Dear Ms. Hax: My mother is the sweetest, most caring mother a girl could ever ask for. However, she has a tendency to overstep her boundaries.
She recently invited herself on a vacation with my family (husband and child). I noted very delicately that it would be difficult to see and do everything we wanted to with her in tow. (We are going to see other friends and family.) I suggested she come to visit us later in the year. Her response was that she is coming anyway and will stay with a friend.
I again tried to explain (this time in a detailed email), that I would really prefer to have this time with just my brother and old friends and there would be little opportunity for her to spend quality time with us.
Her response to this was, “Wow, well, you really put me in my place!”
I of course feel horrible and ungrateful, but I think I have a right to my own family vacations!
How do I set boundaries with my mother in a delicate and respectful way without either of us feeling like I am in high school again? – Ungrateful?
It’s counterintuitive, but efforts to be “very delicately” “delicate and respectful” are often the source of the hard feelings.
Limits are at their most palatable when they’re clear. Not abrupt, not harsh, just clear. “Mom, I’d rather you didn’t join us on this vacation, for reasons that don’t reflect on you at all – but let’s both get our calendars out and plan something else.”
You might be thinking, “Hey, that’s what I said” – but you didn’t. You first said “no” to her in a vague way that, to the boundary-challenged, actually translates as, “Yes, with X conditions.” So she met your conditions and thought she was good to go.
Breaking your ancient tiptoeing habit is worth the hard work. When you’re clear with Mom up front, then any hopes you dash will be early, semi-formed ones – which is still no fun, but it beats shooting down more fully imagined plans.