Dear Prudence

Help! Why Does Mom Act Like She’s Embarrassed by My Volunteer Work?

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Woman looking upset and mother looking judgmental and ashamed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. Never good enough for my mother: A few weeks ago, I won an award for my volunteerism. I was excited, and like an idiot invited my mother to the ceremony. She ruined the evening for me. She was unpleasant to my friends, refused to smile for the local newspaper photo, and was rude to my state senator. On Friday, the local paper did an article about me and everything I do in the area. Now she is angry at me for bringing attention to the family.

Somehow I thought getting an award for doing good deeds was something to be proud of. Should I tell her that her attitude has ruined my feelings about volunteering in the community? Or just swallow it like I have done so many times in the past? My entire family acts like I am a bad person for wanting notice for my accomplishments. It’s not my fault they have accomplished nothing of note.

A: Both of the options you’ve proposed here—swallowing everything like you’ve done in the past, or telling your mother that she’s ruined the very concept of volunteering—are bad ones, and unlikely to result in increased personal satisfaction. The temptation to either continue not reacting, which has made you feel resentful, slighted, irritable, and ready to blow, or to subsequently overreact, so that you can blow up at your mother and never talk again, are both strong, but I think you should pursue a more moderate path.

Wait until you’ve cooled down a little. Talk to some friends first, write down some of your stronger feelings in a journal, etc. Then tell your mother that her rudeness at the ceremony hurt your feelings, that you don’t feel any guilt about “bringing attention to the family” on the strength of your community involvement, and that if she can’t find it in her heart to share in your achievements, then you hope she can abide by the old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It may be time to stop soliciting your family’s approval, given how consistently they appear to have withheld it over the years.