Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Absorbing the guilt trips

My mother called over the weekend about finding the right dress to wear to my brother's wedding. She's been shopping every weekend in hopes of finding a nice dress but keeps choosing dresses that her sister doesn't like. They're pretty dresses just not formal enough for the mother of the groom. It's sad to say, but she needs something more matronly. She asked me for suggestions. Heck, I can't even find a dress for myself that seems appropriate for the wedding. I told Mom that if she comes to visit me that I'd take her dress shopping. At least she understands that she may have to buy a dress at full-price.

Sadly, the conversation took a wrong turn when she brought up the strained relationship the two of them have. Some day last week, my brother stayed up until 3am or 4am. On the drive to work (they carpool), he appeared to be rather drowsy.

"What time did you go to bed Mick?"

"Around 3am."

"You really shouldn't stay up so late. You need to go to bed earlier and get enough sleep."

[Not sure what other conversation transpired.]

"Shut up. I hate you... ." [My brother briefly lost control of the car in his angered state.]

This isn't anything new. During the past nine months my brother has lived at home, his temper and patience with my mother has disappeared. At Christmas, she was nagging him about looking for a job and he blew up. When I tried to talk to him, he yelled at me to stay away and not to talk to him. I went to my room and broke down over the incident. I couldn't believe that he could behave so rudely to both of us.

Mick must have heard me crying. Later, he came in and asked if I was okay and why I was upset. I told him it was because of the way he acted earlier. I don't think he suspected that he was the cause; he thought it was Mom. My brother went as far as not to eat dinner with us for the next few nights. My dad had a talk with him to get him to shape up. Basically, he and my mom never talked the whole time I visited home. It was one of the worst winter holidays I've ever had.

So in this call, my mother gave me a long rant about how we kids don't respect or love her. She feels like Dad gets treated well and doesn't understand why she gets kicked around like an unwanted animal. It was really difficult to listen to her because she started getting overly dramatic saying things like maybe she should forget about us and just spend all her retirement money. (And she should try to enjoy herself more.) She was crying the whole time. Ugh, what a guilt trip for me.

I didn't know what to do. I can't lie to her, she does get on our nerves. We're both adults, and yet she still feels she has the right to tell us what to do. It's okay to tell us to go to bed, to speak softer, how to spend our money, and to clean our rooms. I've tried to politely tell her that we're adults and need to take responsibility for ourselves. Because she is our mother, she thinks she has the right to say anything she wants because we *have* to listen to her for our own good. ARGH... how do you respond to this??? I suggested to her that she prioritize what's important to say and let go of the little things. We know she cares and wants the best for us, but the way in which it comes out of her mouth, it's insulting. She doesn't see that.

She blames our American upbringing for the lack of respect we have. Her opinion is that we expect her to treat us more like friends than children, something she doesn't know how to do. It's really difficult to blend our different cultural practices. It's always going to be a struggle.

I talked to my brother about it last night. He was very calm about it and didn't blame Mom for anything. He simply observed that he never used to be so angry. When I asked him to give Mom some slack and not yell at her, he just replied, "yeah." He seemed okay with things. He apologized for putting me in an awkward situation. I do hope he understands and will try harder. I'm thankful he respects my words to him. Ricer also is probably a good influence on him.

My family is not perfect. We lack some basic communication skills. I worry that this is why I have difficulty forming deep relationships. I worry that I will have similar problems if and when I have a family of my own. This is part of what my therapist is trying to make me learn to do better. I pray that I meet a man who is patient and will work with me to form a strong and healthy family.

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