Woe Is Me! “How Do I Deal With My Mother’s Emotional Rollercoaster?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
My mom and I have frequent petty arguments. Yesterday, I jokingly said that she has 4 cups of tea, after waking up and after her power nap. She got really offended and started crying saying that I don’t care for her and that I’m trying to ruin her marriage by telling our dad that she sleeps all day and has a tea addiction (though I said nothing as such). We did not talk the entire day though she kept on telling my dad how I waste my time all day and kept verbally abusing me. I was really shocked knowing about her thought process as we all really love her and rarely mock each other. We’ve tried to take her to a psychiatrist before, but she thinks it’s a ploy to tarnish her image. What is happening and what do I do?
— Parenting The Parent
RD: Hello friend, you’re in a tough spot. Look, it’s not on you to fix your mother’s emotional issues, and more importantly, you can’t. But there may be a way to save the relationship, despite her tendencies — distance. If you can, move out; it will drastically change your relationship — I think for the better — and you will be able to focus on the important updates of your and her lives, instead of the petty stuff that one can get wrapped up in when you live with someone for too long. Good luck!
KB: I need more context! First off, I would encourage compassion here. When people react strongly to seemingly small transgressions, sometimes there is a vulnerability that you don’t know about. For example, it is possible that your parents have a difficult marriage, that your mother constantly feels belittled by your father regarding how she spends her time or whether she is productive enough, and that it’s a constant source of tension and pain. You could see how, if that’s the case, your criticizing her for the exact same reason could strike a sore spot and elicit an emotional reaction. We rarely know what is going on with people behind their public veneer, even when that person is your mother.
Now, that said, it sounds like there is more to this story because you imply there has been a lot of erratic behavior when you say you’ve tried to get her help before. Is there a more delicate way to suggest she seek therapy, without mocking her or belittling her? I would suggest tenderness and compassion — they will go a long way in helping her feel safe, and therefore more ready to accept your suggestions that she seek some form of support.
LG: I’m so sorry you’re going through this — it sounds like a really tough time for your family. And I’m sorry your mom is going through this specifically; her mind seems like an unhappy place right now. I’m glad she has such a caring and supportive child in you! It seems like your family has been worried about your mom’s mental health for a while. Well done for trying to get her help!
If you’ve got the energy to give it another try, maybe a different framing would help. First, perhaps consider consulting a psychotherapist, rather than a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist might have felt a little daunting to your mom — like your family thinks something is wrong with her. A therapist, however, is just there to talk with her and to provide an objective perspective, which might feel a bit more accessible — and perhaps turn into a path to treatment from a psychiatrist, if needed.
You could consider suggesting therapy to her in a few different ways. One, as a sounding board and objective perspective when she feels everyone else is against her. Or, as a joint exercise between the two of you, to get your mother-child relationship back on track; that might be a gentler introduction to therapy, since it allows her to feel like she’s doing it for someone else and it doesn’t risk sending the message that she is the problem. Something like – We’ve been having a lot of fights lately, and I don’t know how to get our relationship back on track. Would you consider going to therapy with me?
Alternatively, if she’s still resistant to seeing a mental health professional, perhaps there’s a general physician or family doctor in her life whom she trusts? It might be worth consulting them, if you feel this is a big and sustained change in your mom’s personality. Not only could they help rule out physiological causes of any such change, they could also help you break down the mental health stigma she’s worried about.Best of luck, sunshine. I’ll be thinking of you and your mom!
ADT: Your mother is not doing okay, and I think you know she’s dealing with a mental illness. This sort of deep insecurity is unbearably painful to navigate, especially around someone who’s supposed to be your caretaker. Forgive yourself if you trigger her, ask your father to insist taking her to therapy — but above and beyond, there’s only so much you can do. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to be quiet and on your tiptoes. I’d suggest you also seek help for yourself to deal with this time — if either parent is okay with you receiving therapy, you absolutely should to cope.
DR: This is a tough one! My first suggestion would’ve been to convince her to speak to a therapist, but it seems like you’ve tried something similar already, to not-so-great results. In this scenario, I have two broad suggestions: first, is there a friend/sibling/family member of hers whose opinion she completely trusts? Then, maybe, you can speak to them, explain your dilemma, and request them to convince her to seek help. Alternatively, there’s a second plan, which comes with its own ‘Plan B’. In case the previous suggestion doesn’t work, I would suggest that you seek a therapist’s help to deal with this. Tell the therapist what you’re experiencing with your mother, maybe, they’ll be able to advise you on how to navigate this scenario better.
In fact, you can even get your father along for a few of these sessions to be able to understand how to make your mother feel better, or more comfortable at home. Now the ‘Plan B’ is: you can tell your mother that your therapist is trying to understand your family dynamics, and hence, has requested her to come in for a session — since this is for your sake, it might be difficult for your mother to say no; especially so, if your father’s also been for one. Once she speaks to them, maybe, she’ll realize therapy isn’t so bad and can be convinced to get a therapist for herself.
At the same time, I would like to add that we can often offend others without realizing we’ve said/done anything offensive. So, maybe, you can try to reflect on the things that seem to affect her, especially if there’s a pattern, and try to understand why that is so — is it some past trauma (doesn’t necessarily have to be something that’s prima facie severe or scarring), is it the result of any specific insecurity (inspired by social conditioning or a formative experience)? It could be any number of things, and you may or may not be able to discern what it is. But it’s still important to introspect and be self-aware of how your actions can affect others. Good luck!