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Are You My Mother?

Nov15

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi Amy,

Congrats on the new baby on the way! Also, I love the advice you give to others, so now I’m gonna step up for my turn. I suppose this one falls into the “being pregnant means people think you’re public property” category, but I’ll warn you, circumstances make my problem is Complicated with a capital C.

I’m about 34 weeks pregnant with my first baby. When I was just entering my second trimester this summer, my mother suddenly developed a severe infection related to a chronic condition she had and a month later, passed away. Now, my mother and I had a very complicated relationship, and though I loved her a whole lot, she was also one of the largest sources of stress in my life- she was very demanding, negative, judgmental, and worst, illogical, which made it very hard to make her happy. I miss her all the time, but at the same time…well…I’m actually a lot more relaxed now, honestly. I’ve started seeing a therapist to help me sort out my feelings, and that’s helped me a lot to focus on the positive aspects of things. I also have a great support network, including both a mother-in-law and a stepmother who I get along with wonderfully and am very close to, so I’m not really feeling like a poor, motherless pregnant woman in a Lifetime made-for-TV-movie like I could be.

My so problem is not about my mother, per se, but about fallout since her funeral. My mom had a whole heap of wonderful friends that came out of the woodwork to share their condolences…but she also had a couple of, well, awful, toxic friends. One, in particular, who I’ve actually disliked my whole life, because she seemed to bring out the worst in my mother- and the kicker is, my mother would complain to me all the time about what terrible people she thought this woman was! Many of my mother’s friends have checked in on me, once or twice, since the funeral, to make sure I’m okay, and I appreciate that. But this awful friend is emailing me, sending me messages on facebook (yes, she added me on facebook right after the funeral, and I felt it would be impolite to decline *sigh*), calling me, calling my brother and leaving messages inquiring about me, dropping by my brother’s house (thank DOG I live away from my hometown!) at least once every couple weeks. It seems my pregnancy combined with my mother’s death have given her licence to, well, try to be my mom.

Most of her messages (even the phone ones) are lengthy, detailed, and ask lots of very personal questions, giving advice about problems I didn’t know I had (and certainly hadn’t discussed with her!), and usually also contain invitations to dinner, visits, etc. She seems to know A LOT about my life- my mom apparently didn’t skimp on details when sharing with this friend- so when she probes and offers advice, it really cuts to the quick. My replies are always short, and I only answer the questions I consider basic pleasantries (Yes I’m doing fine) or information she is entitled to pertaining directly to my mother (we scattered the ashes at X), and I just ignore the invitations. Now, I don’t want to be a jerk, because despite my dislike for this woman, I know she’s mourning the loss of a close friend, but frankly, I’m starting to feel a bit harassed- almost haunted, really. She brings up a lot of negative feelings and memories that I had towards my mother, which I’ve been trying very hard to let go of so I can move on with my life. I feel really rude just ignoring her messages, but I’m getting sick of carefully crafting minimal polite responses, because she’s not getting the hint. Sometimes, I wish I was still a teenager so I could just be rude and blunt and not feel guilty about it.

So what should I do? Stay the course and hope she gets bored after the baby’s born? Just ignore her entirely? Allow my inner teenager to have its way and tell her to F off? Start screaming “YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER!!!” next time she calls?

Sincerely,
In a delicate condition

PS: your pregnancy calendar has really helped me keep a sense of humour through my pregnancy, and believe me, I’ve needed that, thanks!!!

Holy lack of boundaries, Batman.

I admit I’m not exactly the most confrontational person in the world — in fact, I’m probably one of the least, often at my own expense, even — but I have ZERO patience for people like your mother’s “friend.” Who sounds like a socially clueless leech, at best, and a creepy needy weirdo at worst.

Blunt and to the point: You own this woman nothing. NOTHING. Sure, maybe your mother’s death really shook her up and she really means well. You still do not have an obligation to her to either 1) help HER cope with HER loss, or 2) suffer her good intentions if they are stressing you out or causing you inconvenience or pain.

Maybe she thinks her presence is what you need or what you want, or she feels like she “owes” your mom to look after her pregnant daughter and be a support system for you. Or something. What matters, really, is what you ACTUALLY need or want. Which, as I can clearly tell, is not this woman meddling in your life and bringing up bad memories and making you screen your phone calls.

The word of the season around here at the Smackdown seems to be DISENGAGE. Since she’s proven that she’ll happily keep this one-sided relationship alive with just the slightest exchange of pleasantries on your part, stop replying to her emails. Don’t return phone calls. If you’re feeling daring, de-friend her on Facebook. If she won’t take a hint, STOP HINTING. There’s rudeness…and then there’s justified self-preservation for a 34-week pregnant woman dealing with the loss of her mother in her own way and time.

I’m also going to predict that she won’t “lose interest” after the baby is born. I’d say there’s a real risk of the exact opposite happing — gifts with strings attached, pressure for visits and photos and “can the baby call me Auntie So-and-So,” unsolicited parenting advice, etc. Ugh. And even if she isn’t quite that determined, you really have enough on your plate without having to play defense against an onslaught of unwanted “friendship.”

Tell your brother that this woman is being entirely too intrusive and that you’ll be making a concentrated effort to cease contact with her, so if he could stop passing along updates and messages as much as possible, you’d appreciate it. “Oh, yeah, she really isn’t using Facebook much anymore, I dunno what’s up with her account but really, we’re all fine, thank you for your concern.”

Tell your therapist about her too, if you haven’t already. Therapy can be a wonderful place to re-discover your backbone and can validate your feelings and reasons for cutting this wanna-be-surrogate mother loose.

__________________________________________________________________
If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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18 Responses to “Are You My Mother?”

  1. liz Nov 15 at 1:29 pm Reply Reply

    What Amalah said.

  2. laura Nov 15 at 1:51 pm Reply Reply

    As per facebook, without defriending her, you can adjust your privacy settings so you are friends in name only (she can’t see or write on your wall, see your pictures, etc). If you do defriend her, you can change your settings so that only friends can send you messages, just to make extra sure she’s cut off.

  3. EB Nov 15 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

    It sounds like you finally lost the stress and weight of your mother’s ways, only to gain her back ten fold. I agree with Amalah that you should cut ties now, before the baby, because it will probably be worse, but you’ll be even less able to deflect her attentions.
    Sometimes, getting back to your blunt teenage ‘roots’ is a good idea. I had a similar problem, but with an old boyfriend who suddenly wanted to be part of my life but only knew how to contact me at my parents home. They gave him too much info about my life and whereabouts and I ended up having to be blunt with him (not rude – it’s not rude to tell someone to back off when they are the ones being rude!). But make sure to tell your family, first, that you are trying to get this woman to stop treading all over your privacy, and they therefore need to stop being an information conduit. Circle the wagons, so to speak. You owe her nothing.

  4. Amy Beth Nov 15 at 2:38 pm Reply Reply

    Ugh, defriend defriend defriend. Change your phone number. Mark letters as return to sender. Ugh!

  5. JB Nov 15 at 3:11 pm Reply Reply

    (Note: I’m saying this “to the world,” not to you specifically). Just a little FYI for dealing with grieving people: we absolutely cannot absorb “your” the inquirer’s loss. “I was soooo sad when I heard the news, I’m devastated” are not productive things to tell grieving people. You are only allowed to say: “I’m sorry for your loss,” “Let me bring over a tray of food for you,” “I know how you feel” (if you indeed know).

    It sounds like this woman might be processing her loss through you, if that makes sense, to “hold on to” her friendship with your mom. But seriously, BLOCK her on facebook. That way she cannot see anything or that you’re even on the site. If she asks you or other people about it – as Amalah said, say “I/she isn’t really using facebook anymore.” I’ll say it again, facebook is toxic, it was originally meant for college kids, everyone else needs to just Stop.

    Also agreed to just STOP returning all messages. She will get the hint eventually. Grrr, people who are rude/intrusive to grieving people really make me see red.

  6. Ms. Huis Herself Nov 15 at 4:22 pm Reply Reply

    Yes, she is totally out of line. Yes, you need to stop the interaction with the woman.

    But rather than just suddenly disappearing, which might cause her to up her attempts to be in your life, plus, would feel really crappy to be on the other end of, I think if you did have one last interaction with her, where basically you said, “I know you and my mother were close, and her loss was hard for you, too. I appreciate your concern for me. But when you contact me, it makes me miss her more. Especially as I prepare to welcome my baby into the world, I need to back off from some of those memories and focus on my life now. Please understand that I can’t be in contact with you now due to that. Thanks for being so understanding.”

    And then you can completely ignore her with a clear conscience, block her on facebook, not returns calls, etc.

  7. IrishCream Nov 15 at 4:46 pm Reply Reply

    I agree that it might not be a bad idea to tell her directly to back off, but I wouldn’t give her any further ammo for her misguided concern by using a reason based on emotions. I would just say “Everything’s great, but I am so busy these days that I just can’t return phone calls or emails. Sorry!” And then I would not return her calls or emails, and for the sake of your sanity, I would delete them unread/unlistened to.

  8. Jen Nov 15 at 6:15 pm Reply Reply

    Absolutely, 100% of what Amalah said.

    With what Ms. Huis Herself thrown in for good measure if you can (fellow conflict avoider here!)

    Very best wishes for the arrival of the baby and for a new, calmer chapter in your personal life in which to enjoy him/her.

  9. Margot Nov 15 at 10:09 pm Reply Reply

    I agree, DO make it an emotion-based plea. Whenever someone tells me they’re “too busy for me” I just immediately assume it’s a lame attempt as an alibi and call bullshit. It’s better to cut the fat and be straight about with your feelings because they’re un-arguable. They’re simply fact and nothing else. You don’t have to go into WHAT the feelings are, or why or how. If you keep it simple and say “Our relationship is keeping me from grieving my Mom properly. I need to sever ties and will let you know when I move past that.” Done. And if you never move past it? If you never intend to? Well, she doesn’t have to know that either. And as everyone else has said, she’ll eventually take the hint and stop harassing you.

    Stay strong and weather through it girl. Both you and the bebe.

  10. Spring Nov 16 at 10:41 am Reply Reply

    What a sad situation for you. This woman sounds a LOT like my own dear mother, so I just wanted to throw in a word of advice about what I bet she will do if you start ignoring her or actually tell her to back off. I bet she will start to gossip viciously about what a horrible person you are all over your home town. Maybe you don’t care, and I’m not suggesting you should care. And maybe this woman is so toxic and awful that no one would listen to her anyway. But it’s something to consider, if it would bother you. My mom always does this when she gets mad at me or my brother or other people in her life, and I don’t really care that much what folks there think, but it can be a little embarrassing when I go home to visit.

  11. Julie Nov 16 at 11:01 am Reply Reply

    Another note on facebook – if you defriend someone, it doesn’t send them a message or anything saying that you’ve done so. You just stop showing up on their pages if you’ve set your privacy settings right. If she actively looks for you or tries to send you a message, it will become obvious that you’ve defriended her, but it may take a while before she even realizes you’ve done so.

    I’d agree with the other’s advice to give her a relatively neutral “I need to cut back contact” message, and then disconnect. It’s not worth the stress, and you don’t have any obligation to help her feel better just because she was friends with your mom. If the two of you had some sort of personal relationship outside of the connection through your mom it would be a different situation, but as it stands, be firm and disconnect.

  12. christina Nov 16 at 11:19 am Reply Reply

    Ugh; so sorry you’re dealing with this. Good advice from amalah and the comments.
    On an unrelated note, the stock photo really threw me for a loop! I kept re-reading the intro looking for a tie-in to the pre-pubescent boy in the photo. I assumed it was an adoption/step-parent sitch. Anyways. Inneresting choice of image.

    —————
    Isabel: the image is of a woman with an outstretched hand implying STOP. :)

  13. Melissa Nov 16 at 4:47 pm Reply Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly with the advice Amalah gave. I also agree with christina…I totally thought the article image was a teenage emo boy… :)

  14. kari Weber Nov 16 at 9:20 pm Reply Reply

    PLEASE TELL US HOW THIS GOES! 

    These kinds of toxic people make me so mad! YOU owe this woman nothing! AND, AND, cutting her off now is probably the only way, please do this before the baby is born!

    Hugs, and more hugs!

  15. Chris Nov 17 at 10:21 am Reply Reply

    Thanks, Amy, and thanks, everyone, for all your ideas. I’ve just deleted all the latest messages, and last night I went through and changed all my facebook privacy settings so that now, she’ll basically see no new info about me. I had a chat with my brother about it- as it turns out, he has NO PROBLEM running interception on this, because he also believes this woman is “a total f-ing leech who wants us to replace mom for her.”- Turns out he was feeling pretty weird about her impositions on him, too.

    I suppose I was most concerned with what Spring had to say- I know if she catches a whiff of me snubbing her, it’ll just make her turn nasty(er) and rip me to shreds all over town. There is no doubt in my mind it will, she’s already publicly criticized my level and choice of education, my job, the fact that I chose to elope, the fact that I didn’t send a thank you card to her for the unsolicited wedding gift until (gasp!) a full month after I’d eloped- and this was when I wasn’t interacting with her except through my mother’s gossipping about me! And since then, she’s trashed me to people about the choices I made for funeral arrangements for my mom, so she doesn’t need my mom’s negative filter to take it in that direction. So, yes, she’ll say horrible things about me- but thinking about it, I guess that’ll happen regardless if I’m interacting with her politely or not- I might as well cut my own stress and just let her be herself in her own space, not mine.

    We shall see how this all turns out! I’m sure it’ll be good and ugly, but I’m certainly feeling more resolve- there is NO WAY this woman is going to have any role, whatsoever, in my baby’s life.

  16. EB Nov 17 at 12:28 pm Reply Reply

    Wow Chris! Thanks for the update. Sounds like she was using any and all information she was getting from her ‘friendly’ chats with you and your family in order to gossip and smear you. Best to break it off, it probably can’t get worse.
    Good luck! Enjoy that baby. Forget about this woman.

  17. class factotum Nov 18 at 1:55 pm Reply Reply

    Why do decent people worry so much about hurting the feelings of rude obnoxious people?

    Although I suppose if the decent people didn’t worry, they wouldn’t be decent.

  18. Caitlyn Nov 21 at 3:42 pm Reply Reply

    Glad to hear you’re taking firm steps and hopefully feeling better for it!  I wouldn’t worry about her gossip if I were you; by now most of the people have probably stopped listening to her, just like you have.

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