Question: My parents separated, and for the following ten years I was my mother’s primary means of emotional support. Now I am married with a child of my own, and my mother complains I am not there for her like I used to be. She frequently makes comments that antagonize my wife. I feel like I am caught in a tug of war between my wife and my mother. Neither are happy with me, and there is frequent arguing all around. What can I do?
Answer: This is one of those marriage challenges where there isn’t a perfect solution, but you can do a much better job of managing the situation.
You need to learn to “feed the beast.” Let me explain…
All of us have an “inner beast.” I’m around people a lot. If I go too long without making time for myself — “Peter time” I call it — my inner beast starts to rear its ugly head and I lose patience with the people around me.
Now, I can be surprised the next time my inner beast is aroused from its slumber, or I can be proactive and see it coming. Before it’s too late, I can set aside “Peter time” on my calendar.
I have learned to “feed the beast” inside myself. By regularly scheduling Peter time, I keep my inner beast at bay — everyone around me is happier as a result.
I am sure your mother is a wonderful person, but she also has her inner beast — in her case, her beast is awoken when she feels a lack of connection with you.
You need to learn to feed her inner beast.
Here’s what I recommend:
Come up with your best guess as to how often your Mom would like to see you. Let’s say your answer is once every month. Schedule your next several get-togethers with her — one month apart — rather than waiting for her to complain she doesn’t see you enough.
Having scheduled visits with your Mom will make her quite happy — she can look forward to your visits rather than being anxious about when they will happen. She will feel honored if you take the initiative in making time for her.
A mother who feels honored — and who can look forward to your visits — will more readily give you your space between visits.
I also recommend you conspire with your siblings. Encourage them to schedule their next several visits with your Mom.
Try to organize family gatherings where you can all be together with your mother. If you can, turn your mother’s birthday into a major family holiday and do your best to have everyone there.
If you can schedule these gatherings far in advance, your mother will spend many happy months looking forward to them.
How often would your Mom like to hear from you? Does she want a daily or weekly phone call? Again, it’s better not to wait for her call; it’s better to call her first. She’ll love getting your phone calls. And, if you call, you get to choose when these phone calls happen.
Many people seem impossible to please. They seem to want too much. I am sure you feel this way about your Mom.
But, I would bet your Mom is not that hard to please. She is needy, but you’ve done your part to turn her into a “beast” by failing to proactively meet her needs.
Putting your Mom “on a schedule” will give her a sense of predictability about her life which will calm her. She’ll always have something to look forward to — and will be less likely to dwell on her grievances.
Your Mom doesn’t need to know she is on a schedule. It can be your secret. From her perspective, all she will see is you are reliably interested in her and you want to spend time with her.
This same predictability will also be very important to your wife. I encourage your wife to be magnanimous about spending time with your Mom, but it will be easier for her to do so if you have a plan to keep the beast in your Mom at bay.
Unpredictability leaves everyone on edge. Will she call today? Will she want us to visit this weekend? This uncertainty can leave everyone in a constant state of anxiety.
Having a plan helps you set boundaries. You can ask your wife to be cheerful about your Mom’s visit this weekend while assuring her the following next several weekends will be “Mom-free.”
I call this strategy of putting your Mom on a schedule “feeding the beast.” You are learning to make your Mom happy — before she makes you all unhappy!
Set up — or ramp up, if you already have one — a shared calendar system.
Develop a plan with your spouse for spending time with your parents.
Consult with your siblings and make them part of the plan.
Link – The Essential Marriage Tool
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