My mum is so needy

Dear Suzie, The relationship between me & my husband and my parents is like walking on eggshells. The reasons for this are my mother is a very needy person, she has to speak to me every day to’ make sure that we’re well and everything’s ok and to’ catch up’ on any news. She will ring at the same time every day – the minute she gets in from work and talk on an on about what we’re doing, where we’re going and how so and so is. If I’m not available, she keeps ringing and ringing all evening. She won’t make one call and leave a message, it’s like a demand that I pick up the phone when she wants. It makes me think something is wrong when I see all the missed calls to my mobile and landline.

She also has to’ arrange’ visits every week like appointments and we all sit there without much to say because we’ve spoken to her all week. I have a much more easy going relationship with my Dad who suffers with MS and is a much more chilled out person. He sees that we need space as a married couple and without neglecting us, he is happy to chat a couple of times a week, and I call in a couple of times a week to see them. They know should there be an emergency, we only live a few miles away and they can call day or night. He trys to talk to my mother about her pestering us but she ignores him and makes calls upstairs so that he cannot hear her. She make the same calls to my brother and his Fiancee too and they get stressed over it.

My husband is now becoming resentful as we run our own busy company and when we get home we are on edge waiting for the phone to ring and get no peace even to enjoy our evening meal. My husband is someone who cannot hide his feelings and is quiet and appears ignorant when they visit. My mum would do anything for us but with this issue she thinks it’s right for a family to be really close and insists she is doing no wrong. She turns it around and makes out everyone is against her if I try to talk about it. How can I keep everyone happy. I’m really happy that I’m 8 weeks pregnant right now but depressed about what the future holds. I havn’t told my parents yet in case my Mum steps up her tirade of’ checking if we’re ok calls. How can I keep everyone happy?

You can’t and it’s very difficult – if not impossible – to make someone change their behaviour. You’re not going to be able to force her to address her neediness or how unreasonable is her behaviour. You are, however, going to be able to turn is situation around but it’s by your doing some work.

The first thing to do is get your own head around this, and set your own tactics. You, your husband and your brother and fiancée need to recognise that you have every right to life of your own, and that you are going to work together to get it. Get your brother and his fiancée in and have a talk with them so all of you can get on the same side and apply exactly the same tactics. At present she gets her own way because all of you collude; you give in. And i suspect that something your brother and you have been doing all your life, so it’s going to take some discussion and thought to realise you don’t have to go on doing it. Stop letting her set the pace, and change will come. But it’s your changes that are key.

The way for all of you to do it is to be firm but loving, and not to tell her what she is doing but how it makes you feel. If you say you don’t like her being in touch so much, she will argue it isn’t really so much and all families do it…and you’re stuck in a futile argument. But if you tell her you love her but the situation at present is really upsetting you, you may get somewhere. Tell her you recognise she may need so much contact but however much you love her, you have your own families – yourselves and your partners – to think of first. Tell her – and don’t save her feelings – that however much you love her, her calls and visits make you stressed and unhappy, angry and resentful. And then set out the new rules.

Tell her you’ll talk to her a couple of times a week, and call in a couple of times too. And that will be that. Put a bright spin on it – point out this way, you’ll be glad to see them and have lots to talk about. Tell her that from now on you don’t want her to ring otherwise or call round unless it’s an emergency. And point out that if she keeps on calling when it’s not welcome, she puts emergency calls at risk because from now on you’ll be screening calls.

Now – the hard part! When she next calls out of turn, pick up the phone, ask if it’s an emergency and when she can’t say yes, simply say “Fine Mum – I’ll be in touch.” And put down the phone. If she rings again, ignore it. Ignored calls are only stressful when you feel you have to answer in case there is a problem. When you know there is not, you can turn your back. If she really does go on calling, pick up the phone, firmly say “I’m not speaking now Mum – bye.” and put it down.

And keep it up. It will take some days if not weeks for her to realise you really mean it. She’ll go on pushing, like a fractious child whining for treats. The mistake so many parents make in that situation is to think the few minutes peace you get if you give in is worth it. It isn’t because the child knows they’ve got you trained – every time they want sweets they just need to squall. Same thing; your mother knows from past experience all she has to do is keep up the pressure and you’ll give her what she wants. SO STOP DOING IT.

Very important!!! Do NOT make excuses or give reasons other than that you aren’t going to talk. If you say you’re busy or whatever, she’ll think she can go on ringing until you are free. The point you’re getting across is that you love her but are not at her back and call…and that’s that.

Think of it as practise for when you are a mother. Sometimes, we have to draw boundaries and keep to them, however hard it feels and however much the child (or parent!) objects. And that sometimes, we can’t keep everyone happy. In the long run, your Mum will be better off if she learns now to modify her behaviour. Because if she doesn’t I can see a time in the future when your husband says “It’s her or me” or when you simply blow up and tell her you’re fed up of it. A bit of patience and focus now could save a lot of heart ache in the future.

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