My family of three recently moved from the West Coast to the East Coast, where my family lives. At the urging of my mother, I took a demanding job and we are staying with her so she can help with my children until our house closes. Again, at her urging.
Fast-forward two weeks and she’s been catty, rude and makes it a point to treat us as though we are in the way. We’ve done our best to clean up our messes, cook and provide groceries. I even take our laundry to the laundromat. The only thing I need from my parents is to drive my kids to school and one child to practice. My dad has largely taken on this responsibility, but she yells at me like I’ve burdened her, when in fact I told her I was unsure of this arrangement.
Even my kids have said Grandma is complaining about everything we do (she’s a young grandparent, 58). I’m wishing I had taken the less demanding job or even stayed where we were! We have two more weeks, how do we survive?
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By the time anyone sees this answer, your two weeks will be down to days — and that’s why deep breathing is so often recommended to counteract stress. Stop, inhale deeply, exhale deeply, remember you’re strong enough for two weeks of just about anything, repeat till you believe it. Perspective is like a skittish dog — chasing it never works as well as sitting still as it comes to you.
I could just as easily recommend deep breathing to Grandma, because apparently she, too, walked into a different situation from the one she expected. No doubt her suggestion that you stay with her looked pristine in her mind: time with grandkids, time with you, a chance to be the hero of your cross-country move! Surely you can see how that mental image blocked the reality of the disruption she was inviting in. Three extra people (and extra stressed-out ones, thanks to said move) mean less space, more stuff, more noise, more dirt, more food, more dishes, more needs to balance, more different habits to accommodate, more differences of parental opinion to process, more people bumping around the house at hours that once were quiet and calm. Empty nests suit many birds just fine.
This isn’t to defend her hostility, in any way — she owes it to all of you to slap on the smiliest face she has left, especially though not only because she brought this on herself. But as entitled as you are to your frustration, there’s no cause to be mystified: Your mom got caught up in a hero narrative, forgot her own limitations and made promises her temperament just couldn’t keep.
That is, assuming this is new behavior. If she has a habit of pushing you toward a decision and then making you pay for it, then you’re in fool-me-twice territory.
There’s one part of this that won’t be over in two weeks: the forgiveness phase. Please try to see this debacle as a story of frailties overwhelming good intentions — versus a cruel bait-and-switch. If she proves to be a much better grandma (and mother) to kids who leave at the end of the day, then she’ll hardly be the first.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.