Risk averse parents who use emotional blackmail
February 4, 2019 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow night, I will be delivering several pieces of *big* news (happy, exciting news - for me, anyway!) to my parents. I’d prefer not to disclose too many specifics here at this time, but it’s the type of news any loving parent in a healthy relationship with their children would be overjoyed to hear. The problem? My parents are risk averse, suspicious people who use emotional blackmail when they’re personally uncomfortable with a decision one of their children has made.

I don’t know how they’ll react, but I’m 90% certain that they will question and challenge my personal judgment and decision making. I need help preparing how I will respond to them.

Some key points:

- Assume that I know what I am talking about when I say that my parents are emotional blackmailers and paranoid/risk averse.
- Assume that I want to and have to tell my parents about my choices. This isn’t a situation where I can just not tell them what’s going on. These choices involve me moving and making major life changes that are going to be visible. Also, they may support me or eventually come around to supporting me. Normally I don’t tell them about stuff in my life because it’s how I avoid having to hear their judgment, but this is something I am not going to hide from them. I’m not looking to debate this point.
- I do not live with my parents and I am 100% financially independent; it’s been this way now for eleven years. We currently reside in the same town but that is one of the (several) things that is about to change.
- However, my parents are people who tend to be suspicious of others and their motivations; are also judgmental, extremely risk averse, and pessimists who focus more on asking “what if?” questions about every possible negative outcome a decision could have. It’s one thing to be pragmatic; it’s another thing to be paranoid and assume all calculated risks are just risks that will definitely end in misery. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to disentangle from this bizarre outlook of theirs.
- I feel great about my choices and the life I’m building. I’m not going to waver in my decision. Not worried about that. I *am* worried about listening to my parents’ B.S., and finding the right way to respond to said B.S. in a way that maintains boundaries while also respecting their right to express their feelings to me on how these changes make them feel. I can understand parents wanting to express mixed emotions about their child moving and making big life changes. I have trouble with them making me feel bad or guilty about it.
- Please operate on the assumption that I want to maintain my relationship with my parents and keep them in my life. If possible.
- Please also operate on the assumption that if my parents’ behavior escalates into full-on toxic, or if they completely reject or berate me for my decision (this is the worst case scenario), I will have no problem cutting them off. However, that’s a nuclear option. I want to first try to establish boundaries and see how they respond to those boundaries in the long run. I have established some boundaries with them in the past and after some growing pains, it has worked to an extent. But I’m also being realistic with my expectations because this is the biggest news/series of news I’ve ever brought to them.

I am going there for dinner tomorrow night and have a scheduled event where I need to be, afterward, that I can use as an excuse to leave if/when things get difficult. I also recognize I can just get up and leave, if it gets bad enough.

So, what’s the best way to approach this and verbalize to them the changes I’m making?
How do I say things in a way that shows that I’m happy and excited about these changes and want them to be happy and excited, too, without sounding defensive?
Do you have any recommended “word tracks” I might want to consider as a template?
Even though I’m confident and unwavering in my decisions, if this discussion goes poorly tomorrow night, any tips on self care I may want to do before/after to keep myself from giving in too much to the emotional fallout?
Other advice or things to keep in mind?
posted by nightrecordings to Human Relations (35 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Yay you! I can tell from your post that you are thoughtful and have at least a reasonable amount of wisdom :)

I wish that I had known how to do this, or even that it was possible, when I was young. I have never had to do it, so others will have better advice than I.

But what I suggest is to make them feel like they are "heard" and that you are so wise that you have thought already of whatever potential downsides they mention. "Yes I understand why you might have that worry, and I appreciate that it comes from love. And I have thought about that worry too." (And then probably not go into detail about why the worry is wrong, if you can possibly avoid it.)
posted by sheldman at 5:27 PM on February 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

I routinely use the "stupid and cheerful" approach. Here's the relevant bit:

“I am a great fan of “stupid and cheerful.” If someone says something negative, instead of responding, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you said that,” turn it around. Try saying, “It’s so helpful to have somebody give me feedback.” If you just take the superficial approach to things that may be hurtful or insulting, it makes the other person do the heavy lifting. If they really want to criticize, they are going to have to do more work. So if you respond to, “Gee, you look tired,” with “It’s because I have too much to do here,” you took on all of the work. If someone is trying to insult you, let them do the work. And if that wasn’t their intention, a negative reply just might have cost you an ally. Keep your response neutral, “simple and stupid!”
posted by selfmedicating at 5:33 PM on February 4, 2019 [63 favorites]

One method that sometimes works / works with some people is to preface your news with explicitly telling them how you do / don't want them to respond. Using "I statements" as much as possible of course. Eg. "I have some big news to share but I'm worried that your reaction will be [what you've said above, condensed down]. Can you please [specific request for different response]?" Or "I need you to..." for the second part. Then if they're all "no, we can't follow your perfectly reasonable request", don't tell them the news at that time. Chances are good their curiosity / fomo will eventually overcome other ego issues.
posted by eviemath at 5:44 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I got some beautiful advice on facing fears right here a couple of months ago.

I could offer you advice based on my own experience but really, probably the best thing I can say to you is it's so wonderful that you're doing the things you want to do. In the literal sense, they can't stop you. You're not doing anything to them. Whether they gave you the tools to be independent, or you just got them on your own, you HAVE them.

Speaking as a person who used to focus on every single thing that could go wrong, you could ask them to imagine how wonderful it will be if everything goes right. Results not immediate, but eventually delightful.

Wishing you luck and greatness!
posted by wellred at 5:49 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I’d just be like, “I have some fantastic news! I got a new job at a start-up and I’m moving to San Diego with my LDR! We can finally get our relationship to the next level! Let’s celebrate! Waiter, a bottle of house wine please, and I’ll have the filet mignon with extra mushrooms.”

And then whatever they want to question and get argumentative about, say, “Nope, it’s going to be great! We’ve got it all planned out! We can talk about the details later, but for now I’m just super happy! Be happy with me!”

If they can’t be happy with you and escalate into actual garbage behavior, you get your food to go, tell them good night, and go to your next planned event.

But keep in mind that the whole time, you’re telling them. You’re not asking permission or looking for their input. You don’t actually need them to agree that it’s a good idea. You don’t need to make them feel good about your decisions. They’re adults, they can manage their own emotions, and honestly, being superficially gracious and not peeing in your Cheerios, regardless of their actual opinion, is the least they could do, and not too much to ask. You shouldn’t feel guilty or responsible for the emotions of people who can’t manage the politeness they would give to a stranger.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:52 PM on February 4, 2019 [57 favorites]

Are we siblings?! But seriously, how supportive are your siblings? The thing that has helped me cope the most lately with my parents’ paranoid, judgmental, pessimistic comments has been a group text string with my brothers and phone calls on speaker where our [less-emotionally-invested] spouses can chime in. I’ve unfortunately learned that my dad will never change, and my mom is ok with that, so I can’t make him change for her sake (or mine).
posted by Maarika at 5:55 PM on February 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

In a similar (but smaller) situation, I let them have their reaction and then said something like, "I know you feel X [negative thing] about this. I feel Y [positive thing] and am excited about this opportunity." That is, I acknowledged their feelings and responses while also reiterating mine. Good for you, and good luck!
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 6:06 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are you my sibling? I'm glad you wrote this as it made me feel less alone and put some words to my own feelings.

I don't know if this is exactly what you're talking about, but in my family's case, it would go something like this: "Parent, great news -I'm moving/leaving my job for a new job/having a child/adopting a child!" And in normal families, I think that the reply would be: "Yay!" But in my family it would be: "Wow. What about [Top 3 things that people worry about in that situation, that anyone with half a brain would have already thought of....] such as.. "Moving is hard and expensive. Can you do this?" "What if the new job isn't good? Why leave your old job?" "Can you afford a baby?" "What if the adopted baby has drug/alcohol exposure?"
A tiny bit of me has considered responding as if I had not already thought of all of this stuff and worked through it already. "Adoptive babies sometimes have been exposed to drugs and alcohol in uetero? I had NO IDEA. I really need to think about this. Thank you so much for informing me."
But then I remember that even though this behavior is incredibly annoying and hurtful to me, that it is coming from a place of concern, caring, and love. It makes it slightly less painful.

- Sibling and I work together to manage parents. For example, sibling will ask me to tell parent to STFU about the current worry or vice versa. This is usually after the worry has been announced. "Hey mom, I think that it is really bothering Sibling that you keep asking about the birth mother's behavior. They totally know that it is possible and have done a ton of research and soul searching about this. I know you care a lot about Sibling and future grandchild, but you're stressing sibling out more about this. Please stop."
- I anticipate what the worries will be and I pepper my disclosure with things to head them off. For example, "We're moving! Thankfully the new house is better in so many different ways and in fact more affordable. And this is the perfect time to move because I have a ton of spare time and friends lent us a truck."
- Throw a third issue in to distract. "And I really need your help with X [unimportant thing]." Put them in charge of some seemingly important but not really thing... "Can you help me make a list of doctors and dentists in new city?" This helps focus the nervous energy into something productive (for them).

If you want, memail me. I'm happy to help strategize with the specific issue.
posted by k8t at 6:07 PM on February 4, 2019 [23 favorites]

This is your biggest news ever, and you know what your parents are like. Your plan is to go to their home (possibly your childhood home) for a difficult, emotionally fraught conversation you're already dreading, when you have a can't-be-missed engagement later that evening. Unless your self-care power move involves masking inner turmoil under pressure (and it is, for some), I wouldn't schedule these two events for the same day.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:10 PM on February 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

+1 to Iris Gambol. I might consider delivering this news over the phone, just because it's easier to extricate yourself from a phone call gone wrong. I might also consider sharing the news at the last reasonable moment, rather than e.g. months in advance, if you think there is likely to be any kind of extended campaign from them to get you to change your mind. I'm sorry you don't have the kind of parental relationship you want, but/and am glad for you moving forward in your life!
posted by eirias at 6:16 PM on February 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Unless your self-care power move involves masking inner turmoil under pressure (and it is, for some), I wouldn't schedule these two events for the same day.

Responding to this for clarification (to avoid any further confusion about my post-parent meet up plans) and then I will stop threadsitting:

My scheduled event is a Zen meditation group that I have been going to weekly, now, for years. I can easily skip it if, after all of this, I decide I can’t handle being there tomorrow night. But it’s also something my parents know I go to every Tuesday night so I can use it as a valid excuse to leave if the situation at the house becomes untenable. If I do decide I want to go, then at least it’s to meditate for an hour and visit some friends there afterward. That could end up being a very necessary and pleasant palate cleanser. It’s an option I want to keep open, anyway. That’s all. I didn’t schedule a Toastmasters speech or anything weighty like that. :-)
posted by nightrecordings at 6:20 PM on February 4, 2019 [23 favorites]

You can't make them be excited and happy, too. The rest, through, you can do. Be happy. Say what you want. Work on disengaging from their reaction, because that's the one thing you can't control.

I would suggest that you have a few pat, non-engaging responses to any wild comments. Pick two or three statements that don't argue their feelings (no debating!), but bring the focus back to you knowing what you want. Example:

Them: This is crazy. You're making a huge mistake.
You: I know you're concerned, but I'm really happy and I've thought this through.
Them: You're going to regret it!
You: I don't think so. And if it does go sideways, I'll figure out what to do from there.
Them: [next negative thing]
You: I hear your concern, but I'm really happy and I've thought this through.

Best of luck!
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 6:20 PM on February 4, 2019 [16 favorites]

for me it was a lot easier to just disengage from this cycle completely and not tell my mom stuff at all. obviously ymmv but i realized that my persistent attempts to share life news with her despite my full and informed knowledge that she would react horribly no matter what was indicative of my still childishly hoping for her approval, and once i let go of that my life was bettered immeasurably.

(i say childish because that's how it felt to me personally, like a little kid holding up a shitty crayon drawing and expecting it to be hung on the wall next to the rembrandt while knowing full well i'd see it in the trash later on)
posted by poffin boffin at 6:22 PM on February 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

- I anticipate what the worries will be and I pepper my disclosure with things to head them off. For example, "We're moving! Thankfully the new house is better in so many different ways and in fact more affordable. And this is the perfect time to move because I have a ton of spare time and friends lent us a truck."
This seems like one of the best suggestions. Make it clear that you are in fact an adult who is making an educated, positive decision. When they push back, tell them that you've already considered all of the points before making your decision and that you know what you're doing and have planned for any possible outcomes. After a bit say, "I hear what you're saying, but I've already thought about all of those points before I made my decision" and then change the topic to something else you've talked about recently. Then leave on time or early for your other engagement.
posted by Penguin48 at 6:26 PM on February 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I JUST dealt with something like this with my parents. Almost to the letter, it's eerie. I'm a fully functional, independent adult with big exciting news and my parents wanted me to manage THEIR own feelings, their anxieties, their fear of change.

You know what, this time I wasn't polite about it. You do not HAVE to be polite. This is what (basically) happened with me:

Me: "I have big news! [grinning, legit happy] NEWS!...These were the reasons ABC...I know it's big change and big changes are often bittersweet, but XYZ."
Them: "How dare you not consider us in your decision! We do not like how you told us, you should have told us earlier and differently."
Me: "I'm NOT managing your emotions for you. I understand if you're scared or sad, but that's YOURS to deal with. I will not help you navigate your fear of this. I'm angry that you're reacting this way."
My mom: "I could not be more disappointed in you" [she legit said this.]
Me: "I will not talk to you about this now."

After years of me being polite, being the only one in the family able to manage emotional change, essentially being the stand-in emotional parent for my parents, it was liberating to actually get angry, show them my anger, and stand the fuck up for myself.

How about just reacting how you want to react? Your parents react poorly? Tell them you don't appreciate their reaction and your would not tolerate this behavior in a partner or friend so you will not tolerate it from them.

After my discussion, my self care included: I spoke to my partner for a long time, took the rest of the day off from social interaction, took a bath, watched a horror movie. I later wrote about it.

For me, this represented a different reaction to old, deep wounds and it felt empowering to react in a way that felt true, organic, and new. Good luck and CONGRATULATIONS on your big news!!! We're all happy for you in here.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 6:33 PM on February 4, 2019 [27 favorites]

To further clarify my earlier advice: you are a competent, thoughtful adult who clearly knows yourself well and have put a lot of thought into your big changes. The problem here is your parents' behavior, which they engage in regardless of how well you've demonstrated your competence or forethought (because it doesn't have anything to do with your competence or forethought).

I second this useful idea, if there is any such task that would be acceptable to you:
- Throw a third issue in to distract. "And I really need your help with X [unimportant thing]." Put them in charge of some seemingly important but not really thing... "Can you help me make a list of doctors and dentists in new city?" This helps focus the nervous energy into something productive (for them).
posted by eviemath at 6:36 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

When it's necessary to disseminate life updates, I've found it helpful to still keep sharing to a bare minimum. Yes they need to know the broad outline, but no they don't get access to any of the fun stuff that makes up the details. You're moving across country? Stonewall on discussing whether you're flying or driving and how all your stuff is going to get there and whether the economy is better or worse and so on. Having/adopting a baby? They're due in a certain season, you're confident in your parenting abilities, and there are entirely adequate resources to support your entire growing family. And so on. I tend to picture myself as a giant stately ship cruising through the conversational waters. Waves might splash against my hull or even rock me around a bit, but fundamentally I'm going where I'm going and the condition of the sea doesn't really matter. (Metaphorical icebergs, those I use torpedoes on.)
posted by teremala at 6:39 PM on February 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

I like Ink-stained wretch's scripts.

But I also like just telling your truth and asking them. Kind of like this:

Mom, Dad, I love you. I want to be a family where we share things. But I've been nervous thinking about telling you my news. I want you to share in my happiness. I really need you to hear that I am grown up, independent, and that you raised me pretty darn right. I am so happy about this decision. [news.]

When they don't, because this sounds like a very deep-seated pattern, engage scripts, and then if you need to, just leave.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:44 PM on February 4, 2019

This is a little different from the other responses, but:

Record a voice message to yourself before you go. Tell yourself in the future how excited this is, what you've decided, and how it's good for you. Compliment yourself, be excited for yourself. Hold all of your positive feelings for yourself in that voice message.

And then listen to it after your talk with your parents. If you're anything like me, your parents' negativity may have a surprising ability to earworm themselves into your heart, where they can curl up and become seeds of doubt.

Have that voice message from you, to future you, to be a way to cherish, value, and care for yourself.
posted by suedehead at 6:48 PM on February 4, 2019 [37 favorites]

Do you have to tell them in person? I know it seems like the right thing to do for BIG news, but I feel like my mom might have responded more kindly if she had a little time to process.

After trying to get pregnant, while WELL old enough, and in a loving relationship with someone she LOVED, both with great jobs and doing very well financially, I broke the news that I was pregnant.
She looked very upset and blurted out angrily "Will your health insurance even cover this!?!"

This grandkid was her greatest joy in life and she was very happy once she processed it.

I probably should have sent some clever announcement in the mail.
posted by beccaj at 7:00 PM on February 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

You are not my sibling, I know this because the timing doesn't make sense. I was thinking along the same lines as suedehead - record or write yourself a reminder that this is great! and you are excited! and people are excited for you! (I was thinking a post-it on your steering wheel.)

I handle my parents differently depending on the type of news - for things with a practical or logistical aspect, I try to have the plans set and non-refundable before starting the discussion. They're actually fairly good at financial issues, so I'll consult on those in advance. Creative projects and anything related to personal appearance - never goes well, minimum possible notice. I'd also straight-up start the conversation with, "I have news! Happy news!"

Also - congratulations on having happy, exciting news!
posted by mersen at 7:11 PM on February 4, 2019

while also respecting their right to express their feelings to me on how these changes make them feel. I can understand parents wanting to express mixed emotions about their child moving and making big life changes.

I'm not sure I believe in their right to express their feelings to you, but taking it as a given, does this have to mean they can express them at any time? I think it would be reasonable for you to ask them upfront to join you in celebrating, and leave any discussion of details or concerns for later. Maybe even take a bottle of champagne or a cake saying "hooray for moving to siberia!" as really unambiguous signals that WE ARE CELEBRATING NOW.

This probably won't really work, if they are used to blurting out their first what-if concern immediately, but it sets up the expectation that you can ignore or redirect it and not respond. Maybe you can even set a next meeting ('let's leave any discussion until lunch on Saturday') so they know you aren't blowing them off, you're just holding a celebration right now.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:14 PM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

The hardest part of this isn't doing it, it's convincing yourself not to care or to at least visibly uninvest from their reactions.

You have to set up your defenses in advance, practice them, write a note on your hand if you have to, and STICK TO YOUR SCRIPT. Whatever it is - people have offered you a bunch of good scripts above that you might choose from, but whatever you choose, embrace the fuck out of it and stay on message.

You can't make them not do what they do. Yourparents gonna yourparent. And, you know, 97% of that is anxiety. Some people just live like that, they live scared and curled up very small and afraid of the outside world and you can't fix that for them. But what you can do is just let it be, let it be their thing that is outside you.

You can (TRY to) know that it's coming and work up an energy in yourself that you're going to love them so hard regardless of what they say, no matter how they make it about themselves or push your buttons with it. That is probably the sanest way to get through it: big smile, some nearly meaningless phrase like "it's gonna be fine" or "I feel really great about this" or "bless your hearts", whatever, but pick a response and just stay with it until you get through it.

And then pat yourself on the back, because that was fucking hard but you did it.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:31 PM on February 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

You've told us that your parents will try to set the terms of the conversational dynamic. It would be lovely if they were excited or even gracious about your good news, but you know that won't happen. All I can do is echo the stupid and cheerful advice above so you can let them know about impending events. This is a courtesy to them. This is not about you having to manage their response, or having to accept the terms of their dynamic.

So, what’s the best way to approach this and verbalize to them the changes I’m making?
Stupid and cheerful: "I couldn't wait to tell you, but guess what? I am doing the things!!!"

How do I say things in a way that shows that I’m happy and excited about these changes and want them to be happy and excited, too, without sounding defensive?
S&C: "I'm really pleased, and glad I could tell you." "I'm looking forward to these changes." Do NOT wish for them to have positive feelings. That's not in the cards right now.

Do you have any recommended “word tracks” I might want to consider as a template?
S&C: "I hear what you're saying, and I'll keep it in mind. It's an exciting opportunity!"

Can you call a friend later, one who will reassure you that you're fine and your parents' responses are ridiculous?

Good luck, and best wishes to you and your exciting news!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:44 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

This will depend on your specific parent-child relationship, but you might try some combination of these scripts:
-"I know you're worried about that because you love me, and I appreciate knowing that you're thinking of me."
-"You know, I considered that, and ultimately I'm still feeling like this is the right move for me."
-"Hmm, that's a good point. I'll look into that." (And then don't actually look into it, of course.)

And maybe even:
-"Haha, that would be the worst case scenario, wouldn't it! Well, if it all fails I can always ________." (E.g. if the big move is giving up a stable job for a high-risk high-reward one, the blank could be something like "go back to school and get a CS degree" or "join the Peace Corps" or "sign up for a temp agency" or "crash with my friend in Seattle who promised me a spare room if I ever needed one")
posted by capricorn at 8:03 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Whenever anyone responds negatively to a decision that I'm telling them for the first time, I think of "Why Wasn't I Consulted?" from Paul Train's classic post. 9 times out of 10 this is what they're pushing back on - you've made a decision, you're excited about it, but you didn't ask their opinion, and this is what they're resenting. Whatever the issue is is besides the point - you made a decision without them, and this is unthinkable.

In these situations I tend to add "WWIC" to everything the person says, and their reaction makes a lot more sense. Doesn't help them understand of course, but helps to keep me from getting engaged.
posted by kaefer at 8:51 PM on February 4, 2019 [11 favorites]

Lots of great advice in this thread, wow. You could be my sibling. I stopped telling my mom a lot of things until well after they happened. When I do have to tell her something in advance I will hang up on her or leave the room when the conversation becomes unproductive due to her reflexive circling anxiety. I literally just tell her this: "well, that's not very productive/helpful right now, so...was there something else you wanted to talk about? Otherwise, I have to go." And you gotta stick to it. Sometimes I have to repeat this in every conversation we have that week. YMMV.

You can twist yourself into knots trying to say the right thing exactly the right way, or...OR...knowing they react that dreaded way no matter what...say whatever and concentrate on not giving their unwarranted reaction space in your brain. Do that as much as you can without cutting off contact with them.

I literally wasted years of my life saying no to high reward, moderate risk opportunities because my mother's "but what if [every bad thing] happens?" was playing on repeat in my subconscious. In the last year or so I have muted that and my life is a lot better for it. However, I had to accept that I can't go to her to get reasonable advice about some stuff or to be encouraged or supported the way I hope for. Admitting to myself that there are large swathes of my life I am Alone in was freeing, and sad.
posted by zdravo at 11:08 PM on February 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

People are telling you that you can't control their affect, but boundaries can say you won't tolerate negativity toward you. If this decision is about a partner or marriage, model VERY STRONG BOUNDARIES so their behavior doesn't wound your relationship. These parents sound exactly like my inlaws. I totally get the semi-benevolent paranoia. My inlaws were opposed to me from day 1 because they felt they sensed I was a "hustler" who would "destroy" my husband's generous nature. They blackmailed by gossiping to his childhood friends' mothers and they HATED that we got married - eloped - so much that his father tried to, literally, bribe him to divorce me! And these are normal looking people too.

We stayed in shaky contact for two years, his parents "apologizing" and then doubling down and it was a total mind fuck. They weren't going to respect us or ever be basically decent, much less happy for us. There was tons of paranoia about me. We went no contact many years ago, about a decade ago - after 12 years of marriage I think they probably STILL think I'm a terrible person who is trying to ruin him.

What was essential was that we were a team and stayed in the same reality with each other. Your parents try to mess with your reality. Make sure you don't let them mess with a partner, if applicable. Tell your partner what bullshit it is frequently if they are involved - there's a temptation to feel very closed mouthed and withdrawn, but keep the conversation going, even bordering on repetitive, because you will both need that reassurance.
posted by sweltering at 11:46 PM on February 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

while also respecting their right to express their feelings to me on how these changes make them feel. I can understand parents wanting to express mixed emotions about their child moving and making big life changes.

Like the agents of KAOS, I think there's a limit to how much this is a right. They have a right to feel how they feel, and to express their feelings, but not necessarily to take it out on you - certainly not to the extent that you describe.

So if they start going overboard, I'd say "I know it's a big change. I know there are a lot of potential pitfalls, like with anything else. You have to trust that I've thought of most of these, and that I'll be able to deal with them and with unexpected setbacks if they ever do come up. You've taught me well. And it means a lot to me that you care, and that you take it so seriously. However, I have a real request for you, and I've thought about it a lot: I need you to trust me. Not to trust that nothing will go wrong, because something will always go wrong, but that I'll be able to manage it when it does. When you come to me with your worries, it hurts me and makes me feel that you don't trust me enough to be able to handle things. Even if that's not true, it's very hard to hear all your fears. So my request is this: when you feel worried about my life, talk about it with each other. Talk about it with [good family friend, religious figure]. But with me, wait and see how things go, let me come to you with my own worries. I know you need to talk about this. But I need you to talk about it with other people and not with me."

And then repeat that last part for as long as it takes.

Having done this, I know it's not easy and that they won't be especially receptive and that it's a conversation you'll probably have to have many times. And maybe (probably) your parents are much more extreme than mine and you're the best judge of whether this will have an effect at all. Still, at some point it can help to just say this straight out, instead of constantly trying to find a path around their feelings.
posted by trig at 1:45 AM on February 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

Y'all, there is some amazing advice in this thread, so much so I want to cry (from joyful appreciation and gratefulness). Thank you. I have found every answer helpful, to be honest; I chose a couple as "best answer" because they are the ones I want to be able to reference quickly tonight, after work, before I head over there to share the news. I'm still nervous and dreading it but the advice and support I have already received here is giving me strength. Metafilter is amazing. Thank you all so much ❤️
posted by nightrecordings at 3:44 AM on February 5, 2019 [23 favorites]

They're going to react how they react, so a big part of the trick here is emotionally detaching from it from your end. Not always easy, i know! But then you can use a variety of strategies to say things while staying disengaged, things like acknowledging that risks exist, and declining to get into a debate of any real detail or substance.

You: I have some big news. I got a new job and am moving to San Diego. I'll miss you guys, but I'm really excited -- this is basically my dream job. The job starts on May 1, so I'll be moving some time in April.

Them: Well that's great dear. But how are you going to get all your stuff out there?

You: [not engaging in the substance of the question, not getting into details that they'll only further debate] I'll have to figure that out. There are certainly a lot of logistics.

Them: Because car travel is more dangerous than ever! On the other hand, if you flew, what if your airplane had problems? Airlines aren't keeping up with plane maintenance anymore, you know.

You: [not engaging in a debate, just granting the risks] Both do have their risks.

Them: You could crash and die!

You: That sure would be the worst case scenario, wouldn't it! [I love this suggestion from above]

Them: See, this is a terrible plan and you should feel terrible.

You: * [reminding yourself that words are made of air and ephemeral things that don't have to touch you at all, using all your zen skills to just let that comment float off without touching you, retaining your autonomy, staying out of the details] I have a lot of planning and work yet to do, but I wanted to share the news. I'm pretty excited about this, but I'll miss you guys, too.

I put a * above in a place where I think another approach is to call attention to the fact that they're doing a thing that is about them. E.g., "I know that this is the kind of thing that really worries you, mom." People had some good scripts for that kind of thing above. With some people it might help, but if they aren't slightly self aware about this and don't want to become so, it can also intensify things ("are you saying I'm irrational!? that's really insulting! I've been accurately keeping you safe from risks ever since you were young enough to toddle right off the edge of the deck and now you want to toddle right off to San Diego??")

You also talk about boundaries. If you want to go that direction, you could also just Boundaries 101 this conversation. You probably know all this, but the steps are to figure out how to describe the boundary, which is probably the toughest part in a situation with lots of various anxieties, then warn them, "I know cross-country travel really worries you, but I don't want to engage in debate about this, so if you keep bringing it up, I'll need to end the conversation," and then after another reminder or two, start enforcing it by walking off or ending conversations. If it's too hard to stay disengaged, or if they start insulting you or shouting at you, you could try that.

Anyway, good luck and congrats!
posted by salvia at 7:19 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Recommended this before, recommending it here now, and will undoubtedly recommend it again in the future: when you find yourself the target of unsolicited advice delivered by people you judge as completely unqualified to give it, adopt a thoughtful mien while you wait for the meaningless squawking and chirping and chattering to stop, then say these words:

"I hear what you say and I'll take that on board."

This is one of those magic formulations, like "I'm sorry but that won't be possible" (which you might also need to deploy in case of extra-stubborn stains) that maintain an outward appearance of respect while in fact meaning more or less exactly "fuck off". I've had something very very close to 100% success with it.
posted by flabdablet at 7:49 AM on February 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

My mother is like this, so much so that neither my sister nor I told her we got married until afterward. I’m sure she wonders why I don’t share details of my life with her. Unlike the scenario in some previous comments, I’m sure in my mother’s case this does not come from a place of loving concern. It comes from a place of believing that I am always wrong and that she is supreme.

I’m a big believer in “gray rock” response, which is to be really bland and uninteresting and unafraid to let there be awkward silences. I am all right with giving responses that are fairly short and leave out a lot of details, and then being quiet while she stares at me waiting for more. Resist the temptation to fill those awkward silences. You’re not the one making it awkward! You’re trying to share good news with someone who will never treat any of your news as “good.” The more details they have, the more details they can nitpick and criticize.

I also try to remember Joey from Friends’ take on things when he misunderstood a saying: It’s a 'moo' point – it’s like a cow’s opinion! It doesn’t matter!

It does matter that our parents can never be who we need them to be, and that we will never be what they needed either. It does hurt. But their opinion doesn’t matter in the sense that your joyful news remains joyful.
posted by Occula at 8:40 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Update: So... I told my parents. While some of the advice did still come in extremely handy for responding to a couple of small concerns they expressed about minor practicalities, they were shockingly supportive. I’m still beaming. A bit confused, but beaming. I wasn’t expecting a positive response, but I think them seeing the joy in my eyes, how happy and excited I am - I don’t know. I won’t question it for now. My parents are so unpredictable but I’m glad that when I needed them to be supportive, they were able to do it.

Thank you, guys, again, for the millionth time. I could not have walked into that house and had the courage to do this tonight without all of the support and advice I received here. It really did make it easier to confront. And even though it turned out to not be a terrible nightmare of emotional manipulation as I had feared, I still needed to be able to go in there prepared for the worst so that I could protect my boundaries and my emotions. This incredible community helped me do that, and I am still so so so grateful.

For those who are curious what the big news is: it involves me, a certain Mefite you may know as Fizz, schmoopy stuff aka the romance of a lifetime, me securing (finally!) a job transfer to his neck of the woods, me moving in with him and starting the immigration process to his country, and a couple other fun little details we want to keep under wraps for now. But suffice it to say we are two very happy people and we are both thrilled to have not only his parents’ support, but now my parents’ support, too. Phew. Love is always worth it.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:23 PM on February 5, 2019 [64 favorites]

Awww, congratulations, you crazy kids!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:46 PM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

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