Hax: Crazy cat lady may not be so crazy

The Washington PostMay 15, 2013 

Carolyn: My mother is a crazy cat lady. She has been doing better in recent years, down to 15 cats instead of 40 or 50, motivated by the arrival of her first grandchild, my son. We live on opposite sides of the country and it was too hard to travel when she had so many cats. I come home about twice a year and I stay elsewhere due to the odor in my parents' house. Certainly not ideal, but we adjust.

I took the baby visiting when he was 8 weeks old and hardly saw my mom. She was busy "working" (unpaid) for her vet. I was hurt and angry but mostly ignored it and let her do her thing.

Today, I called and heard all of these kittens crying in the background. We've had numerous conversations about not having bottle-fed kittens when I visit. They have to eat every two hours and we would never see my mom! I mentioned that, she got snarky and said something about my having to bottle-feed my kiddo.

If she does have the kittens while I'm in town or chooses to work instead of spending time with us, what do I say? If she sees us every day, how do I express my gratitude without sounding critical, i.e., "It's so nice you finally put us first!"? I've suggested counseling countless times over the years to no avail.

K.

You're showing a distinct bias - dogs forgive me - against cats and cat people.

I'm aware of the many animals/hoarding/animal neglect continuum, and 40-plus cats is extreme. However, your mom voluntarily reduced the herd, which suggests your "crazy" label isn't just insensitive, but also unfair. If she takes good care of her animals, then treat these cats as you would anyone's life purpose, to include asking yourself whether you'd be so dismissive if she were doggedly tending specimens in a lab or volunteering with needy kids.

You have a legitimate set of hurt feelings that your mom blew off you and her grandson. That is where your focus belongs, not on your disdain for the reason. That's especially true since your overall goal is so important: to build a sense of family for your child.

Please start by recognizing that it's not productive to force family togetherness or dictate how your mom lives her day-to-day life - which is essentially what you've done in those "numerous" no-bottle-fed-cats conversations. If you think about it in a detached, advice-columny way, it makes no sense for her to rearrange all 365 days just for your, say, 10 visiting days.

Next, make "feelings, not felines" your guiding principle. Replace scolding your mom with praising her and clarifying your stance. Maybe: "I've been tough on you about the cats, but really what you do for them is wonderful. I'm just upset that we see you so little." Respecting her will bring you closer than de-catting her.

And where before you've pushed her to change, try accommodating her: "What can I do to help you see more of us?"

And if she blows you off again: "Mom, I'm getting the message that son and I aren't a priority for you. Please tell me if I'm mistaken."

And if she does make time for you? "Thanks, Mom. This has been great."

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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