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Passive agression or do I need to chill out?

(29 Posts)
WhiteRing Wed 08-Jul-09 21:57:30

Is it possible that my parents have always been unbelievably passive-aggressive and I'm only just realising? Or am I making a big deal out of nothing?

Recent examples of behaviour:

We went for a meal, me, mum and dad and my 3 dcs. I said I would pay, dad said ok. dd needs a wee so I take her to the loo, only to come back and find dad paying the bill. Him and mum then spend the next 10 minutes making comments about me disappearing on purpose so I wouldn't have to pay. I know if I appear offended in this situation I am accused of having no sense of humour.

Staying with them for 2 weeks and having agreed in advance that I could pay to put myself on mum's car insurance, mum tells me when I arrive with dc that she will drive us around, then makes excuses every time I want to go out.

Told the dcs they could do something they know I would not let them do, on the condition "Mummy says it's ok", so I have to be the wicked witch and say no.

They have always been like this, I'm used to it but it drives me crazy. Does this sound like passive-agressive behaviour? I read an article about PA behaviour and it rang a lot of alarm bells.

You can be honest and tell me I should chill, but intereted to hear your opinions.

toomanystuffedbears Wed 08-Jul-09 23:07:26

If it isn't Passive/aggressive then it is just plain mean.

I think Passive/aggressive is manipulating/controlling you through seemingly innocent actions-no verbal interaction. Like if "X" didn't want "Y" to go somewhere, "X" hides the keys instead of having a verbal discussion or more likely-realizing "X" cannot control "Y".

But being agreeable about something then turning around and having a *itchfest about it...? Maybe. It may be they are trying to tell you something without having to actually tell you. ? Maybe it is control issues and P/A is about control...thus the alarm bells.

I really hate it when people acuse base intentions when it really isn't the case at all-I feel your frustration. Like they will only consider the worse possible scenario out of something completely innocent.

I used to get up at the first sound of our dog making noise in the early morning, go down stairs to the basement to let him out (So he wouldn't wake everone up-I was thinking of others)...mother accused me of sneaking down stairs to do drugs.

WundaWumman Thu 09-Jul-09 01:32:33

Sounds like normal grandparent behaviour to me wink

thumbwitch Thu 09-Jul-09 01:42:43

whether or not it is passive aggressive, it's not nice! They need to be aware that you are not comfortable with the way things are, if you can manage to ask them why they do these things in a calm and non-confrontational way. They might think they are just "pulling your leg" or "having a laugh" or "didn't realise it was such a big issue".

I don't think you should just chill because as it continues it is going to add up to more resentment - so I would try to change the situation by making them aware of it now, before it gets out of hand. If they are unwilling to change, then maybe it IS passive aggressive. But otoh, they may genuinely be unaware that you are pissed off about it.

WhiteRing Thu 09-Jul-09 09:12:46

Thanks everyone.

toomanystuffedbears - genuinely shocked your mum said you were doing drugs!

Been thinking about this. Maybe they are just very bad at communication so they always do this manipulative thing when they are not happy with something. e.g. Mum agrees to something like going for a walk with us, then later makes an excuse like one of the kids is tired so she will stay at home with them, when actually it's her who's tired but for some reason she will never say.

The scary thing is that I have caught myself doing this a couple of times with dh - I must have learnt it! All he has to say is "You are being like your mum" to stop me in my tracks!

thumbwitch your suggestion is good but as you can see we have big problems with directly confronting anything slightly tricky. I think they would be amazed, and become VERY defensive, if they knew how I felt. I'm gradually realising why as an adult I find confrontation difficult. But I'm determined to do things differently with my dcs.

toomanystuffedbears Thu 09-Jul-09 15:42:07

WR-mom was an alcoholic and my oldest sister was in trouble- so a little trick of transferance and I get a load of crap. Yep, crap childhood.

Anyway, if you are catching yourself patterning their behavior, I would definitely consider reducing contact with them. You need to set some sort of boundary (emotionally at least) that will protect yourself from the anger and resentment that may already be present. And the children are not stupid-they notice granny's lies, too, and may think that is ok behavior.

Maybe reading about Borderline Personality Disorders might shed some light on the circumstances.

DutchOma Thu 09-Jul-09 16:35:19

Could you be a little bit pro-active i.e when your dad has paid the bill say:"Oh, you've paid it? How much was it? I'll give you the money back" And do.
With the car insurance:"Oh, what firm are you with? I'll sort it, I was sooo looking forward to driving your little car." And then simply sort it yourself.
Will probably take a bit of practice and a bit of thinking ahead, but might just take the wind out of their sails a bit.
Best of luck.

WhiteRing Thu 09-Jul-09 17:22:01

DutchOma are you Dutch? I think the Dutch are much more direct than the British. My parents are so unassertive, very bothered by what people think etc.

In the situations described if I had done what you suggest I would have caused major offence. I agree 100% with you that open and direct is the best way, and in most of my relationships that is the approach I use.

Aside from chasing my dad down the road with the money I could not make him take it after he's already paid.

Whenever I have tried being more direct they have gone along with what I said but there has been a Very Bad Atmosphere and sucked cheeks.

DutchOma Thu 09-Jul-09 17:31:07

I am Dutch indeed and yes, you are right, the Dutch are much more forthright than the English.
At least your dad could not have complained that you "disappeared to avoid paying". That is really mean.
Sucked cheeks and a Very Bad Atmosphere? Do you have to notice? I would say "ignore, ignore", it's their problem.
Who instigates all this bad atmosphere? Is it your mum more than your dad? Or are they in cahoots?

WhiteRing Thu 09-Jul-09 22:47:27

Hmm...let me think. They are both difficult but in different ways. My mum is master manipulator - she never says what she wants but manages to get what she wants in sneaky ways. She never challenges anything openly but talks behind backs a lot. However she is also generous and will do anything to help us, which I appreciate a lot.

My dad also avoids confrontation and tricky subjects at all cost. He can be quite funny but can give it out but not take it. I think he's quite insecure - if you don't agree with him he goes in the huff. He is also very generous with me and my family.

I spend a lot of time trying to guess what they want, and often get it wrong. I don't know what they think about anything really. If I ask them directly they just say "whatever you want", whether they mean it or not. They don't offer to look after my dcs but if I ask them they will, then I sometimes hear my mum complaining on the phone to her friends about how tired she is, even though she didn't say that to me. I've tried to tell myself I can't take responsibility for every time they take offence, but I always seem to end up feeling guilty for upsetting them, when they do a lot to help me.

Flyonthewindscreen Thu 09-Jul-09 23:00:18

God Whitering your parents sound just like my ILs, particularly the not offering to look after the kids, then doing it when asked, then making it obvious that it is a PITA. I don't know if confrontation works though as they would probably deny everything. And the line about your mum never saying what she wants but getting it in sneaky ways, that's my MIL, don't get me onto last year's xmas post again... I think a certain amount of withdrawal and being strong in your own family unit (you, DH and your kids) is all you can do.

WhiteRing Thu 09-Jul-09 23:43:37

Sounds familiar KamR. We have the opposite - my in-laws are great - I could say anything to them, but ironically never really need to. Always the way isn't it?

It's very wearing. I feel like I come from a different family - I'm so different from them in the way I do everything. I know they have a hard time with me "letting" my dcs be sad/angry etc - no negative emotion allowed!

thumbwitch Fri 10-Jul-09 00:26:06

oh dear - what a bizarre atmosphere! Do you know what their parents were like? Perhaps very loud, domineering and shouty? Suppression of "negative" emotions is very unhealthy!

I have experienced low levels of this sort of behaviour with both my parents and in the end the only way I could cope (the second-guessing was doing my head in!) was to just say that I don't have the time to work out what they really mean/want, so could they please just tell me and stop adding to my stress load? If Dad says now "I don't mind, whatever you want" but with that tone, I won't let it drop until he has given me a better answer. Perhaps I am being overly confrontational but it did work for me with my parents - ditto with my mum who used to go into martyr mode, so that I would end up saying things like "if it's too much trouble for you I will get X to do it instead, since you seem to be having a problem with it".

I know you don't want to be confrontational with them - I'm guessing they have instilled this sort of behaviour into you too - but perhaps you could just give it a try and see what happens? (assuming you haven't already given it a go that is)

Failing that, then perhaps reducing contact "because it is obviously too much for them at their time of life" might have an impact...

WhiteRing Fri 10-Jul-09 00:56:15

Thanks for suggestions. I have done mini-confrontations - they refuse to get into it, they change the subject or leave the room to let me know that's the end of the conversation, then will behave as if nothing happened and it is never mentioned again. I think they must have a little bank full of things I have said over the years, possibly ready to bring out at an opportune moment!

I do remember once exploding at my mum when I was a teenager. She had been making comments about how the house was a mess and it would be nice if she got some help etc. I ended up shouting something like "Oh for God's sake, if you want me to clean up then just ask!!" I remember her looking at me and replying "Just trying to say it in a nice way" then that was the end of it.

As for their parents, my dad's parents died when I was too young to remember them, but I have heard that my dad's father was very volatile and possibly violent at times. My mum's mother is still alive - she is very Victorian and (imo) has major psychological issues which will never be explored. She's very attention-seeking and often gets "sick" when my mum has something important happening. All her anxieties seem to come out as physical symptoms - I don't suppose she was ever able to express these feelings. All very Victorian really. I don;t think I've ever had more than a superficial conversation with my grandmother.

So grateful for my dh who doesn't have a passive-aggressive bone in his body - he's quite happy for me to tell him when I'm really pissed off with him, much to my parents' shock!

WhiteRing Fri 10-Jul-09 01:04:16

Just remembered anecdote from today which illustrates dynamics perfectly.

My dad insists on putting out bird-seed in the garden all the time. It's meant for little garden birds but in reality big fat pigeons are eating it all, then crapping all over the garden. dcs then stand in pigeon poo and bring it into the house on their shoes. Hence mum not happy but won't say it directly. She keeps making "subtle" suggestions to my dad relating to bird-feeding, but he comes up with answers for all of them. It's like some bizarre never-ending game they are playing, and they both know they are playing it. After my dad threw all mum's arguments out the window, her last one was "Are you going to snap at me all day?" to which he replied "Probably". That's as direct as it ever gets - quite amusing really, if it's not your family.

thumbwitch Fri 10-Jul-09 01:25:36

Wah - very difficult to deal with. Only other option I can see is to not buy into it at all - to ignore all the subtleties etc and ride roughshod over them and do what you want to do.

The more you say about them the more I agree with your op that they are being passive-aggressive - the closing down and walking out on a discussion is classic, imo.

Rather than get angry or upset about it, try pity instead - a useful tactic when nothing else works - pity them that they have to be this way, feel sorry for them that they are making their own lives harder than they need to by pissing off other people; pity them for the difficulties they must have had when they were growing up and that they are not strong enough in themselves to either see it or change it. It will create a different response in you, if you change the way you think about their behaviour. Might make it easier to deal with.

WhiteRing Fri 10-Jul-09 08:14:11

Thanks again, that's very helpful.

I think I'm in the bad books this morning (we are staying with mum and dad for a few days as dh is away working and my dcs hols have already started). In the hols/weekends I let my dcs get up and make their own breakfast. Because dh works away a lot it's a way for me to get a bit of a lie in at weekends etc. But I think mum and dad disapprove, although of course they have never said. As soon as the dcs stir mum and dad are up and making their breakfast. I have let them get on with it the last couple of days. I told them the dcs are used to doing it themselves, but they still get up. Maybe they are worried they will break something, I don't know. Anyway this morning they didn't make the breakfast, they kept sending one of the dcs up to my rrom with messages telling me to get up as they were hungry. I feel a bit guilty, but I just wish they could say "We think you should get up when the kids get up as we are not happy for them to make their own breakfast here." Fair enough, their house, I don't think I'm an unreasonable person, but their maddening behaviour makes me want to act like a teenager again!

I did actually confront this, well sort of, I told them again that the kids can do it themselves, but my mum just kept saying "They can't reach the bowls." Hmm, at home they are very creative about finding chairs to climb on when they have to!

WhiteRing Fri 10-Jul-09 08:24:22

toomanystuffedbears, I just saw your second post. Sorry, missed it earlier but just re-read whole thread. You sound like you have come through an awful lot. Would be very interested to read about Borderline Personality Disorders - can you direct me anywhere?

DutchOma Fri 10-Jul-09 09:21:11

But I bet you didn't say "They can use a chair" Whitering. Because, my goodness, that would show that you encourage an independent streak in them. Which is what they don't want you to have. They want you to be beholden and to an extent you agree you are. They do do a lot for you and if you don't want to lose that support, there isn't much you can do.
You will get more inventive and pro-active as you keep practising:- in the current example you could have got up in pyamas (probably not allowed) got the bowls out and gone back to bed.
I dare you!

WhiteRing Fri 10-Jul-09 09:41:48

DutchOma you have it exactly right! I feel beholden to them as they do help us.

I didn't say "they can use a chair" - you are right. They wouldn't be happy with chairs being dragged through to kitchen, whereas I'm quite comfortable with stray cheerios and splashes of milk on the floor if it means I can have another half an hour in bed!

Never thought of it in the way you describe - that they actively don't want me to be independent. They never let me do much for myself as a child, perferring to to it thelselves so it was done "properly", but I always thought they were just over-protective. They always have to know exactly what the dcs are doing - if they are upstairs playing mum is always asking "where's dd?" or "where's ds?" She makes me feel like I neglect them, but they come down when they want something!

DutchOma Fri 10-Jul-09 09:51:11

Any siblings?

missingtheaction Fri 10-Jul-09 09:53:20

The good thing about being able to take a cool analytical eye to your parents is that you can learn from them and make sure you don't automatically fall into the same traps or irritating habits. My mum also has some habits and attitudes that drive me nuts, but they are the result of her upbringing and the way things were when she was young. I don't have to be the same as her, and my dcs have very different world to negotiate than the one she was a teenager in.

I've learned to grit my teeth, stand my ground, and my dp hides the sharp knives when she comes to stay.

WhiteRing Fri 10-Jul-09 10:05:54

No siblings DutchOma, only me.

missingtheaction, if they were someone else's parents I would simply find it quite interesting to analyse their strange behaviour. But I always seem to have this guilt about upsetting them, and I suppose I still hope for a close realtionship, although that's obviously not going to happen.

DutchOma Fri 10-Jul-09 10:29:08

You are obviously very precious to them and the idea that they might lose you probably (unconsciously) quite scares them.
Keep reminding yourself that you are a big girl now, a mother of two chicks and utterly capable.
Also keep reminding yourself that you are going home on xday and it's only x nights to sleep before you are going home.
You have already realised that there is nothing you can do to change them, what you can change is your reaction to their behaviour and the way you deal with it.
Keep practising.

WhiteRing Fri 10-Jul-09 18:16:08

Thanks again. Need to stop feeling so guilty for upsetting them though.

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