Dear Annie: At age 50, thanks to loving support, I’m starting to stand up to my controlling mother. She is sweet to others but says hurtful things to me and complains about everything and everyone — even friends and grandkids.
She never apologizes; any issue is someone else’s fault, or she denies saying anything thoughtless. She voices “opinions” but then gets furious when others disagree. She can’t understand that her actions have consequences, such as loved ones getting angry or withdrawing. She scoffs at mental health professionals and ignores any “bright sides.”
No good deed goes unpunished. When I call or spend time with her, one minute she says she loves and needs me and the next she tearfully compares me to “all (her) friends’ daughters who do so much more for their mothers.” She misses my late father (I do, too!), who passed seven years ago. She lives alone but is involved with church and a neighborhood group. Our mutual doctor said she’s physically healthy and doubts that her behavior is “normal grief” or Alzheimer’s.
My counselor helps a lot, but I’d appreciate your common-sense perspective on how to cope while protecting my own health. She reads your column, so maybe it will help her, too. — Exhausted by the Guilt Trips
Dear Exhausted: Your mom’s constant criticism has nothing to do with anyone but herself. You’re not a bad daughter. It’s just that guilt is her means of control. You’re right to stand up to her and resist the manipulation tactics. Continue to set boundaries and prioritize your mental health — because after all, when you take care of yourself, you’re taking care of your mother’s daughter. Your self-care is a way of appreciating the life she created, even if she’s not capable of acknowledging that.
Dear Annie: My son and his wife and children live in Texas. He informed me that his eldest of four, a 10-year-old who has been difficult to discipline, will be going to New York to stay there for the school year so he can be in his grandmother’s class. Apparently, his wife thinks he needs to go to school instead of being home-schooled. First of all, don’t public schools have rules about teachers teaching their own? Next, if the child has been difficult to discipline, won’t being an only child make his issues worse? Your thoughts would be welcome. — The Other Grandmother
Dear Other Grandmother: Policies on teachers teaching relatives vary by school district. It must be permitted where he’s going, and perhaps your son and his wife feel it will be good for his grandmother to be keeping an eye on him. Whatever the case, as his parents, it’s their decision. You have to respect it. It’s not your problem if he’s difficult to discipline. The good news is that if the school in New York doesn’t turn out to be a good fit, he can always return to Texas for home schooling. So relax and hope for the best.
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