This Thanksgiving I’m hosting a small family group. My elderly mom can be a horrible guest. She says very insulting, hurtful things and has behaved like this forever. My sister and I call her on her behavior but my mother does NOT take constructive criticism at all. I really don’t want her over. It pains me to feel this way but I just can’t take her hurtful behaviors, which have greatly affected her relationship with my children. They don’t like being around her. She’s my mom but I’m just tired of putting up and shutting up.
Anonymous / Boston
She does sound awful! But you didn’t ask a particular question, so aside from commiseration and validation, though, what can I offer? Are you hoping for permission not to invite her? That’s not a decision anyone can make for you. It’s a drastic step that could easily create more problems than it solves, but if you do decide to go this route, talk to your mother now so that she has time to make other plans. (And thank you for the opportunity to shoehorn in a general PSA that holidays in the mirror are closer than they appear! Only you can prevent a socially awkward solstice: Send your questions to Miss Conduct and, more importantly, have conversations well in advance with friends and family to make sure everyone’s on the same page with travel, hosting, gift-giving, and the like.)
You’re not as powerless as you feel. You have options. One is to not invite her. Another is to exchange constructive criticism for clear consequences. Let her know in advance what kinds of comments won’t be accepted at your home in the future. Do not argue. It doesn’t matter whether she agrees or not; it’s your house, your rules. Be willing to pack up food for her and call a rideshare if she gets out of line. Or perhaps everyone puts up with Grandma’s bad behavior, and Thanksgiving dinner finishes a bit earlier this year. Then, once Grandma has gone back to wherever she lives, the actual, relaxed family party happens, as if she were the equivalent of airport security and a bumpy ride before a delightful vacation.
All of these options shift the balance of power away from your mother, which is the fundamental thing that needs to happen for holiday peace. But you need to make sure everyone is on the same page about what’s been going on and how you plan to change it. So, talk to your sister. And talk to your kids. You say they (understandably) don’t like her. Is she annoying them? Or abusing them? Are they empowered to speak up for themselves or retreat to more peaceful surroundings when she’s being unpleasant? When it’s your mother versus your kids, who are you choosing? (And who do your kids think you’re choosing?)
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.