Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Pushy mom needs to be trained gently to take 'no' for an answer
Killing me with kindness: Any advice on how to deal with a mother who is smothering me with love? I'm married, have a family, my wife and I work and have our own income. Yet Mom insists upon family vacations, family dinners, family everything. And she always makes reservations and nonrefundable deposits first, then invites us second, with that little (or big) bit of guilt thrown in. How to say: Let me live my life and meet you on my terms?
Carolyn: (1) Spell out what you're willing to do, with compliments and kind statements mixed in. "We all love the family vacations you organize. Given (Wife's) obligations and limited vacation time, though, we can only go on one a year/every other year from now on."
(2) When she then books a vacation without asking you first:
He: "I'm sorry, Mom, but I made it clear; since we went to Cancun this year, we can't make another family vacation until next year/2013."
She: "But I put down nonrefundable deposits!" (and other guilt bombs).
You: "I hate to see you waste your money, so please check with me first next time."
She: (More guilt.)
You: We have other commitments, Mom, as I told you. I'm afraid I'm not budging."
Then you need to deflect further discussion by saying there's nothing more to discuss and changing the subject. If/when she wails that you don't love her, don't care, put the in-laws first, etc., say: "I'm sorry to hear you think that." And that's it.
Same applies to family dinners and other such invitations. Accept the number of invitations that feels right to you, decline the overkill, and gently, kindly, firmly become an immovable object who will not get into long renegotiations of each "no" you issue. It will be ugly and stressful at first, because, to this point, you've trained her to recognize "no" as negotiable and badgering as her path to "yes." This next phase is all about retraining her to recognize your boundaries. As long as you're consistently kind and immovable, it will eventually stick, unless her issues are such that she is unable to recognize boundaries. But you won't know that till you put in a sustained showing of disciplined interaction with Mom.
Re: Killing me with kindness
Anonymous: Do you ever invite your mom to events? Maybe dinner at your place once a month?
Carolyn: Yes, it's great to mix in pre-emptive attention, thanks. It underscores the "I care about you and enjoy your company" half of the message, instead of the " … just not every week" half.
Re: Killing me with kindness
Anonymous 2: A quibble. The obligation/desire to spend time with wife's family is not "Wife's" obligation, it's "our" obligation to wife's side of the family.
Carolyn: Fair enough, thanks. But she will have her obligations, too, and he will have his. I don't think it's accurate to suggest that the only obligations that legitimately displace his family junkets are joint ones. They are individuals with lives. Why cushion that?