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To ask how to set boundaries with DM?

(40 Posts)
tryhard Tue 29-Sep-15 12:45:50

Background is that when DM was widowed 10 years ago she moved to my area, initially to help with DC but she found that too much to cope with and anyway now cares for her elderly DF so splits her time between him and us. My problem is that when she's here, she's too much & I've no idea how to set boundaries without hurting her feelings. Every time I try, she acts hurts and I feel incredible guilt, she withdraws for a bit and then returns, nothing is said and it all goes back to how it was before. She doesn't generally help with DC but tends to visit when she feels stressed, when things are going badly or when she's at a lose end. She lets herself into my house (even when I'm not there) and tends to dominate & boss me about when she is here. She acknowledges that she has always - ever since I was a child - used me as an emotional crutch, which I find emotionally exhausting & DH knows to not even attempt to speak to me if she's been with me all day to allow me chance to calm down & decompress a bit. But if I tell her I'm busy or have something else on, she acts hurt & I feel guilty because she's on her own. How do I set boundaries effectively without hurting her?

DoreenLethal Tue 29-Sep-15 12:48:23

Change the locks first.

Tell her that you are not her emotional crutch and until she gives it a rest with the emotional blackmail, she needs to take a break from you.

Gottagetmoving Tue 29-Sep-15 12:52:45

You are not hurting her if you say you are busy or have something else on. She acts hurt because it gets her the outcome she wants.
When someone uses you as an emotional crutch it affects you so that you end up feeling guilty if you are not at their beck and call.
It is manipulation.
Your mother obviously does not care or worry about you being hurt or stressed, so bear that in mind when you say 'NO'
You have to be clear but kind. Tell your DM that you love her and like to see her but sometimes you just do not have the time.
As for bossing you about, you need to let he r know that you are not a child, run your own home and that youwouldn't dream of bossing her in he rown home.
Just say 'You are bossing me again!' whenever she does it.

BarbarianMum Tue 29-Sep-15 13:03:10

First things first. You can't set boundaries without hurting her feelings because she has unreasonable expectations. So it is OK to hurt her feelings.

Change your locks or ask for your key back. The first will cost you more but avoids direct confrontation. However, you have to be strong enough to say "no" when she asks for a key - are you?

Discourage her popping in - if it makes you feel guilty, could you counter this by actively asking her round regularly at a time that suits you.

Sadly you have an unhealthy dynamic going on so you will feel guilty if you try and chsange things and she will react by getting upset. The trick is not to let her upset put you back in place, or the whole thing starts again.

Tackle it one thing at a time. First the key. Second cutting back on popping in. Thirdly on how she treats you when you are together. But expect resistance every inch of the way.

tryhard Tue 29-Sep-15 13:20:17

Thank you smile When I read the suggestions here I know they make sense but I also feel panic about actually saying these things, I think because I'm worried we'll have a row, but that's silly because we've very rarely ever actually argued. I know she will withdraw for a little bit, she has done that before, but then she starts to come around again and things just return to how they were before. I think I feel responsible for her when she feels lonely because she moved to my area and she doesn't feel at home here. She does have acquaintances here but she keeps them at a distance and if they're busy, she turns up at my door, which in turn stops me seeing my friends because I feel I need to stay in and chat to her if she's feeling low. With asking for a key, I'd struggle to say no because she would say what if it was needed in an emergency (although thinking about it our neighbours do have one anyway). With the bossing and dominating thing, when I do assert myself against that she tends to say that in our relationship I'll always be her child and she'll always be the grown up, so in short she does think she knows best and has a right to tell me so, which is why I find time with her generally so incredibly stressful as it leaves me feeling a bit crushed and suffocated. Hence DH knowing that I generally can't chat when she's been here until I've come up for air a bit!

YBR Tue 29-Sep-15 15:30:15

You may always be her child in one sense, but your relationship needs to move on since you are grown up. Getting her to realize this will be tough, but you must find an answer for her which says you are an adult, not a minor, and she no longer can tell you what to do and think.

Also when she pops round unannounced can you do "I didn't know you were coming and I've had x arranged for some time and can't let the others down, I'll be going out in 15 minutes"
Give her the 10mins/5mins countdown like a toddler and shunt her out the door (or go out and leave her if you can). Perhaps DH can help - he may be able to invent a reason to "rescue" you from DM.

Helloitsme15 Tue 29-Sep-15 15:57:25

Agree with the others - the first step is to get your key back or change the locks so you can at least claim privacy in your own home.
I also agree that this process is going to be difficult, so be prepared to state what you want to happen and hold your ground.
I have just had to do something similar with my own mum - she is currently sulking with me because I asked her to call before she comes round during the working day (I work from home). She thinks she should be able to call round whenever it suits her. So she has dropped virtually all contact to teach me a lesson. Ho Hum. Sadly for her, I'm coping!

hellsbellsmelons Tue 29-Sep-15 16:12:33

Google 'FOG' Fear Obligation Guilt.
You are and have been in the FOG for years and years.
Time to emerge and take back control of your life.

Helloitsme15 Tue 29-Sep-15 16:21:34

It will be worth the pain to sort it out because you might get to a point where you enjoy spending time with her again.
When my dad left my mum (she was early 50s, me late 20s/single) she got upset if I went out with my 20 something friends on a weekend, she would have days out to my house when I was at work, just letting herself in and hanging out probably looking through my stuff, she asked me not to bring my BF (now DH) to family meals so she wasn't the only one there by herself. It all got pretty twisted - until I got some counselling and learned how to set some boundaries. It was painful, but well worth it.
It carries on even now but I have learned how to push back and ignore her trying to guilt me.

PitilessYank Tue 29-Sep-15 16:26:54

My parents lived four doors down from us for a few years and they never had a key to our house. It never occurred to me to give them one and they never asked. It is going to be difficult, but I agree that you must ask for your key back or change your locks. Changing locks is pretty easy, and you can even do it yourself with a few basic tools (I changed all of the locks in our house and I am only moderately handy).

It is totally inappropriate for a parent to use a child as a main source of emotional support, even an adult offspring. I am sorry that she cannot see that, it sounds very tough for you, especially with her combination of neediness and bossiness.

tryhard Tue 29-Sep-15 17:14:59

Furiously googling FOG So I'm not over-reacting then? I keep wondering if I need to just be more tolerant, accept her flaws etc and try to see the best in her.

Helloitsme that's exactly my situation, she has in the past complained about family holidays I've taken great pains to plan around her because she's alone, she goes out quickly when DH arrives home because she doesn't like being around a couple (we are not demonstrative, deliberately so as to not make her uncomfortable).

The last time she let herself in when I was out, she'd texted to say she wanted to come over, I said you can't I'm out, she said ok I'll come round for when you're back (ignoring my hint that I wanted to be alone when I got home, and it was only a hint, I didn't say it directly), so she was in my house when I got home and had actually gone through my post I only know because she said something about a letter I'd not read yet!

MyFavouriteClintonisGeorge Tue 29-Sep-15 17:40:31

Look, at the moment you are always upset and yout mother never is. With the changes suggested, you should be able to get to a stage where sometimes you are, sometimes she is but you communicate and compromise. Which is a lot better, no? Staying with the status quo effectively means accepting that your mother can upset you as much as she likes. That is not right, nor is it a good example for your DS to be given.

I have had to recalibrate the relationship with my mother before, and I am in the process of doing so again. I remind myself that: (i) she does not have any special licence to oppress me because she is my mother; (ii) the fact that she does not mean to do it but ends up doing it because she is damaged and insecure is not a reason to continue letting her do it; and (iii) I love her, though I don't always like her, and the changes will eventually mean we have better times together, not worse.

miaowroar Tue 29-Sep-15 17:40:42

Had she read the letter or had she just noted the postmark or something? Even the latter is a bit nosy imo.

Perhaps you could try sitting back on the sofa with your eyes closed - to show you were hoping for some quiet time - or would that make things worse?

Helloitsme15 Tue 29-Sep-15 18:01:48

Rehearse a few stock phrases to say no to her when you are caught on the spot.
"No mum - I'd rather you didn't come round because it's not convenient for me'.
"Mum - I've said no. Please listen to me. It's not convenient.'
"As I've said several times, mum, it really isn't convenient so please do not come round'.

tryhard Tue 29-Sep-15 18:18:36

Yes she'd read the letter because she talked to me about the contents, she's read emails if I've left my laptop open before now and when I challenged her on that one I got the freeze out. I know logically it's not right but somehow she makes me feel like I'm over-reacting, or being too sensitive and taking this too seriously, she makes a joke of it but if I persist and say she's over-stepped the mark its like I've ruined it all, I can't explain it very well. I did actually say I was going to bed as DS had been up all night being sick & she did take be hint then and leave grin I think what scares me about upsetting the status quo is that she is happy with our relationship as it is and whenever I risk upsetting her, I always think well I have my DH to fall back on & moan to and she has no one, so if I upset her, she doesnt have a shoulder to cry on but I do.

MyFavouriteClintonisGeorge Tue 29-Sep-15 18:23:56

If you upset her, think first about whether it is reasonable for her to be upset. (Clue: being upset because you snooped through your adult child's post and got asked not to do it again IS NOT REASONABLE!)

Then, consider the fact that she could address it with you-communicate, complain, explain, apologise, assert, whatever. You could speak like two adults and resolve it.

If she chooses not to do that but to guilt you then nurse her upset all alone, that is up to her and not a reason for you to back down.

tryhard Thu 01-Oct-15 14:38:13

I've been reading up on FOG this afternoon and to be honest it's like someone is writing about my relationship with DM, it's uncannily accurate. I've realised that I don't know how to set boundaries at all and so I'm enabling her behaviour - what do I do when she puts me down & dominates? I don't know how to stand up to her without her accusing me of being argumentative, over-sensitive and souring things between us. It's that banter thing, how do you get someone to appreciate that when you are always the butt of the joke, it's not so funny? I get the thing with changing the locks, I can do that because I've had enough of her letting herself in. Also, I'm really properly worried that I might be this kind of mother to my DS, that thought worries me sick, I try so hard to parent differently but I do have a terrible fear of failure which I struggle at times to control around DS. I have started making sure I say to him 'good enough is good enough' and hoping to convince myself that anything short of perfect is actually OK!

hellsbellsmelons Thu 01-Oct-15 14:44:35

If you are currently into reading up on things try these
Toxic parents
and Will I Ever Be good enough?
The reviews are good and they might help you?

hellsbellsmelons Thu 01-Oct-15 14:46:20

THIS looks good too

MyFavouriteClintonisGeorge Thu 01-Oct-15 18:34:43

Bear in mind that you don't have to 'win' the argument. Actually, you don't always have to be 'right' in any conventional sense. You just have to insist, and stand your ground. A lot like you do when disciplining a toddler.

E.g. you have told her not to visit tomorrow. It doesn't actually matter why, or if you could rearrange your day so you can see her tomorrow. The fact is, you have decided you are not going to see her tomorrow, and that is that. You just keep saying things like, 'Well, I've told you I'm not seeing you tomorrow so there we are. We can arrange something for Monday.' Repeat as many times as you like. Be polite, try your hardest to be calm.

tryhard Wed 04-Nov-15 20:29:02

I'm updating as a new development has me wondering if I handled the situation appropriately. Without saying too much that might reveal me in RL, when visiting recently DM asked if she could get eldest DS in a jumper as she thought it was cold & he was sitting in a draft. I wasn't bothered, I thought he was fine and said so. DS heard this &, being a typical 5 year old, dug his heals in instantly & said he didn't want to wear one. DM argued the point with him, saying 'we're the adults here, we know what's best...' DB (who was also visiting) pointed out to DM that I'm the mother & DM replied 'But I know better' (about wearing the jumper). I stepped in between them & suggested to her that she leaves it because it's not worth the battle (I didn't agree that a jumper was necessary & DS was getting increasingly irritated). Anyway in the end, DM pinned DS in between her legs and tried to force the jumper on him, again I intervened. She gave up, I gave myself 10mins to calm down & then told her that she can't physically handle DS like that again & its important that in front of DC, I'm seen to be charge & not undermined by her. She said she wouldn't handle DS like that again because I'd 'asked her not to' but insisted that she was right about the jumper. Since then I've kept my distance & I'm increasingly starting to think that I need to 'withdraw eith love' as the shrinks say, AIBU? Did I handle the situation appropriately? I've never ever been that direct with her.

Poppyred85 Wed 04-Nov-15 21:06:05

I don't know if this will be helpful or not but try and look at it differently and then decide if you were being unreasonable.... Forget for a minute that she's an adult and imagine she's a child. She said she thought your son needed a jumper. You, as the parent in this, said no. Your son agreed with you. She kept on about it, trying to assert that her opinion should override yours. When you disagreed, she physically manhandled your son to get her own way. If she was a child and had behaved in this way, would you think you were right to "discipline" her- I.e by asserting your authority as the parent in this situation?
A number of years ago I worked in a psychiatric unit for a while and as part of our group supervision (where mental health professionals meet and discuss clients' difficulties/challenging behaviour etc) we talked about the way in which some clients will try to manipulate and gain control of a consultation by placing themselves in the position of adult and the professional in the role of child. It sounds to me like your mum does similar. Perhaps during these encounters remind yourself that you are an adult, refuse to engage in her game of putting you in the role of child and calmly state what your position is and that you will not be moving from it- much like the pp who suggested this is like disciplining a toddler.

random256 Wed 04-Nov-15 21:53:05

This really does need sorting out. She has no idea at all of boundaries. Entering your home uninvited, reading your e-mails and post etc are things that most people would find an invasion of privacy and would not tolerate.

I think it will be worth a few hurt feelings and rows to sort this out and that you will need to talk to her straight and tell her that whilst you enjoy her company you are an adult with a right to privacy and she is crossing the line. It sounds like you are afraid of her and that she still sees you as her child.
I agree with the poster who said that it is best to approach her in an adult-adult manner and be careful of falling into the child role. There is a good book called "Boundaries" but I can't remember the name of the author. It will be on Amazon.

tryhard Thu 05-Nov-15 14:13:04

Thanks you both, yes I am afraid of confronting her, it took a lot for me to speak to her about it, my heart was hammering the whole time & I very nearly didn't say anything etc. I've got a thing about physical contact because she did hit us as children, not particularly hard or regularly, we weren't beaten or anything like that and this was the 70s when I think hitting kids was more socially acceptable, but I do remember it very vividly & of being afraid of being hit and for that reason I never, ever touch my kids in anger. Poppyred yes that's exactly what she does do, and when I've spoken to her about it she says I will always be her child, she'll always be the parent, so I'm always in that role for her I guess? I can understand that to a certain extent, but ofcourse that always infantilises me and also becomes complicated when she's thinking she has a right to step in over me about my kids. As others have said about the FOG thing, because I stood up to her over this I'm now in the doghouse & she's withdrawn completely for a while. What normally happens is she makes contact a week or so later, is cold & aloof but doesn't allude to what's happened & we go back to how it was before.

bookworm3 Thu 05-Nov-15 17:56:21

Try not to be intimidated. Leave her alone until she comes round and if she is aloof call her out on it.
The incident where she attempted to man-handle your son into a jumper was particularly concerning.
It sounds as if she almost doesn't recognise either you or your son as separate people from herself (I feel cold-therefore he is cold, even if he says he isn't).

I would acknowledge to her that she will always be your Mum but point out that you are now an adult and the relationship has changed. She may keep flouncing but I very much doubt she will end her relationship with you.
Its time to set some new rules.

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