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How to handle mum tactfully
her passiveness is driving me crazy.

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#1 More than a Mother

Posted 31 January 2013 - 11:51 AM

Mum is staying with us and her indecisive, wishy washy passivity is driving me crazy. Every time she visits (from the UK, for around 4 weeks), she turns into a child and I turn into the beeeaaatch daughter from hell. She says that she just likes to feel part of the family – my older sister just uses her for babysitting, and my younger brother is 29 going on 16. So I’m daughter number one who is getting very impatient with her.

She’s a brilliant help around the house (she’s a housekeeper in the UK, so it’s second nature to her), but she needs constant ‘mothering’ in anything else. We let her have a car, but she doesn’t feel confident driving any further than the beach or local shops.

I’ll ask her if she’d like to go to x, y or z and she’ll say neither yes or no and waffle about the cost of petrol or something else, or some other reason why we can’t do the activity, when I know she’d really like to do it. I’ve told her that I wouldn’t suggest doing something if I didn’t want to do it, but it’s gone in one ear and out of the other. I’d booked her favourite restaurant for Sunday lunch, assuming that she’d want to go. When I mentioned it, she said it was too expensive (even though we’re paying to thank her for her help). So I cancelled it and suggested a drive into the hills instead. When I told her I’d cancelled it, she said had she known I’d made a reservation, she’d have gone for lunch. I’m so confused! Yes or no. It’s not hard.

It feels like she’s being a martyr and wants me to insist that it’s all ok. I really can’t put a label on  her behaviour, but it’s driving me crazy and so I’m getting snappy and grumpy with her.

Her constant questions for some reason annoy me. I feel like she tries to control me with her suggestions, (eg are you going to go for a run now?) which also gets on my nerves, although I’m sure it’s all innocent on her part. I’m 40 years old and I really don’t know why I’m feeling like this.

I don’t do tact very well and don’t know how to tactfully deal with her without offending her (which is easily done – she’ll take her bat and ball home and feel that she can’t say anything else ever).


#2 JustBeige

Posted 31 January 2013 - 11:58 AM

How long has she got before she goes home?

The reason I ask is if she has been there for 2 days then your way of handling this is different than if she only has 2 days left iykwim.

To start with though, if you are going to do something that you know she will like, just tell her. dont ask.   If she starts "oh that is too expensive" just cut her off (nicely) and tell her not to worry as you are covering it and tell her that you wouldnt do it, if you couldnt afford it.

tbh, she sounds like my MIL.  She stresses because she knows that we are on a very tight budget, but I find that if i bluntly say "we wouldnt do it, if we couldnt afford it"  it seems to make her more at peace.

Edited by JustBeige, 31 January 2013 - 12:01 PM.

#3 erindiv

Posted 31 January 2013 - 11:58 AM

I don't have any advice, sorry, but I applaud your patience so far.

#4 Holidayromp

Posted 31 January 2013 - 11:59 AM

Just don't change your plans - stick with the original plans.  Also why don't you just talk to her and how it is making you feel.  It is not much fun if she has gone to all the trouble of visiting and you two have issues and often it is just communication breakdown.

Just talk.  biggrin.gif

#5 50ftqueenie

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:00 PM

She sounds like a great house guest.  Cleaning, not too demanding, but I see how the indecision would get annoying.  It sounds like she doesn't want to 'get in the way', maybe just go about your usual business and let her tag along.  As for the lunch thing, some people think it's polite to offer a protest at any offer of a free meal.  Couldn't you have just told her that you WANT to pay for her and not taken no for an answer.  It wouldn't have occured to me to cancel a reservation because my Mum seemed funny about me paying for her.

It's tough having someone in your space for 4 weeks, but keep in mind it's also tricky being someone's guest for that length of time too.  Grin and bear it and put her to work on your spring cleaning (that's what I do if my Mum is staying  ph34r.gif )

#6 Katie_bella

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:01 PM

I'll probably be flamed, but i seriously think it's part of English culture in people of a certain age!
My In-laws are the same.....HOPELESS! When they stay with us, they can't make a decision to save themselves. They just sit on the couch and watch us....drives me batty!
I find i just have to organise activities and tell them what we're doing. I feel like a beeeach too, but it's the only way i can get through the visit without going completely off my rocker everytime they say "oh, maybe, well if you want to" etc etc.

I feel your pain..... bbighug.gif

#7 ComradeBob

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:01 PM

I would probably try and *not* ask for her input, but just tell her "we're doing x, y & z"

#8 Foxycleopatra

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:01 PM

Oh my goodness this is my mother to a 'T' as well, only add 'aggression' on the end of the passivity and a liberal dose of defensiveness to the mix. Totally understand the martyr thing though.

Sorry, I'm no help - just wanted to add that I can sympathise with you for so many of the points you raised! Will be interested to read other's stories and suggestions as well..

Good luck, patience is key!

#9 bakesgirls

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:06 PM

TBH, if it were my mother who was coming from overseas to spend time with me, no matter how irritating it became, I would just ignore it. Saying something may lead my mum to feeling uncomfortable visiting me in the future. It's only a few weeks.

Perhaps she is aware of the fact that having someone stay for a few weeks leads to increased costs for the household? Perhaps thats why she passively protests about the cost of things? Perhaps she doesn't want her visit to put you out too much.

#10 Wahwah

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:09 PM

I hear you OP, my mum is a lot like this as well.

She is wonderful and helps at a drop of a hat, but is very passive about everything, which means I always have to do the decision making and organising. I appreciate that she is deferring her needs over what she thinks are mine, but really, I just don't want to be the one who has to do all the thinking, all the time. Especially when she then sometimes accuses me of treating her like a child!!!! Can't win.

So I don't really have any advice, but sometimes I do force her to make a choice, when the 'I don't mind' has gone on for too long. I do it in a kind of jokey way though.

#11 mmuc83

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:11 PM

I think with people like that you just have to "tell" them what you are doing rather than "ask"... my dad is a bit like that.. drove me insane until i made plans and said "we are doing this"!  Good luck!

#12 icekool

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:18 PM

wow. You are wonderful. You have patience. She also sounds amazing with the house

Not sure how much longer she is staying, perhaps plan out the days with her. You should know what she likes so perhaps plan the outings. If she complains it is too expensive or too much petrol, just say that it is quality time you want with her and it is worth it.

If she is controlling, perhaps she is feeling restless.

I think living with a parent AFTER you become a parent is very very hard

#13 tazcan

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:31 PM

I can understand how you feel - both my inlaws and mother won't make any decisions when they come to stay and I end up feeling bad that they are not doing what they want - and I feel like I have to entertain them and plan things except I don't have a lot of time during the week.

The good thing is that your mother cleans, babysits and will at least drive to the shops - and that is really good. Compared to my inlaws who do not lift a finger to babysit or help clean/ cook and when they come to stay they refuse to drive at all in Sydney - so I have them sitting on me all day causing lots of extra work and just waiting for me to make all the decisions.

It may be that all your mother really wants to be is be of help - my mum always emphasizes that's what she wants to do so I just let her babysit and join us with whatever boring things we are doing for the day. Luckily I get along with her really well so that helps.

#14 Pompol

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:37 PM

QUOTE (WingBob @ 31/01/2013, 01:01 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I would probably try and *not* ask for her input, but just tell her "we're doing x, y & z"

My Mum is the same. This is exactly what I do. She might still protest, especially if she feels its an inconvenience, but I am just firm about it. It used to drive me crazy, this tactic has really helped me not to go bonkers with her.

#15 Therese

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:39 PM

QUOTE (WingBob @ 31/01/2013, 01:01 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I would probably try and *not* ask for her input, but just tell her "we're doing x, y & z"

This is what I would do. It is frustrating though i know.

#16 steppy

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:42 PM

My parents are weird like this too. They spent all those years doing everything for me but act like I am bending over backward if I do a single thing for them. I just steamroll through the objections unless I think they are sincere objections.

On the very big plus side, your mother is considerate in how she does things and still puts you first. I've seen other kinds of parents and I'm still glad mine are the way they are.

#17 bunny2

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:44 PM

OMG do we have the same mother?!

I guess the only advice I have, which isn't a perfect solution by any stretch, is to minimise the time you have to be around her.  Not sure if that's possible.  
Don't organise too many activities together as you will just get annoyed at her, and then at the end you'll feel bad for snapping at her.

Edited by bunny2, 31 January 2013 - 12:45 PM.

#18 gasgirl

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:50 PM

ha ha ha you have described my mother perfectly too!
I love her to bits but OMG she is hard work as a house guest. The funny thing I honestly don't remember her being like this when I was a child, she was always the strong personality in the family. Add to that failing eyesight and hearing plus a very strong independent nobody needs to help me streak.
I get so cranky and irritable when she stays, and I know the problem is my patience and lack of. I just have enough on my plate looking after two kids and making all the family decisions plus working without having to take charge of a 70yo lady as well.
anyway as you can see I don't handle it well either so heres another daughter watching this thread for the pearls of wisdom from more patient people than me.

#19 CourtesanNewton

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:50 PM

My MIL here....even to the extent that if we go out for tea and ask what shewants to order, she will ask what we are having so she can copy us. Or if it's a big family do where everyone dishes up their own food she sits like a bump on a log and tries to get DH  to dish a plate up for her. Then she complains that no-one will let her make decisions. FWIW she's another one with an English background which is something a PP mentioned.

#20 galba

Posted 31 January 2013 - 12:54 PM

My mum and dad were like that until I discovered that they were very concerned at the cost of things especially in the supermarket.  They obviously don't know how much we earn and as a result were worried that we were spending too much on them.

When I explained that generally wages were higher here in Oz than UK they were much better but I can still see my dad converting his restaurant meal from dollars into pounds every time he orders something.

#21 More than a Mother

Posted 31 January 2013 - 01:06 PM

Thank goodness it's not just me. If it was anyone else, I'd know how to deal with it. But her being my mum just changes me somehow into someone I don't recognise.

Thanks for the advice - I really don't want it to spoil the time that she's here with us.

#22 FeralandStompy

Posted 31 January 2013 - 01:54 PM

QUOTE (gasgirl @ 31/01/2013, 01:50 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
ha ha ha you have described my mother perfectly too!


I get so cranky and irritable when she stays, and I know the problem is my patience and lack of. I just have enough on my plate looking after two kids and making all the family decisions plus working without having to take charge of a 70yo lady as well.
anyway as you can see I don't handle it well either so heres another daughter watching this thread for the pearls of wisdom from more patient people than me.

Another PP who has the same mother and same issue when she visits. Drives both me and my sister bonkers.
My sis and I have chatted and come to the conclusion that Mum had such an awful experience with HER MIL, especially during the early years of being a new Mum and Nana being only 100m away in the next house on the farm, that Mum's subconscious is so worried that she'll be  a 'bad' or 'bossy' grandmother that she just freezes. She's opened up a bit with some stories about what it was like around Nana then and gosh, it's VERY clear what that unsupportive environment would have been like, especially when her own mother died in Mum's early teens so she was basically stuck on this farm with none of HER family to support her for several years.

Mum  is wonderful around the house and with our DD  -who loves her Granna who she sees in person once a year. But Mum cannot do anything proactive when she stays. Only passive. Anything has to be requested, and described in the most minute and frustrating detail or she will sit on the couch and not do anything but her crosswords. It's NOT laziness or disinterest but a crippling level of lost confidence we think. We've come to the conclusion that it's happening in a real emotional and subconscious level as she is NOT that way when we visit her in her house. In some way her brain is wired to think that if she does anything proactive in OUR house that she'll be a horrid bossy Matriach that we'll be loathing. That's not logical but that's pretty much it.

I felt so terrible her last visit in October for DD's 2 year old birthday as I asked her to make a salad , while we sorted the rest of a meal, and then she kept asking exactly how we wanted the salad, how the lettuce was to be cut/ripped, the ingredients and amounts exactly specified. And she's an EXCELLENT cook who has made hundreds of salads in her lifetime! Just completely lacking in self confidence when visiting our homes since both of us became mothers, plus a bit daunted by the fact that both of us have partners who like cooking, which is the opposite of her personal experience.
I finally lost patience and said "Look I'll make it, it's a salad, it's NOT HARD." And she cried. I felt like sh*t. We spoke a bit after and got things cleared up and better for the remainder of the visit, plus I called my sister who has had similar experiences and we're back to making sure that we plan what we're going to request, and try not to feel silly at describing or making decisions for her as she just only copes in this way when she visits with us.

But the indecsion and passiveness IS hard work to deal with on a long stay.
Especially as we've had DD late in life and she's NOT been like that on pre-baby  housestays. But we love her, and so I remind myself multiple times a day when she visits that she's not doing it on purpose and just cannot help it. Deep breaths!

All best for the rest of the visit.

Edited by rynandstompy, 31 January 2013 - 01:56 PM.

#23 Copper and May

Posted 31 January 2013 - 02:35 PM

From the mother's/grandmother's perspective: I have just returned from spending most of January in another state to mind my grandchildren during the school holidays. My daughter pays my plane fare to get there and I do try my best to look after the two kids - 4 year old girl and a 6 year old boy. They are not easy kids to look after and they fight all the time and hit each other and I have been told to send them to their rooms if they misbehave, but this doesn't seem to work, as they have most of the toys available in Australia in their rooms. I will always be glad that I am invited out to dinner on some nights, so we take the kids to one of the clubs, as there is a great playroom and I thoroughly enjoy those outings. However, when we don't go out, my son-in-law insists on cooking the evening meal and he then gets home at about 5pm and sits on his computer until about 7pm, and then decides to cook a roast or something and we finish up eating about 9.30pm. The kids are really feral by then, and I suggested that I would get the kid's dinner, so that they can eat before 9.30pm and get to bed, but that didn't seem to happen, as I am really not supposed to confront my son-in-law with ideas on the food. I am struggling to be available every school holidays now, as I have bronchiecstasis and get very breathless when trying to keep these kids amused, so what I am trying to say is: If you have a grandparent who is happy to come and do things for their children, then don't make them feel you are angry with them, because they are really trying to help under difficult circumstances and they are not 25 anymore. sad.gif

#24 More than a Mother

Posted 31 January 2013 - 03:25 PM

I'm so sorry you had this experience, winterdanceparty.

I realise that I am being grumpy and short with her, which I feel ashamed about, and I'm really struggling not to be like that. It's not who I am, which is why I'm finding it so hard to manage. I love my mum. She's so strong and still bends over backwards to do things for her children. I feel sorry that she has noone back home to do things for her, which is why I frantically try to think of things that she might like to do while she is over here.

She's not educated or skilled in a particular profession (I don't mean that in a demeaning way, it's just the fact), and so mothering and looking after people is all she knows and where her strengths lie. I guess it's why I get annoyed that she needs mothering when she comes to stay. But that's because she has noone to mother her or care for her back home.

#25 Copper and May

Posted 01 February 2013 - 11:35 AM

I do think we lose our confidence as we get older and tend to sit back and not say anything, in case we case frustration, so be kind to your mums as they don't want to be like this, but it just happens. Even driving the car is a big deal sometimes, particularly in an area we are not familiar with. We feel we have to be with the family, but secretly we would like to be home where everything is familiar.

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