Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ll get to the point. I can’t get past my anger toward my mother. My husband and I decided never to have children. Though I’ve long since informed her of this, she never misses a chance to get in a dig that she’ll “never have grandchildren,” or that she “would have made a good grandmother, but will never get the chance.” And she does this in front of her – and my – friends.
It’s my choice and my life, isn’t it? She is loving and helpful otherwise, but I’m tired of hearing this reproductive nonsense from her. How do I change my – or her – attitude?
Dr. Hurd replies,
When your mother decided to have a child, she made a commitment. Her commitment was to raise you and send you into adulthood. However, this came with no guarantees that you would have children, pursue a certain career or anything else. She’s not entitled to a certain outcome.
That’s common sense, and your mother knows it. But she refuses to accept it. That’s her problem, not yours. What you must stop doing is making her problem your problem.
You don’t owe her an apology for being who you are. Our lives belong to ourselves, and nobody else. Again, it’s self-evident, but many find it difficult to accept. “Yes, our lives belong to ourselves…but I want grandchildren, dammit!” Your mother is experiencing a psychological conflict that stems from being caught up in contradictions and other errors in thinking. You’re not responsible for her erroneous thinking or contradictory, mistaken assumptions; she is.
No doubt you love her, and that’s why you care. But you can’t help her with this. She must help herself, or find someone other than you to help her. This isn’t like she’s having a heart attack or a cut finger where you can take her to the ER. It isn’t like she’s confused about how to work her computer or do her taxes. You could maybe help with those kinds of things, but not this. So let it go.
When she makes her comments, ignore them or simply walk away. When she brings that up (and she will), calmly explain that that’s what you will do when she says unacceptable things. Don’t be defensive. Just shrug and say, “You’re entitled to your feelings, mom, but I’m equally entitled not to hear them.”
Don’t show anger or frustration. This will tell her that you’re making her problem your problem. The irrational side of her wants you to do this, so appeal to her rational side with your calm refusal to give power to her guilt-inducing behavior. Train her to learn that you’re not going to respond to her on this subject, not ever. So long as she senses you have a response — anger, defensiveness, or whatever — she’s going to keep bugging you about it.
This isn’t the same as changing her mind. You’ll never change her mind. Her mind might someday change, but it won’t be you who changes it. It’s an issue for her psychotherapist, her “spiritual” counselor or simply within the confines of her self-reflection. Bottom line? We don’t always get what we want.
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