I’m 28, and my mother has been ill my whole life. She uses her illness as an excuse to extract things for herself from other people, like food, clothing, perfume and money. She criticizes people who are doing better than she is, and she holds her intellect over other people. She’s like a con artist in her ability to manipulate people. I finally called her on it, and I’ve never felt better. She just sucks me dry. What advice do you have for people like me who are stuck with a manipulative parent?
Employ good boundaries. A boundary is an invisible line that reveals where you end and another person begins. Establishing boundaries helps you to understand that your mother’s behavior is not a reflection on you and that it’s impossible to change her.
This is her life, and she has the privilege of choosing her attitudes and behaviors. People who don’t understand these realities will try to save her from her feelings. That’s why they shower her with goodies. Her story inspires their discomfort about her discomfort. Those uncomfortable feelings lift temporarily when a gift is offered and accepted. In the process, the core issue—your mother’s feelings about her illness—is never addressed. But since your mother feels special during the few moments when she is given a gift, she recreates that experience over and over. Each time, she gets another hit of feeling special. Yes, your mother is like an addict, except that she’s hooked on a feeling. (Apologies to the ’60s band Blue Swede.)
Every difficult situation is an opportunity to determine whether our personal integrity still guides our behavior and attitudes. With that awareness in mind, scan your life to see if you have acted like your mom, using circumstances to elicit sympathy or other gifts of attention. It’s possible that you unwittingly picked up a few tendencies toward her behavior. I’m not suggesting that it’s problematic to chat about her. It’s completely normal to process your feelings about your mom (or other challenging people) with a trusted friend. That’s very different, however, from bending someone’s ear so you can criticize your mother. Criticism doesn’t help you to grow.
My 22-year-old daughter lives at home and is dating a young man from Eastern Europe. He seems a little slick, but he is employed and well-educated. My problem is that he whistles or snaps his fingers to get her attention. He rarely calls her by name. If that isn’t bad enough, he communicates with his dog the same way. When I pointed this out to my daughter, she just laughed and said she thinks it’s funny. How can I get her to understand that this is demeaning?
A 22-year-old American adult has grown up in a culture that celebrates vulgar comedy, much of it centered in stories about awkward relationships. That social container and her obvious infatuation is why she finds amusement in being treated like—yeah, I’m going to say it—a biotch.
She doesn’t realize how blessed she is to have a mama who cares. She just thinks you’re old-fashioned and don’t get it. There is not much you can do except stand on the sidelines, emotionally prepared for the inevitable breakup. Until then, try being spicy by occasionally asking her with innocent curiosity: “How do you know when he wants you and when he wants the dog?”
Don’t imagine that his behavior is related to his ethnicity. Patriarchy is a common practice, transculturally. If your daughter is open to it, suggest that she take a women’s studies course or, better still, take one with her online. If learning about reality doesn’t open her mind, it might at least open her eyes.