If pleasing mom is a chore, consider telling her what she wants to hear
Dear Carolyn: Maybe as both an advice giver and a mother yourself you can answer this. Is it typical for moms to complain about no one helping them with housework, then, when someone does do something, to chase them off and/or criticize how they do it?
Mom’s been doing this for years. She’ll complain no one helps her, but God forbid anyone tries. Then it’s, “I’ll do it!,” or “You did this all wrong” — even though we got the job done just as well if not better, we just didn’t do it her way. No amount of telling her how discouraging it is when she puts us down after we try to help gets through to her.
Have to Ask
Have to Ask: You don’t need a mother or an adviser for this, you need a control-freakist. (Think exorcist but without the beads.)
When you’re mystified by someone’s behavior, it can help to look at what the person achieves with it. Your mother cries for help but then does things to ensure she doesn’t get any. On the surface it makes no sense.
Dig deeper, though, and I think your shovel will scrape something interesting. She apparently doesn’t want help, or else she’d accept it gratefully. Right? Nor is she trying to get everything done exactly her way, because she could achieve that more effectively by guiding her helpers — or by doing everything herself from the beginning, bypassing the whole nobodyhelps-me charade.
So what does her behavior bring her? Clearly she gains attention; behold her starring role in a drama where she’s the can-do gal in a family of slackers, incompetents and ingrates.
Your possible remedies are limited; as you’ve witnessed yourself so often, she’ll change the terms midway through a chore to preserve her advantage. Do a chore poorly, do it better than she can, don’t do it at all — she can spin it into further proof of her dogged heroism.
It may seem counterintuitive, but one way to avoid feeding her narrative is to give her what she wants. It’s like steering into a skid: “You’re right, Mom, you do so much for us. Thank you.” Or, “Well, Mom, you’re the master! Of course I didn’t do it as well.” Yes, sarcasm free. You can even anticipate her: “I’d love to take over [chore], Mom, but even my best work won’t be as good as yours — would you like my help anyway?”
This is a purposeful choice to work with, vs. against, Mom’s neediness, and therefore allows you a measure of control — ideally in a way that preempts a counteroffensive of criticism from her.
Which, if it comes anyway, you deflect calmly: “You asked for my help, I gave it, I won’t argue with you.”
Use the nature of your mother’s need to guide your actions from here. If she’s a loving sort who just maintains a childlike relish for approval, then snuggle in and approve away.
If instead your mother builds her sense of self from the rubble of everyone else’s — which I fear is the case given that you feel discouraged — then I’ll add to my advice a caveat to offer those yesMom-you’re-right-Moms from the far end of an emotional 10foot pole. Mom (or anyone else) can’t meet your needs when her every word and deed is rigged toward feeding her own needs. Hoping or expecting otherwise from such self-focused people is the source of so much pain.
It’s sad for all involved when this happens, a missed opportunity for the kind of baseline mutual support that family at its best can supply. However, we’re all dropped at different starting points on the path to self-acceptance. If your mom can’t or won’t help you get there, then recognize that, make peace with it — and with her limitations, since they ultimately harm her most — and start cultivating your own more reliable sources of validation. Your closest confidants, your work or interests, your cherished places or causes all can be shaped into a healthier version of home.
Dear Carolyn: I told my best friend of over 21 years that I didn’t like her husband. They had a long-distance relationship for three years wherein he cheated on her for two. Long story short, she had a child and got married shortly thereafter.
I’d like to rekindle our friendship but I don’t know how. She was like a sister to me. She asked what I thought and now I regret being so honest. We have many mutual friends, but she no longer speaks to me. Is there any way to salvage this?
Childhood Friend: To request your opinion and then slap you for it was extremely immature of her. Shunning you might be her way of dodging the truth you represent.
But, you want to salvage the friendship, so here’s how: 1. Hope she lets you. 2. Express your regret fully, sans asterisks, even if you already have. Say how much you miss her. Ask her forgiveness.
Don’t expect it, though, unless she has grown up — a lot.