How to cut the perceived apron strings
July 23, 2007 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I need a script for telling my manipulative mother "no."

Click on my handle for links to the saga of me leaving my life in Miami behind to ostensibly come run my family business.

I have finally come to the conclusion that this will never work. My mother is a megalomaniac and, because of an impoverished childhood, has an unhealthy relationship with money. She has demonstrated some truly miserly behavior over the past few months...truly hurtful miserly behavior. She and I have never gotten along but I somehow thought that taking an interest in the business and helping her out with day-to-day duties might bring us closer. It has not.

She listens to nothing I say, bristles at any suggestion of doing anything at ALL, differently than it's being done and refuses to treat me with respect.

My stepdad is worse. You can't even talk to the man. He's from an extremely patriarchical culture and has little respect for ...well, people in general. Children and animals cringe in his sight.

I am living near them now and quite frankly, that's enough. I want to go back to working in the field for which I was trained. That would mean my mother would have to go back to being involved in the day-to-day store operations and I feel horribly, horribly guilty about this. It's a retail store (actually there are several of them) so it's a lot of on-your-feet stuff. My mother actually enjoys it more than I do but as her eldest child, I have always felt more than a bit responsible for doing the right thing by her and the family.

I know. She's an adult. They could sell the business and do something else. They could pay people an actual living wage and find reliable help.

I never had any real interest in the business. I've done this so far purely out of some perceived sense of obligation.

Every conversation I have with my mother from something as simple as where we should eat dinner to hiring new employees for the stores usually results in a screaming match. We actually almost come to blows in front of customers.

I know much of it is jealousy. Though she demanded that my siblings and I be educated, she's now resentful of us for having opportunities she did not. I know this is not uncommon for mothers and daughters.

I don't know how to talk to this woman but I don't want to live any more of my life doing what I think she expects of me.

How do I have this conversation? What do I say?

Right now I'm leaning toward moving to Europe and writing her a letter. This is, of course, a joke.
posted by notjustfoxybrown to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Mom, we both know this isn't working. I am taking a job in Vegas and moving at the end of the month. I love you and wish you well."

Really the words aren't hard, finding the courage to say them is the rub. Good luck.
posted by LarryC at 4:31 PM on July 23, 2007


Right now I'm leaning toward moving to Europe and writing her a letter. This is, of course, a joke.

Why the heck not? If it's impossible for you to have a reasonable conversation with her in person, some distance will help. If you just move somewhere nearby, she'll be able to manipulate or argue you into changing your mind. But you can hardly change your mind if you've just bought a one way ticket to the Czech Republic.

You have some obligation to your parents, but they have obligations too. If your relationship is toxic right now, the best thing for both of you is to put some distance between you.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:33 PM on July 23, 2007


Check out The Book of No.
posted by occhiblu at 4:44 PM on July 23, 2007


I'm sorry, but no.

I've thought about it, and I just can't do that.

I'm going to have to say no.

I understand how upset you are, but my answer is no.

I'm sure you were wanting another answer, but my answer is no.

I understand that it's inconvenient for you, but I have to say no.

I know it makes you angry, but I have to still say no.

etc.

NOTE: It is extremely important that you don't get into WHY the answer is no. Asking "why" is a trick to get you to give a reason that she can overcome, like a car salesman.
posted by The Deej at 5:10 PM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


If someone you love is having a temporary problem like a mental or physical illness you have a duty to help out until they get their life back to normal.

However if someone habitually treats you like shit, you don't owe them squat. If someone is toxic to your life, walk away. This sounds like the case and you already know it'll screw up your life if you stay. You don't owe her that (and you're not making her any happier by staying either.)
posted by putril at 5:12 PM on July 23, 2007


Adding to The Deej's list and don't-say-why note:
"I'm sorry, but it's just impossible."
"Why?"
"Because I'm afraid it's just impossible."

That would mean my mother would have to go back to being involved in the day-to-day store operations and I feel horribly, horribly guilty about this. It's a retail store (actually there are several of them) so it's a lot of on-your-feet stuff. My mother actually enjoys it more than I do but as her eldest child, I have always felt more than a bit responsible for doing the right thing by her and the family.

She enjoys it? There's nothing to feel guilty about. You're not exactly sticking her with a job she hates. (Sounds like that's what she's doing to you, in fact.) "Responsibility" doesn't extend to being a doormat. And if they don't actually need taking care of, hey, you aren't responsible for taking care of them anyway. Internalize that and maybe it'll be a bit easier to say what you need to.
posted by Many bubbles at 5:22 PM on July 23, 2007


Do not have a conversation. It won't work. If she is as manipulative as you say, she will somehow twist everything around until it's all your fault.

In these cases there is usually only one solution: move farther away than is comfortable to drive in one day. Visit on holidays (if you must). Send gifts on birthdays.
posted by milarepa at 5:24 PM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


This may be a time where how you say things is more important than what you say. My Mom is getting older and feels very insecure about it, as if we regard her as a silly old woman (though this could be manipulation too). When I am firm with her I just try and be nice about it and maybe phrase things in a question so that it seems more like a discussion than a unilateral rejection.

"Mom, how do you think this is working out?"
"I need to do something else... can you understand that?"
"Don't you think we'd both be better off doing those things we do best without breathing down each others' necks?"

I admire you for trying but working with family is so complicated and it's so hard to justify having hurt feelings when there are other (fulfilling!) options. Hope that helps.
posted by MiffyCLB at 5:33 PM on July 23, 2007


There are lots of grat posts in AskMe about people dealing with crazy moms, especially daughters dealing with crazy moms who need to have this discussion with their moms. In short, the Miss Manners guide is a good starting point, as stated above.

"I'm sorry, but it's just impossible."
"Why?"
"Because I'm afraid it's just impossible."

Frame it in terms of what you are going to do, not in terms of what she has done that has made you make your decisions. Lots of "I" talk, and if needed, feel free to portray it as a personal failing. If your mom think you're a fuck-up anyhow (and I'm sure she doesn't she's just lousy at communicating with you and has a temper problem) then she won't have much response. So, if it were me -- and I have a crazy mom that I have good and bad interactions with, I'd make my plans for a few weeks out and then tell her.

"Mom, at the end of the month I'm going to go back to [home] and start looking for a job in [profession]. I'm not happy here, I don't think we're getting along and it's taken me leaving my [whatever] to realize that that's what I should be doing. I'll spend the next few weeks trying to help you with the transition, but I don't want to be here anymore and so I've made plans to leave."

No "sorry" no "I wish things could be different" and definitel no "what do you think" If you want to leave, not work something out, then make the plans to go. If you really think something can be salvaged, then try starting form there first but it sounds like your mind is made up. Then stick to your plans, and get out. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 5:50 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


"that's something to think about."
"we'll see"
"i don't know, but i'll think about it."
"not right now."
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:14 PM on July 23, 2007


Right now I'm leaning toward moving to Europe and writing her a letter.

While you characterized the above comment as a joke, it contains a valuable bit of insight: consider buying your plane ticket to your new city before you tell your mom you are leaving. Having your next step already done will help you mentally strengthen your resolve when you tell her.
posted by jamaro at 6:15 PM on July 23, 2007


One useful point you might want to bring up with your mother if you're having a conversation with her, is to ask, "Do you think I'm happy?" and then when she says no, ask "Do you want me to be happy?"

Pause and wait patiently, quietly, while she works herself up and gets upset at you, and then repeat. Do it for as long as you can stand it, and don't get upset, don't raise your voice. If you've got this strong a sense of obligation, it's likely that you think she's fundamentally good, but it's masked by her personality issues. Use that fundamental good heart to focus on your happiness and even if she never comes around, she'll certainly remember how you made your decision.
posted by anildash at 7:29 PM on July 23, 2007


I feel for you. One book (and I also listened to the audiotapes which was very helpful) is How to Speak Up, Set Limits, and Say No without Losing your Lover, Your Job, or Your Friends by Maria Arapakis. (I see that she has renamed it How to Set Limits and Say No.) You can find it at www.arapakis.com. (I don't know why I can't link things.)

This book helped me a lot, particularly the Broken Record technique, which has been talked about above (just keep repeating what you want). Another helpful tip: don't use the word "but." For example, instead of saying "I'm sure that's not what you want to hear, but the answer is no" you would say "I'm sure that's not what you want to hear, and my answer is no" or "I understand that you're upset, but I can't do it" would be "I understand that you're upset, and I can't do it." It's weird at first, but I've used it and it works to throw off their expectation that you're going to say something negative starting with "but....".
posted by la petite marie at 8:22 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I believe the OP doesn't intend to move, just to stop working in the family business and to find a job in the same city in her field.
posted by amtho at 8:31 PM on July 23, 2007


Everyone has the right to change their mind. You decided to join the business based on what limited information you had at the time, and as you learned more, it makes sense that you'd recalibrate your future plans. "This has not been going the way I thought it would go. [Some fact, e.g.: we fought four out of five days last week, and I really don't like fighting with people.] So I've decided I need to do something else. On August 20th, I'll be leaving on a road trip, and when I come back, I'll be working at Wendy's while applying for other jobs. So, August 19 will be my last day at the stores, and between now and then I'll do what I can to ease the transition."

For deflecting the inevitable attacks, I'd think them through and prepare to accept them. "You may be right. I might decide later that it WAS a big mistake. But this is what I've decided to do." "You're right. I did say I'd probably work here until at least March. But I've changed my mind." (I'm kind of cribbing off various websites on assertiveness here, so there might be other useful tips there as well.)
posted by salvia at 9:25 PM on July 23, 2007


You should really just grow some stones and tell her what you want to tell her. You have to live your own life and you shouldn't be afraid or guilty to tell someone that.
posted by Caper's Ghost at 11:12 PM on July 23, 2007


I did this - I had to pull out from working part-time with my mom and dad after a completely insane year and a half. I found another job first and then told them - it made it easier for me not to have to argue about future plans with them. I think it hurt my mom immensely at the time, and I wasn't sure if they would ever speak to me again, but I stood my ground and they eventually got over it. Some things just do not work and the right decision is the right decision, even if it is painful for awhile.
posted by gt2 at 11:16 PM on July 23, 2007


Salvia, thanks for one of my first good laughs of the day. Working at Wendy's would be a cakewalk to what I'm currently doing.
Thank you all for the advice...and keep it coming...especially the scripts. They really are helpful.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:32 PM on July 23, 2007


My mom had terrible issues. She would threaten suicide. Probably did it about 1200 times. Literally. Her sister is a psychologist and taught me to firmly say "I can't talk with you when you threaten suicide." I would then say I was hanging up and would hang up.

It took exactly two times of doing that to make the behavior stop. After her having done it over 1000 times to me, she hasn't done it to me in 14 years.

You have to put yourself first.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:15 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


"I'm sorry, but I just can't discuss this with you when you..."

Insert whatever manipulative behavior she does there.

I'd advise getting away from the "Mom, I am not happy" conversation. You don't need to justify, you just need to do it. Get a job, tell here it simply wasn't working out, and refuse to get into the details.

All of this kind of manipulative mother stuff (and trust me, I know!) relies on requiring you to justify and explain yourself. Don't.
posted by miss tea at 4:59 AM on July 24, 2007


One useful point you might want to bring up with your mother if you're having a conversation with her, is to ask, "Do you think I'm happy?" and then when she says no, ask "Do you want me to be happy?"

Never hinge a conversation on a particular answer. Your mom might be in serious denial and say, "of course you are!" :)
posted by canine epigram at 5:12 AM on July 24, 2007


"Mom, I came here to do right by you and to enjoy a closer relationship. It is clear that this is bad for me, bad for our relationship and bad for you as well. I have decided that (very brief account of your plans - last day, where you're going)."

[manipulative bullshit]

"I will not continue here. Period. I am committed to my decision."

[more manipulative bullship]

"Mother, that's it. Really. I hope our relationship is larger than this because I'm leaving."

[yet more manipulative bullshit]

"I've said what I had to say on the subject." [and leaves]

You don't have to say any of this in an ugly or harsh tonality. You can be pleasant and still say it like you mean it. In fact, I would encourage you to say it when you're feeling warmly (relatively, I guess) instead of an angry moment. Don't do it in a situation where you can't leave when you want, so not in the middle of work, not at the start of a three hour drive, etc. Have your plans finalized first and don't be dependent on getting a final paycheck.
posted by BigSky at 6:58 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


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