DEAR CAROLYN: My adult brother is in rehab for the second time in two years. My mother is understandably upset and wants to talk about it every day. She is in her 70s and hasn’t told many of her friends.
Every time I talk to my mom she is crying and wants to hash out all of the details again and again.
I am tired of talking about it and it must be showing. I don’t feel like I have any more time to give.
How do I explain this to my very needy mom without sounding so cold?
Struggling With Mom
Who Is Struggling
DEAR STRUGGLING: I suggest you to go to Al-Anon, talk to a counselor or read up on adult children of alcoholics.
Your mom is upset with you because, to her mind, you’re keeping her from talking “as often as she would like.” That is codependency: She sees it as your job to serve her need.
“I don’t want to talk about this” is enough. A kinder version for Mom: “You’re right, Mom, I can’t/won’t talk as much as you’d like. That’s why I suggest therapy or Al-Anon. I’ll gladly help you get started.”
Then: no negotiating, no discussions beyond your limits, no guilt.
DEAR CAROLYN: Is there a way to stop unsolicited advice from a particular friend? If I say, “I’m going shopping for bird seed,” she’ll say, “You should get Brand X, that’s what attracts the most cardinals.” I reply, “Well, I plan to get Brand A, that’s what I got last time and that’s what I’m getting this time.” But I don’t want to have to defend my choices.
Even if I mention that I made a good omelet, I’m told I should’ve added this, that or the other and it would’ve been better.
I was not asking for her input, I was just sharing. Since it irritates me, what can I do or say?
Doesn’t Want Advice
DEAR DOESN’T WANT: She’s satisfying her own need to feel useful and important. Who tries to improve an omelet after it has been eaten?
You don’t “have to defend” your choices. Unsolicited advice can be annoying, pushy, presumptuous, well-meaning, accidentally useful, and many other things, but it is never an obligation.
You’re not even obligated to respond. Try it sometime.
It takes steelier nerves than you might think, but I bet it would make for an interesting exercise, especially given that your reflex is to defend, defend, defend.
In that reflex, by the way, lies your solution – to your own need to justify yourself, of which the pushy-friend problem is only a symptom. You see such unasked-for advice as a comment about you, but it’s really about the adviser herself – which you’ll see as soon as you override the impulse to justify yourself to her.
Instead, respond to unwelcome suggestions with a bright, “Interesting, thanks!” – and with no intention of changing your ways. Defending yourself completes your friend’s ego-boosting transaction.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.