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Defending and explaining Mom to her future daughter-in-law

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Defending and explaining Mom to her future daughter-in-law

New York: I recently had an unsettling conversation with a cousin and my soon-to-be sister-in-law, "Kate." Tongues loosened by a few beers, they both brought up my mom's tendency to see the glass as half-empty, to point out the downside to every hypothetical course of action, etc.

I went into knee-jerk defense mode, explaining that it's just one small part of who she is, she's not a pessimist, and, to Kate, that she'd get used to it. She was skeptical and the conversation quickly moved on.

But I've been thinking about it a lot. It made me feel really . . . sad to hear a loved one talked about in such frank, negative terms. There are negative sides to every person, and I believe that, in the aggregate, Mom is a great person.

Kate's comments really bothered me, and it colors every interaction I see her having with Mom. I really want her to see Mom as I do — but that's not something I can control, is it? I think I'll get over it, but in the future, is there a better way to react to criticism of a loved one?

Carolyn: Was she wrong, or does Mom have a half-empty outlook?

And if the observation was accurate, why are you running from it?

New York, Again: It's true — sometimes. If I have an idea for something that I run by her, her first instinct is to say why it won't work. But that's why I run it by her, for another perspective, and in the end she's incredibly supportive of my decisions. She also has those sappy, teary-eyed "Mom moments" about how blessed her life is, how her family has turned out, even how much she likes Kate.

Why am I running from it? For two reasons, I think. First, because it skews the big picture of who my mom is. (Granted, this is the only negative thing I've heard Kate say about my mom.) And the second was just the realization that, even if you love someone, it doesn't mean other people feel the same. Akin to seeing your child get picked on. Not a good feeling.

Carolyn: I get that. It might have helped your cause of defending your mom, though, if you had started your response by acknowledging Kate's concerns instead of resisting them.

Since you know it's true and you love your mom completely — despite this trait, because of this trait, including this trait, whatever — that makes you (potentially) a mature, clear-eyed spokesperson for your mom: "Yeah, that's Mom, but she's also so much more . . ." followed by a loving defense of your mom that isn't defensive, but instead nuanced and real. Kind of like the one you gave here.

The moment has obviously passed, but, if your knee-jerk defense didn't put her off, Kate might give you another chance to explain your mom. Not to make yourself feel better — you are all grown up, after all — but to give Kate a chance to see your mom the way you do. Validating Kate will make your defense more credible and Kate more receptive to it. And you won't be selling your mom out by doing so, because the truth you're telling is an affectionate one.

Defending and explaining Mom to her future daughter-in-law

08/25/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:42pm]
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