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Can i stop my mother's games?

(23 Posts)
delphinedownunder Mon 05-Sep-11 05:17:34

I live on the other side of the world from my mother - I am an only child and she claims to 'adore' her grandchildren,. My Dad died 5 months ago after a very long illness - he had been living in a home for six months. i went back for the funeral and then a month later, my mother came to us for three weeks. I found her stay difficult because of (a) her complaining (b) her way of speaking to my kids (c) snippy little criticisms and assumptions, particularly around how i feel about my Dad's death. However, I held it together and looked after her as best i could to try and make her stay enjoyable. Since her return, she has been just foul on the phone. Everytime i call her, she is beligerent and negative. She always finishes the call saying she will call me next time and then doesn't and is snappish and rude when I call her. So last time she said she would call and didn't, i didn't call her. Now it has been three weeks. She is definitely playing the 'ringing game' - this is a game she likes to play with her friends and acquaintances - 'I'm not ringing them - it's their turn, i'm grieving, etc". She views every phone call received as a victory. "Well they rang me in the end" Last night she sent me a text, claiming she has tried to call and that my phone is either engaged or there is no answer - this is rubbish as my phone has an answer service and records missed calls. it was working fine last night when she sent me the text, but she chose not to ring. i just want this silly game to end and cannot face a beligerent, negative phone call again. Any suggestions?

nothingnatural Mon 05-Sep-11 05:51:55

Oh Delphine, poor you, not only to lose your dad but to have such a hard time with your mum.

Is your mum usually a difficult woman? Or is she being so miserable and frankly hurtful because she is grieving? Do you normally have to tiptoe around her or is this out of character?

delphinedownunder Mon 05-Sep-11 05:57:40

Have had to tiptoe more in recent years. She likes everything her own way, although on a more charitable note i expect SOME of it is down to grief. She was very difficult around the birth of my twins and made some really hurtful remarks - my Dad was still alive and reasonably well then.

nothingnatural Mon 05-Sep-11 05:58:24

Well done btw on holding it together for your mothers visit, it must have been immensely difficult for you.

Personally I would perhaps call her, but explain (by letter if easier?) how difficult you are finding her behaviour. But then if she's normally a sweetheart and is behaving madly due to grief then I'd cut her a fair chunk of slack. If she's always been a bit of a prima donna then I'd rather see things differently.

EdithWeston Mon 05-Sep-11 06:35:44

The "ringing game" only works if you agree you're playing.

She is grieving, and it's not unusual for this to heighten behaviour. I'd text back, and say much what you've said here: you've checked the phone, it's fine and so is answaphone, could she keep trying? Also, you try her - it's not a game if you're not playing, but instead are choosing the best (or least worst) times to talk to her.

I hope you can carry on with the generosity and support you showed her during her visit - even when it seems at its most unrewarding, you really are doing the right thing.

Proudnscary Mon 05-Sep-11 07:37:25

I completely disagree that the 'right thing' is to to get in contact and try to reason with her.

How dare she make you feel like this! How dare she come to your house and criticise your children! Get angry! She is abusive. She has abused you, don't let her damage her grandchildren too.

The grieving thing is just her new weapon - her trump card (I realise how harsh that sounds but it is the truth).

You can't reason with someone who is totally unreasonable. I speak from experience and know exactly how you are feeling, I promise you.

You are right that it is a game to her. But it is excruciating for you and anything but a game. Freeze her out - don't call or or write to her. If for no other reason than to give yourself some headspace.

So that you, an adult with your own family, does not waste every waking minute of your day worrying about this woman.

I did this and it was such a bloody relief. Thirteen years down the line I now have a relationship with my mum where she respects me and my boundaries - but only because she knows I mean business, I take no shit whatsoever and I hold all the cards.

EdithWeston Mon 05-Sep-11 07:41:39

Could I just point out that when I used the phrase "the right thing", I was referring to what the OP had done during her mother's visit to her (supportive, as in "looking after her as best I could"). I think she deserves enormous credit for being able to do that under such adversity.

Proudnscary Mon 05-Sep-11 07:44:11

Sorry Edith, I did misunderstand that and I agree wholeheartedly with you on that.

EdithWeston Mon 05-Sep-11 07:51:44

Actually - I think what you've posted opens up a relevant wider question. At what stage might this situation become intolerable? In the immediate aftermath of a bereavement - for OP too, for which I send condolences - then I think fortitude, tolerance and sympathy are called for.

But in the longer term, it will become clearer what the "new" relationship looks like, and ProudnScary's example shows that sometimes things just break too far. I think it might be too soon for OP to be thinking of drastic steps, but you are absolutely right that this is a formative period and it is worth keeping one eye on what a good version of this relationship would look like in the future.

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 05-Sep-11 07:52:27

The only way you can stop her ongoing tiresome game is to have no part at all in playing it. Disengage from her and don't contact her. Your mother's now resorted to sending you a text; she's playing games with you still.

My guess too is that she has always been a difficult woman to say the least.

delphinedownunder Mon 05-Sep-11 09:05:07

Well my fingers have been hovering over my cell phone and I can't decide whether a text is just adding to the 'game'. She has always been quite difficult and my dad has tempered her excesses. In the last couple of years she gained complete control of my dad due to the nature of his illness and this makes me feel very sad as i don't know what he thought of me in his last few months. She has certainly never been a sweetheart. When i was pregnant I spent my last 8 weeks in hospital and the midwives used to comment that my BP was always skyhigh around my mother's visits! The woman in the next bed described her as a high maintenance nightmare after witnessing some of our conversations. I hate hate hate to think i might turn out to be like her.

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 05-Sep-11 09:18:14

Do not text your mother; you need to completely disengage from her otherwise you will be further drawn back into her game playing. This is all about power and control.

Was not all that surprised either to read that she has always been difficult with your late Dad tempering her excesses.

Reset your own boundaries with regards to this person; you would not tolerate such from a friend, your mother is truly no different in this regard.

BTW have no fear that you will turn out like your mother because you already know that your mother's treatment of you (and your children) is wrong on all levels. You also have empathy and insight; two qualities she seems lacking in.

Annakin31 Mon 05-Sep-11 14:04:06

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Proudnscary Mon 05-Sep-11 15:10:11

Delphine - please do not call her or text her. As I said above, at the very least give yourself some headspace. Why not treat it like an alcoholic would a drink - just decide not to call her today, take it a step or a day at a time.

I feel very strongly that the only way forward is to disengage and as Attila says, back out of this destructive 'game'.

Then get some good counselling. Learn how to keep her at arm's length and not let her hurt you anymore. I actually see my mum an awful lot but it is on my terms and I don't emotionally engage. I don't react to guilt trips. If she starts with her mentalist texting marathons, I don't reply until she gets the message that I will respond when she's rational and that I won't jump to her tune. It's not as easy as I'm making out, I still feel guilty/upset/worried/pressurised at times but I've learned how to get back my equilibrium. Plus I have a great dh who helps me enormously.

Proudnscary Mon 05-Sep-11 15:12:23

(Wow Annakin, your aunt is a piece of work and then some! Feel for you and your mum and cousin - nightmare)

WhereDidAllThePuffinsGo Mon 05-Sep-11 16:25:29

Write her a letter. Spill it all out in great detail, everything you feel, everything she does and why she shouldn't. Then stick the letter in a drawer somewhere. It really helps!

Any form of communication from you is playing her game. She has lied to you. If you're tempted to call, write "Mum lies to me" on a PostIt and stick it on the phone.

If she actually wants to talk to you, she can call. But she doesn't want to talk to you that much, does she? Not as much as she wants to play powergames and control you. Put that on your PostIt too. "Mum doesn't want to talk with me. Mum wants to control me".

Gah. Parents!

Go look at your gorgeous children and try to imagine ever treating them like this.

delphinedownunder Mon 05-Sep-11 21:42:54

You are all right - she does crave control and not just over me. I overheard her being horrible to her friend when I was in the UK for my father's funeral over her friend's daughter's wedding arrangements. What business it was of hers I cannot imagine. Whilst i was in the UK (a once every five years occurence) a few old friends got in touch and some suggested us meeting up on my way back to Heathrow. This is the conversation ...

Mum: What did x want?
Me: To catch up, have a chat, you know.
Mum: Why?
Me: Cause i haven't seen them for a long time. X and y want to meet up for a day in xxx on my way back to the airport.
Mum: No.

GnomeDePlume Mon 05-Sep-11 21:48:09

I am sorry for your loss. After my father died (now many years ago) my mother went a little, for want of a better word, mad. She didnt behave rationally for a few years.

I'm not saying this is what is happening with your mum but it is a thought.

Were your parents married for a lot of years? The 5 months since her husband died is just a blink of the eye for your mother. Grief is a horrid messy collection of emotions. Anger, thrashing around and blaming people is also part of it for many people. Sometimes this grief is complicated by other emotions like relief especially where there has been a long illness. The relief then leads to guilt. A mess of emotions.

You say you live on the other side of the world from your mother. Does she feel resentful towards you that she feels she had shoulder the burden of your father's illness alone? Is she feeling lonely now? Is she someone who expresses emotion well? Is she one of those people who expresses all negative emotion as anger?

This doesnt excuse how your mum is behaving now but perhaps it explains some of it?

delphinedownunder Tue 06-Sep-11 01:44:07

gnome - there are probably some good explanations in your post. She expresses emotions in a great outpouring and has always been quite inward looking. i am a controlled person and very self contained. I find it hard to express emotions. She probably wants lots of outpouring from me, but that will never happen. I often think that she communicates in cliches and it makes me inwardly cringe.

GnomeDePlume Tue 06-Sep-11 08:11:36

Delphine, that is hard. I totally sympathise. You are both going through a horrible time.

Do some of the cliche and outpourings from you mum come because your communication time is limited? Try to remember that the outpourings and cliches stem from a genuine and terrible grief.

Does she have people at home to talk to? I wouldnt necessarily recommend counselling. My mother went to a counsellor but she said she felt really uncomfortable talking to a stranger. Was there any sort of support group connected with your father's illness? Is there anyone there your mother could contact?

I'm afraid that the next period is going to be very hard for your mother (and therefore you). You will start to hit the anniversaries, the first this and that since your father died. No real suggestions I'm afraid, just try to get through it.

One little insight which came from my DH. My MiL was grumbling to him that my mum was moaning about what to her seemed like minor ailments (competitive illhealth!). My DH reminded her (MiL) that my mum doesnt have a husband to listen to her whereas my MiL does. Sometimes my DH is a star!

Keep strong, it does start to get a bit better. More than 15 years later my mother is no more rational (my dad was the sensible one) but she is a bit less mad (mostly!).

AgathaCrusty Tue 06-Sep-11 08:49:15

I sympathise and empathise with people who have a difficult relationship with their mother. I know the competative phone calls thing only too well - I stopped playing it a couple of years ago with my mother. I got completely fed up with the anxiety feelings when I phoned her, or when I was going to phone her but decided I couldn't face it that day. So I stopped, and because she does competitive phone calls, she stopped phoning me. So we now haven't spoken on the phone more than twice in the last 2 years. It's easier on a day to day basis, but sad too that her lack of caring and self-centredness has brought about this situation.

OP - I think you have to do what is right for you at this time. It may be that in time you decide to reduce phone contact with her, but it may or may not be the right time for you to do this. You are grieving, and need to be gentle on yourself at the moment.

BananaMontana Tue 06-Sep-11 09:26:54

I find with my own mother that a decision to 'always be mindlessly and boringly busy' is the best thing. I don't ring her for weeks (can't face it) and just adopt a tone of 'oh isn't life kind of dull yet busy?'. As others have said, if you don't play her game (but perhaps play your own in your head!) she can't have any hold on you.

And with a bit of luck she may get better once her life adjusts to the loss of your father. What was she like when you were (say) a young adult?

wicketkeeper Tue 06-Sep-11 15:04:36

Ring her - I'm not a great believer in the 'give them a taste of their own medicine' theory of relationships.

Ring her, but the second she says anything snippy say a conversational 'cheerio then' and hang up. Then ring her again in a week/couple of weeks, whenever you can bear it. And the second she's snippy, do it again. If she asks why you hung up the first time, just say you thought she was being very rude, and immediately talk about something else ('Oh, I thought you were very rude. How's your leg?'). It might not solve the problem, but it puts you in control.

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