Dodge manipulation, but keep line of communication open
Q: I'm a month late in scheduling a second postsurgical checkup for myself. My mother refuses to speak to me until I get the checkup and report the results to her.
I am 37 and independent. I'm not procrastinating intentionally (e.g., in fear). I'm not requiring her to remain cordial as a precondition for acting on my own behalf. I know I will get around to making the appointment soon and I'm comfortable with my management of my health care.
What I'm not comfortable with is her threat to sacrifice our entire relationship over this. What she wants isn't unreasonable (although I don't owe it to her), but I reject her tactics as disproportional, highly punitive, hostile and manipulative. I know she cares and sense she is overreacting in fear. I'm trying to be compassionate. But an ultimatum like this should be a last resort used only in the direst circumstance, which this is not.
Sharing medical updates with her, as I would ordinarily, now equates with validating her ploy, which I refuse to do. Withholding them seems retaliatory and just as punitive as her ultimatum.
If I must get my checkup without telling her, just to avoid the perception of successful manipulation, then I guess I'll do that. I don't like it, but I don't see another option. Do you?
A: It's essential, I agree, that you don't cave to her attempt to control you. But you don't have to fight punitive withholding with punitive withholding.
Explain to your mom that you are not changing the way you manage your care in response to her ultimatum, because you believe the only legitimate reason to change course would be a medical one. Remind her that you've been responsible enough to seek the diagnosis, get the surgery and arrive for your first followup, and you will continue to be responsible independent of her involvement.
Tell her you are disappointed that she used an ultimatum, and hope she will reconsider, because you will miss talking to her.
Then assure her that if there is definitive, "need to know" news, good or bad, you will tell her immediately, of course — but otherwise you're inclined to hold off on the incremental ups and downs because it seems to be stressing both of you out.
Then give her the chance she didn't give you: Say you're not wedded to your decision, and welcome her thoughts. Remember, if she abuses this trust, then you always have the option to hold the line on what you disclose.
This announcement will have to be in writing or on voice mail, since her refusal to speak limits you logistically. However, writing/recording will help you override your emotional reflexes — and escalation is the last thing you want since, I believe, you sense her fear correctly. She may well be picking this fight with you just to feel like she's in control of something — and because anger is a power emotion while fear and dread are impotent.
Putting this all in message form also allows you to make your case without interruption. Use that. Finish your message by saying that you know she cares and is afraid to lose you, that you love her, and that she's welcome to call you whenever she's ready to talk.