Dear Captain Awkward,
I write this as I lie in bed, too stressed to sleep. You think tonight I’d be feeling good. After more months then I’d like to admit to, I’ve finally got an interview on the books for one of the many jobs I’ve been applying for – one that I really want too.
There is, however, something of a problem that’s stressing me out.
The job is interstate. Which of its own is not a huge deal. I have family there who I like and get on with who will help me out and are enthusiastic at the possibility of me being closer by.
My mother is not one of them. She lives here. Not too close by – a blessing since we don’t get on fantastically – but close enough. And as yet she doesn’t know about the potential move. She won’t react to it well and since she doesn’t believe in keeping feelings held in I don’t plan on telling her bupkis until its a done deal.
I know how she’ll react. She’ll feel abandoned and that I’m choosing those other relatives (who she hates) over her. And considering the dramas I dealt with from her when I visited them earlier this year, news about me moving lock and stock will sound the deaths knolls on an already rocky relationship.
I guess my question is what to do and how to do it. As a long time mummy’s girl who has already weathered the souring of what used to be the single most important relationship in her life, I’m finding the looming end of it a bit hard to handle.
Dear Stressed Out:
It is so awesome that you got an interview for a job you want! That is great news! You are fantastic! I am sure that you will rock it, and I sincerely hope that you get an offer!
Look in the mirror: You look great!
Look at your resume: You are intelligent, experienced, and good at spelling!
Look at the town you’ll be moving to if you get the job: You have family there and it will make your transition so much easier! They will be so excited to have you nearby and you will be able to be closer with them!
That is how someone who is rooting for you will treat this prospect and how they will treat the news that you got the job. Sorry that you can’t count on your mom in the “rooting for you” department.
It would be natural and understandable for your mom to feel pangs and worry about missing you if you move away. My mom is sad that I live far away from her, and frequently expresses a wish that I’d live closer, but the difference is that she doesn’t shit on my dreams in the process. It would be great if a full-time film & video production faculty job opened up in New England (Know of any? SRSLY) and greater still if I got the job, but she doesn’t sabotage me or make me feel crappy and afraid in order to try to get me to stay closer. Because those are her feelings to manage, not mine to build my entire life around. If something great came my way and it brought me closer to my dreams she would say “Go get it” no matter where it was located.
However, you don’t have the job yet, so all of this anxiety is of the free-floating kind. Your imaginary Future Mean Mom (who is realistically based on Current Known Mom) is in your brain being a jerk to you. You can tell her to go away if you want to.
1. Draw a picture of her. Label it “Future Mean Mom.” You can make the picture very unflattering if you want to. No one will see it but you.
2. Look at the picture and say “Shut up, I’m trying to sleep.” Put the picture in a drawer or a box and then put the box on a high shelf or in the garage or basement.
3. Say “Self, if I get the job and have to make a choice about this, those will be good problems.”
4. Make some chamomile tea or other hot soothing beverage of choice.
5. Lay out your clothes for your interview. Shine your shoes, employ your lint brush, etc.
6. Between now and the interview and receiving the offer, talk only to nice people who will root for you. You are smart to present this to your mom as a fait accompli rather than inviting Future Mean Mom to come live with you in the here and now.
That should get you through tonight and the next few days, right?
1. ROCK your interview.
2. Hopefully get awesome job offer.*
3. Negotiate awesome salary, benefits & relocation package.
4. Sign papers and accept job.
5. Keep talking only to nice people who root for you.
7. When you’ve accepted an offer, tell your mom, “Great news, I got a job! I will be a (job title) at (company). I start on (date)!“
Okay, so here’s the real advice:
When talking to your mom about this, do not acknowledge any of the rocky history with relatives or that you expect this will have a bad affect on her or the relationship. Treat her as if she is a normal mom who will do the normal thing and be happy and proud for you. Treat it like something worth celebrating because it is. In fact, you can say “Can I take you to lunch later this week and we can celebrate? I’d love to see you!“
If she’s going to be nasty about it, let her do ALL the work. You are enthusiasm personified and she cannot bring you down.Let her moan and groan and ignore it as much as possible to stay focused on the positive.
And then be ready for her with some short rehearsed responses:
- “Well, I’m really happy and excited about this.”
- “We’ll work out the logistics later. Right now I just want to celebrate and spend some time with you!”
- “Wow.” (It really is all-purpose)
- “Well, this is my day to be happy. Let’s save discussions about that for another time.**”
- “Jeez, Ma, I didn’t get a new job AT you.”
- “I haven’t really thought about that.*** Can I think about that and get back to you?”"
- “I know you don’t like them, but if I have to move away for work, I’d really like to be close to at least some family. Can you try to see it my way?”
- “Well, I’m sorry to hear that you are disappointed. My mind is made up, so I hope you will find a way to be happy for me.”
- She may try to make an issue of when you told her – After the fact, versus when it was happening. That’s a derail whether you were telling her something sad or something happy. It’s making your good news about her and looking for a reason to be angry about it. It’s making when you tell her things a relationship test. You can answer this very simply: “I didn’t tell you until it was certain – I didn’t want to everyone’s hopes up if it wasn’t going to happen.”
After that lunch or weird phone call where you break the news, I think you are going to be really busy with your move, so “I can’t talk right now, can we talk about this later?” will be your friend. Present any details of your move as “Great news!” as in “Great news, I found a place!” If she wants to see it as not great news, let her. You don’t have to do your feelings and her feelings. If it’s great news to you, it’s great news.
8. Move to awesome new place, be happy. Talk to or visit your mom periodically and show her that you care about her and that moving hasn’t made you stop. When she gets sour and mean change the subject or get off the phone or out of the room. Teach her that if she wants a relationship with you, she has to be a basic level of nice.
9. When you get some time, consider seeing a therapist about Mom Stuff. That’s a big scary box of Mom Stuff you have there. Time to unpack some?
A short Difficult People review:
- I think your mom would find a way to be disappointed or sour about whatever happens next in your life. Now it’s worrying you – What if I tell her and then she’s sour and horrible? - but if you treat it as an inevitability it is (perversely) very freeing. If she’ll be upset no matter what you do, then why not do what you want and what you think is best for you?
- Meet good behavior with kindness and encouragement and bad behavior with less contact. You can live with her ill feelings and disappointment, but not with her being mean to you and treating you badly. If she makes every interaction a negative, soulsucking experience where she berates you and tries to pull you into family drama, you’ll simply interact less. If she is nice, she will get your attention.
- If you take on the threat of an emotional outburst or their eventual disappointment as your own and let it dictate how you live your life, you do all their work for them and they win. Let them do that hard work of worrying and being mean and sucky.
Please don’t let your worry about this sabotage a great opportunity for you. Your relationship with your mom might get better with time and distance as you’re allowed to set boundaries and choose more when and how you interact. For now, treat your mom as if you expect her to react normally and let her feelings and reactions be what they are. You can deal with them. Banish Future Mean Mom to the dustbin or the closet and get some sleep, ok?
*If for some reason you do not get awesome job offer, apply cake/liquor/time with hilarious & encouraging friends as needed and then repeat process of applying for awesome jobs.
**Another time can = never.
***You have thought about it, probably, but this is a very useful thing that allows you to stall for time in the hopes that the mean person will forget what they were asking.