DEAR CAROLYN: My mother is a crazy cat lady. She has done better in recent years, down to 15 cats instead of 40 or 50, motivated by the arrival of her first grandchild, my son.
We live on opposite sides of the country. I come home about twice a year and I stay elsewhere due to the odor.
Certainly not ideal, but we adjust.
I took the baby visiting when he was 8 weeks old and hardly saw my mom. She was busy "working" (unpaid) for her vet. I was hurt, but mostly ignored it and let her do her thing.
Today, I called and heard kittens crying in the background. We've had numerous conversations about not having bottle-fed kittens when I visit. They have to eat every two hours and we would never see my mom!
I mentioned it, she got snarky and said something about my having to bottle-feed my kid.
If she does have the kittens while I'm in town or chooses to work instead of spending time with us, what do I say? If she sees us every day, how do I express my gratitude?
DEAR K.: You're showing a distinct bias against cats and cat people.
Forty-plus cats is extreme. However, your mom voluntarily reduced the herd, which suggests your "crazy" label isn't just insensitive, but also unfair. If she takes good care of her animals, then treat them as you would anyone's life purpose, to include asking yourself whether you'd be so dismissive if she were volunteering with needy kids.
You have a legitimate set of hurt feelings that your mom blew off you and her grandson. That is where your focus belongs, not on your disdain for the reason. That's especially true since your overall goal is so important: To build a sense of family for your child.
Please start by recognizing that it's not productive to force family togetherness or dictate how your mom lives which is essentially what you've done in those no-bottle-fed-cats conversations. It makes no sense for her to rearrange all 365 days just for your, say, 10 visiting days.
Next, make "feelings, not felines" your principle. Replace scolding with praise, and clarify your stance. Maybe: "I've been tough on you about the cats, but what you do for them is wonderful. I'm just upset we see you so little."
And where before you've pushed her to change, try helping her: "What can I do to help you see more of us?"
And if she blows you off again: "I'm getting the message that son and I aren't your priority. Am I mistaken?"
And if she does make time for you? "Thanks, Mom. This has been great."