Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My mom recently had a high-up-there milestone birthday. I couldn’t travel. I organized a dinner at her house with my siblings who live nearby, since one has a newborn and isn’t taking her out in public yet (germs).
A week before, my mom told me she had wanted for a year to go to a specific restaurant for this birthday. I explained the challenge with the newborn and that was the end of the discussion.
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Three days before the dinner, she sent my siblings and me a text saying she didn’t want to do the dinner at her house, she was getting her own cake, and she was going to the restaurant with a friend instead.
Fine. The birthday comes, and she spent it complaining about how she had wanted to do this for a year, how she lived longer than her parents, how this was an important day and she didn’t get to spend it how she envisioned, how she never wanted to do dinner at her house (even though she said yes when we offered), etc.
I calmly explained that we can’t know what she didn’t tell us, and that I couldn’t help the newborn situation. I then dealt with my bawling sibling and listened as my other upset sibling vented. I advised that we hold in our frustrations on her birthday.
But I think I should say something to her in a week or so, about how unfair she was to us, and how she basically took us emotionally hostage. Am I crazy? This is par for the course. My mom has depression issues but has refused for decades to get help, saying she can manage it herself.
How about, instead of telling her how unfair she was to all of you, you apologize for not paying any attention to what she actually wanted for her birthday?
Clearly there’s history here, with the depression and stubbornness and frustration.
But even though she didn’t respond to your initial dinner offer outright with, “No, I don’t want to host my own party, I’d like to go out to X restaurant,” she did communicate the following:
A week before, she said she preferred a restaurant.
Three days before, she texted with her Plan B.
The day of, she admitted how upset she was.
So what was it “she didn’t tell us”?
You, meaning all of her kids, came up with Plan A centered on the newborn, and did.not.budge. as your mother made it as clear as she’s apparently equipped to make it that she really, really wanted Plan B.
So, tell her you’re sorry for closing your ears to what she actually wanted – to get out of her house, with her kids, to celebrate in her way. If that meant the sib with the baby stayed home (or the partner), then that would have been a consequence of her decision, not yours.
And of course if she hadn’t been OK with that clearly stated consequence, then you would have been free to tag her with being unreasonable. But now, you aren’t — not for simply wanting what she wanted and saying so while you still had an entire week to adjust.
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