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not to like my mother?

(65 Posts)
Grossi Mon 08-Aug-11 07:51:29

Can any of you help me to gain a bit of perspective on my relationship with my mother? I am sorry if this is a bit long.

My mother is 80 and lives alone in another country. She has very few friends and expects me and my sister to spend all our holidays with her. While we are with her she criticises everything. Only one of her 7 grandchildren and great grandchildren is acceptable to her. She claims the others are fat (you can see all their ribs), antisocial (because they try to keep out of her way) and, and, and…

She says she has wasted the last 40 years keeping her house for me and my sister to inherit. When we suggested that she could sell it, she dropped the subject.

We can’t do anything right. We chose the wrong men to marry, we cook the vegetables in too much water, we don't do enough around the house and garden, and so on.

She has barely worked in her life and all repairs to the house, kitchen gadgets, televisions and computers etc. have been paid for by me or my sister.

People say we should just cease all contact, but we don’t feel we could live with ourselves if we did that especially as she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, although the treatment seems to have been successful.

What would you do?

JessM Mon 08-Aug-11 12:48:41

Alas we do not live in a matriarchal society. But maybe not alas. In India I understand daughters in law have to go and live with in law and MIL rules the roost. If women have sons they get their chance to do the same. At heart of all this perhaps is that women tend, traditionally, to have power in the domestic setting rather than in work or public life. It is changing but at a glacial pace. So lots of powerful personalities being expressed and small families to express them in...

jangly Mon 08-Aug-11 12:54:44

Yeah, I know jess. You should see it when me and my daughter really get going!

Talk about red in tooth and claw!

Joan Mon 08-Aug-11 12:54:45

My husband didn't like his Mum. It was not what she did, but what she didn't do. She failed to protect him from a violent stepfather (his own father died in the DDay invasion - he was a Colour Sergeant).

When he was 5 his older brother took him to their Grandma's house because the stepfather had broken his hand. They unofficially adopted him, but had to manage without ration book and family allowance because his Mum kept them. They kept the authorities out of it because the grandparents were really too old, so he might have ended up in a children's home.

It turned out the stepfather, called 'The ginger headed bastard' by the rest of the family had done other cruel things too - making him eat rotten meat, eat soap, eat food drenched in salt, and had dislocated his hip. His Mum had never lifted a finger to protect her little son. The stepfather bashed her too of course.

In later life he 'forgave' the stepfather, in that he tolerated his presence when he went to visit his mother, but when our own son was born the full horror of what stepfather had done came back to him. He just slowly cut off all contact with both of them.

When she died he felt nothing.

jangly Mon 08-Aug-11 12:55:24

Not really.

You believed me, didn't you....

he he he

jangly Mon 08-Aug-11 12:56:03

that was to jess btw

JessM Mon 08-Aug-11 13:11:19

Difficult to know when you are being serious Jangly dear smile But the point about matriarchal societies interests me, scary-Jangly or no scary-Jangly.
We grandmothers are a transitional generation, lots of us still primarily family- focussed even if we did have careers, we had small families so v child focussed on two or three chicks and then suddenly - whoosh! Our raison d'etre has just left the building, sorry, town/country/continent and all the things we know about childrearing are now out of date too. The combination of nuclear family and mobility has many effects...

Faye Mon 08-Aug-11 14:04:03

How sad Joan, that is a lot to go through for a child. She certainly didn't protect a her little boy.

jangly Mon 08-Aug-11 14:10:38

To jess I'm always serious.

You called me dear!!! shock

We had a thread about that, didn't we?

JessM Mon 08-Aug-11 14:43:28

No that was "dear" with our the my. Different. One affectionate the other patronising.

Nanban Mon 08-Aug-11 15:36:21

Dear Grossi - simple, stop paying. If you visit at the first hint of criticism, turn around and leave her until she can come up with something nice - tell her so of course. Nothing nice, leave altogether. Live your life.

Pickles2011 Tue 09-Aug-11 09:31:51

It's got to be a power thing... when you're a young mother children are in your control (well a bit!) as they get older you have to loosen the reins and let the little buggers fly. As an older Mother they've gone, there is no control and very little a time when power is generally slipping through your fingers. Perhaps being grumpy, nagging, critisising just feels like haveing a little power??

I don't know - I have had a big problem liking my mother all along - I'm still frightened to tell her she's wrong, or grumpy, she can turn on my like a viper!

jangly Tue 09-Aug-11 09:38:44

That's alright then jess. hmm grin

jangly Tue 09-Aug-11 09:39:23

love you too. smile

absentgrana Tue 09-Aug-11 18:26:01

Actually, as the mother of a young child, you probably have more power than you will ever have at any other time in your life – and power is a heady thing. When our children are born, our role in their lives – from day 1 – is to teach them to be independent and leave us – and this is always hard and can be very painful. But if you teach your child to fly, why would you clip his/her wings? Let them go and they will always return at will. Try to hold them and they will resent you forever. Every mother is faced with this dilemma and the mothers who get it wrong will never know the joy and sheer magic of a happy, trusting, loving and caring relationship with their adult children.

Jangran Wed 10-Aug-11 15:53:24

Yes, I can relate to this thread too.

My mother, now aged 85, is difficult.

She has numerous health problems, none of them life-threatening, but she has been complaining about them for the last forty years!

That is basically all she talks about, except when she decides to stick the knife into one of her existing acquaintances or dead relations (mainly in-laws).

I understood that she didn't have a particularly great life, but she seems to resent the fact that I do. She doesn't criticise me openly, but it always seems to be there underneath. She likes my husband, adores my children, but simply does not like me.

To make it worse, she will never admit that - in fact, she will never admit anything that would make her look less than perfect - she has always been like that.

Of course, now I am the primary carer - I see her at least twice a week; my daughters hardly ever, and they will not visit her at all unless I am there. But they are excused on the grounds that they live further away. They never 'phone her either, and I don't blame them. I think that maybe their time with elderly parents will come, and in the meantime, they should enjoy their own families. But still, mother has the best granddaughters in the world, according to her.

When I was small, she always worked, and my grandmother (hardly a cuddly type!) looked after me. Mother told me that they did not have any more children because my grandmother said she would not look after them. So I am an only child. I wish I had a sibling to take some of the responsibility/blame or whatever.

To cap it all, we seem to have virtually nothing in common. I have always been interested in the world outside; local and national politics and so on. My mother has never been interested in anything outside her own narrow circle and "what the neighbours think". That meant that she hardly ever supported me when I was growing up and getting myself into trouble from time to time.

Yet now, I am supposed to be paying her back for all the care I had from her, and she frequently compares me to her friends' children, who all take far more care and pay far more attention to their mothers than I do - apparently.

I have a lovely life apart from this, but the situation does get me down sometimes, to the extent of needing anti-depressants to recover.

absentgrana Wed 10-Aug-11 16:26:05

How we feel about people – mothers or anyone – is pretty much beyond our control. Emotion is something that just wells up, be it love or hate, liking or disliking. How we choose to behave is very much under our control and that is true even – or perhaps, especially – for the daughters of badly behaved mothers. If you feel that you have a responsibility of care towards an elderly mother you don't love and who doesn't seem to love you, that's fine and your choice. Bear in mind, though, that you cannot then complain about her ingratitude because you knew about that before you started. If you don't feel that you have that responsibility because of a lack of mutual love, then there is no reason to feel guilty. I think the root of the unhappiness is that everyone wants to be loved by their mum and it's probably particularly hard for those who have been loving mothers themselves to feel that, even now, their own mothers don't love, like or appreciate them.

Jangran Fri 12-Aug-11 14:02:26

Thanks, absentgrana. What you say is quite true, but as you say, we cannot control our feelings. I do feel that I have a responsibility of care towards my mother, but I should feel better if I thought she appreciated me!

I should also feel happier if mother did not make me feel like an outcast in my own family - that is, by constantly letting it show how much more she cares about my husband and my daughters.

As to not feeling responsibility towards her - that is not an option. Partly because she expects it; partly because society expects it and partly because I need to feel that I am acting at least "properly".

I agree that I want my mother, even now, to love and appreciate me, and that it is not going to happen. I used to feel the same about my father, and when he died I remember thinking that now he never would, so in a way I tried to work harder with my mother. But it made no difference, and I suppose that some time in the not so distant future, it will be too late with her as well.

Don't get me wrong, though. My daughters are quite different, and we do have a great relationship.

Barrow Fri 12-Aug-11 17:23:09

My Mother lives in Australia and still manages to nag me long distance. I gave up trying to please here several years ago as it was just making me ill. She would insist I ring her every week, one day I was talking to her and it was obvious she had put the phone down - my Brother (who she lived with and who is her blue eyed boy - just as well I like him!!) picked up the phone and when I asked what had happened he said she had decided to put the phone down whilst she unwrapped a sweet! Other times she would just not say anything no matter how hard I tried to make conversation. Another of her tricks was to ring me at 6.00 a.m. on a Sunday morning (I had a full time very stressful job at the time) and when I remonstrated with her she just said "I'm up so why shouldn't you be" conveniently forgetting that when it is early morning here it is early evening in Australia!

I finally put a stop to all that when I told her I wasn't going to ring her just to hear her breathing at me.

She also insisted on getting a letter every week - I now write once a month. Am I being mean? No I don't think so. She has never once praised me and once when I won a prize at school I wanted to show it to a relative who had called to visit only for her to say she had given it away to the girl next door! I must have been about 9 at the time.

Baggy Fri 12-Aug-11 17:43:48

Barrow, if I were you, I'd have given up long ago! And I wouldn't feel guilty about it. Good grief!

My mother complained that I didn't write to her often enough when I was working in Thailand. I told her that her sister, my aunt, had replied to the letters I did write so, naturally, I then wrote to her again. Correspondence is two-way.

If my mother had been so rude as to phone me at unreasonable times "just to chat", I would have first asked her not to and then, if she persisted, unplugged the phone or changed my number.

Nobody has to put up with that level of rudeness from another adult.

Faye Sat 13-Aug-11 00:58:02

Jangran and Barrow its interesting isn't it that we all have the need to be loved by our parents. My 88 year old mother had awful parents, to this day it still bothers her. It was very obvious to all of us, even cousins that my mother was totally left out and treated badly in her family. I only liked my paternal grandfather, the others were mean and nasty, especially my maternal grandmother. My grandmother lost her own mother at 16 years of age, I wonder if that affected her, she turned out to be a lousy mother to my mother and a horrible grandmother to me and my younger siblings. Yet she had other children especially her son that could do no wrong. She even left my grandfather for awhile and took her oldest child with her, her son. She left her daughters, barely more than babies behind.
Jangran I hope that you stick up for yourself and say how you feel to your mother. Don't feel obliged to be walked on. At least you have daughters that you have a good relationship with, it makes it all worthwhile.

Jangran Sat 13-Aug-11 08:07:46

The point, unfortunately, is that my mother is 85. She does not suffer from dementia, but she has never been a person to empathise with others.

I have tried to tell her how I feel, but she has a number of tactics to respond to that one:

a. She insists that she does love me - how could I think otherwise? I am a terrible daughter even to think of such things.
b. She accuses herself of being a terrible mother. Well, she wasn't terrible, just not very good, so I am therefore sidetracked into telling her she wasn't that bad, and the discussion then turns towards her feelings again. Anyway, wouldn't it be awful to think (I think when she uses that tactic), at an age when it is far too late, that you were an awful parent?
c. She gets angry, and scolds me for my behaviour when she is so old and ill.
d. (worst of all) she gets distressed and says she doesn't like it when I get "angry" with her - I am upsetting her, and it isn't fair at her age when she has so much troubling her. I feel guilty.

Whichever tactic she adopts (sometimes she uses a mixture), it always ends up with her feelings being considered and discussed, not mine. So far as I can recollect, it has always been like that.

And I end up feeling like the adult that must master her feelings, whilst my mother becomes the child whose feelings must be considered. And after all, I do have a good life, whilst my mother does not, and I should be able to put up with the hassle.

An interesting question, by the way, when is an adult no longer an adult? And can we consider our aged relatives still to be adults, especially when they behave like children?

Never underestimate the power of the weak against the strong!

Baggy Sat 13-Aug-11 09:37:23

Self-centred emotional blackmail, jangran. She isn't going to change anything.

Grossi Sat 13-Aug-11 13:17:26

Your mother's tactics sound a lot like my mother's Jangran.

She was sent to boarding school at the age of five, so "of course, she didn't know how to be a good mother".

She also pretends that all the horrible things she says are said "with a twinkle in her eye", implying that only a stupid person (like me) would find them hurtful.

harrigran Sat 13-Aug-11 15:58:00

Makes very sad reading. Mothers should love us and we should love them... in an ideal world. It was a different generation and they were not as demonstrative as we are.
I once overheard my mother talking to someone at my aunt's funeral, they had asked which woman was her daughter and she pointed at me and said "her but you wouldn't think so". I was only guity of having supported my childless aunt, in the last year of her life, when she was seriously ill. I was named after this aunt and we were very close but my mother did not like it. My mother also did not speak to her sisters for 10 years because of a misunderstanding at her mother's funeral. I could never treat my family like that and bend over backwards not to upset anyone.
In the last years of my mother's life I did what I had to, I would like to say I went the extra mile but it would be untrue.

Jangran Sun 14-Aug-11 12:31:17

Thanks, all. Baggy is right - my mother is not going to change. The point is managing to accept that. Mother also has a repertoire of "jokes", Grossi, which I too, it seems, am foolish to take seriously. A variation on that is that I should always understand what she means, no matter what she says, whilst at the same time everything I say she is entitled to take literally.

But the difficulty is, I know she is not, and never has been, in my league when it came to argument. I feel guilty at trying to argue rationally with her because I know she can never win an argument against me, so I can't really blame her for resorting to unfair tactics.

Harrigran - many thanks. Oddly enough, I too had an aunt to whom I was very close and whom I like to think I supported in her last years, although I was a very young mother at the time, and trying to come to terms with that. My mother hated that aunt (her sister-in-law) and, despite the fact that my aunt died almost forty years ago, often does recall, with great bitterness, every presumed slight, and every instance when I (apparently, I was unaware of it at the time) favoured my aunt.

I am not going the extra mile either, Harrigran. It is a relief to know that at least one person was in the same situation. I hope you don't feel guilty.