Hi Captain Awkward,
Congratulations! It’s a girl! And a free pass for everyone to tell you what you’re doing wrong!
Thank you so much for your wonderful column.
My parents are very loving and I have a generally good relationship with them. I see them once a week or so, and I generally enjoy spending time with them. My mother and I have opposite ways of communicating, though: she simply can’t take criticism (I know that no one enjoys criticism), and will break down when any is given to her. She is passive aggressive, and in the past when I’ve talked to her about this kind of behaviour she defends it because she thinks that “being passive aggressive is kind because you don’t have to come right out and tell someone what they’re doing that’s bothering you”. She is also a fan of the silent treatment, although less frequently now because I no longer respond to it.
I have the opposite approach: I tell people how I’m feeling immediately, but I am known for being a bit blunt sometimes. These two approaches don’t really work well together.
She also deals with tremendous self-doubt and anxiety. I’ve encouraged her to go see a therapist, and she went for one session and then stopped because she found it too painful to talk about some of the issues that weigh on her.
While I’ve generally been able to reject her manipulative behaviour, it has taken me years to recognize how her anxiety has affected me. I find it very contagious, and have worked hard not to take it on, especially in her company. It was a behaviour I learned from her when I was growing up that I’ve had to dismantle as an adult.
My sister has just had a baby, and my mother’s anxiety has reached a new level. She is constantly worried that something is wrong with the baby because she’s too loud/quiet or moving too little/too much, and she yelps when the baby gets passed around because she’s terrified that her neck won’t be supported properly, etc. It’s a constant barrage of worries. It’s hard to be around, and it’s not useful for my sister and I to tell her that everything is fine. She just doesn’t hear us.
I’m newly pregnant now, and I know my parents will be thrilled. My husband and I wanted to wait until after the first trimester to tell our parents (another two weeks from now), and I realize that part of this is because I have a medical condition that puts me into a ‘high risk pregnancy’ category and I just don’t want to take on the anxiety around the pregnancy that my mother will thrust onto me. I also don’t want the baby to have to take on her anxiety, especially as the child gets older. I can certainly refuse to take that energy on, but my child will be subjected to it and it’s very damaging.
My husband and I feel that having some sort of conversation with her before the baby is born will be important for us, but we’re just not sure how to navigate this territory. I suspect that she will either start sobbing and stop listening, deny/justify the behaviour or end the conversation. Is there a way for me to begin the conversation that can prevent her from feeling defensive? How do I talk through this with her? Any suggestions are deeply appreciated.
Sincerely and with thanks,