This week, Jenée Desmond-Harris and Willa Paskin discuss a Prudie letter: “Not What Mom Wanted.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi Willa! So I chose this question for us to discuss because I thought my response was kinda lacking, and I’m hoping you have something to add besides punting to a therapist. What did you think?
Willa Paskin: I didn’t think your response was lacking at all, in the sense that, yes, absolutely, this woman is not going to change and figuring out how to accept that is probably the easiest (though not at all easy!) course of action. BUT, I did just feel a lot like commiserating with the person who wrote in or maybe not even commiserating: Saying something like, have you tried being … angry?
Willa: She just felt so bad! And while I don’t think anger would be particularly effective with her mother, it might just help her a lot because, honestly, it’s not just sad. That shit is infuriating.
Jenée: She really deserves better from her mom. I totally agree that focusing on how she’s been let down by a mom who doesn’t want her to live her life and be happy might actually feel better than feeling guilty. Guilt is one of the worst feelings.
Willa: Sometimes with relatives, the best thing to do is almost get to some kind of extremely dry ironic, almost comic place? Like, the extent to which people won’t change is horrible and … hilarious. Like I wouldn’t even focus on her mom letting her down; I would focus on her mom being a piece of work. Like, what if you just said, “I am Never Ever moving home.” What happens?
Jenée: You know, it did occur to me that she should make this crystal clear. Just in case her mom has some legit reason to think it might be in the plan for the future. Also, can we talk about the “distance.” 4 hours! That is absolutely nothing! This is not an international move!
Willa: Nope. Also, that means the mom is only seeing her grandchild after a big ass schlep
and that is annoying too. I just feel like … she shouldn’t feel bad! She didn’t do anything wrong! She separated! She’s an adult! Thank God her mom was good enough to have her separate. Now it’s this other grown ass person’s fake cross to bear, and she should get off the phone when she’s annoying. Grandma, get in the car!!! Like, please!
Jenée: This is totally someone who is choosing to be miserable. She could easily hop in the car once a month and have a lovely long weekend.
Willa: Also, I wonder the extent to which feeling bad and gentle just enables it. You know, you don’t pout forever if no one pays attention. It is obviously a potent tool that inspires a strong reaction in her daughter and so she uses it over and over. But it sucks for her—the mom—and it sucks for the daughter, and it’s only going to stop sucking if they don’t play this same old game.
Jenée: Another reason LW should go to therapy, even if she’s able to get her mom a little under control by being firmer and angrier, is to make sure she doesn’t continue this tradition with her kids.
Willa: Yes. Moreover, the fact that it works so effectively and that she feels so bad and sort of can’t disconnect even about something she really sees isn’t her fault, all = therapy. Like, it kind of can’t just be this. Parents are supposed to want you to grow up and live your own best life, and her mom actually got her to Do That. But, like, it’s a bad guilt trip cycle and they gotta break it.
Jenée: And even if they lived closer, she’d be guilting them about something else—I just know it.
Willa: For sure, and the mom is probably always gonna be the same. As you said: LW needs a new role.
Jenée: Ok, so now the advice is: therapy, but also we really don’t like your mom.
Willa: Also, one other thing: You can see in a twisted way that this is the way for the mom to feel close. Like, she does this, and the reaction she gets is I really love you and I’m so sorry. That’s also frustrating, but there is that intimacy in conflict, that connection, and so it’s possible that is some of what is going on.
Jenée: Ok, wow, YOU could actually be the therapist. I will give the LW your email and you can share your rate. That’s a very good insight.
Willa: Lol thank you. Just like, the mom is getting something out of this fight, the idea you care about her, so I would probably do two things: Maybe be very explicit, that moving back is not an option, but that it would mean so much to you to have quality time with your mom. She may hate the city, but would she let you plan a trip for her, or someplace outside the city, etc. And then just be like: I love you, and me living here is not about that. Can we not just do this forever?
Jenée: Make some traditions that she can depend on and know that she’ll see the kids and feel loved.
Willa: Yes exactly. Basically, don’t have the only intimacy be about this fight and her moping.