I am a 40-year-old single woman, never married. My mother was and is a self-absorbed, critical and cruel woman. Every time I speak with her, when she is not telling me how fabulous she is or kvetching about others, she first gives me the third degree about everything. Then she goes about criticizing my decisions, my relationships with men and friends, my weight, my clothes, my hair and my work decisions. I have always felt I can do no right.
She has helped me from time to time financially when I’ve accumulated debts, so she feels she has the right to judge me about my spending. I’m sick and tired of getting a stomachache every time I have to speak with her. When I shout back at her to cut it out, she gets hysterical and hangs up on me. Then I really have to pay later. I’m sick and tired of being treated like a stupid, ugly loser of a daughter.
If you don’t want to be treated that way, stop allowing it. The problem is you wish your mother were different – the unconditional-love-and-support type, like Marge Simpson – and it’s high time you wake up from that pipe dream. It is safe to assume that if she has been like this for the first 40 years, change is unlikely. You, on the other hand, may change. Here’s how.
First, your mother has the right to comment on your finances if she’s bailing you out of debt. If you would like her to stop, do not accept help. And by all means, do not tell her your financial concerns. Next, take away her ammo by not telling her about your love life, your work and so forth.
Finally, let her know that she may no longer comment on your appearance. Each time she blows it, and she will, at first gently remind her. Then escalate to “Mom, please stop.” If you have to hang up after three or four warnings, eventually she will get the message. Just be cool. Don’t rant back.
At this point, I hear you sputter in the deafening silence: “But-but-but we’ll have nothing to talk about.” Au contraire, D.D. You have her favorite subject to discuss. You guessed it – her.
The lesson: Share your news with no one who activates the critic button in your brain, especially when she may have had a hand in installing it.
As you peel yourself from the Crazy Glue that binds you to your mother, her power to unnerve you will slowly shrink to the normal range of mother-daughter aggravation. The possibilities of mutual respect, acceptance and, dare we conceive, appreciation, are in your hands.
Punished By Past
I need help with my relationship with my 30-year-old daughter. She is happily married and pregnant with her second child. I adore her and think she’s doing a wonderful job as mother and wife.
She recently dumped a pile of bitter complaints on my doorstep about the parenting mistakes I made with her when she was young and about how I damaged her. I certainly recognize that I made many mistakes, some of them pretty big. I was a young, counter-culture, wild woman, and by the time I grew up and became responsible, she was already an angry teenager.
She and I have been through all this in the past on several occasions, and we’ve argued and cried and gotten closer – or so I thought. She says that now that she’s been a mom for 2 1/2 years, she realizes just how incompetent I was. She’s angry all over again and remembers only the neglect and deprivation.
I would appreciate any advice you have. I feel helpless in trying to make it up to her because no matter how many times I apologize, and no matter what I do, in her eyes it is not enough.
Could be worse. She could be a bad mother, not speak to you or worse. The facts are you adore your daughter, listen to her hurt feelings, take responsibility for past mistakes and continue to attempt to make amends. Many mothers and daughters never get that far. So take some credit here.
Most important, know that the past is over. There is nothing either of you can do about that, so beating yourself up or allowing her to do so is senseless. A thousand apologies can do no more to change the past than the first one. All you can do is try, in the present, to be as good a mother as possible.
Ask your daughter what she needs from you in the present; however, if her demands are unreasonable or impossible, let her know. You were who you were then, and you can only be what you are now. It will have to suffice. When the blaming stops, the doors of healing swing wide open.
My friend of 40 years gossips constantly. It is an old, tightly knit group of friends, so I don’t want to confront her or lose her friendship, because I’d end up out in the cold. Is there anything else I can do for her to get the message?
Uh, let’s see. No. Not really.
Confiding in a gossip is like inviting a viper into your bed. So don’t. But if you insist upon being indirect about your feelings, try changing the subject or acting disinterested when she gossips.
Know, however, that these wobbly, circuitous gestures could backfire. She won’t think you’re much fun anymore. Then she’ll probably start speculating to your friends about what on earth happened to old “Nervous.” I can hear the phone lines sizzle with scandal: “She’s not herself. Could her marriage be on the rocks? I’ll bet that momser husband of hers …” You get the message.
The only surefire way to stop gossip is to stand up for what you think is right and risk losing friends. It can be a gentle confrontation, such as: “I value our friendship, but when you discuss others, I feel uncomfortable, and I would prefer not to hear it.” Surely your initial loneliness will be mitigated by the relief of a viper-free bed, and head.
Deborah Berger, Psy.D., is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.
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