Help! Everyone’s afraid of my mom

  • By Carolyn Hax
  • Thursday, August 14, 2014 2:32pm
  • Life

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

What do you do when everyone is afraid of your mother? She’s not violent, and is typically a sweet, if uptight person. But there’s no dealing with anything with her — she just ignores and ignores till she can’t and then, blammo, big fat fiasco.

The last time was in front of my spouse. There’s always been eggshell-walking, and now spouse is included, although spouse claims that by not walking on eggshells, the situation might actually improve. Mom was much worse growing up, and although I love her, I prefer to do so from a distance. There’s no option for therapy (for her, at least), and recent serious medical issues have only added to the mix of potential volatility. The fear comes from the fact that she is incredibly forceful — when she’s right, she’s right, and that’s it. If you express your dissatisfaction, you’re an enemy, or she decides she’s done for good.

We’ve managed to talk her back from these type of brinks before, but the tension in the family is palpable and universal. There’s also no telling what might set her off.

I especially feel bad for my spouse, who didn’t sign up for this, and shouldn’t have to bear our family’s burden of not having found a reasonable solution to Mom’s temper. But spouse has been incredibly understanding both of me and of Mom’s issues, and despite the stress, insists this is something I need to tackle in therapy, while allowing my mother whatever time I am willing to give as she ages. I haven’t gone to therapy, but I wonder what good it would do, knowing that mom’s not likely to ever change?

— Scared of Mom

I think when a spouse “has been incredibly understanding” and asks you to get some therapy, then you honor that spouse by making calls, today, to research good family therapists. Anything else is just stalling.

Re: Scary Mom:

I have a very similar mom, and a less understanding husband, and I can tell you that the therapy isn’t about making your mom change (won’t happen), but changing the way you react to her, which is the key. It can be incredibly stressful to balance a spouse with a difficult parent, a therapist can help you find the tools.

— Anonymous

Yep, can’t be repeated too often, thanks — we can’t change others, only our responses.

But it’s not so much about balancing the spouse and the difficult parent here; that’s Step 2 (or 3 or 4). Step 1 is for the letter-writer to establish a firm enough sense of self to avoid getting sucked in, be it by a domineering mother or a needy co-worker or even by a perfectly healthy marriage. We don’t get lost only in bad stuff.

A therapist can also help us recognize our own contributions to stressful situations, which we’re usually the last to see — especially when there’s a clear, easy place to lay blame like this volatile mom. “Scared’s” husband is right that tiptoeing makes things worse. It sends the message that ignore-ignore-boom, and holding an entire family hostage, is an acceptable way to behave.

(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

More in Life

This beefy ex-cop has a delicate hobby: intricate paper-cut art

You can see Tom Sacco’s creations at the upcoming Everett Art Walk.

Kamiak student Aidan Norris (center) drags Matthew Ninh into a scene as Mitchell Beard (left) reads his lines. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Joy, disappointment at Kamiak High’s ‘Spamalot’ auditions

More than 80 students try out for 45 roles in the outrageous Monty Python musical comedy.

Arlington eagle fest wants your nature-themed artwork, haiku

Local residents of an artistic bent are invited to submit… Continue reading

What’s new for 2018 for travelers in Scandinavia

Sweden, Norway and Finland have embarked on many urban, cultural and transit projects.

Kia Rio subcompact takes a classy step up in 2018

A new design, roomier cabin, and better fuel economy are among the improvements on the 2018 Kia Rio.

Overcome your fear of death, in a book title at least

Three novels about death worth reading at Everett Public Library.

Dolores O’Riordan was lead singer of Irish band The Cranberries

The police force said the death was being treated as “unexplained.”

‘Trump saying something racist isn’t exactly news anymore:’ ‘SNL’

The week’s news was dominated by reports that Trump disparaged Haiti, El Salvador and all of Africa.

Bald eagle no longer listed as ‘sensitive species’ in the state

A recent study found that eagle numbers are strong throughout Washington.

Most Read