[Two Pronged] Mom from hell
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Two-Pronged Duo,
I am a 20-something OFW who is getting married to her Western fiancé soon. It's very exciting for us because we are planning our wedding. However, my mother’s attitude is getting really toxic, making me sad and depressed.
My mother is proud and vain. She's done well in raising my brother and me, but she has faults; and that is fine because everyone does. My brother and I are content and are proud to have reached this point since we didn't have the family life we needed. Our parents haven't been the most responsible. We always had financial problems.
A relative financed my schooling. I had a side job for my allowance. I then worked overseas to finance my brother's education. Our mom feels nobody else is to be credited for our success but her because she was a stay-at-home mom and because “she always prayed for blessings to be showered upon us.”
We were lucky to have a stay-at-home mom, but me and my brother have been working so hard because we don't want to end up like our parents. It was so hard living with no money – even more frustrating when you know it's not because your parents had no education or opportunities. It's stressful to grow up with your parents’ poor decisions, irresponsible budgeting, and bad habits/vices.
My fiancé and I cannot afford the kind of wedding that my mother wants – a grand Filipino wedding with all the bells and whistles. She wants my future husband and his family to foot the bill. I told her that's unfair and not possible. It's not in my personality to hold such an event. Every time we speak, we just argue. She can't reconcile the different cultures. When I ask for her assistance, she delays or does not do it at all because it is not according to her liking.
Most difficult is her continuous money requests that is tantamount to extortion. As an OFW, I've had troublesome times but she never asks how I am. The only time I hear from her was when she wanted money! Once I gave her some birthday money and she made a big fuss about how she should never get the same amount as my dad because she deserves more. She forced me with ugly messages online to send her more.
I tried telling her that I can no longer be as generous because I want to save for my future family – but this falls onto deaf ears. She says my fiancé changed me. But, nothing has really changed because I have always been stingy especially for something unnecessary. All our conversations end up with emotional blackmail – passive-aggressive statements on disrespecting my mother, being ungrateful about how I was raised, how much she prayed for me to be successful, etc. It's so horrible and depressing!
I find peace when I avoid conversations with her. I don't want to hear from her at all. However, I don't want to be someone who is totally disconnected from her family. Also I don't want my future husband to think too negatively of her (although I can only do so much because her actions speak so loudly no matter what I do). It's very hurtful. Since I got engaged, I never receive anything positive from her. She even questioned why I had to tell people about it (I found out that she was worried that people will talk about how I will just have a simple wedding and not a grand one. She thinks that people will think I married someone poor – which is so ridiculous because we're not even remotely rich!).
Am I being selfish, ungrateful, or 'too smart' like my mom is saying? I want to celebrate this milestone in my life according to my comfort, personality, and within my limits. I try to explain things to my mother so she can understand, but I end up with arguments and more sadness. Of all people, it's my mother I cannot get support from. How can I deal with this and reconcile her behaviour/tendencies with my upcoming married life?
Thank you for your email.
You raise some interesting issues, particularly OFW relationships with those left at home and separation issues between parents and children. However, you also omit some significant information, such as the opinions of your father, your brother and your fiancé about your predicament. Their support, or opposition, is an important but absent part of the equation.
With over 10 million Filipinos working overseas, it is not surprising that the way that they deal with finances, separation, and relationships covers a broad spectrum. When it comes to money, attitudes run the gamut from expecting every single peso to be remitted home to wishing the departing worker every success in investing all their earnings in their new life overseas. Ideally, funds should be applied in a way that treats the needs of all parties equitably but in real life this is often an elusive goal since few can agree on what constitutes equity. It can then be reduced to a struggle between conscience, guilt, emotional blackmail etc. as you, Kate, well know. However, it should always be remembered that the playing field is not even; the one earning the money ultimately has the final say. You therefore are entitled to weigh the needs of all with an interest in your earnings (yourself included of course) and apportion them as you deem fit - and reapportion them in the future if, for example, you have children.
In a fractious family environment such as yours, the gradual, healthy separation between parents and children that we read about in the parenting manuals has clearly not occurred. In fact, it has totally failed as your parents have swapped roles with you – they are now treating you as the parent and acting like children themselves. Unfortunately, it seems that they have become accustomed to their roles and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to change their propensity for irresponsible and immature behavior, particularly from far away. One possible option, apart from just reducing the flow of money, are to take advantage of the opening your mother gave you by blaming your fiancé for changing you. Embrace this as a weapon with which to defend yourself. It might be as well of course to tell him first but surely he will willingly shoulder some of the burden of dealing with his vexatious future mother-in-law.
Finally, remember that this upcoming wedding is yours, not anyone else’s, and doubly so since you and your fiancé are paying for it. Accommodating other people’s reasonable wishes is one thing, letting them hijack the entire ceremony is another. One tried and tested solution to your problem is to have a destination wedding. By choosing a location that is distant from both the bride or groom’s family homes, attendance can be more easily controlled as can expanses. In addition, interference by family and friends can also be reduced if not eliminated. Another option, easy to suggest but difficult to implement, is simply to put your foot down, despite the consequences. Whatever you decide, I hope that your wedding is as memorable as you want it to be and for all the right reasons.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter.
Have you ever heard of the saying “Do not argue with a fool lest you be mistaken for one?” I would like to paraphrase it to: Do not try to change a fool’s mind about anything, lest you waste all your time and energy in this hopeless effort; energy that can be used in other, more important endeavors.
The reason arguing with your mom is futile is because she thinks she is correct all the time; she never listens. So all you are doing is going over the same old arguments over and over and over again.
No wonder you’re depressed!
This is no way to feel before your wedding. This is no way to feel anytime, period. And yet, this is the way you feel every time you talk with your mother: depressed and sad. Your mother has not become demanding, selfish, self absorbed, and unreasonable all of a sudden. She was always like this, hence the poor decisions, irresponsible budgeting, and vices.
Why should things change simply because you have found the love of your life? True to form, she has become even worse, as parents used to getting their own way do when they know they are losing their grip/influence over you – as they should, because you are now an adult.
Spoken like the banker he is, Mr Baer reminds you that “the playing field is not even; the one earning the money ultimately has the final say.” Dr Holmes now exhorts you to not only remember, but to behave accordingly. You do not have to convince people that you are right; you do not need to cajole them into accepting your decisions.
Do what you feel is best – not for your mom, your dad, or even for your fiancé, but for yourself... And if they don’t like it, they can lump it.
Please do not think I say this to everyone. But you have been selfless to the point of absurdity. It is time you became a “normal” human being and put your needs first...the way we all do, the way we all should.
"Desiderata" is a 1927 prose poem, that became widely known after its use in devotional and spoken-word recordings in the 1970s.
The part I like best is: “Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit” Your mother is not only aggressive and loud, she is also repetitive and self righteous, making her even more vexatious.
There is nothing you can do to change her. The best is just to accept that, in the lottery of life, you lost horribly when it came to the parents you had/have. Welcome to the club. Yes, she does have a take-no-prisoners attitude, and you can’t change that either. Just make sure you are no longer hers from now on.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.