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Mom Boundaries

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Hi folks,

It's been a while but I'm posting again, this time with a different problem.

My mom and dad were together for over 20 years. We're a pretty close family overall and so even though both my brother and I were adults when they told us they were going to divorce (my brother was 23 and I was 21) it was still tough all around. My dad didn't want a divorce, and my mom did, and after some conversations with her and passing time I understood her perspective even though it was hard. I stayed living with my dad for another year after my mom moved out. Things were rocky for several years.

It's been about 20 years since then and both of my parents have met other people and are in a much happier place, so much so that we've all celebrated Thanksgiving together several times. My brother and I generally have a closer relationship with our dad which we try not to make apparent, but from the beginning I think our mom has felt like the odd person out. My mom and I have grown closer in the past 15 years but there are areas where we differ a lot, and one of them is starting to grow into something bigger.

Several years ago my mom started telling me stories about things my dad did that she found hurtful. Not abusive things, but times where she felt like he was disrespectful or controlling. One story I remember involved a time they were at a wedding together and she asked him to dance - he said he didn't want to - then another woman asked him and he ended up dancing with her. That story had came up when I was a kid and always started an argument - it never got resolved.

That's something I'm not comfortable with - the retelling of stories of hurt or other problems that never get resolved - and something that was a common practice among my mom and her 3 sisters. One sister would be on the outs and my mom and her closest sister would tell stories about times the sister on the outs had taken things or done scandalous things. I heard the same stories several times. It was a form of entertainment I think, but always seemed mean-spirited and unhealthy. She and that sister have since had a big blowout and no longer speak to each other, but I feel like my mom still has this need to tell the same stories of hurt.

So, several years ago I told my mom I didn't want to hear her stories about my dad. My thought was - he's not saying things about her, and if it's not something dire (there was no abuse or cheating) I don't think I'm the best person to hear them. She was hurt and said she wanted to tell me those things so that I don't make the same mistakes, and I told her I'd be happy to hear the lesson she's taken from it but didn't want to hear details on all the scenarios where she felt wronged. I told her it's a boundary of mine - and also that I understand why they got divorced, I'm not angry about it, and I'm happy that they both are with other people they love.

She hates this boundary. It keeps coming up, like a sore tooth she just keeps pushing against (which describes how I think of the other stories she tells that don't get resolved and moved past). She thinks that I just don't want to hear bad things about my dad. I've told her I don't want to hear either of them tell me things about the other like this and that I'm not the best person for her to work through things if she wants resolution.

Recently it seems to have blown up even more, with the man she's been with getting involved (they've been together for over 15 years - they're not married so I'll call him her partner). I've heard through my brother that my mom's partner is starting to say things about me, that I can't have a real relationship with my mom unless I'm willing to hear what she wants to share. She seems to feel that I have an obligation to hear what she has to say. It's ironic because my mom's partner is estranged from his daughters because, he's claimed, his own ex-wife kept saying bad things about him until they decided to cut him out of their lives.

Anyway, very long story short...

Do I have an obligation to listen to my mom's stories about my dad, now that I'm an adult? Is my boundary unreasonable?

How should I respond if my mom's partner - or my mom - give an ultimatum regarding my willingness to take down this boundary and hear all the stories she wants to share? It sounds like my mom is letting him get in the middle of things between my brother, my mom and I, so this could get intense (he's an intense guy).

Mom Boundaries

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Hi Caz, unfortunately it sounds like you'll have to choose between listening to your mum's mean-spirited rants, or taking a firm stance and taking the risk that she and her partner continue to bad-mouth you. I'm in favour of the latter. It sounds like you've been very reasonable and accommodating to your mother and setting healthy boundaries. From her perspective, she may feel she's trying to relate to you in the way she's most used to (bitching about someone else) and being rejected. You could give one more shot to, "I love you, and I'm willing to learn from your life lessons, but it makes me sad to hear you talk about troubled details of a relationship that ended 20 years ago." If reassuring her that you love and care about her doesn't work, then just stick to your guns and know you're making the best -- and mature -- decision.

Mom Boundaries

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Thank you - it's a helpful insight that she's trying to relate to me in a way she feels comfortable with. I'm also guessing that she worries my brother and I are closer to our dad and she wants me to realize that he's made mistakes, and isn't perfect. Either way I think that listening to her will make me feel worse about them both, so there's nothing to be gained. I'll stick to my boundaries and hope for the best. It sounds like her partner is speaking in ultimatums ("if you insist on this I don't see how your mom can have a relationship with you") and I'm worried it will lead to estrangement between my mom and I, especially as she's moved away recently so our relationship is going to be long-distance. I think he's trying to come to her defense in his mind, but he's making a bad situation worse.

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