My relationship with my mother has been strained for a really long time. I don’t quite trust her; she talks about me behind my back, and loves to listen to the sound of her own voice. If you’ve done something that’s important to you, she’s done it too, only better. If you are sick, she is suddenly sicker.
She also takes advantage of people and likes to see how much she can take from them. If we go out to eat she never offers to pay, not even for herself. Instead, the check comes and she doesn’t offer any money unless you tell her what she owes. Then she acts put out.
Every time I go see her she wants help with something around her home, but never returns the favor.
Being around her makes me feel unhealthy, and I’ve learned I need to limit my time with her.
But I have three kids who love her very much and want to be with her. I have no significant reason to keep them from her other than I can’t stand to be around her for too long — and that isn’t fair to them.
Here are some things I do now to keep myself, my kids, and my mother happy.
I let them see her without me.
When they got older I suggested they start doing this. My kids are teenagers, and while they know my mother annoys me, they don’t know the extent of it.
If my mom wants to see them, they have sleepovers at her house with their cousins, or she cooks them dinner.
I don’t want to be there every time, but that doesn’t mean I should keep her from my kids.
They FaceTime a lot.
Video chatting is a great way for them to bond and talk and I don’t even have to hear her voice. I suggest this if my mother says she’s missing her grandkids, because it gives her a quick fix and my kids enjoy it.
I do my own thing.
If I know I am going to be with my mother for a longer period of time, I don’t feel the need to be around her every second. I go for a walk, go in the other room to read, or do housework. I already know I can only handle her in small doses, and I prepare for that ahead of time. It’s best for everyone.
I set boundaries.
If my mom does or says something I don’t like, even if it’s in front of my kids, I tell her. This took me decades to do. If she bad-mouths my father (her ex-husband) in front of my kids, or my other siblings, I tell her to stop. If she blows my kids off after saying she’d do something with them (which she has done), I tell her it’s not okay. If she wants to introduce them to some man she met online (it’s happened so many times), I tell her no.
After her divorce when my sisters and I were teens, she dated a lot of different men and it always felt like she was forcing them on us. I told her my kids don’t need to meet anyone she’s dating unless it’s serious.
This has probably been one of the hardest things for me to do, but it’s absolutely for the best.
I set a time limit.
I often do this beforehand. For example, if my mother is coming to our home, or we are going there, I tell her and my kids we have until a certain time. This is obviously easier if we are going to her house, because I have control over when we leave.
If she is coming to my home, I say something like, “I need to get ready for bed.” If I’m making her dinner and I tell her dinner is at five but she wants to come at three, I tell her no.
I used to come up with excuses to make this easier. I’d say I had an appointment or I had to work. These days I feel comfortable simply telling her no — but if you aren’t at that point yet, coming up with something else in your schedule is a lot easier and can get you started on setting those limits.
I don’t want to take away my kids’ relationship with their grandmother. However, as they get older they are also starting to notice things about her they don’t like. Ultimately, though, I want them to make decisions about her on their own.
My mother has made mistakes just like everyone has, and we all deserve a second chance. She’s getting along with my kids, but as soon as I feel like it’s not healthy, or she is crossing boundaries too much, I have no problem leaving her out of family gatherings.
Sometimes it’s what you have to do to break toxic family cycles — and I know it’s up to me to do that if need be.
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