DEAR CAROLYN: My mother's the most caring mother a girl could ask for. However, she oversteps boundaries.
We live far apart and see each other about twice a year. She recently invited herself on a vacation with me, my husband and child. I noted delicately that it would be difficult to see and do what we wanted to with her in tow (we plan to see other friends and family). I suggested she visit us later. Her response was that she is coming anyway and will stay with a friend.
I again explained (in a detailed email), that I really prefer to have this time as I had planned, and that there would be little opportunity for her to spend time with us. I also offered to split a plane ticket for her to visit later.
Her response was, "Well, you really put me in my place!"
I of course feel horrible, but I think I have a right to my own family vacations. How do I set boundaries with my mother in a respectful way?
DEAR UNGRATEFUL: It's counterintuitive, but efforts to be delicate and respectful often bring hard feelings.
Limits are most palatable when they're clear. Not abrupt, not harsh, just clear: "Mom, I'd rather you didn't join us, for reasons that don't reflect on you at all. Let's get our calendars out and plan something else."
You might think, "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, translates as, "Yes, with X conditions." So she met those and thought she was good to go.
You were doing what a lifetime with her trained you to do. She's sweet and caring, I'm sure, but manipulative too.
Breaking your ancient tiptoeing habit is worth the hard work. When you're clear with Mom up front, any hopes you dash will be early, semi-formed ones which is still no fun, but it beats shooting down more fully imagined plans. A concrete "I love you, Mom. Let's pick another date," then following through on that promise, inoculates you against accusations that you're just putting her "in her place."
DEAR CAROLYN: Friends offered to throw my fiancée and me an engagement party. However, we plan to have a small wedding. The friends don't want to invite people to the party who won't be invited to the wedding, but I think this would be a good way to have everyone celebrate. Ruling?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Trust your friends. What you propose is bad form; invitations to pre-wedding events are understood to be precursors to wedding invitations, unless it's an office party.
If you want to be inclusive, suggest a post-wedding party and call it an informal reception. And no gifts!