Dear Captain Awkward,
Now that my spouse and I have purchased a house, my mother (who is a difficult person, reminiscent of Alice, but with her own special nuances) is constantly sending us my family’s old junk.
Here’s how the conversation goes: Mom says (for example), “I have all of these lawn ornaments that have been sitting in a box in the basement for 15 years. Do you want them?” I say, “No, we really just want to choose our own stuff.” She says, “Think about it.” The conversation closes. Then, the next time we talk, we have EXACTLY THE SAME conversation. Then, she sends it to me or brings it with her when she comes to visit. And I take it to a thrift store. When she visits, she looks for the previous stuff she has given me, and becomes either sullen and pouty or aggressively angry when she can’t find it. It makes visits extremely stressful.
None of the stuff on offer is anything with which I have a sentimental connection. All of those things—stuffed animals, correspondence with friends, books—my mother got rid of a number of years back (and not by giving them to me). Additionally, during my childhood, my mother took away things I liked away as a form of punishment for (often imagined) bad behavior. This happened over and over again with basically anything I had a connection to, eventually extending to pets that were re-homed and with friends that suddenly became “bad influences” that I wasn’t allowed to see. So I have a weird relationship with stuff in general and with stuff from my childhood in particular.
And now there’s this wave of childhood stuff coming at me. And it sort of feels like an apology? But there’s another part of me that thinks she’s using me, so she doesn’t have to feel guilty for throwing all this stuff away. So she transfers the guilt to me.
She’s a boundary-ignorer and a grudge-holder and a non-apologizer. What do I do?
Drowning in Junk
You are already handling this exactly right with your mom. “No, thank you,” + “No, I don’t want it,” + donating or throwing the stuff away when it inevitably comes. If you wanted, you could try being even more terse in the first conversation (“No, Mom“), even more explicit at the second conversation (“Mom, I’ve already told you ‘no.’ Please don’t bring it to me or send it to me. If you do, I’m just going to toss it),” and even more demonstrative when she shows up with something (“Mom, don’t forget your box – we don’t want it.”) but you are already telling and showing your mom exactly what to expect when she “offers” you her unwanted stuff and then following through.
The next step might be some raised voices. “Mom! I want zero things from your house in my house! I do not know how I can be any clearer about that! What would it take for you to stop insisting on this and then picking a fight about it later? I have had it with this being a point of contention between us! Don’t ask me again – you already know the answer!”
Or you could go on as you have been – tell her no, immediately donate or toss anything she brings, and when she inevitably brings it up, say, “Well, believe me next time when I say I don’t want something and we’ll never have this argument again! Howabout that local sports team? Do you think they can play their sport in this weather that we’re having?”
I think you’ve tried avoiding losing your temper at her this far, and sometimes there is satisfaction in “being the more mature person” or “the bigger person,” but sometimes letting pushy people know exactly how pissed off you are is what gets them to back off. They can’t be convinced with logic or reasons, but sometimes they can be Told, especially when you consider that what your mom is doing is a power play. She is trying to unload her crap on you and then use that process to manufacture conflict and a situation where you either bend to her will (“admit” that you do want it after all, or demonstrate that you will let her bulldoze over you) or where she gets to grind on about how ungrateful you are (for the “favor” she is doing you). It was a gross power play when you were a kid, too, but now she is not an authority figure in your life and you don’t have to both put up with her behavior and protect her from the consequences of it by playing nice when she is not.
By the way, welcome to the Fuck Its.
You grew up and moved out of the house where your mom gave your pets away (and also tried to isolate you from your friends) and you made your own place that you 100% control. Your mom is trying to reassert control and command your attention, and she is gonna keep offering you crap you don’t want, imposing it on you, searching for it when she comes by, and trying to hold you to account for it because she doesn’t really care what you want and never has. That’s how she rolls. So, fuck it. Let her feelings be what they are. Let her hold a weird grudge. Let her be really difficult. Let her avoid you and pout for a while. She has earned a lifetime of the “(shrug) Sorry you feel that way” non-apology.
Surviving this means setting & maintaining your boundaries (which you’re already doing) and finding some way to decompress and take care of yourself around her behavior. Let go of guilt and the urge to please her. Whether that involves planning something relaxing and rewarding after you interact with her, making your house a lovely oasis of only the stuff that you value and cherish, using a journal or counselor to talk through all the old feelings that this is bringing up for you, and/ or taking a therapeutic sledgehammer to whatever she brought you before throwing it in a dumpster next time she drops off a bag of childhood bullshit – you have options. You have already survived the worst she can throw at you, so I know you can survive a few awkward grudges and donated lawn darts. ❤
196 thoughts on “#834: “My mom keeps gifting me with stuff that isn’t just stuff.””
Personally, I think it’s time to end the relationship with mom. She’s rather toxic. But then, I just know that if it was me in this situation, I wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of stress in my life right now. Nor do I think it’s something I’d be willing to deal with later. Even if she is my mother, the relationship with her isn’t worth the bullshit, even if (sometimes especially if) she’s related to me. But again, that’s just how how I would deal with this situation.
Sadly, it just isn’t as easy as ending it It’s really, really easy to say “Well I would do X, I wouldn’t put up with Y”. Unless you’re intimately acquainted with just this kind of situation, until you’re neck deep in just this type of scenario, then you cannot possibly know what you would do or say.
I feel like it’s a bit presumptuous to assume Autumn is not intimately acquainted with this kind of situation. Because I have cut off a parent and it was literally the best thing I ever did. So while I am careful not to tell someone what they should or feel they can do, I absolutely read things and think “nope, not worth it”, from the position of having done it.
Hrovtinir is correct. My husband and I have had to cut out several toxic people in our lives, including his mother. We tried putting up with her narcissistic ways for as long as we could. I even went to therapy to learn how to better cope with her crap (and that’s pretty much all it was: crap). Eventually it got to a point where we had to pick between the health of our marriage and our mental state and giving in to whatever whims she had this week.
We chose each other and our own mental health over her. It wasn’t easy. It still hurts every now and then (especially around the holidays when I know I can’t even send her a card without expecting to get it back, shredded) but I honestly don’t know what else we could have done.
It took a long time (and a lot of expensive therapy) before I could even accept that cutting her out of our lives was OKAY to do. And I still struggle with it from time to time. I know that this is best for us right now, but the people-pleaser in me isn’t satisfied and wishes this was an ideal world where we all found ways to just get along.
In my first comment, I was merely trying to say: if you find you have to let go, it’s okay. You are not alone in that choice. It is not an easy one. You have to take care of yourself first.
As another person who cut a parent off I can see both sides here – as much as I sometimes want to shake people and yell “Your parent is awful, always has been awful and always will be awful! Stop speaking to them!” I recognize that cutting someone off is a huge decision that usually takes a long time to work up to. Cutting off Mom may well be the best thing for the LW, but that doesn’t necessarily make “just cut her off already!” particularly helpful advice if the LW isn’t ready to go there.
All that said, LW, I think it’s really important to know that cutting her off is a valid option. You are not a bad person if you can’t have her in your life (quite frankly I think she’s the bad person. Who gives away their kid’s pet?!!!), you are not a bad person if you don’t enjoy being around her, you are not a bad person if the thought of having another argument about junk you don’t want makes you fantasize about skipping town and living under an assumed name.
Cutting off contact doesn’t have to be permanent, either. The conflict over whether you’re allowed to choose your own stuff sounds exhausting, would it be possible to just take a break from your mom for a while? If she wouldn’t throw the kind of tantrum that would make it more trouble than it’s worth, I’d think about just not answering her calls for a while. Maybe get your spouse to tell her you’re still alive so she doesn’t freak out and try to declare you a missing person?
After a break, you might decide that there are some things about your mother that you miss, or you might decide that you really enjoy having a break and want to keep it up for a while longer. My experience was that not worrying about the next letter that totally denied that anything could possibly be wrong in our family or ever had been wrong or ever could be wrong was so great that my mother still doesn’t have my address or phone number.
You only know how easy or hard it is for YOU, though, not for someone else. It’s up to the LW to decide how hard something is for them, not us.
Seconding this sentiment: My parents are hurricanes of bad choices and generally middle-grade toxic, and downgrading them from “primary emotional investment and source of all validation” to “a few calls a year and a short visit every two or three years” was one of the best choices I’ve made. Being in a position to enforce those boundaries–by settling ~1,400 miles away–certainly made the process easier.
But having been neck-deep in that kind of conversation, sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it’s as easy as not picking up the phone when they call, not being home when they show up unannounced, and running 100% out of fucks to give about what they think or feel. (For long enough to make a reasoned decision about whether this is a permanent cut or a temporary one.)
Their feelings hurt? Well, too bad, they should have been less terrible human beings to the child who had no choice in whether or not to be part of their household.
LW, your stories of your mom getting rid of anything (including pets!!!!) that made you happy as a child breaks my heart. What a cruel thing for a parent to do to their child. I think the Captain is right that your mom now *giving* you stuff you don’t want as an adult is simply a continuation of the same type of power play and attempt to assert control. I think you’re also 100% right to keep doing what you’re doing.
I also think tactically losing your shit at your mom could potentially be effective, however, you are the best judge of whether or not she’ll try to spin something like that as you being “unhinged” and, if that’s the case, whether you’re willing to deal with whatever that fall out might be.
I wonder if, in addition to keepin on keepin on, you could just… not invite your mother to your house. If you know she’s going to sulk and try to punish you when she can’t find the crap she keeps sending you, then maybe you can make an effort to very rarely have her there. Meeting in neutral places for dinner or mini golf or something (with a finite duration!) might be the icing on top of the wonderful healthy boundaries cake you’ve already baked into your life.
I had that thought as well. It sounds like Mom particularly likes to make her power plays by exerting control over the LW’s environment. It seems like meeting on neutral ground shifts some of the burden back on Mom. If she brings a bunch of junk with her, then she’s the one who ends up dragging it back home rather than the LW hauling it off to be donated. I think it works whether Mom is nearby or whether she’s far away and only visits for holidays – maybe next year, if she wants to visit, she needs to stay in a hotel. Since Mom is generally a boundary-ignorer, this could have multiple benefits.
I think this is a great suggestion.
I’m picturing the meeting-place as being one of those warehouse stores, so she carries the too-large box across a parking lot, to meet your I Said No Already. Maybe it’ll rain that day.
But then, one of my teenage fights with my parent ended when I came home to find all my expensive/ heirloom bedroom furniture sitting in front of the house, because she had had her new spouse Remove My Bedroom Walls.
There’s always one joker that has to take it too far…
And then your room had no walls?? Wtf.
There was no more bedroom. With the non-bearing dividing walls out, the living room was merely bigger. Luckily, I was 16, able to quit school, live in a boardinghouse and go to work in a factory job, but all my stuff was gone. Like other posters have said, it affects one’s subsequent relationship with “stuff.” I feel like I enjoy it more, but have also walked away from subsequent homes to start over.
My deal was pretty cut and dried, but the LW’s sit seems far harder to negotiate. Learning from the Army’s feedback; very educational.
Ran out of nesting but my jaw hit the floor. So, SO glad you were at least able to leave.
Seriously?? I’m imagining one of the walls being load bearing and all of the roof joists crashing down on his head as he does it….
Lol. Maybe metaphorically ? No Statute of Limitations in that state on felonies, and Child Abuse and Child Abandonment are felonies…
Word to this. Do y’all remember the blog post by the mom who took her daughter’s toys away as punishment but then saw an episode of Hoarders where the hoarder said “my parents took my toys away, but now I can have as many as I want”? Messing with kids’ personal possessions does not end well.
I haven’t read that, but I’d really like to.
I’m trying to find it, but mostly I keep getting articles about how you should curb your kids’ hoarding tendencies early by throwing away their toys. Sigh.
That… just… there is no logic to this. None. Why…
PSA: Getting rid of something someone likes is the fastest way to make them incredibly dragon-like about having that something. I sit on a throne of blankets and hoodies and stuffed toys cause those were the things I was always nagged about having too many of.
Uuuuuugh. So not how it works. (What I’ve seen work is parents who, if their child asks for a new toy, say they have to get rid of one toy to free up a spot for it, so the kid goes through and picks something unused/unloved to make room for the new thing. But the emphasis is that it’s kid-initiated, the kid understands why it’s happening, and the kid picks what gets thrown out/given away.)
Ah, I think I found it: http://www.blogher.com/parenting-lessons-learned-hoarders
@staranise – I’ve seen that work too, some of my friends had that arrangement when we were kids. They weren’t real fond of it, but we could all see the logic and it seemed fair. There may or may not have been wrangling about whether getting rid of one barbie hair thing qualified as a fair trade though!
I don’t think this is a bad idea but it needs thinking through. I think encouraging kids to donate old toys they’re no longer interested in is a good idea. Not just to ‘curb hoarding’ but mainly to help foster a love of charity and a willingness to let things go that no longer have value to you. But then this must be done with the kid’s permission and input. Just randomly throwing toys away will backfire.
My kids have a one in/one out rule forr stuffies, because they were beginning to take over the downstairs. But although I do enforce it, I *didn’t* impose it on them without their input; instead, I sat them down, outlined the problem (“so many stuffies you don’t have room on your bed to sleep, plus you can’t find the ones you actually love, and that makes you sad,”) and let them participate in discussing and settling on a policy for containing the problem.
I have friends who are trying this approach with their toddler–maybe let go of some of your toys to donate to other kids so that you can share your fun without losing your favorites and also have room for new toys. The child went along with it that evening but then backtracked in the morning and couldn’t bear to part with them after all.
I asked them if they are modeling this process by going through their things too to get rid of stuff so the whole family is rehoming things, not just the kid. Didn’t occur to them. Kid might have been more willing if it was clearly a family thing rather than specifically aimed at kid thing. So good idea, but the parents have to walk the same talk that they expect of the kids.
I am sending so many Jedi hugs to all of the commenters here who are sharing similar stories of the loss of precious things and the malice and cruelty and lack of safety in their childhoods. That is so not okay. I expect my mom would have similar experiences to share, except she doesn’t talk about her childhood. She always gave us lots of respect for our spaces, our things, and our privacy, largely in reaction to none of the above for herself growing up, I think. Hell, I’m in my 40s, and last year she gave me a treasure trove of report cards and artwork from long, long ago, since she’s clearing some tiny percentage of stuff out and thought it might have sentimental value for me.
Yeah I think it works best if the behaviour you want from your kids is modeled by you, the parent. My parents both were a bit cluttered and didn’t do regular purges to curb the clutter. They also didn’t teach me how you can somehow document or remember your too old or worn out stuff like your favourite tshirt for years. I had to completely teach myself as an adult how to let go of things that have sentimental value. The prevalence of phone cameras has really helped. i think teaching kids to put photos of their old things on dropbox or scrapbook with things like concert tickets or a piece of cloth from their favourite old clothing as a way to remember instead of actually keeping all the stuff is a cool idea. I also now “ceremonially” throw things out, like I tell myself “I loved this thing, it is now being thrown out with respect for the time we had together”. Maybe kids can try something like that too.
I can vouch that I was a kid who had a mom who threw out cherished possessions both to be punitive and because she just wanted to, and gave away things to neighbors’ kids that forced me to go retrieve them (awkward) or deal with the loss. She also helps herself to my things without asking first and donates my belongings to charity for a tax break (while she also grossly overestimates their value). Because she’s an asshole like that.
I now have an extremely difficult time parting with things. I’m not a hoarder, but I do have a lot of “collections” and really resist tossing or donating even things I know I will never use frequently. Fortunately I love to give people stuff, so I re-frame paring down as gifting, and that’s a bit easier.
Still working on regrets over tossing out / giving away things in the past, but that’s getting better.
My brother did not have his belongings given away (and some of the things she takes from me she gives to him), and he has had a steady and well-paying job his entire adult life (And all his expenses paid by parents prior to that) and doesn’t understand extreme poverty, so he is not sentimental about stuff.
That hits a nerve. My mom decided D&D was getting between me and her imaginary friend -er- I mean God, and she made me give away all my RPG books, D&D, Champions, Traveller, and several other games. Now I have a 1500 title RPG collection and can’t bear to part with any of it.
I was a little alarmed when I read how much it shook up the LW that her mother took her toys away as punishment, because that’s what we do. But we use it as a non-corporal alternative to time-out and give them back after a few minutes. With my kids’ super-special-one-in-the-world toys, I don’t even require them to share them, ever, and when we do take something away, they’re usually the last ditch after taking away much less important things. I can’t imagine giving them or throwing them away.
As for decluttering, I’ve found my kids have enough toys that I can usually get rid of a few redundant toys at a time and they never notice. Or if they do, it’s been long enough that there’s no particular drama around it.
@AndSometimesTea, if you give them back, more than likely none of this is about you.
However…yeah, for a lot of people it really messes them up when as children their stuff is taken away punitively and then thrown away, donated, or “lost”. I had the same experience as a small child–I was ordered to clean my room with no instructions, when it wasn’t up to par, my mother took all my favourite toys away “for a while, so I’d appreciate my things”, and then lost the box. I searched all the outbuildings on our farm for years afterward hoping they really had been lost–my favourite stuffie, a lamb, was in it–but I think she probably burnt them in a fit of pique and then felt bad about it but it was too late. I was 3 or 4.
Oh my! …..icing on top of the healthy boundaries cake……?lol! Please, may I steal that? It’s priceless!
I actually got teary when I read that about the pets. That is so, so emotionally abusive. You know what a pet is to an unhappy child.
Oh my mother does all of that! Right down to getting rid of the childhood pets and gifting of random lawn stuff.
Like the Captain says, it’s meant to make you perform grateful/compliant behaviors – and you know what? You don’t have to do the performance!
If she genuinely wanted you to be truly grateful and happy, it was *always* within her power to give you something that you would enjoy, and it was always within her power to let you keep stuff you loved. But that’s not what she did, so she kind of gave up the moral high ground from which she can accuse you of being ungrateful.
I’m not sure how useful this is, because the “gift”-er’s motivation is so different, but I have a strategy that has worked pretty well with my grandmother. She is a Depression-era, nothing-must-go-to-waste kind of person who also believes that any remotely useful item that is on sale must be bought, as it will come in handy later. So, every visit with her my whole life has included offers of something that I don’t need or really have room for – but, you know, out of love. She doesn’t exactly guilt me for not accepting things, but she really feels uncomfortable if I don’t leave her house with SOMETHING because she has so much and wants to share it.
So I found a thing she can always give me: empty glass jars (from tomato sauce or whatever). I really do use them to store, transport, and reheat leftovers, and also to consolidate large mostly-empty packages of stuff in my pantry. (Don’t tell her but: sometimes she gives me a jar at a point when I don’t need any more, so I accept it, take it home, and recycle it.) The thing is, now I can refuse all the other stuff, because every time I see her she gets to give me something. Even though it doesn’t seem like much. Even though she’s a little skeptical that I can really be using ALL those jars.
LW, is there any category of thing you can accept from your mom that you do actually want? Or can you let her know when you’re looking for a [specific household item] and see if she has an extra? Please note you would NOT be doing this because your mom deserves the right to select things that go in your house, only because it might make it easier FOR YOU to refuse other things and have her believe you if she knows you’re not just being “proud,” or not thinking ahead about what yo umight need, or whatever. Because when you do have use for something, you accept it/ask for it.
I do the same thing as Bex, but with family members at gift-giving times. It is SO helpful to drive people who want to give you things to things that you actually want. I’ve started being specific with requests. Like “I’m really hoping I get a saucepan for Christmas. For whatever reason ours just completely fell apart last month!” Lo and behold, I get a saucepan (or three).
It can be really helpful to redirect people’s energies into things that you actually do want. The Captain gave excellent advice, as usual, but I’ll echo Bex here and say it might be worth exploring a way to redirect her gifting you stuff you don’t want into her gifting you things that you do want.
Nice idea for dealing with reasonable people. Sadly, it sounds like LW’s mom already gave away anything that LW might have wanted. It also sounds like she isn’t interested in giving LW things that LW wants now.
Yeah, I worry we’re just not talking about the same type of Pushy Giver.
Living in the UK, I’ve discovered a similar solution for when I’m round at folks’ homes. Within 5 minutes, I’m offered a “tea or coffee”. When I decline, they feel like they’ve let me down; “or I have squash? Hot chocolate?” and if I indulge my urge to be small and unobtrusive and say no thank you, I’m fine, not thirsty, they start to panic.
So I try to remember at the first offer of tea or coffee, to say “ooh, I’d love a glass of water” in a positive tone; they can undertake the apparently requisite service and then relax.
Am I right to take it from the wording of your comment that you’re not a native Brit/didn’t grow up here? If so, congratulations on figuring out that weird bit of etiquette – you’re doing exactly the right thing by local rules 😉
(You don’t even have to drink more than a symbolic sip or two – but refusing altogether can imply that you are uncomfortable in your host’s home and want to leave ASAP. Similarly, if they didn’t offer, it could imply that you had outstayed your welcome. Hence the social panic if you break the script!)
I used to haaaate that back before I drank tea and coffee, your solution is so elegant and I wish I’d known it back then!
My partner’s family is Middle Eastern and has a similar social script, except ‘just’ water from a tap means they are bad hosts. So I ask for filtered/ice water now, or seltzer. Something special so they stop listing every beverage in their house.
Yup.. and if you decline they think you are just being polite so they keep offering until you accept … which proves you were just being polite so the next time you decline …. and if you ever visit Ireland expect that to be ramped up 100%
This would be actively harmful to the LW’s situation. There is a big, big difference between Grandma who gives you stuff you don’t want because she is well-meaning, and Toxic Mom who gives you stuff to assert control over your life. Accepting unneeded gifts is great for the first situation and terrible in the second.
Ugh, mothers who get rid of your stuff. It only happened once, but I remember one time when I was a kid, I came home one day, and almost all of my stuff was gone from my room forever, as punishment for not keeping it clean. I’m still pissed about that…
My grandma is like that about stuff. My grandma has tried to pressure me into taking her old jewellery, one being a necklace with small diamonds in the shape of a heart. It’s tacky and I dislike it, and it is not my style AT ALL (I am the lazy middle ground between punk and hipster, also a guy…) and tried to extract a promise that I would ALWAYS wear it under my clothes. Fuck no.
Not that you have to do this, but you could take the heart and have the diamonds reset into something you do like. When my grandmother died, she left behind a large jewelry collection that was stylistically outdated. My relatives reset a number of her pieces into rings, earrings, etc.
The nice thing about jewelry is that it is something you could display in a shadowbox with a picture of her. Diamonds make me a little uncomfortable, with their strong association with the evil that is de Beers, and hearts make me roll my eyes (I cannot unsee the resemblance to prostates/ butts/ dangling nut sacs), but I do find the symbolism of a heart that cannot be scratched or dented rather charming, especially in the context of grandmothers.
That’s a great idea. She wants to leave me with all of her jewellery, and pretty well all of it was bought for her by my late grandfather. Most of it was really expensive, but shit like necklaces with tons of tiny diamonds (so basically worthless, thank you, De Beer), but a lot of it has some genuinely nice stones that aren’t diamonds. If I ever asked someone to marry me, I’d want to do it with something from there, re-set.
Oh how this makes me panic and sets all of my hoarding instincts at high alert. People taking apart beautiful old things and making them into boring new things. Makes me want to take care of all the things before someone feels like destroying them forever.
But, you know, do what you want with your things.
Not really sure that afterthought erases the preceding guilt trip here. Beautiful and boring are in the eye of the beholder, and, like you nodded to at the end, best not to be imposed from the outside on *other people’s* things.
Wow, that’s kind of not a very useful comment.
But, you know, say what you want in your comments! 😉
Or, y’know, you could be a little less judgmental and consider that a reset necklace that’s being worn is being appreciated by its owner much more than a piece that sits in a drawer gathering dust…
Dunno what you thought you were going to accomplish with this comment other than make people feel bad.
I love reset jewellery–unless the piece has some actual value inherent in the setting, like it was made by a designer, or the setting is a really good example of its period, or something like that, I think that resetting good stones from mass-made settings into something new that the owner will actually love is such a great way to recycle jewellery.
It occurs to me, though, that we all have our little things. Every time I see a tutorial on making a secret box from a book and they’re using an actual book people might want to read, I freak out a little.
If it helps, Affi, that necklace description sounded **to me** like “some tacky shit from DeBeers,” and I would have zero art-based compunctions about melting it down and turning it into something new.
That’s the great thing about jewelry; it can be melted and re-formed just as much as you like, because gold is a commodity, and gems functionally are (as long as you’re not bizarrely sentimental about “this rock must have come out of some dirt” sources for them).
I could see an argument for photo-documenting an actually-old (and not mass-produced Jared’s/Kay/DeBeers) piece, on general principle of the world not losing the way that thing *looked*, before getting it redone. But.
An example link of what I imagine this thing looking like:
Compunctions…fading…urge to melt…rising…. 😉
Addendum: I am not actually still pissed about my mom getting rid of my stuff when I was a kid, I have too many other things to think about.
I don’t like the implied value judgement here. are people who do hold resentment for the way their parents treated their children’s property like their property living empty lives in your opinion? This isn’t helpful to LW.
I think this was just intended conversationally, as the continuation of their statement posted moments before this where they said they *were* still pissed about it; it sounds like they corrected / colloquially amended it to say that actually they had moved on after all, and that it’s a clarification about themselves and a story about their own life, not a value judgement on anybody else or anybody else’s life.
(Because you can’t edit your comments after you hit “enter”, you can only post additional comments with clarifying information. Which I just needed to myself UGH oops time for me to log off the internet lol.)
It was exactly that, thank you.
Welcome to the Fuck Its!
My mom used to do precisely the same in a major way, with the added bonus that she was posting the unwanted junk to me… via international mail… often not labelled correctly so I was forced to pay hefty custom fees on it (the local postal service dropped the parcels with a bill, without giving me the option to reject them)… when most of my live I’ve not been in a financial position where I enjoyed being forced to waste my own money, or watching someone else waste theirs.
…and when I told her that, she started sending unwanted gifts of money, too. Because, apparently, the way her mind works means that ignoring two of my very clear nos somehow balances things out.
I have screamed my brains off trying to get her to quit for years and years, and never achieved anything. She’d send crap, I’d get pissed off and yell at her, I’d throw the crap away, she’d get upset that I wasn’t appreciating it, I’d get pissed off, she’d send more crap. I’m talking 20 years of that.
In the end, what worked was me giving up on the whole damn thing at an emotional level. She’s an adult. If she wants to engage in pointless behaviours that will result in consequences that upset her, it’s up to her. But she won’t upset me. Ultimately, she could take her stuff and her money, stick it in a giant pile in the middle of the street and set fire to it – it’s not my business. She can’t make it my business, either; the fact that she’s throwing whatever stuff in my general direction does not make it my responsibility.
So instead of screaming, I spoke her in the most bored tone I could muster. What exactly was she trying to achieve here? All I knew about her behaviour was that it didn’t have anything to do with me. It was in no way linked making me happy, which is odd, because when normal people give gifts they are about making the receiver happy, not angry. So what did I need to do to stop her, as stating my position very clearly obviously didn’t work? Did I need to change my bank account? It would be a bit of a nuisance, but I could easily do it.
No idea why, but somehow that worked, at least in part. She’s totally stopped sending money and larger gifts, and now she “just” sends chocolates and sweets. They still go straight in the bin (which, particularly after 1-2 weeks in the post, is where they belong…), but I’m not allowing her to emotionally disregulate me over this nonsense anymore. If she asked if the gift was “ok” (which she always does), my only answer is that “it doesn’t really matter, because it’s not about me.”
I think turning the emotional dial down is what’s made the game completely pointless in her eyes. The way she was raised, everyone treated everyone appallingly and called it “being a family.” I think she was trying to get me to behave “like proper family”, and actually doing very well because she’d pushed that button so many times she could be guaranteed the required response.
Not saying that yelling at the vast majority of people won’t make them reconsider their options. But for people whose object is specifically to cause emotional disregulation in others, then it can backfire.
“It was in no way linked making me happy, which is odd, because when normal people give gifts they are about making the receiver happy, not angry. So what did I need to do to stop her, as stating my position very clearly obviously didn’t work? Did I need to change my bank account? It would be a bit of a nuisance, but I could easily do it.”
God I argued for so long with my mother about this. I asked her not to give me all of the random junk she finds at thrift stores anymore, and so she switched to giving me things while also passive-aggressively pouting about how she “wasn’t supposed to do this anymore,” and “I don’t like her gifts,” which were desperate attempts to get me to approve of what she was doing anyway. I haven’t felt good about receiving gifts in a long time. It makes me uncomfortable in a way that’s hard to define and feels like boundary crossing. Is anything more than that actually important? How does her need to give me things outweigh my stated preferences on whether I would like to have things?
Sorry friends, having a grumpy afternoon and this is a bit unprocessed. We’ve even managed to work things out fairly well, but reading this brings back all the annoyance and makes me feel spiky.
“I think turning the emotional dial down is what’s made the game completely pointless in her eyes. The way she was raised, everyone treated everyone appallingly and called it “being a family.” I think she was trying to get me to behave “like proper family”, and actually doing very well because she’d pushed that button so many times she could be guaranteed the required response.”
WOW I had not thought about it that way. But it would make sense for my mom too. Doesn’t feel like love if your kid is just happy, they need to be angry with you and fighting with you constantly! How else do you keep them engaged?
Yeah…. I don’t get it. Any of it. I mean, I can see how it works for her, but can’t internalise it. Probably because it would feel really really icky.
Some of the presents I do get (just major holidays now, thankfully, which seems like a reasonable compromise) do get me down if I think of them in terms of “signs my mum doesn’t care for me or in fact know me at all” – because they are so obviously inappropriate it would be funny, if it didn’t involve close family… When I think of them as part of a process she’s going through in her own head, which really has noooothing to do with me as a person, it’s easier. It’s just my mom’s brain hamsters playing tricks. The vast majority of the times now I don’t even open the parcels; I give them straight to a friend who likes that sort of thing and is two sizes bigger than me.
Yeah, depending on which reaction LW’s Mom has historically regarded as a victory condition — my family ran to trying to produce yelling and tears as evidence I was engaging — it may be more comfortable and effective to smile and say ‘if you give it to me it’s mine’ as you carry the box to the curb as soon as she lets go of it.
Do whichever one leaves YOU feeling better, LW. Which will be the one that makes her feel worse, but that is really not your problem, and is also likely to stop the behaviour faster, so you hopefully win all ’round.
My family played the “you’re angry now so nobody has to listen to you anymore and you’re in fact a terrible person” game. The fact that you’re angry because their behaviour is angering to you and you’ve told them very clearly, or that absolutely every neuronormal person exposed to this behaviour would be as angry as you are, is completely disregarded.
I seriously reckon half of them couldn’t even read anger as a stop sign in other people because they were so used to it being in their environment that they thought it was normal. They thought that people losing their shit at them and yelling was just how people always are, not a reaction to their profoundly irritating, disrespectful, inappropriate behaviour. Most of them weren’t precisely overwhelmed with friends, and I don’t think the two issues are unrelated.
Yes yes yes! This all the way. I actually had a workplace like this (run by a domineering asshat) where anger by Asshat was business as usual while anger from anyone else was evidence of their mental illness = unfitness to reproduce. I am really scared now every time I get angry, either of being scapegoated or of turning into the Asshat. But it was partly because I got used to that sort of thing at home that I didn’t run away at the first sign. Signal to parents: Don’t treat your kids in ways that make them normalize violence, verbal or otherwise! It is not cool for their futures!
Hell yeah, drowning! As The Captain says, you’re doing the exact right thing already, and it sounds like you just need a little reassurance that this is the case. I had to go through a similar process with my family around gifts for holidays (which lacked the control component you’re facing, but were still problematic in the face of me explicitly telling people to not get me things and them ignoring my wishes), but they finally adjusted after several years. Your mom may not, since she’s probably using this as a control mechanism as The Captain suggests, but she also might knock it off once she realizes that it isn’t working. Best wishes!
I had that problem in my family as well. Children learn early that nothing given to them is ever really theirs and that the adults will do whatever they want with you and your things. Even as an adult with very little my grandmother would covet what little I had and want to keep it for me so it would get spoiled by being used. Depression people are traumatized and I try to be sympathetic but criminy! As an adult I insist that, once an item is given, it belongs to the recipient and the giver has no control over it. I have never understood how people imagine they can teach children not to take things without asking if the parents are not walking that talk.
LW, I am so sorry she is doing this to you, and I agree that sometimes it really does work to say stop it right now, right out loud.
I meant to write that the things would NOT be spoiled. Sorry for any confusion.
I react so badly to anyone near my stuff because of growing up this way.My mom would also randomly damage things on purpose as a spite on us – dropping bleach on new clothing that I bought for myself (enough to eat holes in the clothes!) so I get really, really possessive and flip out with anything.
I had older parents who grew up during the Depression. My mother is the worst control freak I’ve ever known, so your statement about children learning that nothing is really theirs and the adults will do whatever they want with you and your things really resonates with me. Everything was really “hers”… she would throw away things from my room without consulting me if it got messy. Even my allowance wasn’t really mine. I’ll never forget the fit she threw after I saved up for weeks to buy an outfit for my Barbie doll. “That’s not what your allowance is for!” Seems to me that’s exactly the sort of thing a kid’s allowance is for, but I guess she expected me to save every last cent because it was really HER money. Anything she “gave” me always had strings attached and/or an unsubtle message. Like when I was 20-something and had my own house, one year I got a scale and a vacuum cleaner for Christmas and my (December) birthday. “You’re a fat slob” couldn’t have been any clearer.
My father was an alcoholic who fought with me as if we were BOTH children, so he never had my back. He was the one who would try to ruin anything that made me happy.
To this day I have a hard time letting go of possessions, though not at a hoarder level. And as a kid and into my twenties, I was a compulsive eater (hence that scale). Didn’t realize until many years later that this was probably because what went in my mouth was the only thing I had any control over, and it couldn’t be taken away from me by either of them. Unsurprisingly this became less and less of a problem the longer I was out of my parents’ house.
Isn’t it amazing how coping mechanisms can just disappear on their own, once you aren’t stressed out by living with your parents…?
I’m sorry your parents were like that.
Thank you. Yes, it was definitely a coping mechanism and I was an extremely stressed-out kid. Also something I never figured out until a few decades later. I wouldn’t even have been able to put it into words at the time.
scales and a vacuum cleaner?!?!
My mum does that! She’d turn up with gifts of cleaning products. She also goes around people’s house rubbing a finger on surfaces then meaningfully looking at it, or rearranging things on shelves and surfaces so they line up correctly.
…and then she complains when she doesn’t get invited back. Or that she’s lonely. And you feel like looking into one of her ears to see if you can spot daylight coming through the other side.
I hear you. Mine actually came over and CLEANED MY HOUSE once without consulting me. And put things where SHE decided they belonged, not where I actually kept them. Why she even had a key is a long story.
She just couldn’t seem to comprehend why I wasn’t falling all over myself with gratitude for her doing me this “huge favor”! Even after I explained that I neither asked nor wanted her to do that. Huge boundary violation. There were lots of things I never found again until I remarried a few years later and moved… a 70-80 minute drive away. (YES!!)
My dad’s spent the last two months gutting my kitchen and bathroom, so that for most of February I wasn’t able to bathe, cook, or do dishes in my home. (I live in a house my parents own; they use two of its three levels, and I get the middle one. I was not consulted when the upstairs renovation spread to my level.) When I finally expressed how frustrating it was to have non-functional plumbing for an indefinite period of time, Dad said defensively, “You said you wanted a nicer bathroom!”
OMG my mom is also like that, although not on such a big scale, thanks all possible deities. Giving me cleaning supplies, books about cleaning (or about everything she decides I need help with, of course in addition to long rants and condescending “advice” about how I should handle that thing).
Once she was giving me a speech about how I should be careful about my MIL violating boundaries WHILE SHE WAS DOING MY DISHES UNASKED. When I pointed that out, she was like “but who else would do them?” The dinner was not even over.
My mother in law broke into her neighbours’ house while they were away and cut their lawn. To this day she cannot understand why they weren’t grateful.
My grandparents saw the Great Depression, and they weren’t like this. I don’t want to downplay that it’s a thing for some people, but it’s also not inevitable. It’s certainly not an excuse. An explanation, maybe, but not normal or okay.
(Instead they went for the “you have nothing to cry about” line when my Mom was little. Because from their point of view she had everything she could ever want, so what are these age-appropriate emotions? That kind of treatment has left her with issues about her being allowed to exist, never mind take up space or inconvenience other people or have emotions. Much of which got passed to me. Thanks, Grandma.)
OH. Oh. That “you have nothing to cry about ” line was used on me, and my parents were Depression era kids. I wonder where my issues with taking up space and inconveniencing others or having emotions might possibly come from? Hm.
My parents didn’t take things away from me or hoard, though mom did take her home economics stuff seriously; once she got decent at sewing ALL my clothes were home made. All. I also have issues with wasting food that are probably from my parents, too.
That’s definitely a ‘thing’ – eat every speck of food on your plate even if it’s something you don’t like, otherwise you’re wasting good food that could be feeding starving children in Africa (child of the 70’s here)… I’m still working on small plates, small portions, don’t eat like it’s your last meal for 2 weeks. And throw stuff out if it’s off or actually, like, bad for you…
I had a doctor who actually was from South Africa, and his counter was always “but it’s not going to feed the starving children in Africa, because it’s sitting here on your plate. All it’s going to do now is make you sick. Stop eating, you’re full.” Took a while for me to internalize it, but I’m now much better about prepping a reasonable amount of food but if I over-prep, letting it go and stopping when I’m full.
Alice Miller connects much of the behavior to an extremely toxic child rearing advice book that was popular with the Depression era people’s parents. There is definitely a generational abuse aspect to the behavior.
I’d be interested in knowing a bit more about this–do you have a citation?
Not my comment, but educated guess, this is probably from her book For Your Own Good. http://www.amazon.com/For-Your-Own-Good-Child-Rearing/dp/0374518599
@notemily Thank you!
God I hate, hate!, “You have nothing to cry about” and its terrible cousin, “I’ll give you something to cry about”
My mother also disappeared clothes she felt I shouldn’t have or did fit. Sadly most of those were things that made me fell good about myself. She knew better than to touch the books, the books she tried to make vanish usually reappeared, I think at Dad’s command/behest.
I think she really wanted the scarf to disappear, but making a 20ft multicolored scarf just vanish was too much for her powers. (Yes, a Dr Who scarf)
I can’t even deal with “I’ll give you something to cry about.” My dad used to say that to me whenever I sobbed after having a fight with my parents that ended with him spanking me out of anger, so basically, it was a threat to hit me some more. Of course that just made me cry harder. My dad is a completely different person now that he’s been treated for depression and gone through a few more decades of life, but there’s a part of me that’s still broken from those fights.
Off-topic based on “once an item is given, it belongs to the recipient and the giver has no control over it” and *completely* unrelated to children: Generally speaking I agree with you. But there’s a special brand of asshole that will explicitly ask a peer to gift them X and when they get it will immediately turn around and sell it or trade it for something else, then act as if it is unreasonable to be offended/angered by this and whine forever when no more gifts happen. In the end the thought matters for both gifting and receiving.
Part of what’s going on there, other than the false expectations of “please, I want an x” –> “actually, I wanted a Y but didn’t think you’d give me that,” or ‘I can’t afford to buy so-and-so a gift, so I’m trying to look generous using your money” is that yes, once an item is given it belongs to the recipient, but only once it’s given. My wishful thinking about someone else’s property or bank account is my business, or my problem, but not my obligation.
I don’t really have any advice, I’m just so glad I’m not the only one with a parent who got rid of their pets.
I wonder why that’s so common, given how destructive it is — it basically means training the child to be afraid to ever love anyone.
I got the double-whammy of “We’ll deny you obviously-needed medical care for a couple of years until you become too weak to function, then call that laziness and get rid of your pet as punishment”.
A lot of the places I lived when I was a kid, if I was allowed to have a pet at all, they were used as a bargaining chip and if I acted what they saw as remotely out of line, they’d either threaten or kill the animal in question. The few times I had toys or clothes that were actually MINE, they’d always get stolen or destroyed, either by other kids or by the adults. The only things I could have usually were things that no one else had any interest in, and that I could hide easily – rocks, feathers, bones (I would run around in the woods a lot, to get away from everyone else) and things like that.
And people wonder why I am violently protective of my animals and will immediately react with physical violence if someone so much as looks at one of my pets wrong, and why I tend to collect odd things. I still feel like if I have anything that anyone else wants, they’ll take it, or throw it away – which has unfortunately been proven true, as a lot of my hygiene supplies have been stolen by roommate’s sister, or thrown away by roommate’s mom with the excuse that ‘she didn’t know I was still using it.’ (Because people totally don’t use brand new sticks of deodorant or toothbrushes or shampoo). She also threw away two sticks of deodorant I had that had masculine-type scents I like (Old Spice) and said she’d get me a new one since she threw the new ones away, and she got me a single stick of the cheapest feminine-scented deodorant – a kind she knows I don’t like – to ‘replace’ them.
That, and the constant ‘oh, is that what you’re wearing?’ or ‘you should get your hair cut’, constantly giving me coupons or gift cards to hair salons and shit like that – Yes, I get it, you don’t like how I look. You’re not my mother and even if you were, I’m a grown freaking adult. Leave me alone!!
God I need to move out. Where’s a money tree when you need it.
It sounds kind of like you’ve gotten to a point where randomly chosen roommates would be better than the ones you have right now? If that’s the case then subletting or sharing a place with someone you’ve found on craigslist would be an improvement in your ownership of your space.
I got to a point where a former roommate was threatening self-injury if I moved out, so I had to find a way to move to an entirely different city in a way that couldn’t be interpreted as because of her in order to get some space. It was hard in every way, and I was broke and living mostly on a huge box of expired oatmeal for a while, but it was absolutely beyond any shadow of a doubt worth every miserable moment. I moved into a house with five strangers, one of whom I came to strongly dislike over the months that followed, and it was an upgrade from my old situation. From there I was able to save up the necessary funds and energy to move to a tiny space of my own, and I can shut the door and not have to worry about anyone’s unhappiness that I’m doing so leading to negative consequences for me. I can put things down and not have them disappear. I can save for something and not have to pretend that it’s ok when I find someone sobbing over the broken pieces they’d left it in.
I guess what I’m trying to say is unless these people are paying your rent, there is some way to get out, and the odds are good it won’t be as soul-crushing a situation as one you feel trapped in.
I love the idea of the therapeutic sledgehammer if that’s your thing, LW. One of my close friends has a MIL from hell who kept depositing “gifts” of horrible dish sets at her home when she was first married. It was clearly a swipe at my friend, who is very into the artfully curated, mismatched vintage floral plate aesthetic.
We had such a fun time one night drinking ouzo, blasting Greek music and smashing those plates against a wall.
My mother is one of those people – I would come home from school and beloved, favored toys would just be … gone. She would say that I didn’t play with something enough, so she gave it to X because X would “appreciate” it. I was so ungrateful and just had so much that I didn’t even notice when she did this, which is why she had to reward good children with my toys! Except, I always did notice, because I didn’t have a lot of stuff, and she would gaslight me, claiming that she had done it days prior and would double down on it when I argued back.
I still remember crying and begging her to get my She-ra castle back from the kid she allegedly gave it to, because that girl WANTED one and appreciated it and I asked for markers in the grocery store instead of loving my stuff. I’m so pissed reading this letter and seeing just how many people like my mother keep reproducing even though they should have really just turned their damage inward instead of hurting and fucking up their kids.
I am so sorry. That’s freaking awful. Jedi hugs if you want them.
The gas lighting – my parents did the exact same thing when they gave away my bird “we did that days ago and you didn’t notice”. Bullshit !
Oh LW, my mother did a very similar song and dance when I was a kid. She took away anything I looked like I might like, as a way of punishment too. Down comforters, clothing, toys, keepsakes, family heirloom items, etc. Even when my grandmother gave me a family heirloom dresser, my mother threw a massive wobbler over it for so many years, I gave it to her for safe keeping. My grandmother would never have cared, and it was worth the peace. I have a really weird thing about physical belongings to this day. I keep almost nothing, and am quite spartan.
Funny enough, when my husband and I bought a home, she suddenly decided we had to have all the garbage she couldn’t bear to toss out. Same exact thing. She’d dump some crap on us, then get angry if she didn’t see it later.
My solution? When she brought over a box of crap, after I told her repeatedly I didn’t want it, I’d straight up tell her it was going straight to the dump in the next trip. Suddenly she stopped bringing it over.
I don’t know about your mother, but mine was in it for the power play. It had nothing to do with helping out. The best way I could direct this, was by opting out aggressively. She eventually stopped it. She had all sorts of other power plays to tend to, but it stopped this particular one.
This makes me wonder if taking stuff away as a child and giving stuff to you as an adult are basically two sides of the same behaviour. When you get old enough and move out the parent tries to regain control over your belongings by gifting rather than by taking away, as taking away is no longer an option.
LW: You are doing it just right! My mother threw away things that I “left around” (read: I was a toddler and left it on the floor); thankfully my father picked up things like stuffed animals and hid them from her. When she moved out: Christmas! That sucks SO HARD for you and I give you a giant Jedi hug for those sentimental losses. The pet thing is triple horrible. I also was not allowed to have friends over.
I have a suggestion: hold on to some of the tackier or more egregious items (chipped garden gnome, anyone?) until Gift Giving Holiday and present it like it’s a god damned Faberge egg. “But *I* gave this to *you*!” she will whine. You: “Oh, gosh, did you? I just remember that you had one like it and didn’t any more, so I thought it would be meaningful to you to have your precious things in your life again.”
But then again, I am a vindictive bitch sometimes when it comes to this issue. Still, enjoy regifting her garbage back to her in your mind if not in reality.
@ Eloldie Under Glass and Temperance: DAMN. Hugs for you too.
You’re doing everything right, and the Captain’s advice is spot on re what to do with the random junk.
Given your mother’s behavior when you were a child – gave away pets?!?!?! – I’d have probably already completely severed the relationship, but if you’re not there yet, or you want to not go there, in the meantime and until – if – she learns boundaries, you need to get out from under the stress of her visits.
For what it’s worth, this is my experience in an emotionally similar situation; the behavior was different, but it was the same cycle of “no, don’t do that”-do it anyway-not accept it joyously-sulk and be pissy at failure to joyously accept.
It was infuriating and stressful, being angry they kept doing it and having to deal with their pissiness.
Then one day it suddenly struck me that if my life were a not-very-good TV show, this would be a recurring joke: every couple of episodes designated knuckleheaded recurring character does Ridiculous Behavior and hilarity ensues.
And suddenly, I didn’t care. Dealing with it meant no more than turning off a dumb TV show and I didn’t notice their pissy any more than I would TV character’s.
Your relationship with your mother is much rockier than mine was, so YMMV of course, but maybe you can look at it through a different lenses to filter out some of the emotion? Maybe if you focus on her *actions* the ridiculousness will keep off at least some of the emotional baggage?
“I have all of these lawn ornaments that have been sitting in a box in the basement for 15 years. Do you want them?”
Like who in the history of ever has answered that yes, except for the goofy next door neighbor character who knits legwarmers for lawn flamingos?
Good luck. I feel kind of stupid even offering my experience, because honestly, if my mother had given away my pets, she’d have been dead to me from that day.
Adding because I’m afraid my bad-TV-show suggestion seems naively simplistic.
Bad-TV-show relates only to lessening the impact of the act of junk delivery. Then maybe you can get some traction on managing the emotions from her cruel and ugly treatment, instead of continually fighting the battle of Junk-R-Us.
I don’t think you need to feel bad for your suggestion. Every little bit can help, and if LW or someone in a similar situation can use your experience to help them reframe their own experiences in a different light and get a new perspective on them, it might help them. It’s not a solution to LW’s problem, but it’s a potentially helpful trick for limiting the emotional impact their mother’s behaviour might have on them. ❤
I think this is great advice, and I plan to use it next time I see my mum.
Okay, Cap’s advice is great but be prepared: if you don’t cut off contact and do build your own oasis of stuff you like, be certain that what is most important to you can’t be “accidentally” smashed, stolen, defaced, sold or given. For me this included making sure to change all my locks and refuse ANYONE SHE KNEW a key, not keeping a spare on the property, and making damn sure anyone who did have one knew she was on the blacklisted from my space when I am not there list. You’re doing amazingly well.
It’s okay if you can’t bring yourself to “abandon” her– my brother and I are very close though he still sees the parents and I am blissfully free of them and so able to support him when he needs to decompress about his feelings. I’m always amazed at how he can love the parents still, but it’s a part of him I value. I hope you can find a support system who makes you feel affirmed.
LW, your mom sucks. The Captain has given you great advice, but sadly, I think this kind of manipulation and boundary-stomping will likely continue, over and over again, even if you were to blow a gasket at her. Someone who gives away beloved pets and isolates you from friends and aggressively takes your things is deeply invested in controlling you and making you doubt yourself and your sense of safety. Your mother wants to keep you off-balance and unsure of yourself. That is a terrible thing to come to grips with as an adult, to realize that your parent does not have your best interests at heart, and is actively trying to make you miserable. I am sorry that she has done these things to you. If you are not comfortable cutting your mother out of your life (which I get! But that is an option, nuclear as it is), you will need to defend your boundaries with as much aggression as she is trying to step all over them. That might mean:
1) No more visits to your home. Your mother has shown herself to be a terrible guest. Sulking and yelling at you for not keeping crap you didn’t want, never asked for and in fact, expressedly refused? RUDE. She is a rude houseguest. Don’t have her over anymore. If you still want to see her, meet for lunch at a cafe, or go for an outing away from both your homes, so she doesn’t decide to load up your car with crap while you are in the bathroom.
2) The next time she pulls that “Think about it” bullshit on the phone? Say NO. “No, I don’t need think about it. My answer will be the same, no matter how many times you ask. I don’t want it, I don’t need it, and if you bring it here, I will throw it away or donate it. Please don’t ask again.” And hang up the phone. You are a broken record, every. single. time. Practice saying “no” with your partner, if you need to. You are an independent adult, married and presumably financially independent? Your mother’s level of control over you is now EXTREMELY limited, since you no longer live in her house and have your own space. Which is why she is pulling this toxic shit in the first place.
3) If and when she comes over and starts pouting because you gave away her junk that you didn’t ask for and never wanted, just say, “Why are you surprised? I told you before you brought it over. Neither one of us want that stuff. We donated it. Why are you so pissed off about us donating to charity?” Whether or not you donated or just threw it out, she doesn’t really need to know that. What matters is you making it crystal clear the consequences for her dumping this shit on you. If she starts throwing a tantrum or otherwise being a terrible houseguest? Tell her you have an appointment, another friend is coming over, chores, work, epic gaming session, whatever, and tell her she needs to leave. I know this is a scary thing to do, to kick your mother out of your house, but the reality is that boundary-stompers will only stop their terrible behavior if you set firm, clear and non-negotiable lines. If they cross one of your lines, their access to you is immediately cut off. If this makes you feel sick to your stomach? Well, that’s your mother’s programming. Take a deep breath, square your shoulders, and believe that you can do it. The world will not end if you tell your rude, manipulative mother to leave your home.
I hope you can get some peace in your home with your partner, LW, and remember–you have power here! You didn’t when you were younger, but now you do, and that’s what makes your mother pull this shit. You mention in your letter that by dumping this crap on you, she may be trying to make up for past wrongs, but more than likely, she still wants you to remember how awful and shitty and powerless you felt when you were younger when she gave away everything that was important to you. But you aren’t a kid anymore. Show her that she has no more power. The Awkward Army is behind you!
“The next time she pulls that “Think about it” bullshit on the phone? Say NO. “No, I don’t need think about it.”
This! It sounds to me like your mother is using the “think about it” line as a way to circumvent the initial “no”. Basically, it’s plausible denial for the idea that you might have changed your mind and therefore the “no” doesn’t count. Head it off. Make it clear that the answer is definitely “no” and it’s not going to change.
In reading these letters and the comments, I wonder if I had a bunch of long-lost siblings I didn’t know about. I think Captain’s advice is generally good. And I’ve been there with the treasured stuff and pets. It’s OK, LW, to still feel loss/grief over that. I get all wibbly and sniffly (still) over a pet my mom gave away. Be kind to yourself, yeah?
I completely understandably grieve over a pet my mom gave away.
I just said rather morosely to Best Boyfriend that I hadn’t realized giving away pets was such a common thing. I had a dog in middle school that I took on after my mum got him and didn’t end up liking him (he was no use to her) and she gave him away after a year to people who were going to put him on a chain in their backyard.
I’m eternally grateful my brother found out our mom was planning on giving our childhood dog to the humane society (she was 14 or 15; she would have had a hell of a time getting adopted) and essentially stole her. She didn’t have a lot of years left but at least they weren’t in a kennel.
I shouldn’t be at all surprised that people who treat their kids like shit aren’t any better to the other dependents under their charge, and yet…
Reading this letter and the responses is like reading about my own mother, except that I’m not in contact with her anymore so I don’t have your present problem, LW.
The Captain’s advice is spot-on, especially the part about remembering that this isn’t about you, even when it is about you. People who act like this aren’t actually interacting with you, they’re interacting with a construct of you they have in their heads — this is why they don’t care about your (clearly stated) desires and needs.
My mother gave away a set of toys I loved desperately (I would have taken them with me when I left but I was traveling by plane and there was No Room) and I eventually had to manufacture closure on that in a weird roundabout way in a story I wrote. I dreamed about those toys for years and years — dreamed that I was back in that nightmare house, but that I would get a chance to take them with me when I left.
However you manufacture your own closure is okay, even if it means taking a bunch of her stuff to the dump.
I have that dream, but in mine I would have to go back to that house if I wanted to rescue them out of it.
I also left by plane, but gave everything I cared about away before going because I wanted those things to be loved by some other kid, not compulsively hoarded and moth-ridden or stashed as items for future blackmail. It didn’t feel Right, but it felt Less Wrong.
Sending you hugs. This is a hard thing to deal with! I hate the way that adults sometimes believe that kids have no rights to their own stuff., their own privacy, or their own selves. For me stuff wasn’t as much the issue, but throughout my adolescence my dad and stepmother refused to acknowledge my desire for privacy as manifested in my request that they knock whenever they came into my room if the door was closed. Sometimes they would just open it, sometimes they would knock AS they were opening it, and when I’d yelp they’d say, “What? I knocked.” My dad was a little bit better about it since he a) had more respect for me and b) understood the awkwardness of teenage girl changing so he’d give me half a second more, enough time to squawk, “I’m changing!” But my stepmother never cared. My door had a lock on it that you could turn by putting your fingernail in it; I could open it exactly the same speed whether locked or not, but she always had a hard time with it for some reason. She could still get it open, but it gave me a bit more time. Whenever she had to open it when it was locked, she’d always snarl at me about having to deal with my stupid lock. Um, yeah; if you respected the boundary I set and knocked, I wouldn’t lock the door! (Yes, I did tell her this. Sometimes I even said it politely.)
On a funny (to me) note, when I was little my mom once got frustrated and rounded up a whole bunch of my toys. I can’t remember if she told me she’d given them away or if that’s the idea I got, but I was heartbroken that one of my dolls was gone. (The rest I didn’t care about as much.) I went up and down the neighborhood knocking on doors and asking people if my mom had given them my doll. I kept coming back to ask her, “Could I cross the street?… Could I go to this street?… How about here?” Finally she asked me what I was doing, and when I told her, she felt so awful that she gave me all of my toys back. (Including The Doll) If she hadn’t it would be a horribly painful memory, but since she did, it amuses me now. (And she never tried anything like this again.)
I am happy that you inadvertently shamed her in front of the whole neighborhood for her shitty behavior 😀 Not happy she did it in the first place…
Your bedroom lock story reminds me of my own childhood. My parents would both do this thing where they would simultaneously knock and stride in (not enter cautiously and politely, but STRIDE right into the middle as briskly as possible). I had no privacy. They would do it while I was changing all the time. By the time I heard the knock, they’d already be in the room, looking at me. I had no warning at all. Puberty was awful. I would do things like spend all day mentally figuring out the fastest way to get changed, and what clothes I wore were always chosen for expediency above everything else.
When I was 14, I think, I worked up the courage to ask for a lock. It was as if I’d given them the worst insult known to humanity. My mother actually cried. I ended up spending months apologising and trying to make up for what I had done, which I now realise was a completely reasonable request.
To this day, the sound of someone knocking on a door puts me in flight-or-flight mode. Tachycardia and everything.
I am so sorry this happened to you. this is terrible.
By the time I wanted a lock on my bedroom door I was handy enough to get a latch from the shed and install it myself. I must’ve been 12?. My mother had a fit, threatening to get my father to break down the door, but I refused and got to keep my privacy.
We went through a lot of latches – they kept disappearing.
My father did break down my door
My parents knocked and waited for a “come in”… but that answer was required, telling them to stay out was not allowed. As a result my dad saw some moments he really shouldn’t have seen. It took me years and other people’s help to notice that he fucked up there, not me.
OMG, ME TOO. And one time I DID lock my door, because I just wanted to be left alone, I was asked if “[I] was doing something I was ashamed of in there.” I was TEN, so no, probably not.
Oo, are we talking about doors and locks and the non-existence thereof? My doorknob lock broke and I asked for it to be fixed when I was somewhere between 17 – 19. Wow, did the paternal unit hit the roof. He said I didn’t need one unless I was hiding something and how dare I want to shut people out of my space, blah blah so forth.
Of course my parents’ bedrooms have working door locks, why do you ask? /headdesk
I always lock my door when I’m in my room. Every single time. If I could lock it from the outside, I’d lock it whenever I left, too. I just can’t be in here without having the door locked, no matter what I’m doing
I had a housemate who was upset for a year (A YEAR! I only has a 12 month lease with this person!) about the fact that I had a lock on my door and that I actually locked my door every time I left the apartment. “It’s like you don’t TRUUUUUUUUUUUST me.” Well, no, actually, but you are free to bring whatever friends you want into your space and I don’t know or trust them, because I’ve never met them. Although, by the end, the answer got shortened to “nope, actually, it is that I don’t trust you.” Protip: as an adult, whining repeatedly about someone not trusting you is the fastest way to make them begin distrusting you.
Spoilers: sitch ended in badness and with other people’s valuables locked in my room because they, too, no longer trusted housemate and I was the only one with a lock.
When I was just out of high school and still living at home, my mom had trouble with the concept of “Knock on the bedroom door and wait for the ok to open it”, so I installed a locking door knob that required a key or someone inside the room to unlock it. She learned to knock and wait, after a while I didn’t even need to keep my door locked because she’d stopped the problem behavior. When I bought and moved into my place and she’d come to visit, even if every inch gleamed and all surfaces could be eaten off of, we’re talking really expensive area hospital clean – she’d have to find something to clean, and continue to do so which totally ruined those visits that only happen twice a year. As a kid I was the one friend who had to endure mom inspection after cleaning my room and couldn’t leave until she was satisfied it was clean – even when someone else’s parent was waiting with the car running. But to have her be like that in my adult home, I’d be so frustrated, she’d be upset because in her mind she was just trying to help and all of it went on for years….so I quit having her over to my place and we meet for lunch or at my Aunt’s (that’s where she stays, they’re twins, my aunt has a real queen sized bed with a good mattress for guests, and more or less are on the same schedule – up early, lunch early, walk in the afternoon, dinner, shower, sleep. *lather rinse repeat*) She lives across the country so the process of getting her to quit doing the thing that upsets me has been ongoing for a couple of years now. I’m having everything painted in the next week-ish and then replacing the carpet, so perhaps when she’s back out in August I will invite her over and see how it goes.
My mom is almost compulsive about de-cluttering. Trouble was that after reducing her own things to the bare minimum, she’d begin with my dad’s stuff, and any stored stuff that she’d been keeping for my brother and I with the idea of giving it to our kids (he has 4 now, I have a dog and a s/o)…I get emails and texts with tips and decluttering advice to this day, and she doesn’t even know what stuff I have in my home currently. She describe’s my Aunt (her twin!) as having a hoarder problem in the garage. Aunt organizes church yard sales and is the lady who always has something to give as a hostess/housewarming/thank you gift, and there’s still room for the car in the garage along with full access to the laundry machines without being in danger of getting buried if the basket bumps into something. I think my mom does this to self-sooth when she feels a loss of control or someone has hurt her feelings in a way that she isn’t able to talk with the person about at the time. I know that her childhood wasn’t the best; her mom was bipolar and never treated for it, her dad had gambling issues, and they were very poor – they (she and my aunt) had clothes for school they had to wash every afternoon, and used rags for the first couple of menstrual cycles. Her mom was both obsessed with them being dressed the same, doing the same activities and in the same classes, but would hold out one to compare to the other and ask “Well your sister is doing X, why aren’t you doing X? Don’t you want to succeed as much as your sister?” – and their brother could do no wrong (even when he got arrested), extra money in the house would go to helping him have cleats and so forth to play football, a car, etc…So I can kind of put together where all of these issues I’ve had with my mom are stemming from, but I only realized a few years ago that it’s NOT MY JOB. I can only change the ways I allow her to interact with me, and my job is to set boundaries to protect ME and that make ME feel ok. I won’t feel guilty for doing my job. LW shouldn’t either, their job is to keep those boundaries firm and to honor what they’re feeling and wanting in their life as well as in their home. And that may involve putting those stray boxes out by the curb on trash day, they don’t want the crap, they don’t have to keep the crap. Period.
Gah….Andplusalso…my aunt would probably still be giving me Christmas decor and tree ornaments if I hadn’t told her that if she kept it up I’d need three trees and a much bigger house to decorate. Now I get gift cards to stores I will actually shop at. She’s a pretty decent gift giver in my book. With the upcoming painting project there is now a bag for donating to goodwill, and two that will get the heave-ho into the trash. But it’s my stuff to get rid of or donate.
My mother is actually not a very good housekeeper, her house has always been cluttered and dirty and disorganized. Yet, when she visited me in my first apartment, she’d go around inspecting things and opening closet doors and clucking about how “A single person like you should be able to keep a place neat and tidy”. When I pointed out that her own house wasn’t it was “Well, I have all those people to pick up after”. Strangely, I never actually saw her pick up after anybody, and the house was even worse after all my siblings moved out. So, it was really about her projecting her life onto me and living life vicariously through me. Which is why she’d be annoyed when I got interested in things she had no interest in, like running or painting, and tried to push me into things she wanted to do. I was supposed to be the do-over, the “her” that got to live life the way she really wanted. She simply didn’t see me as a separate person at all.
I hated having mom come in and declare that immaculately clean was not clean enough – and start digging through cupboards to find the cleaning supplies, which are not in the same places she keeps them at her house – the only reason she bothers to ask “so where are the cleaning supplies”…I was still trying to establish clear and firm boundaries or I’d have refused to tell her and stated that if my house wasn’t clean enough to meet her standards then she could always leave…I mean what kind of nonsense is wanting to clean when she’s supposed to be there to visit!? My parents are the only people I know who have white carpet and IT STAYS WHITE. My friends always wondered if my parents levitate or maybe walk on their hands with clean gloves on to keep it so pristine. When they sold their house in California before moving to Omaha, the Realtor marveled over all the things she didn’t have to do to get the house ready for showing that she normally does – stuff didn’t need to be put in the garage or in storage, everything was super clean and uncluttered, the house looked like a model home – furnished but not like anyone lived there. 😛
The summer I was 16 my mum was doing an internship in another state and would come home every two weeks for a weekend. My dad the quasi hoarder would ride me about cleaning for the week before she arrived, and I would clean the house as best I could, and she would get home on Friday night, look around and say “YOU PEOPLE ARE SLOBS” and start cleaning the clean house. After the second time, when mum left dad said “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do a simple thing like clean the house?” and I lost my shit. We had a screaming fight about it, the gist of which was, on my side, mum’s behaviour had nothing to do with the cleanliness or otherwise of the house, she just was manufacturing a reason to feel like we needed her (since we were all so much happier with her gone!), and on his side, that I was making my mother unhappy because I was a giant failure, so I needed to stop being a giant failure.
I was messier when younger. I was an intentionally bad housekeeper too.
My mother kept “threatening” to come over and clean. I kept saying Sure, whenever you’d like.
She eventually showed up and complained that I didn’t have the supplies she wanted, and wasn’t also cleaning.
I pointed out that she’d been threat-promising that she would clean and that I hadn’t signed on to a shared cleaning day.
She gave it an hour or so, and she hasn’t mentioned my housekeeping in 30 years.
I wouldn’t say I’m extraordinarily messy, but my house definitely looks like people live here. Occasionally she tries to talk me into paying someone to clean, but I would rather use the money I save up to do things like paint and replace the flooring/carpet. I’m waiting for the day where she offers to pay for a cleaner to come in for me, maybe it’ll happen maybe it won’t, but I’ll be saying no if it does. 😛
My dad isn’t nearly as awful but he moved in with his girlfriend and I moved in with one of his daughters and anything he didn’t want to go through he just gave to me, even stuff that was definitely his like his prescription medicines and things I have absolutely no use for. He also gave me all my mom’s stuff that he couldn’t bear to go through since her death – we’re talking multiple large plastic containers. Almost a year since moving out and I’m still going through it. It’s hard when parents just give you shit when they’re too lazy to deal with it.
Giving away PETS??? that is just all kinds of wrong. There will be a special place in hell for these people, and it will not be good.
My father didn’t exactly give mine away, he just took them (two rabbits) out to an undeveloped lot and dumped them. Yeah, if there’s a hell, I hope he’s in it. They were probably eaten by coyotes.
*snarl* Dumping pets is several circles of Hell worse even than giving them away.
So sorry for you and your pets.
My husband’s parents cooked and fed him his pet rabbit for dinner when he was 7. He didn’t realize until he went out to the hutch to feed the bunny after dinner. They were confused as to why he puked in the yard. (This was after he told them the entire dinner that the “chicken” tasted wrong).
They still don’t get why that wasn’t ok.
That is some straight-up serial killer shit right there.
My father-in-law’s father (grandfather-in-law?) did the same thing to him as a child. In this case GIL’s wife and kids were away visiting family, and an old friend of his came by for a visit and they decided that the pet rabbit looked like good eatin. He told FIL that the rabbit ran away. FIL had no idea idea about any of this until GIL told the story as a funny anecdote years later. He though it was hilarious, no idea why his son wasn’t equally amused.
Okay, I’m not trying to diagnose the LW’s mother or anything, but if you have a parent (or other relative) who does this kind of thing, and maybe has some other traits which aren’t so great, you really ought to consider reading up a little on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, just to check. Although Narcissist behavior isn’t necessarily gendered, the literature tends to divide up that way, so try both of
(Taking your stuff away is item #2 in the first link!)
Yup. That’s my mother, and I was getting all kinds of “yep, she did that to me… Oh, that too” from the letter.
Only about 7-10% of the population have a personality disorder of which narcissism MAY be one of the traits displayed; the majority of people who are arseholes are just arseholes. We hall have negative personality traits as we all have personalities- some more pronounced/unchecked by others so lets not do a disservice to those who have a true medical condition by “medicalising” something that isn’t medical but social.
Thank you for saying this. It’s exasperating to see people increasingly equating abusiveness with having some sort of personality disorder. The book Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft does a good job of explaining that many abusers (be they men, women, partners, parents, whatever) are abusive simply because they feel entitled to be. No mental disorder required.
It does none of us any favours to imagine that psychologically “normal” people are incapable of great cruelty. Furthermore, this abusive=disordered narrative can be alienating to people who grew up with a mental disorder and were abused by their “normal” parents because of it. (My psychologically “normal” mother believed that my depression, eating disorder, and crippling anxiety were all just reflections of what a inherently unlikable, worthless person I was, and she made sure to let me know!)
Finally, what helped me recognize that I was being abused was reading… check lists of abusive behaviours! If I had described my mother’s behaviours and people had responded with links about narcissism, I might still be in the dark and wondering if all the abuse was just in my head, because my mother is absolutely not a narcissist. She’s just an abusive fuckwit.
tldr: Internets, stop being sloppy with terminology!
my ex used to try both passive aggressive gifting and taking stuff away from my daughter eg just an alarm clock for xmas one year because she was always running late in the mornings, and giving her some of her toys away to her cousins when her room was messy. I got really mad at him when I found out about the toys and made him retrieve every single one of them. It’s a disgusting way to treat a child.
You’re the best.
“None of the stuff on offer is anything with which I have a sentimental connection. All of those things… my mother got rid of a number of years back (and not by giving them to me)”
I’m a little confused about that phrase. Is the mother giving back the exact same things, which she has somehow gotten back from whoever it is she gave them to, or similar things, or did she run out and buy replacements after giving them away? That part isn’t clear.
What is clear is that it is controlling behaviour. My father took away my pet when I was about 14 to reestablish control after I started to get old enough to tell people what he was doing to me. Yeah, no mixed signals there at all.
My mother was a bit like the LW’s in childhood. She’d give us Christmas presents and then immediately say something like “Do you want it? Does it fit? If you don’t want it then give it back to me right now so that I can give it to someone else!” So we had this pressure to immediately decide if we liked a present or not otherwise it would be snatched away from us.
This sort of behaviour is a parent with poor boundaries who refuses to believe that their child is a separate entity with an independent life. “But of course you’ll like these plastic lawn elves! They’re exactly what I like!”
I understood it like this: There have been things LW would have wanted, once, but those LW’s mother gave away for good and LW cannot get them back. Now, there is only crap left, which the mother is “gifting” to LW regularly.
My mother will ask me if I want something (do you want a backpack?). When I say no she’ll buy it anyway and try to give it to me. Then she’ll ask me if I’m going to use it and offer to give it to someone else if I don’t want it. I generally say “I wish you hadn’t bought it, but since you spent the money you insist we don’t have on this instead of the any of the things I do desperately need, I’m keeping it.” This usually makes neither of us happy.
Thanks for all this. Y’all are helping me understand my husband better. He had a couple of instances of losing everything (including one where his uncle was his landlord and sold the house without warning him) and suddenly now his refusal to get rid of random stuffed animals, book, comics etc makes a lot more sense.
Doesn’t make the house any less cluttered, but at least i can understand why now
Thank you for this! I’d like to have a real love relationship soon, and just realized there’s a whole (U.S.) “joke” about throwing away a husband’s beloved old sweater, jeans, whatever, that is paired with matching “eyeroll” language with other spouses- “He refuses to throw anything away! I have to do it while he’s gone on business, poor me!” -that is making me tear up at what now reads to me as abuse.
This is one of those “sexism that hurts men” things that has always bothered me. I have a basic assumption that my husband can take care of himself and that he can choose what to wear. I’m not throwing away his clothes, or buying his underwear. That’s his job. And he would be as justifiably mad at me if I threw away his clothes as I would be with him if he threw away mine.
There was just a buzzfeed video about girlfriends throwing away one item of their boyfriends’ clothing. It was really interesting to see how much it actually hurt one of the boyfriends, as the selected article of clothing was clearly expressive of a part of his personality that his girlfriend wasn’t comfortable with.
Funnily enough just yesterday I helped my son tip out his nice organised clothes from his drawers and stuff it all back in haphazardly. I have showed him my drawers and hope that in time he’ll realise how much easier it is to find things when they’re neat, and I’ll certainly make sure he knows how to put things neatly, but it’s his room and his clothes and if he’s happier with chaotic drawers who am I to force order on him? Poor kid’s only four! 🙂
And my DH has certain items of clothes I hate, but you know what, I’d never throw them away
If you haven’t already told her explicitly that you will be getting rid of whatever she sends, you might try that.
As in “Mom, I don’t want the gnomes. I will throw them out. Don’t give them to me.”
But I can’t think of much else.
I agree with all the other posters that this is a huuuge power play. Your Mum is offloading her sh*t on you, and making it quite clear that the stuff is rubbish that she doesn’t want or value. (Hmm – wonder what that says about her estimation of you?) And in this scenario, you’re supposed to fawn and clap your hands and lavish her with thanks and gratitude – like Baldrick the peasant getting half a mouldy turnip from Blackadder. Or if you dare to suggest in any way that you might not want her junk, then you become OMG the worst most selfish most ungrateful child in the world.
I would respectfully disagree with the good Captain about strategically losing your temper – people like this often actually *want* a shouting match, so they can dine out on it for years afterwards with the tale of how aggressive and unreasonable you are. Instead, I agree with the others on this thread who have suggested that you need to kill this power nonsense by depriving it of oxygen. Reply to her in a bored, neutral tone – “yeah, I said I didn’t want this stuff, so I will dump it – but you do what you want…”. (This is a bit like the “grey rock” technique of detaching from a narcissist by being as boring and unreactive as possible.)
Your Mum is going to keep doing what she’s doing, but if it doesn’t get her a juicy reaction from you, the behaviour will die out.
Yeah, it depends quite a bit on the person involved. Some people will back off when you give them pushback, some secretly want the pushback. LW will almost certainly know which category her mother fits into.
My mother did similar things, always with strings attached. Ugly scratchy sweater? “Oh, why don’t you ever were war that?” Or “well, I gave you *thing*!” when I asserted boundaries, and I always wanted to say, “yes, you did. It was hideous and I didn’t want it. You can have it back, but you can’t guilt trip me over it.”
I eventually cut off all contact with her, and with my sister (who was the perfect one; I never did anything right). It’s nice to not be blamed for ridiculous things, like my sister’s migraines. Not a solution for everyone, but it works for me. Plus she can’t be an ass to my kids.
LW you’re handling your difficult mom incredibly well! You know how people say about gifts, it’s the thought that counts, well in this case as well it’s the thought that counts. The statement not only excuses and an impressive gift given with love, it also negates any kind of gift given with malice. And as with all gifts once they belong to you you’re free to do whatever you want with them including donate them to charity. I agree with the previous posters who recommended meeting her in neutral territory; this would make it less easy for her to pawn off the shore of donating her junk to carry on to you. Keep on kicking ass, you’re doing great!
Hey Awkward Army, I’m hoping for input here. I have a 4 year old and a 6 year old, and I was thinking about sorting toys and getting rid of them when my girls are in school, as several have commented happened to them. Now I am sweating bullets, and wondering if I just dodged one. (My mom and I have a pretty reasonable relationship, she did that with my toys on occasion, but I was generally untroubled after a week or two. She did make a solid effort to legitimately pick toys I didn’t use.) I’ve talked to them about having too many toys, and we spent an anguished 2 hours culling one Walmart bag full of toys from the half a basement sized play room before everyone was exhausted. I’ve tried putting toys in time out that haven’t been put away, after a verbal warning that toys not put away before bed would be put away for at least a week, and frankly, they didn’t care, or seem to notice. I know I over buy toys and Papa LOVES being Santa, and the Goodwill Outlet store nearby sells toys by weight for pennies on the dollar, which is where most of these come from. Any advice on paring down without doing damage would be really appreciated. And I’ve stopped even going to the Outlet, so I’m no longer tempted to get just one more cute fill-in-the-blank. I do wonder if I overbuy because we moved so much, and Mom did do fairly regular toy purges. Anyhoo…. thanks for whatever input can be given. Signed, A Mom doing her best to get healthy-headed
Seconded on wanting advice on this. Sometimes there simply isn’t room for it all. (or time to pick it all up for them)
It’ll be hard because they are young, but I’d suggest making a goodwill afternoon activity– adults gather some things to donate and then explain to the kids that you’ve gotten a lot of joy out of an item and aren’t using it anymore and it will feel good to let another kid have that sort of experience. If you already have an ideas of what are the less-beloved toys, hold a few of them up and give kids the option of choosing which items they’d like to send on an adventure to meet some other child who will love them until it’s the next kid’s turn.
It will be smoother if you hold the item up to them and ask rather than having them touch each thing (which can enhance bonds and lead to items being kept overlong), and if you are willing to let them decide to keep things.
I had many beloved items disappear without warning because I interacted with them alone or wanted to keep for sentimental value but had grown out of handling regularly.
I would make it way more casual than that, and and model it. Go through your own things and get rid of your own extra things (clothes, books).
If you can afford it, try getting some new storage things – ones that are easy to put things in and take them out. It can be overwhelming to try and organize if there’s nowhere for things to go, or if you can’t actually access them when they’re “away”. Having new storage and needing to put things in new places can make you go “yeah, I don’t want this anymore”.
And 2 hours is probably way too long for 4 and 6. Try smaller, and shorter attempts. “Wow, look at all this stuff! I can’t even see (something they really like or room to play). Can we see if we can each find two things we don’t play with anymore that could go to another little kid who doesn’t have as many toys as us?”
And modelling is really important. Like, when was the last time you cleaned out, say, your pantry? Can you set the girls up near you with an activity and chit chat while you clean out old stuff from there? Afterwards, talk positively about how good it feels, how you can see what’s left and actually use it, how you got rid of stuff you weren’t going to use, how if you donate anything, other people will appreciate it.
1. Let them identity ten absolutely beloved toys that are not to be touched.
2. In their absence, go through the rest of the stuff. Don’t take it all, but thin it out: box up the stuff you’re pretty sure is low priority.
3. Put the boxed stuff aside for a month. Let the kids know that if they want a particular toy from the boxes, they can ask for it.
4. After a month, anything they didn’t miss goes to charity.
5. Make the donation a positive thing. Tell them about the good work the charity does so they know they’ve done something cool, and celebrate with a trip to the ice cream parlour/pizza and movie night/other treat.
6. Repeat on a yearly or twice-yearly basis. Be a bit flexible about how many toys they can declare untouchable if need be.
I mean the big one is, don’t link it to punishment, also understand that somethings are sacred to kids in a way they might not be to you. my mum wasn’t sentimental about stuff at all and so no one else was allowed to be either. I’m still miffed about some of the things she threw away
Not a parent myself, but it sounds like you’ve been on the right path; work with your children to identify toys to get rid of, and really try to resist the urge in yourselves to buy more toys outside of Christmas and birthdays (and even then, “quality, not quantity” sounds like it might be a good mantra). Wishing you strength!
I’m no expert, but my first thought is that a four year old is just too young to have a rational conversation with about storage space and how often a toy is used, etc. Six is a bit young, but getting closer. By seven or eight, they’ll be ready. At their current ages, I would box up less used toys, tell the kids they’re in boxes, but that you’ll get them out if they ask. (And make the kids “help” get them out – they won’t actually be too much help, but it lets them know you’re doing work so they don’t ask constantly.) Wait six months to a year, then ask them if you can give their old toys which they don’t use anymore to charity so other kids can enjoy them. You can point out in a general way that you can’t keep buying new toys unless you get rid of some of the old ones. Kids do outgrow toys as they develop, and as they get older I think they’ll voluntarily let stuff go without so much angst.
It’s good that you’re putting the brakes on buying. Think of it this way – it’s a little unfair for the adults to do the fun part of buying stuff (which the kids didn’t even ask for), but then ask kids to do the hard work of letting go.
That said – relax! I don’t think you dodged a bullet – I think your kids would have been fine. Your intentions are kind, and that will come through to your children.
I think not buying any more toys (or only very occasionally) is probably a good first step. As your daughters get older they will probably be less interested in some toys and you can have conversations about maybe keeping say 10 favourite toys and that’s it. I think a 4 year old might be a little too young to understand getting rid of toys because they take up lots of space, personally. The best thing to do, as other people said, is really involve them in the process and maybe they have to get rid of the old toy to get a new one, or when something is really broken or ripped then that might be time to get rid of it, while talking to them through the whole thing. PLEASE DO NOT THROW ANY TOYS OUT WHILE THEY ARE NOT HOME. That is really scary when you are young, you don’t understand why it is happening and it makes you feel very unsafe. I know it’s not the same for all kids but it was for me and lots of other people (see above).
Good job for thinking about this and trying to do what’s right for your kids, that is the literal definition of a good parent 🙂
You are me! Except I only have a four year old. I feel your pain.
We stash stuff in the wardrobe for six months and if he doesn’t ask for it in that time it gets charity shop’ed. I’ve tried to have conversations with him about it but it ends in hysteria at the mere thought 😦 in the meantime I’m trying to model giving my own stuff away in the hope that in a year or two he gets it.
It wouldn’t be so bad but my DH has to buy ALLL THE STUUUFFF for Christmas and birthdays. And Tuesdays. And weekends. We only have a small flat……….!
I think your kids are too small to handle a large-scale project like this. I think starting by sorting the cheap junk or baby stuff out is probably a good start, and then ask your girls to go through the small bins and help you decide what to give.
If you tell them that you’re going to donate to little kids who have less, they might be more excited.
Thank you for all the advice! For what it is worth, the two hours were mostly calm and productive – I realized that it was starting to go long, and the first time someone started crying we called a halt. The comment about getting the joy of giving, but then putting the responsibility of paring down on them really resonated. I know both of us parents toy buy out of guilt – right after my four year old was born, I was hospitalized with Guillian Barre Syndrome, and was sent home after a week with a walker and a liquid diet and most nerve function shot to hell to care for my newborn and 18 month old as best as I could. (Doctor’s advice? Be sure to get lots of rest! hah!) My husband withdrew from the nursing program he was attending to care for us all as best he could, but then they offered him a full scholarship to come back that fall because he is awesome. He took it because we had to have some serious income sometime soonish, and if we were going to finish the whole nursing school thing, our ability to borrow enough money to make it through the other side.
I would love to focus rewards and treats for them less on stuff and candy and more on activities, etc. The problem there is that my health, while vastly improved from discharge, is still wildly variable, as is my spoon count. I don’t want to promise “One week of chores done will result in a trip to do fill-in-the-blank activity (throw bread to ducks, find a new playground to explore, walk the riverwalk, etc) because when the time comes, I might only feel up to sitting in my office trying to stay awake so I can save them if the house burns down while they watch more hours of netflix. Now hubby is working really long hours at night trying to pay down debts, and keep a good job with bennies so we can pay for my stable of specialists, so they never see him, which is hard on all of them.
I do model sorting and giving away things – hubby was a huuuuuuuuuuuge saver of things growing up. It took a house fire (pre kiddos) to free him from the heap of stuff he kept because we might need it/how could a library get rid of books/maybe we’ll have a boychild someday and they too could wear these clothes of mine I’ve kept since I was 7 etc. Now hubby appreciates lack of clutter more the the what ifs of item usefulness. We just bought a house for round two and all our possessions saved from fire, bought because we thought we needed it, etc. scattered around among family and storage structures have come to one location, resulting in way too much adult stuff. Our local Goodwill gives lollypops for donations, so they are regular customers there. I had to explain when we went shopping there once we couldn’t get a lolly today because we hadn’t donated.
House round number two is very nice, once we identified the black mold problem that was making the girls sick for a month and gutted half the house down to the studs mostly on our own because we can’t afford to hire professionals, they haven’t been mysteriously sick for almost a year. (Coincidentally, we have been here almost a year. THANK GOD the lower two levels flooded because the mold in their room was taller than me behind their walls, and it of course all looked fabulous when we bought it. There are still bits of finishing work that need to be done everywhere, but at least we are mold free and all rooms of the house are usable again. And since in the middle of the nursing school apartment super sick days we got bedbugs, we feel like now we can legit cross off fire, flood, pestilence AND plague as a family and I would really love me some boring years, thankyouveramuch.
Just looking back over all of that (if you’re still even reading, sorry about the long sidetrack about why the guilt is everywhere I look) I really see that the last thing they need is me going all ditch the toys! behind their back. I think I will try the suggestion from several of you of boxing toys up, telling them I boxed toys up, and suggesting if they don’t see a toy they miss, that they need only name it and I will get it back out, and discussing with them that if they don’t ask for it by name after one or two months, we will give the boxes to Goodwill and go buy a pizza or something as a reward. And that I need to cut way way back on toy giving. And maybe try the whole, if I am willing to buy that for them, we need to decide in the store what we will give away to keep from getting a huge backlog again.
I have low spoons and I’m an active aunty and I work with traumatized parents and children helping them improve their relationships with each other. The thing about “activities” vs. “stuff” is that the activities don’t have to be big leave-the-house expeditions–frequently, with low-spoon parents, those big expeditions end up being stressful ordeals that leave them snarling at their kids.
What kids need most is face-to-face time where they’re seen and heard by important adults in their lives. It does not have to be grand, and with younger kids often subtlety or forethought is just lost on them–but blowing up a balloon and spending five minutes keeping it from touching the floor can be an absolute winner. As is kids helping clear the table after dinner and colouring for a quarter-hour before TV. My nephews and I sometimes send videos back and forth through their parents’ iPhones that are just waving and saying, “Hi Aunty! We went to the park! Will you come to dinner on Sunday?” A lot of my work is just getting parents who spend all day frustratedly existing alongside their kids to carve out fifteen minutes to put aside other concerns and actually pay attention to them.
I want to add that for us low-spoons parents, the things that are chill and enjoyable can be family time. My husband will sit on the floor with a video game, and our 9 year old and I will curl up around him (where we are all touching) and read books or color or nap. Its remarkably good family time and we all enjoy it. Sometimes we will all play video games together (Lego Indiana Jones for the win!) or just sit and be together while we do our own thing.
I’m too late here for most people to read this, but I have to say I’ve found some low-spoons activities, though they’re age-dependent and YMMV. My 6 year old LOVES reading out loud to me. I can sit in a comfy chair, with her on my lap or next to me, and she’ll read to me and all I have to is listen and praise her. My 8 year old loves playing games on his tablet while I rub his back. My 11 year old loves the 10 minutes or so we spend at bedtime with me reading our current book out loud to her. She’s a voracious reader and she even writes her own short stories, but she still loves when I read more demanding books to her than she reads on her own. All three love these low-key, quiet, undemanding times we spend together. I work long hours and am a single mom, so for us, one-on-one time is only available in limited quantities, so it might be more important to them than for other kids just because it’s restricted? My presence and attention are like catnip for them.
I actually use this kind of time as incentives; the kids earn stickers on a sticker chart for daily activities, and when they have accumulated 10 stickers, they’ve earned themselves 10 extra minutes of my time. They may redeem those 10 minutes at the next bedtime of their choice–so when I’d normally give them that last kiss and leave the room, they may then have 10 minutes to spend with me as they will. Snacking, reading, back rubbing, me watching them play dumb games on their tablet while they tell me every last excruciating detail about their beloved game, Super Mario Bros on the Wii… whatever. It’s generally very low-energy for me, and I enjoy the chance for one-on-one time with them, and it means a lot to them. 10 minutes once a week isn’t enough to impact their sleep schedules. It’s a huge win-win for us.
You’ve had a rough time! I’m sure these things have been challenging for your kids, but one thing I notice is that NONE of it involves negligence or indifference, let alone cruelty, on your part. Your devotion to your kids is going to come through to them.
I had a healthy mom, and we didn’t exactly stroll down to the park to feed the ducks every weekend. Mostly I entertained myself, or played with other kids. What made me close to my mom is I knew she would always be there if I needed her.
Staranise’s comment about “face time” is right on, I’d hug it if I could. Also, when it comes to routine chores and stuff, remember that your approval is a reward, as is their own pride at being helpful.
My husband and I were fairly poor when our children were young. I mean , we can’t afford the gas to drive to Goodwill with two dollars to buy a used toy kind of poor. The kids didn’t have a huge number of toys when they were little. They had a lot of books and a box of “make things” stuff which they loved. At 2 and 5 years old, I could put them at the kitchen table with their “make things” box and they would color and glue pieces of paper or fabric scraps together and occupy themselves while I cooked dinner. At 4 and 7 they were old enough to have their own crochet hook and a ball of yarn and learned to do a crochet chain stitch. I still have the red yarn “garland” that they made that we used on the Christmas tree for a number of years. They also “helped” me cook, clean, fold clothes, etc while they were very young which of course made everything take twice as long but it kept them occupied and taught them how to do all those things at the same time.
As they got a little older, we had a little more money but still had to wait for a sale or go to Goodwill. A cousin and I would hit Walmart’s after Christmas 90% off sales and rack up on games and Lego sets and stuff and that was birthday and Christmas presents for the coming year. We would do a round up of things to go to Goodwill that we didn’t use, wear, need any longer but, as someone else mentioned, it was mama and daddy’s stuff as well as the kids so we did led by example in retrospect. Oddly enough, the kids would bring things to put in the box and it was me going “Are you sure you want to get rid of that?”. But they loved the notion that they were helping out some other child who didn’t have as much as they did. And just typing that makes me want to cry because they never had a lot.
My kids are 30 and 33 now. They grew up to be people who value other people and experiences more than things. They have little trouble letting go of stuff and are both quite creative. Being poor while they were young had more benefits than drawbacks. Children value having a parent’s time and attention more than toys and stuff. They will remember that forever but the mountain of toys they got when they were four……not so much. Give them the same respect you would give an adult in regards to their possessions and it will be fine. Give them your love and attention and time and it will be fine. Give them a ” make things” box and let them create! It will be a treat for you and them!
I had a not so great childhood so when I had kids of my own, I felt like a traveler with no roadmap. I was what I call a “thinking” parent because I had to truly stop and think and study about all aspects of rearing my children. No going on automatic pilot, lol! Sounds like you’re a “thinking” parent too. You’re going to do fine!
I’m so deeply weirded out by all these people talking about how they could, frequently, have their kids pick several toys to get rid of. Maybe because I grew up so poor, but if my parents had had me pick 3 toys to get rid of every few days I’d have been out of toys in a week.
I try really hard to keep the toys in our house limited to the ones they play with. That being said, I have issues with just taking toys from my kids or forcing them to pick something to give away. What I do is keep a box in their closet and I remind them frequently that it’s there. The box is for toys that are not played with anymore. When my kids clean their room, I just remind them “Bring me any clothes that are too small or if you don’t wear it, and don’t forget you can put toys you don’t want anymore into the box”. I try really hard to leave it casual and so far it’s worked. This year my 10 year old daughter picked through her Barbie / Monster High / Ever After dolls and chose some that she liked to play with to give to her young cousin for Christmas…complete with clothing and accessories. My sister was thrilled because she didn’t want to dole out the money for dolls she wasn’t sure my niece would be in to and I loved having less stuff in my house. 🙂 But as a rule, I never force my kids to get rid of stuff. Yes, it means that I have way more stuffed animals in my house than I am comfortable with (all those staring eyes!) but my kids play with them and love them so much. They’ll get rid of them when the time is right. 🙂
This is what I learned from Flylady: Keep it short, do it often, and set a number limit. So, like, I’ll tell my kids, “I’ve put 15 minutes on the timer. I want each of you to pick (I’d start with a really low number, like 3) toys to send to the thrift store, We can each veto. 1-2-3 GO!” in a cheery tone. Then, after, “WOW, great job decluttering, you guys! You’re going to have so much more room to play with the things that you do love, and other kids will be thrilled to love these toys, too!”
Do it often. Make it routine. The goal at the end isn’t a clean playroom (this week or even next three months, I’d imagine). The goal is to normalize cleaning and decluttering, and taking “punishment” altogether out of it!
Do your kids like animals? If they have old toys that are pet-safe (appropriately-sized balls, soft rubberized toys, plushies with no attached plastic eyes, etc.), maybe bag them up and donate them to an animal shelter? You could turn it into a fun outing, where you take toys to the shelter and spend some time cuddling (socializing! bonus!) the sweet kitties/puppies there. You could also model this behavior by clearing old sheets/towels out of your linen closet and taking those with you. You might have to deal with less jealousy/possessiveness if they’re sharing toys with pets rather than other kids. This could also start a great conversation about homeless pets and adoption and could give them good, positive experiences with pets you might not have at home.
OP, I’m just going to leave this here:
Oh, I have been there. Not quite as bad as your mom, but I get it from both my mom and from my MIL.
My favorite was the time my MIL handed us a box of her uncle’s old meerschaum pipes. (We don’t smoke or anything. Just… she wanted us to have it?) Inside the box was an OPENED envelope of pipe tobacco. It was from Caldor’s, a chain that went out of business decades earlier. The price tag said $1.39. When I tried to throw it out, she insisted it was “Good pipe tobacco! You should keep that!”
I blinked at her, explained that tobacco can get stale, especially in an opened paper envelope in her wet basement for twenty years. I threw it out. She *took it out of the garbage* and handed it back to me.
After several iterations of this, I finally opened the envelope and sprinkled it over her compost heap and threw the envelope out. She was very pissed at me.
Since then, I have had to get rid of a wild assortment of things: random two-foot length of pine lumber that she insisted was an important family heirloom because she’d used it as a newlywed to prop up a tippy coffeetable, a bottle of expired Oxy that she wanted my husband to take, her father’s lifetime of Highlander magazines, and every damned freebie sticker that charities send her.
As for my mother, I will say only this: The year she turned four, my daughter had SEVENTEEN winter coats. Including a floor-length faux mink with a line of teddy bear shapes shaved into it. And, because they were all built for fashion instead of New England winters, I still had to buy one for her.
A small but important moment in my life was the moment that I realized that whenever my mother would come into my house, she would walk around, touching things and lifting up every knickknack. The only ones she ever complimented were the ones she’d given me. Inevitably, they were ones I hated. I remember thinking “why do I have something I hate?” and going around with with a box and picking up all the hideous stupid little things she’d bought for me and putting them on the sidewalk with a “Free!” sign. I felt a thousand pounds lighter and my house made me much happier. I also stopped inviting her to my house.
LW, I wish you the same joy in having a space that is yours to control.
LW, I’m sorry that your mom took all that stuff from you as a kid- and now giving you stuff is just another way to use stuff to control you.
I don’t have the same kind of childhood toys being taken away experiences as others here, as I don’t remember being big on toys or playing. (I was extremely gifted/precocious, such that I broke the reading level tests BY MAXING THEM OUT at age 8/9). But reading was really important to me. My mom valued reading since she was a teacher, so she never directly TOOK my books as punishment or because “you have too many.” However, when I was a preteen/young teenager, my slightly younger brother would take books, either because I shared them and he wouldn’t return them, or flat-out going to my room and taking them. Then, when I said, “[brother] took my books!” he would loudly claim that they were his all along and I had taken them. He would even mark up several pages with his name, scratching out mine if I ever put it in there. And my mom believed him about 99% of the time. Even if I had bought the books with my own money.
He even took ALL of the family copies of the Harry Potter series (my parents would only buy one new copy on first publication because books are reusable and the original hardcovers were expensive), for himself. And mom knew they were common copies and STILL let him keep them. I only had my own copies of 6 and 7 because I begged Dad to buy me 6 because Dad and I were away from brother and Mom the weekend it came out, and because I bought 7 at a midnight release with my own money. Other than those books though, after a year or two I only had what books he didn’t want, what I could steal BACK, and what books I carefully hid.
Why yes, I have a thing about people taking my stuff now, why do you ask? Also, in middle and high school I basically got all electronic use (computer, gameboy, iPod), all forbidden if there was even one B+ on my report card. And anything else I enjoyed could get taken away for “talking back” or refusing to go to the gym. So, I would take anything small that I valued and hide it, then claim, “I lost X, so how can you take it away?” I still couldn’t have Forbidden Thing in front of anyone else, but at least then I could play it in my room (until someone came up the stairs and saw into my room because I Was Not Allowed To Close The Door).
It was similar with food. When I hit puberty, I got to be overweight (not obese, and still healthy). So, I would rarely get seconds and get comments if I snacked. I then put most of my limited disposable income towards food for myself- I was hungry, but not starved, so it was part about hunger and part about control, I think. And I hid it everywhere around my room and ate it as fast as I could when I was alone.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that being weird about stuff and food can really mess kids up. And be careful resolving property disputes between kids!
I’m sorry that your brother was a jerk.
I remember when I was 10, that for a few months of my life when my books started disappearing. I mean, just….poof! Gone. It was really odd because I was the only person who read in my family, so where were they going? I figured that I misplaced them, and that I would find them eventually.
At a later date, I was at a friend’s house (her mother babysat us after school, because my parents were either at work or deployed), and when I went into her room, I noticed that she had my missing books! “Hey S, these are my books! Where did you find them, they’ve been missing for months!”
She immediately got angry and replied, “No, those are mine!” I picked one up, and looked inside the cover. “No, these are definitely mine. My grandma sent me these for my birthday. See, there’s the birthday note in them. And this one was a gift from my dad! ” She only got more belligerent, tried to say that I gave them to her, but I would have remembered that. Finally, she threatened to tell her mom that I stole them from her if I said anything. The tension was broken when her mom called her, and when she left, I quickly stashed my books in my bag. She never said anything to her mom, because-what could she have said? If her parents knew she was stealing, she would have gotten in big trouble, so I never told anyone, but I also stopped hanging out with her afterward.
I can relate to you about food, though. We were not particularly well off when I was a teenager, so I learned to squirrel away candy and snacks in a tin in my room, in case of food emergencies. And while food was never exactly off limits to us (on paper), if I got seconds or ate any sort of snack, my stepdad (or grandpa-it depended on who I was living with at the time) would always have to say SOMETHING.
They were all variations on “Do you really need that?”, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”, or “Leave some for us.” Mind you, neither of them are exactly tiny dancers. If my stepdad didn’t say anything, it was because he would cut ahead of us, get as much as he wanted, and then leave us with whatever happened to be left….and in a big family, there wasn’t enough for everyone to have more. One of the greatest things about having a job when I lived with them was getting a mini-fridge, and being able to enjoy my tea or lunchmeat or whatever else I bought without having to worry about someone else eating it all.
I do not want my future children to have to deal with sort of crap. It took me years to stand up for myself, and when I did, it was glorious. But the aftermath is that I am food aggressive, and do not like sharing. I am trying to break myself of this, but even now, my first reaction to someone asking for some (or worse, when they just reach onto my plate!!!) is to bare my teeth. I try to avoid this by preemptively sharing, but sometimes, I don’t want to share. I just want to eat in peace, and not be bothered by other people and their need to try my food. Ugh.
Drowning, you sound a lot like my mom before her mother, my grandmother, died. The giving of stuff never went away; I received secondhand clothes from MY GRANDMOTHER throughout my teens. In fact, it escalated; as my grandmother downsized, my mom –who lived on the other side of the country– started receiving furniture. And, yes, my mom still remembers every damn thing my grandmother got rid of during her childhood (up to and including the hand-knit mittens and the favorite sneakers). Here is my one additional piece of advice as someone who’s seen the endgame of this: if you do continue accepting items, make sure you continue to always donate them or throw them away.
When your mother dies, you may find yourself no longer able to easily part with these things, even though you do not want them, because they will cause you too much guilt and pain to get rid of. My mom has any number of awful furniture pieces that my grandmother gave her in her later years, and my mom now cannot bear to part with them. I suspect that they’re here to stay until my parents get a significantly smaller place. Don’t let any amount of sulking on your mother’s part convince you to keep her stuff, even if it isn’t technically junk.
WOW! This could have been written by my husband. His mother used to get rid of all of his toys when he was a kid. Just his, never his younger brother’s. A lot of times they were toys that were actively being used and were current favorites. He remembers distinctly a Transformers set that required several of the toys in order to create a big robot. He had gotten them all for Christmas from his grandmother and several aunts and loved them so much. During winter vacation (February, here in New England) he had gone to a friend’s house one day and while he was gone his mother gave his transformers to a child who had come over to visit. He still gets worked up thinking about it. He was 9 at the time.
Now, his mom tries to give us all her crap. She cries these fake crocodile tears whenever he tries to refuse it, but he’s been pretty good about standing up to it. I think it’s because he cried real tears over those toys all those years ago and she didn’t care. And…he’s firm about the stuff he does take. She once accidentally offered him a BOSE stereo/alarm clock radio that she thought was junk because it had been covered with dust from a recent renovation project. My hubby took it, and then about two months later she angrily demanded it back. He refused. Ten years later, it’s still sitting in our home and she STILL tries to get him to give it back.
I still remember my mom giving away my favorite stuffed animal, a duck, to one of my friends.
This book has a lot of great stuff to say about how people form weird emotional attachments to stuff and to the “gifting” of stuff (not so much the why, but there are some interesting examples there from the author’s own life and that of her clients) and some WONDERFUL things to say about changing one’s own perspective on stuff.
The section on “don’t give your unwanted to stuff to you relatives!” made me think of the LW’s situation. Her mother doesn’t necessarily sound like she’s just unsure of how to deal with her own emotional attachment to the stuff, and thus foisting that responsibility on her daughter (as the Captain points out, there’s some element of trying to control her kid here too!), but maybe a gift of this book from the daughter would allow her to start unpacking that (pun intended) for herself.
I’ve pointed my own mother toward this book – she is much less nefarious with the unwanted gifting, but when her own (Depression-raised) mother passed on a few years ago I suddenly found myself receiving loads of perfectly nice but really not my style stuff that she bought “because it was a great deal on Michael Kors at TJMaxx!!”. Wasn’t her style, wasn’t mine, but in her grief she started performing the same kind of “great deal!” squirreling away of gifts with no immediate intended recipient that my grandmother did. It was weird. Seems like it’s on the wane now. In any case, it was clear that it wasn’t about me, so I said thanks and passed on the things to people who wanted them or garage saled/goodwilled them. Then I told her about my “year of uncluttering” project and got her a copy of the book. Suddenly I’m getting a lot less stuff that I haven’t explicitly expressed an interest in. Now if only I could get my sister on the same boat (I’m looking at you, sis who demands a link to my amazon wish list every holiday and then proceeds to buy me “sentient” crystals for health my throat chakras – definitely not on the list!!).
Just as an FYI, if you grow up in an atmosphere where anything you love can be taken away in an instant, that book can be a bit triggery.
Thank you for adding this perspective! My own experience did not include that sort of abuse, and so it was not something I picked up on, so thanks for flagging that for others.
The author literally admits that as a child, she’d sneak into her siblings’ rooms and throw away their stuff when they weren’t around.
I just wanted to send a giant thank you to everyone who comments. Thank you so much for talking about your experiences. It has helped me to read them and know that I am not alone. LW, I’m so sorry you are going through this.
I was raised by hoarders, who were also abusive. I’ve been no contact for years and have no intention of ever changing that. It’s taken me 25 years to recover from what they did, and I’m still working on it. I have issues with space and clutter and control of space, and I react with anger when people make messes in my space or make messes and expect that I will clean them up. And when folks make a mess in my space and walk away, to me the expectation is that they want me to clean it up, because the other interpretation is that they want to live in filth and have me do the same. And wow, no.
I keep working on this. It’s really hard, primal stuff. I may or may not ever be able to live with a partner, due to the abuse that I lived with as a child. That makes me sad and angry.
I suspect some of it was due to immigrant stuff and family members having come over after spending time in a refugee camp. Yes, they did literally lose almost everything. But that still isn’t a reason to be abusive to others. And other people manage to work through this enough to treat their children like people. Mine never did.
The stuff described reads as boundary crossing like whoa to me, and brings to mind some of the horror I lived growing up. My sister moved out young to get away from the abuse, but because reasons, my father still had a key to her car and would stop by her house to drop off junk in her car, because he thought “she might need it.” Years later, I realize that wow, no, there’s multiple layers of Messed Up in that interaction, and most of them are on my father’s end.
I made the mistake of letting them have my mailing address during my last move, and oh dear god, they sent me: the ragged, falling apart security blanket I carried as a child (WHY did you keep that for 35 years? WHY did you think I would want this? What is this garbage?) and the worst thing ever, the Grief Bomb.
The Grief Bomb was a packet sent to me 2 years after my beloved grandmother had died, which contained: a tape measure, an old screwdriver from my grandfather’s workbench, a pair of scissors, and a broken piece of dressmaker’s chalk. WHAT THE HELL? It’s a few pieces of random junk that brought back all the pain and loss of her death, sent to me so that I can: live with this junk that makes me cry when I see it IN MY SPACE, or deal with going through the grief and pain again to throw it in the garbage so I’m not seeing it ever again, but having to throw it away, which is it’s own torture.
After this, I think all packages are going to be returned unopened.
I’m so sorry they’re like this, and I wish you all the best. Is moving away a possibility? Moving a few thousand miles away has helped me some.
My parents once concluded that, because my house has a garage, then not only did I have room to store all their old things, but old things from their friends as well. There was also a remarkable occasion where they accepted a sofa bed on my behalf. It would have been my third. They presented to me by saying “Would you like a new sofa bed? So-and-so has one that they don’t need.” When I replied “No thank you,” my mother replied “But I already told so-and-so that you would take it.”
I stood my ground for several days before my dad came up with this hilarious-in-retrospect story about how, in the event he and my mother were to start having marital troubles, he would need someplace to stay, and this couch sure is a comfortable one. I reminded him that I have two, plus a bed in my guest room. He protested that none of them are as comfortable as this particular sofa bed. I understood that they couldn’t easily face the embarrassment of telling so-and-so that I didn’t want or need the bed that they had promised to take from so-and-so and they would have to find a different home for it, and caved. I told Dad to leave the sofa bed in my garage, where it resided for about two weeks before I had it hauled to the dump.
Chiming in to agree with the Captain’s advice. LW, my husband and I recently bought a new house, too, and my mother cannot help herself. She keeps asking to give us things. We said yes to the numerous boxes that now take up all the extra space on one side of the garage (because they’re full of things I want, and that I need to take time to go through, and it was easier for her to give them to me all at once). We’ve said no to a lot of other things, including lawn furniture, and while we got some major pushback on some lawn chairs, my mother has respected our stance and has had the sense not to haul things we do not want over to our house. Getting some pushback from parents who are learning to accept that you want to do things your way is normal. But bringing you stuff you’ve said repeatedly that you don’t want? Not cool. Not respectful.
If you continue the route of “throw away the stuff mom brings that I don’t want” and your mom gets upset about the things she gives you, remind her you asked her not to bring it, that you didn’t want it for a gift, but once she left it with you, it became yours to dispose of in whatever way you saw fit, including donating or trashing it.
I think there is a lot of truth in what other posters are saying about how what we are denied/have no say in as a child, we cling to in adulthood. I was never, ever allowed to choose the color paint in my room (we moved a lot so this happened yearly, and my mom always picked the paint colors, including shades of yellow (bleh) and a godawful red cabbage color in one room; my brother always got nice shades of green). I wasn’t allowed to decorate my rooms, either (no holes or tape on the walls!). Everything had to stay as pristine as possible to keep resale value and cater to my then-stepfather’s OCD; it was like living in a model home (Arrested Development has an extra edge of funny for my brother and I). I remember being super jealous of my best friend’s house because it looked like his family actually lived in it. Everywhere I’ve lived since I moved out, I’ve gleefully painted my favorite colors because I was never able to before. And I love a certain amount of clutter. And oh god, I never ever want to move again.
Oh, this thread.
The whole pets thing triggered a kind of flashback for me — because there was an awful time where my mother told me I had to get rid of the dog I’d rescued as a puppy, and I had like 2-3 hours to “train” him (nothing was specified) or he’d go to the pound.
So I basically sat there with him like a kid version of Sophie’s Choice and then he went to the pound.
It was only a kind of flashback because I’d always been aware that this happened. I just hadn’t dealt with the emotions. And yes, I have a therapist, and yes, zie will hear about it later 🙂
So (big sigh) I appreciate all of you for sharing. It created a catharsis for me that I’m sure will be ongoing for a while, but I’ll come out the other side, better.
I still rescue. And I keep them.
My IL’s gave us a cheap plywood-type table with a leg that had been jaggedly broken a third of the way down (“You could tie the leg part on with string!”); a couch that had resided in a relative’s garage for 20 years (so much dust), a lamp that had part of its base broken off, another with the cord almost completely worn through…and we just HAD to take this crap, because to not take any of it was a terrible insult for some reason. We never had it in the house, though. My explanation was always that I had accidentally backed into whatever it was when removing it from the car, and oh, dear, now it’s really too broken. They seemed suspicious, but unable to actually voice their doubts….
Reading everyone’s experiences of their parents taking away their toys, I thought of a few times my mom had gotten rid of something without my knowledge (mostly clothes I loved but that she thought were too old/shabby), but then I remembered: She never actually threw away many of my old toys! I know this because now that my niece is old enough to play with them, my mom has suddenly produced boxes and boxes of my (and my sister’s) old toys from the attic and/or basement. I never knew she kept all of that stuff after I outgrew it. It’s so strange to see my niece playing with toys I had forgotten I ever owned!
Comments are closed.