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How do I handle my increasingly bitter mother?

(9 Posts)
expatkat Wed 26-Nov-03 01:40:57

My mother hated her MIL, but when her MIL died, my mother creepily began to take on aspects of her loathed MIL's personality: a deep snobbery, bitterness, a penchant to say hurtful and critical things, an obsession with the achievements of her children, and a deep need to stay in her friends' high esteem even if it means rejecting her children.

On a recent visit to my parents' house, my mum
1. Said my nanny would never be acceptable in a "good home"--meaning that dh & I don't run a "good home."
2. Said that the poem I was commissioned to write for a choreographer hardly sounded like the kind of thing to "win a Pulitzer prize."
3. Said to one of her friends, in my presence, "Obviously we don't know how to raise children in this country."

She & my father want me to move back to the US so they can be near my kids; but they want my brother, who lives nearby, to move across country because he's gay & they don't want their friends finding out.

But my parents have their good points, and I've read lots of posts from mumsnetters who have lost their mums and are devastated. I know I won't have my mum forever, so how do I handle these horrible comments? Do I ignore them, and grow increasingly bitter myself? Or do I confront her and cause a war, which is the end result whenever I "dare" confront her. Or do I simply try to detach myself and visit less frequentlly (which also means missing out on seeing my elderly grandmother, whom I adore). Has anyone been in a similar situation? If so, how have you handled it?

AussieSim Wed 26-Nov-03 02:15:19

My mum is a handful (and is also on the other side of the world), and my MIL is well meaning but sometimes puts things in such a way as to make me feel that she thinks I am a bad wife/mother (but my hubby counsels me to just let it slide because it is utterly ignorant rather than calculated - but still we have confronted the PILS on a couple of ocassions without major rifts being caused). So I don't know if I am the right person to respond - but I am awake right now ... (hopefully my baby has finally gone off).

I think you have to go the confront route. It sounds like it needs to be approached carefully though. A couple of ways I have thought of: (1) subtly bring up the topic of her MIL and what she was like, her good points, her not so good, why they were not good, how she made your mum feel - maybe this might strike a chord and get her thinking or maybe it is Step 1 prior to (2) begin by telling her how much you love her and appreciate her - especially since you became a mum, and how you would like her to have a good relationship with your children, but (there's that word) you feel that you need to discuss how she has made you feel recently, especially as you are sure she wouldn't actually want to hurt your feelings. Try to use non-judgemental, assuming the best style language and do more listening than talking. Even if this conversation doesn't go fabulously well, it will probably give her food for thought. Make sure you follow up - at your normal interval- with a warm phone call, in which you do not necessarily bring up the previous discussion - to not let things get out of hand and to reassure her that your love for her is unconditonal (as hers should also be).

Just some ideas HTH

zebra Wed 26-Nov-03 07:26:31

I think there's no easy answer and you may just have to try all the things you mentioned: confrontation, ignore, avoid... to see if anything works. And Don't go moving country just to make her happy! Confrontation sometimes made me feel better, but it never stopped my mother saying absolutely horrible things at the next opportunity. If I said I didn't want to hear horrible things about my dad and the way he left her, she accused me of being selfish, giving him blind adoration, and not caring about "our family". It sounds so ridiculous to write this, but she could not rationally accept that I shouldn't bear joint responsibility for her marriage and its failure.

Circumstances are different but my mother died this year and for what it's worth, I wasn't devasted. Sad that we were very different people who couldn't understand each other, Sad that she spent so much of her life in bitterness.

expatkat Wed 26-Nov-03 10:54:32

Zebra--very moving & honest last 2 lines. Very helpful, thanks. What a burden she put on you.
AussieSim--thanks for the commiseration & practical advice (& promptness). I feel a little better.

Brunhilda Wed 26-Nov-03 11:19:28

ho hum difficult one. I went on a course bfor maangers at work where they said that you should always confront (do not ignore) respectfully in private and focus on the behaviour and not labelling the person. Ie 'that was not a ncie thing to say' rather 'than you are not nice'. I think it was the DESC rule - (D)cribe behaviour, (e)xplain how it makes you feel, (s)pecify preferred behaviour and explain (c)onsequences. Having said that the real worl is not so easy. I happen to think though that igmoring or writing somene off is far more insulting as you are not giving them a chance to change. good luck

zebra Wed 26-Nov-03 11:24:09

Brunhilda: honest and not getting-at-you question: what did your course say you should do if confrontations consistently fail to result in changed behavior in the other party? Presumably because it was work-related, you're given guidance about employee grievance procedures... but I don't think there's a comparable "family grievance procedure" for any of us to turn to. You can switch jobs, but you can't switch your mum.....

ks Wed 26-Nov-03 12:10:45

Message withdrawn

expatkat Wed 26-Nov-03 12:45:58

ks, I'd been off mumsnet for 2 months and had no idea your mum had died; I thought she was ill but doing well. So I just looked at your "difficult family situation" thread and saw the whole painful story--and I am so, so sorry for you. Your grief must still be new; I hope you're OK, and that your numbness has given way to slow repair. What you are talking about is what I fear: a belated recognition of selflessness. Or rather--I see her selflessness now, but it is clouded by the way she makes me--and has always made me--feel like a failure & disappointment. I can't imagine making my children feel like disappointments; I don't even feel I have a right to BE disappointed, for I don't own them or their ambitions. I've been delving into the reasons WHY she says what she does. Insecurity sounds a plausible explanation--thanks for that. . .and take care

tallulah Wed 26-Nov-03 20:22:46

my mother has always been difficult & since my father died she has been worse because there is no-one to deflect her. Her favourite trick in the last year since I got the computer is to send me a really nasty snide email, then ring a few days later all jolly & NEVER MENTION what she'd written.

She sent me one last Xmas that made me so angry that I sent one straight back without thinking it over first. She got all hurt, wouldn't speak to me & eventually wrote me a really nasty letter, saying she obviously couldn't send me emails because I got too easily offended!! (Didn't occur to her that the letter was equally offensive).

In the most recent one she slipped a line in that said were all our animals vegetarian (knowing damn well they aren't- cats & a dog) "or is that just the children", with another comment about how much my cousins used to eat in their teens. It is a direct criticism of the way I am bringing up my children.

She also changes her opinion based on which of her friends she has been discussing us with most recently. It sounds awful but I was relieved when one of her best friends died because every time she saw her she got even worse- it was like she'd had a complete personality change (based on her friend's reaction to her own children & grandchildren).

I don't know what the answer is- I've tried backing off but it only makes me the *bad guy*.

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