Dear Prudence

My Mom Demands an Apology Every Time I Ask Her a Simple Question

How do I break this pattern?

Left, young woman looking frustrated. Right, older woman with her head in her hands.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m 27, and my mom and I grew up very close. It was often just me and her. I’ve supported myself since graduating college, and she now lives about 25 miles away. In the past few years, she has started escalating simple questions into situations she can control. For example, once I asked if she had any jumper cables she could lend me to jump my partner’s car battery. She told me she was calling a tow truck to take his car to a mechanic. She assumed the car would be unsalvageable, so she was also booking a rental.

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Another time, I asked her for the title of a book she’d mentioned a while ago, and she said she was ordering a copy of it to my house. Whenever she does this, I try to calmly tell her to stop, since that’s not what I asked her for, and (in some cases, like the car) not her place. She usually doesn’t listen. Then I get flustered and end up repeating myself with less eloquence and more distress. Then she ends up crying, saying that she knows more than me, that I’m being unreasonable, and it’s “mean” to reject her help. When things cool down, I apologize, try to explain why I rejected her plans or “favors,” and ask her to please take things I ask for or about at face value. Then she just says that I’m wrong and insists on further apology and empathy for her. I don’t know how to stop this beyond never asking her for anything, even the title of a book, ever again. How do I break this pattern?

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—Above and Beyond and Overboard

I think no longer asking your mother for things is an excellent idea, and I second the motion heartily! If you need jumper cables, text a friend or call roadside assistance yourself. If you can’t think of the name of a book she mentioned, do your best to Google whatever elements of the title you can remember, or call a local bookstore and ask for help tracking something down. That’s a much simpler approach than trying to have the same conversation for the 200th time and hoping for different results.

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I don’t want to overstep myself or venture too far from the scope of your question, but it’s a little unusual that you frame the idea of not asking your mother for help regularly as something extreme and better avoided if possible, instead of a perfectly natural part of growing up. I also notice that you say that “my mom and I grew up very close,” as if the two of you were peers, instead of a parent and a child. If the “closeness” between the two of you has always been dependent on a certain deference to her feelings and giving in to her demands, it might be worth considering what other kinds of distance you might enjoy from her.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband and I are retiring at the end of this year and are planning on building a new home near our favorite vacation spot. We’ve agreed to downsize from the large house where we raised our four children to something more manageable—in principle. The problem is my husband’s collection of vinyl. He has almost 4,000 records. They take up a lot of room! I wouldn’t mind so much, except he rarely listens to them, maybe five or six times a year, even if I ask him to play something. I feel like housing this largely unused collection and the system for playing them (three turntables, several big old-school speakers!) is not a practical use of space justifying an extra bedroom or den. He doesn’t want to let them go, insisting that he will play them more once we move. In my experience, moving doesn’t change habits. Like the song says, wherever you go, there you are. How can I convince him to at least pare it down? There’s some records he’s had for years and never even opened!

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—Living in a Vinyl Museum

How about keeping part of the collection at a nearby storage unit and part of it in the new house? You can look for a place that is temperature-controlled or specializes in storing temperamental objects, so your husband doesn’t have to worry about his beloved-if-underplayed records moldering away in a forgotten basement somewhere. That way you can at least postpone the more emotionally fraught elements of paring the collection down and getting rid of something “forever,” even if it’s something you barely use, and focus on reorganizing the rest of your things as you prepare to move and build a new house from scratch—an already daunting project, I’m sure. If that’s a no-go, given that you’re building a house from scratch, you’ll have the opportunity to design a floor plan with your husband’s collection in mind. It may be that part of what’s nagging at you isn’t just an impractical use of space when it comes to this particular hoard of records, but whether building the new house and “downsizing” are already slightly at odds, which may be a conversation worth having with your husband before you break ground.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a female senior manager at a software company. My colleague “Hermione” works in one of our offices in India. They’ve obviously been through a lot this year, especially as COVID has hit a crisis point there. Hermione is separated from her husband and children in the U.S. She’s relatively safe and has secure housing and access to medical care. She was also running a project that wasn’t going well, and it was given over to my team to run. The project was moved partly because of Hermione’s management and partly because of the COVID situation, which has obviously diverted much of their office’s attention and resources. Hermione is struggling with the decision to move the project and feels undermined and like management doesn’t have confidence in her ability. I now need to run this project with Hermione, but I am the lead.

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Hermione was initially hostile to me, but I am hopeful that I have been able to reassure her that we can still make this project a success. I feel for Hermione because she is going through a tough time and is separated from her family, so I’d like to send her some flowers (or a candle or something) with a note letting her know that I am looking forward to working with her on this and I am confident we will make it a success. Is that over the top?

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—Eager New Lead

That’s a thoughtful idea, but I’m slightly of two minds here. On the one hand, plenty of professionals send flowers to their colleagues or employees as congratulations, as condolences, or to commemorate good work, so it’s often perfectly appropriate. On the other hand, if Hermione is still feeling undervalued over the loss of the project, she might find the flowers a painful reminder that she doesn’t have material support to continue her job—just a temporary gesture from someone who’s replaced her. To that end, it might be better to focus on establishing a solid working relationship with her now, and save the flowers for later on, when the project is finished. I don’t think you’ll insult her if you send flowers now, but I think you should send the kind note about being excited to work together first, and hold off on any appreciative tokens until you’ve made more progress together.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Pay Dirt

I have a friend who’s always been a little cheap with shared checks. If I throw my card down for ease and let people Venmo me, he’ll pay me, like, a conservative estimate of his portion (often short of the real total) and also not take tax or tip into account. I always kind of forget about this until he does it again. A few months ago, he estimated $25 when he owed me $40, and I was like, “Bro,” and he seemed perplexed and gave me the $40. I tell you all this because on our last hangout, it was just us, and through other conversation about COVID and his current joblessness, he reluctantly revealed he is an heir to one of the biggest family fortunes in America. He has virtually endless funds for the rest of his life. I had zero idea. I don’t think many people who know him do. His family seemed normal (they have a different last name than the famous one). I don’t really know how to react to this, especially in light of just thinking I had a pretty cheap friend. Instead, I was partly subsidizing an extremely rich person! What do you think is going on in this person’s brain? Do you think I should point out to him that he does this explicitly?

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