Direct Answers – Under His Skin


My wife and I live several hours from my hometown and my mom. She is retirement age, but still works for the school system. She visits us on school holidays and during the summer. These visits are stressful because my mom does this hyper-vigilant thing that drives us, especially me, crazy.

Let me give you some examples.

She will knock on our bedroom door and ask me if I remembered to set my alarm clock. The next morning it’s, do I have enough gas for the car? Everything my wife does, it’s, “Are you sure that’s the way you want to do it?”

If we feed the dog at 5 p.m. one day, the next day at 5:02 p.m., all I am hearing is “it’s time to feed the dog.” I motion with my hand and sort of wave her off and she gets angry, telling me to “just let the dog starve then.”

I have a headache, take an aspirin and recline. My mom tells me I have dog hairs on the bottom of my sock. I shrug. I start to fall asleep and wake up to mom picking at the dog hairs.

I carry bags of something from a home improvement store through the house to the backyard for my wife. With each bag mom tells me, “Don’t hit the TV with the bag.” Finally, I am like, “I won’t hit the TV unless I have a heart attack and fall into it when I die.” Mom sulks for an hour.

I am sorry for the conflict, but when it’s everything you do, it gets to you. Growing up I was selective about what to tell mom because to have a cold was to be at death’s door. Having a different problem was to risk her calling the governor.

How can an otherwise kind and loving person, and overall great parent, have no off switch?

~ Victor

Victor, your mom is vigilance gone astray. It could be her years in the school system. (Johnny, don’t run with scissors.) It could be the family she grew up in. (Dysfunction and stress can cause this.) Or it could be a biological predisposition.

Whatever the cause, there is little chance you will change her. She’s always been this way.

Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, was an “it is what it is” kind of guy. He said, it’s not events, but the way we think about events that creates problems.

How will you manage your reactions? That’s the question. You can be amused by your mother, you can make a game of it and predict the next thing she’ll worry about, or you can figure out how her nature has influenced your own.

You can also say, “Okay, Mom” and feed the dog at exactly 5:00 p.m. Would she go home happier, and would you be happier, if you just go with the flow?

You think it is driving you nuts. What do you think it does to her when you don’t respond to what she wants? Take some solace in not having her urges. It’s like your mom has a tic or phobia. You can’t hold it against her. She didn’t ask for this. She just wants things to be put away and safe. All the time.

You have a certain amount of control, like how long she visits. With everything else, remember: it’s not events, it’s how we think about events that matters.

~ Wayne & Tamara

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