My mother, the critic

I love my Mother. I really do. In most respects she has been a very good mom and she loves me and she adores my daughters. She has also attained near-mythical perfection as a Granny. My girls think Granny walks on water, and there is nothing Granny will not do to make them happy.  For her grandparenting alone, I would love my Mother.

But the woman can pony up an unholy mix of love & pain. Her fall-back position is a slow but steady grouse, that falls like gentle drops of acid rain on the scorched earth of you psyche, but only because she loves you, not that you care now but she assures you that you will in a couple of years after she is gone. You know how Jewish comedians describe their mothers? Yeah, like that.

She is also a critic. If the Lord God Almighty appeared on Earth, my Mother could point out the gold on his robes totally clashed with the jasper on his crown. Watching a movie or TV show with her is an adventure in “look-what-the-director/editor-missed”. There is nothing so fun as her “honest opinion to be helpful” commentary on your housekeeping, your husband, your parenting, and your clothing. You know how Amy Tan (excellent author, BTW) presents Chinese mothers as criticizing in order to show how much they care about the person they are ripping up? Mom does that. And since she is doing it from love, she is startled and hurt if/when I peel her face off for it.

This leads to dumb fights with my Secretly Jewish/Chinese mother. I simultaneously feel guilty about and resent these fights. For example, this last weekend Mom and I had the following fight:

Mom: I stripped the beds for you and put the sheets in the wash after I folded all the clothes that were in the dryer.

BF: Thanks, mom. You don’t have to do all that you know. You could relax and just sit if you want.

Mom: (Hurt and petulant) You won’t let me do anything will you? It’s because I can’t do it good enough for you.

BF: (breathing deeply and praying for calm) Mother, you are smoking crack again. If I say you can rest it’s because I want to you to be able to feel relaxed here and not feel like you are my servant.

Mom: Well, I just want to be helpful.

BF: You are very helpful. I appreciate it. Really. I just don’t want you to think you HAVE to do it.

Mom: (slightly mollified) I don’t mind a bit. I didn’t know if you wanted to wash your allergy covers on your mattresses or not.

BF: They are actually mattress protectors in case one of the girls has an accident or springs a leak in the night.

Mom: Well, they LOOK like allergy covers.

BF: And yet, they are not. The are simply mattress protectors and since no one wet the bed, then they don’t need washed.

Mom: I think they are allergy covers.

BF: (starting to breath thru my nose) No, they are mattress protectors in case of pee-pee.

Mom: (skeptically) They sure look like allergy covers.

BF: (my temper blown) For the love of baby Jesus! I bought the damn things, Mom! They are mattress protectors! Can you NOT just take my word for it?

Mom: (sniffing and crushed) I don’t know why you have to be so mean to the mother who loves you.

BF: Oh for shit’s sake.

Mom: You use so much profanity! Where did you get a mouth like that?

Almost every single fight we have ever had is the extended dance mix of this one. She really, truly does not see that I was provoked. In her world, she is having a perfectly innocent conversation and I just blew up. Or she’ll say she was joking and I just have no sense of humor. Then she’ll cook dinner, clean my house, buy me a load of groceries and my kids a closet-full of clothes, and ask me if I need new shoes. This makes me feel guilty that I am not more patient. Which makes me wonder if she is doing it because she loves me or because she is manipulating me. Which makes me feel bad because it is an ugly and unworthy thought, because I KNOW she is doing it so I will love HER. I already love her. The cleaning/money is unnecessary. 

Anyone have an uncomplicated relationship with their mom? Anyone?

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About Betty Fokker

I'm a stay-at-home feminist mom.
This entry was posted in daughters, Feminism, life as I know it, motherhood, scared for life, Too Much Information. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to My mother, the critic

  1. My mom is also a quasi-critic in the sens of, “You got an A- in chemistry? Great job! Next time go for an A+!!” Or, “You dyed your hair brown? Oh. I always liked blonde highlights on you.” Long story short, (inadvertently) saying that I’m not good enough. Whether this is true or not, I’ve certainly spent my fair share of therapy working through this. Anyhow, it doesn’t make me love her any more or less, but her perfectionism probably hurts me more than her.

  2. Andie says:

    The only thing that really comes to mind that drives me nuts about my mom (and she’s gotten better about it) is whenever I’d ask if she could watch my girls we’d have roughly this conversation:

    Me: Would you mind watching the girls Saturday? I have to {insert mundane non-kid-friendly-activity here}
    Mom: Hmm. Did you ask their dad if he could take them?
    Me: Yeah… he’s already got plans
    Mom: what about your sister? I.. I just don’t know what your dad and I have planned.
    Me: If you can’t it’s okay. I’ll keep asking around.
    Mom: Well, no.. wait.. I WANT to.. it’s just I don’t know what we’re doing yet.
    Me: It’s okay, I just need to get something arranged, so I’ll keep asking around.
    Mom: Well, now I FEEL bad.

    Eventually she’d come around and say okay (after checking to make sure I’d asked every other available person).. then get really excited about having them over, but not until after I felt like total shit for even asking.

    I finally called her on it and said “If you don’t want to babysit or you have plans, just say no. I’m not going to give you a hard time or question your dedication to your grandchildren (because I GET not wanting to watch kids if you don’t have to) but you don’t get to make me feel bad for asking just because it makes you FEEL BAD to say no.”

    (keeping in mind, my mom IS great with the kids, and loves having them over.. just more if I’m there. Since they’ve gotten older, and require less maintenance we’ve stopped having this conversation.)

  3. Not Tellin! I'll get in trouble!! says:

    I have stopped arguing with (nearly) everyone in my life, and it’s SO MUCH BETTER.

    Mom: …wash the allergy covers.

    Me: Actually, they’re just mattress protectors.

    Mom: Well they look like allergy covers.

    Me: Ok. (Or if I’m feeling extra generous, “Yeah, I guess they do look like allergy covers.” I’m not lying or capitulating, I’m just *acknowledging that her mistake was understandable.*)

    Rule #1 – don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule #2 – it’s all small stuff.

    Now if I could only figure out how to get my MIL to STOP PUTTING THINGS AWAY. She’s helping, I know she’s helping, but I found my panties in my 4 year old’s drawer, for heaven’s sake. It’s maddening to spend two weeks after her visit finding the laundry in all the wrong places, finding the stuff she unloaded from the dishwasher in all the wrong places, and I have NO fokking idea what has become of my food processor, but I have suspicions that it’s in my 6 year old’s closet. Only God knows why.

    Maybe next time I’m at her house I’ll randomly rearrange things. Heeee…

  4. Nan says:

    Funny how uncomplicated mom/daughter relationships get when mom moves to another plane of existence (she died 23 years ago). But interestingly, it took me a lot of years after her death to get to the point where her voice in my head was the fun, friendly one, not the one that always made me feel like a disappointment. I realize now that she only wanted what she believed was the very best for me, that all she said truly did come from the fact that she loved me more than she loved herself.

  5. Nancy says:

    I fully believe it is in the Mother’s handbook. Sometime after your fledglings have flown the coop you get to turn a magic page and you get to know the secret of driving your adult children crazy. I am still waiting for the page….

  6. Robin S. says:

    I have a manipulative, abusive, control freak for a mother and I’ve spent too much time and money learning to deal with the anger and the fact that no matter what I do, I will never be ‘good enough’. So objective probably doesn’t apply to me. But alot of times it isn’t just about love, it is also about control. If she can get you to blow up and lose control, she gets to be the ‘mother’ again and you the unreasonable ‘child’. Quit telling her she can sit down and relax. She is just using it to apply guilt (she doesn’t do it good enough for you). With the mattress protectors, I would try what ‘Not Telling’ said. Not all moms are like mine. OK wouldn’t have worked with her.

    I totally understand your frustration with the never ending, pointless, stupid arguments. I found the book ‘The Dance of Anger’ by Harriet Lerner helpful for my sanity. Deep breath – you’re not alone out there.

  7. Bonnie C says:

    Her fall-back position is a slow but steady grouse, that falls like gentle drops of acid rain on the scorched earth of you psyche, but only because she loves you, not that you care now but she assures you that you will in a couple of years after she is gone.

    Holy crap on a cracker, Fokker, I just snorted hot coffee out of my nose! Have you been having a secret relationship with my mother AND my mother-in-law??

  8. KarenB says:

    Uncomplicated? It is to laugh. This makes me repeat the comment I had the other day on Deborah’s post in the Bettyverse – your parents installed those buttons, that’s why they are so good at pushing them. The Dance of Anger helped me a great deal in recognizing those buttons and reprograming my response. Of course it also helped that mom read it and recognized some of her behavior and chose to change as well.

    I too wonder what buttons I’m installing in my kids and what will happen there.

  9. Elvie says:

    Okay, probably no one wants to hear this, but I have a great relationship with my mom. She thinks my kids turned out great, she loves my husband, she never says anything bad about my ex-husband and her biggest fault is that I have to call and tell her when I reach home to make sure I got there alive. And that just shows me that she loves me so I can’t really complain. There are a few things in my favor-I live close but not too close, so if she comes to visit she doesn’t spend the night as the ride home is less than 2 hours. The kids are grown, and we lived far away when they were kids so she couldn’t comment on my child rearing practices. And she is very sparing with advice. I can only hope that my kids are as impressed with their mom as I am with mine. Oh and my mom-in-law thinks I am the best thing that ever happened to her son. Am I lucky or what!

  10. Crucial D says:

    My mom completed suicide 5 years ago and I wish I could go back and not argue with her over dumb stuff.

  11. Nope. My mom and I have a perfect adult relationship, with friendship and respect and never the slightest encroachments on sensitive areas. (Yeah, right.)

  12. sheri says:

    My family has strict directions to slap me silly if I EVER say or do anything that reminds them of my mother.
    Here’s a clue- my husband is the epitome of patience and kindness. When our son was born he wanted it put in our wills that if something happens to both of us she not even be ON the list of people considered to care for him- stated in writing that ANYONE be his caretaker other than her.
    We spent 3 days with my parents this summer- the first time I’ve stayed under her roof since they kicked me out at age 18 (so 34 years ago) and I had hives the entire time.
    The first night there our son (age 11) came to me and hugged me and said “Mom- I’m so sorry you had to grow up with her”.
    Only reason we were there is to spend time with my dad- now 80 years old and always a sweetheart.

  13. londonmabel says:

    I don’t live in the same city as mommy or stepmommy, I only visit for a week at a time, and I don’t have kids. So all is well. My mother does have a way of criticizing that I don’t like, but on the balance she says affirming things for my self-esteem. And the step-mommy and dad are full of the positive-tude. I lucked out in the parent department, big time.

  14. I love my mother, I want her to be happy, healthy, and mentally OK. If I could fix all of her issues I would. I get excited when she says she’s coming over, then my guts hurt to be around her. Anger and guilt are terrible things.

  15. Uh – I have similar fights with my mom frequently. She is always determined to make me seem unreasonable if I don’t agree with her. I’ve come to stand my ground and she backs off quicker now.

  16. grandma K says:

    I third or fourth the recommendation on “The Dance of Anger” – very helpful.
    My kids are grown and I work very hard to have a good relationship with them and their spouses. Sometimes I use the device of “would I do or say that to my best friend?” If I wouldn’t, I don’t do or say it to my kids. Really – it’s a relationship like all others are, and you have to work at it. And can I please just add to everyone: it’s HARD being a mother in law. You go into it with the deck stacked against you, because everybody hates the mother in law. God knows my mother in law was a nightmare, and I’m doing everything I can to not be her – but to my one daughter in law, I am her MOTHER IN LAW, I am not a person, I’m the character (her mother has a terrible relationship with her mother in law, so I can see how this story plays out. . .)

  17. Briana says:

    Oh, this made me laugh.

    My mom has a few things that she can’t just let go. Laundry. She always seems to be questioning my ability to get the clothes out of the dryer. (Seriously, as soon as it buzzes, she thinks I need to go tend to it….and will regularly remind me until I do.) Which makes me feel like a child and like she doesn’t trust that I can do things myself. (Which now reminds me of my 2-yr-old nephew!)

    She knows I get annoyed. So the last time I was at their house and did some (my own!) laundry, after a few reminders she dropped it. But when I went downstairs and opened the dryer, all my t-shirts were sitting *inside* the dryer, neatly folded and stacked. I just started laughing. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

    “Well, I didn’t want you to get mad. I thought maybe you’d blame the house-elf.”

    “If there was a dryer on the market that did that, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.”

    We were both laughing by the time we finished, which was a nice way to change the “normal” argument.

  18. Mandy Clarke says:

    No, I don’t have a mother and haven’t done since I was 9. I do hear she was a difficult woman from my older sibllings, but i have no memory of that.
    Kids grow up and naturally crave that autonomy from their parents. I think it’s an in built mechanism that we rebel if parents step over that line.
    My Dad recently died too. I’d give anything to hear him tell me how to do something I know how to do again.

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