December 16, 2011 in Features

Mom can’t keep anything secret

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: My mother cannot keep a secret, no matter how much I impress upon her the necessity.

Recently I sent her an email thanking her for something and letting her know I was seven weeks pregnant. Remembering who she was, I quickly sent a follow-up email begging her not to tell people. Within hours, I received a congratulatory text from my sister-in-law.

I sent my mother an email illustrating exactly why I found this upsetting and also called her to discuss it. And then last night, she accidentally included me in an email to my cousin; the last words were, in parentheses, “Don’t tell her I told you, I got told off for shouting it out to other family members.”

My husband says, “Never tell her anything ever again that you don’t want everyone to know,” which is a painful thing – it makes me sad that I can’t share things with my own mother. – A.

We don’t get to design people to our specifications, even when we feel justified in requesting a change, even when both parties would arguably benefit from it. Whether it’s the best case and your mom just has impulse-control problems, or she has a controlling streak that turns your private news into her power currency the fact remains that you don’t have final say in what she says. Never will.

So: Never tell her anything ever again that you don’t want everyone to know. But while your husband is correct, you’re not correct in interpreting it to mean only that you “can’t share things with my own mother.” That’s but one of the choices it offers.

The other choice is for you to share your news knowing she’s going to broadcast it. This is how I suggest you view your mom from now on – as a binary choice where you decide, case-by-case, which sounds more like the end of the world. If it helps, flip it to a positive: “Which is more valuable to me right now, telling Mom, or my privacy?”

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