her. Your feelings are there to protect you, to guide you, to help you make sense of the world around you. And I hope your therapist is helping you with this, helping you consider what exactly it is your emotions are trying to tell you about your mother. But please don't ignore them. Don't undermine them.

I think you don't want your mother to live with you, and I think you know you don't want your mother to live with you. I think you know you can't have your mother living with you. I'm not sure why you can't have her live with you--that probably has something to do with details about your childhood, how she treated you when you were young, and how your relationship with her progressed as you grew older. You should work with your therapist on that.

Maybe the way to start working through it with your therapist is to just start out by saying this: "I cannot cope with my mother living with me. That's the fact of the matter. Now, how do I handle the guilt I feel, and how do I handle telling my mother she can't move in?"

How does that sound?
posted by meese at 12:09 PM on March 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the comments.

In response to meese, it's very complicated. Yes I love my mum very much. I also used to have an amazing relationship with her. We spent a lot of time doing things together when I was younger. When she moved our relationship improved even more, as when we were together the time was even better. I really did like my mum, I still do at times. However there have been changes in her over the last few years that have made things harder.

Her partner can be very weird about money. If my mum gives him some money to get something he will try to not have to give her the change, if it's the other way round he immediately asks for the change back. It's very petty at times. He buys most things from car boot sales, so doesn't think of money in the same way as most people. He's also very greedy with food, and while he gives my mum house keeping money, it's like he sees it as hers and tries to get more out of her. For instance if a pack of cakes has 6 items in, he expects 4 of them, and my mum will only get two. If she bakes anything he'll eat his portion (that would last most people a few days) in just one day, and then will want more. A standard sized jar of marmalade that would last most people two weeks will last him only 4 days. Even birthday cakes, he'll grudingly give her a small piece of his birthday cake, but will want half of hers. So she's having to be more sneaky with food and money.

She's always been generous, which I've always been, and will always be, eternally grateful for. Hence why I offered to let her stay for a bit, even when my therapist is asking me why on earth I offered. But her partners attitude has rubbed off on her. So there's still times when she's my old mum. When it's like it was years ago. But then theres times when she's snidey about things. For instance if my other half comes with me to visit my mum. It's his holiday too, but she acts like what he want's doesn't matter. So I'm then trying to make sure he's happy and getting to do what he want's, as well as worrying about my mum and finally trying to do stuff I'm happy with. But it makes it very hard on me, I know my other half and I had problems to start with (my posting history attests to that lol) but we're very happy together. It's also hard as she's said in the past that she's jealous of me being in a happy relationship.

Her partner is also prone to changing his mind. He'll tell her he'll buy her something, then change his mind, or change the goal posts. So then she doesn't know if she's coming or going. That then affects how she interacts with me. So she'll keep changing her mind. Or she'll give me the choice (so if I make the choice and it's wrong, then it's my fault), I'll say what I want to do, then she'll give me more choices, which makes me feel like she didn't want to know what I wanted. This triggers memories of my ex who would give me the choice but not accept any choice I made.

This even happens when she's driving. I'll give her directions and say left, but she'll start going right, because her partner will say left but mean right. She's also not quite as good with driving, especially at night, as she used to be. I no longer feel as safe as I used to when she's driving my car in the city I live in.

She's also unable to just sit still and watch TV or chill out. She's always doing something, or will come in and out of the room. It's part of why I struggle so much with her being here. She'll suggest I do something, as I'm sat still half watching TV, half thinking about my business etc. So if I do start doing something, as soon as I'm in the right frame of mind and ready to start focusing, she'll come and start chatting to me. I don't want to be rude to her, and I'm aware that our time together is getting shorter, so I stop and chat. Then she'll go away, I just get back into the frame of mind to do what I'd just started then stopped, only to be interrupted again.

If we go anywhere, I can't just relax and enjoy it, as she hasn't got the patience to take time looking at things.So for instance we went to a famous garden that had free entry as a special thing. I'd never been there but kept wanting to go. But she'd been there the week before, so as soon as we were through the gates, she was telling me where certain things were, and acting like some of them weren't worth seeing. We walked straight past one of the main attractions because I didn't even have time to get my bearings before she started to lead the way. So then I end up missing out on things. Even on the beach, I'd love to be able to just spend an hour or so, chilled out on a towel, listening to the sea and taking it all in. But she can't settle so I can't just be at peace.

I'd previously worked through a lot of the things from my past with my therapist. However over the last couple of years this change has happened with my mum. She's more snidey, less considerate to others, more flighty, and less able to make up her own mind. These are not things I can control, nor change. I can understand why it's happening, and where the change has come from. But that doesn't make it easier for me to deal with. I feel like I'm being pulled backwards. I can see her situation, as it's very similar to what I was dealing with over ten years ago. It's why I so desperately want to be able to help my mum and protect her. Yet I can't do that at the expense of my own sanity and hard fought for life. I wish I had the money to be able to just buy her a car or a house, but I can't. Though she's got the money to be able to pay for 6 months of rent up front. So that's one thing I haven't got to worry about.

I know that I may sound whiney and ungrateful. I can assure you I'm eternally grateful for everything that my mum has ever done for me. That's why I'm so torn and so distressed at the moment. I know exactly what my mum is going through, as it's so similar to my past abusive relationship, but just like she couldn't fix me then, I can't fix her now. But her attitude and situation is bringing so much of the past back up for me, and because I care so much about her I'm worried about upsetting her and not being there for her. But I feel so out of control at the moment, I know I need to lay ground rules. I'm starting by laying my own ground rules. I'm trying to find a secure place emotionally for myself so I have the strength to help my mum whilst keeping myself sane.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 4:12 PM on March 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

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